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November 30th, 2010
08:24 PM ET

Dueling billboards face off in Christmas controversy

From Laura Dolan, CNN

'Tis the season to be jolly? Not entirely.

An atheist billboard that calls Christmas "a myth" has sparked a growing controversy near the Lincoln Tunnel, a 1.5-mile-long twin tube that connects New Jersey to New York.

The full message, which appears with a nativity scene, reads: "You know it's a myth. This season, celebrate reason."

Its $20,000 price tag was paid for by American Atheists, a New Jersey-based atheist advocacy group, David Silverman, the group's president, told CNN.

"We are addressing the 50 million atheists in this nation," Silverman said.

He said the group erected the sign in a high-traffic area in an effort to challenge drivers to "think hard about whether or not they actually believe in what is, in reality, an invisible magic man in the sky."

Silverman said he is uncertain if it will stay through Christmas or come down on December 21.

The sign, located near the tunnel's New Jersey entrance, has stirred controversy among Christian organizations, prompting one group to erect its own pro-Christmas billboard.

"We decided to counterpunch after a donor came forward seeking to challenge the anti-Christmas statement," said Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, a New York-based Catholic advocacy group.

The League's billboard reads: "You Know It's Real: This Season Celebrate Jesus."

It was erected at the tunnel's Manhattan entrance at a cost of $18,500, according to Donohue.

This is not the first time atheist billboards have called religion into question.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based atheist advocacy group, has placed comparable billboards in some 45 cities and 30 states since October 2007, according to the group's co-president, Annie Laurie Gaylor.

In 2008, the British Humanist Association paid for buses in London, England, to be adorned with the slogan: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

But Donahue says such signs are antagonistic.

"I'm not Hindu, I'm not Buddhist, I'm not Jewish but I wouldn't go around denigrating other people's religions and their gods," he said. "[Silverman] ought to respect our religion. He doesn't have to join it."

Silverman says the holiday season has been co-opted by newer traditions.

"There is no flying reindeer in the Bible," he said. "This is not just about Jesus."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Atheism • Christmas • Holidays • New Jersey • New York • Unitarian Universalism

soundoff (2,418 Responses)
  1. Kahuna

    Well I guess now the 'right' religion must celebrate Jesus to comply. I'm Jewish, the oldest religion onthe planet. We don't celebrate Jesus because he was a prophet. You religious zealots better get your story straight.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:31 pm |
    • Phage0070

      Judaism isn't the oldest religion in the world, that would certainly be Animism. At the very least the Egyptians predate the Jews (Jesus shares many similarities with Horus), the Mesopotamians predated the Egyptians, the Chinese were even older... Stop lying to yourself about history and perhaps you can have a saner view of your fetish.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:36 pm |
  2. One Man

    The reason why there aren't more Christians speaking out on this string of comments is that they are all gainfully employed and actually WORKING for a living. Hippies.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:31 pm |
    • Brett

      Unlike you, apparently.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:35 pm |
  3. EndTheFed

    I'm of the atheist persuasion but I'm happy that that is right for me. I recognize that no two people are the same and focus on what is right for me rather than trying to change others to be more like me. Just be you and be happy, that's all I care about.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:31 pm |
  4. NOYB

    Regardless of belieft, just don't be a jerk.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:30 pm |
    • NOYB

      ..and learn how to spell

      December 1, 2010 at 3:32 pm |
  5. Rabban

    How about debunking the real myth of Christmas, Santa Claus?
    Folks on both sides want to argue reason and truth while perpetuating this commercial lie. We didn't do it and now our child has thanked us for not lying to them.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:30 pm |
  6. Answerman28

    I dont who owns the tunnel NY or NJ but somebody made themsleves a cool 40 grand.. Im sure the billboards will be up every year for the same reason and they probably could care less about the atheiests or the bible-tards.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:30 pm |
  7. Jackie

    Christmas hasn't been a religious holiday for a very long time....and I sort of suspect that people of Mr. Silverman's former tribe have a little to do with it. But boy oh boy, they sure do want that holiday off to go on those skiing holidays and such.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:30 pm |
  8. Serdar

    Honestly as an atheist, I would like people to stay religious, them having fear of God is a great thing, it allows us to reap the rewards they choose to ignore. I also don't think most people have the necessary reasoning skills or moral compass to function without the fear of burning in hell. I for one wish your religions were true, it would be great for people to get their comeuppance, as most do not get it in their real lives. That sense of justice would be great, unfortunately I am not delusional, I do not have a single digit IQ, I can not believe in fairy tales with a straight face. Sorry guys, but as I said, keep the faith!

    December 1, 2010 at 3:30 pm |
  9. In the words of...

    in the words of Kathy Griffin, "Suck it, Jesus!" 🙂

    December 1, 2010 at 3:30 pm |
  10. JosephG

    Happy Consume more garbage days!!!

    Enjoy your new credit card debt dummies!!!!

