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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. Greg

    These forums are always full of hate from both sides. I'm going to close this silly forum down now and not even look at the hateful remarks this comment might bring. It's Christmas in America. Time to love your brothers and sisters, believer or non-believer. Drop the politics and religeon (unless you're a believer) and be happy muther fukers!

    December 1, 2010 at 3:37 pm |
  2. BigATX

    Interesting that the "atheist" group leader, David Silverman, is a Jewish name. Is this truly atheist, or just anti-Christian?

    December 1, 2010 at 3:36 pm |
    • Chase Dorway

      If he were anti-religion, he would put up a billboard against Islam. Christians don't really fight too much. They lost too many men in the Crusades, which were stupid, in my opinion, and I was raised Christian. I think most atheists are anti-Christian, no matter what they say.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:49 pm |
  3. Gerald Lee

    YEAH! ATHEISTS FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT!!! FREEDOM FIGHTERS!! =]

    December 1, 2010 at 3:36 pm |
    • edu

      'freedom fighters'?? LOL You're just a rebel without cause that doesn't want to accept the fact that everything that exists comes with a price, God already payed that price for you, the only thing He wants in return is for you to understand the truth of all things: all things exist only through God.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:46 pm |
  4. Doug

    Bottom line – I hear people saying 'science has not proved that God does not exist'. The burden of proof is on the one making the extraordinary claim. We all know that invisible pink elephants are not flying around in the sky. Has science proved this to be true? Of course not. No scientist would seriously waste any time trying to prove they do not exist. That same scientist however would entertain the idea of flying pink elephants if there were even a SHRED of evidence (and I don't mean someone writing it to be true, I mean DATA). I was religious for the first 30 years of my life. Once I started actually looking at DATA – I became an atheist. It was simply a natural process once a person expands their horizons beyond a single book (many books in the Bible, I know) written 2000 years ago. Now about the billboard – as an atheist I do not agree with it going up, simply because of what it has started. I do however echo the sentiments of others in stating that as atheists we really are in the closet due to what we are constantly bombarded with. It is just wanting to have the same freedoms all the religious folk do, where they do not fear speaking out about their beliefs. The sign obviously is going to bring awareness to those 'closet atheists', such as myself, who rarely get a pleasant response once the word is out about them being an atheist.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:35 pm |
    • Muhammed's 6yo wife

      The scientific community is as rife with orthodoxy and fraud as any religion. I was an atheist for many years until I actually read the bible for purposes of mocking it. The old testament is perfect canon fodder.

      However, If you read the new testament, Jesus is the perfect man. The world would be far better if we could all act as he did. He healed the sick, fed the poor, urged against war. He even warned against persecution in his name as well as false prophets in the future. I do not follow organized religion, but I do now consider myself a christian.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:49 pm |
  5. fritz

    I can understand the Christian folks getting riled up over that billboard. Fortunately, heresy is no longer a capital offense. I'm not really sure what purpose the billboard serves except to give some comfort to non-believers. Afterall, It's lonely being a non-believer in a sea of religious folks who secretly despise you.. It used to be dangerous to be one. It still is in some places, but the worm seems to be turning. The sign didn't bother me personally but I did chuckle at the thought of crowds of rabid, foaming mouth christian folks wielding torches and pitchforks and screaming, "burn the heretics!". I thank King Victor for putting an end to all that crap. As for God? Well, I tend to think that any god or deity any human could think up is probably mythical. How could any human barely a few million years out of the trees ever hope to approach such a concept? The meaning of everything? How can the atheists declare no God of any kind as if they really know? How can believers declare that there is as if they really know? A bug would have an easier time trying to figure US out! I'm an old man now and my head still spins with these questions. I state my current position with the immortal words of the great Sergeant Schultz, "I know nothing! Nothing!!!

    December 1, 2010 at 3:35 pm |
  6. JosephG

    Jesus wants his sheep to make more obnoxious billboards, because the holy spirit said so!

    December 1, 2010 at 3:34 pm |
  7. cindydee

    i can't imagine why cnn would even consider this news. also, why display the atheists' billboard instead of the Christian one on the home page? don't both sides deserve equal coverage? if a sign like that went up in my hometown, i'd burn it to the ground!

    December 1, 2010 at 3:34 pm |
    • Brett

      I'm going to go burn down a Christian billboard that I disagree with, because apparently it is justified.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:36 pm |
  8. Albert

    I believe in God, but the Atheists are right on this one. Perhaps if so-called Christians stopped teaching myths and lies and stuck to the Bible truths, people wouldn't have such a hard time believing in God.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:34 pm |
  9. Rubin Safaya

    I think it's quite possible both sides are misguided here. Proselytization in the modern world is the business of the Evangelicals and the Baptists. NOT the Catholics and CERTAINLY not atheists. It casts a negative light on atheism to follow the poor example set by Baptists and Evangelicals who possess such arrogance as to think it's their business to butt into everyone else's beliefs, lifestyles or pursuit of knowledge.

    Furthermore, studies have shown that fundamentalists become much more active and vocal when antagonized. Ignore them and they tend to go away. It's unfortunate that someone who purports to speak for rationalists (myself included) thinks that it's rational to do the opposite of ignoring the proselytizers and instead employ the same aggressive (read: loudmouth) tactics.

    There's an art to persuasion, and neither side in this story has really figured it out.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:34 pm |
  10. ARealist

    I don't need Atheist's or Christian's telling me what to believe in. Neither of them or anyone else can claim to fully understand the nature of the Universe.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:34 pm |
    • Chase Dorway

      AMEN!!!!!!! I think people like you are REALLY the smartest in the world.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:08 pm |
  11. Richard

    Atheism is cowardice as well as hate mongering.

    Want proof?

    Why is there no campaign against the holidays of Islam and His prophet (BBOH)?

    Those who speak loudest against the Christian god are the greatest fools of all.
    They live the pretense of anti-religion while practicing political correctness and self preservation.

    Not one of them has the gut to attack any religion except Christianity.

    They are cowards, liars and fools. Every one of them.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:33 pm |
    • Tiglath

      Anyone who attacks the Christian God attacks the Muslim god and the Jewish god, by default, ignoramus.

      Run, don't walk, to a library before posting again.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:41 pm |
    • Carlos

      I am an atheist, and I argue against Islam all the time. That being said, I usually do it anonymously, just because I don't feel the need to endanger my family just to get my points across.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:49 pm |
    • Richard

      Dear Tiglath;
      Anyone who attacks the Christian god attacks all? That is not my point and you missed it. Go back to the top of the article here and READ THE SIGN. If you are not aware that the focus of atheist attacks isn't on Christians only, then it is you not I that needs to visit a library.

      As I said before, atheists are not known for their wisdom.

      Dear Carlos:
      Your admission of concern for the welfare of yourself and your family underlines my point. Atheists do not attack Islam because they are afraid of reprisals.

      They attack Christians only because they know