    December 1, 2010 at 3:30 pm |
  11. Alateos

    I think it's more fun to have something to celebrate like Xmas than not to have anything at all.
    Atheists, when you criticize please do provide an alternative. Create some holiday that is solely based on science, make it attractive (gifts and decorations), and then we'll talk 🙂
    For now, you're selling mankind nothing that has not been already known. It is the rejection of our inexplicable reality that causes us to seek myths.
    So, either find an alternative answer (maybe a scientific breakdown of an ultimate power), or something fun and attractive. Add some fun rituals too while at it 🙂

    December 1, 2010 at 3:28 pm |
    • relians

      not an atheist, you can't be anti something that does not exist. i prefer humanist. festivus is what i celebrate. there are also many others, human light day, independence day, veterans day, and many others. there are alternatives.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:42 pm |
  12. Carolyn

    I have always found it funny that people try so hard to convince Christians, that there is no God. if you do not believe, why worry about it. For non believers, I would think that it would not matter anymore than if I believed in Santa. And I'm sure you wouldn't waste good money trying to convince me that he didn't exist.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:28 pm |
  13. Friendly Neighborhood Atheist

    "This country was founded on and it was written into our pledge of allegiance, "One nation, Under God, Indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for ALL". If someone is athiest don't push your beliefs on the core and soul of American values which
    was, "one nation under God". If you don't like it, leave...but don't live in this country and expect us to not celebrate and believe and follow tradition that was here long before ANY athiest was probably over here. You are the MINORITY...not Christians."

    Your claim is factually wrong, Our government was set up to deliberatly exclude all reference to a state approved religion. The "Under God" line of the Pledge and "In God We Trust" on our money was not added until the Cold War, under intense pressure from the christian right to create the impression that "God" was on our side. You should reference the line "E pluribus unum" Meaning "Out of many, One" showing that our country is made up of many people of differing nationalities, races, and beliefs, and out of those, we form ONE nation of AMERICANS. For you to think that the "minorities" are somehow lesser americans than the Christian majority is eerily reminiscent of Hitler's drive to create a superior race. Congrats!

    December 1, 2010 at 3:28 pm |
  14. examine the evidence

    Well let's see what the bible says: The bible doesn't mention Jesus birthday, never describes him celebrating his birthday, never describes any faithful jew or christian birthday party, and only references birthday parties in connection with pagans and sinners.

    Let's see what secular history says: The date of Christmas, and many of the practices associated with it, are rooted in Roman pagan cult celebrations, things the God of the bible has on numerous occasions called "detestable".

    Let's see what modern culture says: If you don"t spend all your money buying lots of things for the people in your life, and put yourself in debt while doing it, then you don't love those people.

    With that said, why would any professed Christian want to have anything to do with Christmas?

    December 1, 2010 at 3:27 pm |
    • Albert

      This is the truth!

      December 1, 2010 at 3:30 pm |
  15. god

    I am god.

    You can't prove me wrong.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:27 pm |
    • Let Us Prey

      @ god

      psst..hey, god.. you forgot.. big G.

      "God"

      There you go. That's better. Please don't make me tell you again.. this is getting embarrassing for both of us.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:53 pm |
  16. Spirituallyraw.com

    Unfortunately, this is what the Holiday season has become. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fOshw4kIGR4

    December 1, 2010 at 3:27 pm |
  17. Sydney Australia

    Atheists demand their right to not believe in God. But they are so small minded and such a scared little person that they do not know they do have that right. What gives atheists their energy is attacking Christians. Only when atheists are attacking Christians are they happy and fulfilled.

    We understand what you do not believe in -really, honestly, but what do atheists believe in, at?
    What could sum up a happy atheists life motto? That one should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself?

    What say you, atheists? 10 words or less. Describe you life theory as it relates to others................

    December 1, 2010 at 3:27 pm |
    • peter v.

      describing a life philosophy in ten words or less is

      December 1, 2010 at 4:07 pm |
    • Fred Evil

      "Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you."
      Durnit, 11 words, yet far more easily applicable than any religion, xtian or otherwise. You don't even have to ostracize any of your fellow man for asserting the Earth is not the center of the universe.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:44 pm |
  18. JosephG

    This story is giving Bill O'Reilly an erection!

    December 1, 2010 at 3:26 pm |
  19. Steve

    If the Athiests are wrong, they're in a "helluva" lot more trouble than we Christians are if we're wrong!

    December 1, 2010 at 3:26 pm |
    • Jim (not that Jim, the other Jim)

      Good ole Pascales Wager.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:29 pm |
    • Fred Evil

      Not necessarily. I cannot force myself to believe something, either the evidence is convincing, or NOT. Will 'god' hold me accountable for not believing in her because there was insufficient proof?

      If so, god is really kind of a jacka$$.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:39 pm |
  20. John

    How about this, zombie warshippers: we take down our billboard when you take down your billboard that I drive by every day suggesting that I'll go to hell for not worshipping your zombie too?

    December 1, 2010 at 3:26 pm |
    • Brett

      The ratio of Christian billboards to atheist billboards is like 1000:1.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:28 pm |
    • Let Us Prey

      @ Brett

      Wow! I bet that counting all those took a long time ! Or is there a sort-of "census" of billboards that somebody published...?

      Kidding.. sorry. I know you put a lot of work into that....

      "... 864, 865, 866... "What? No honey, not now.. I'm still counting the billboards... 867, 868..

      December 1, 2010 at 3:39 pm |
    • Let Us Prey

      ...894, 895...""riiiing –"""riiiing""

      WHAT NOW? I'm busy! Yes, I'll bring some milk home... now leave me alone....

      859., uh.. ..864.... Crap.

      1, 2, 3

      December 1, 2010 at 3:43 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.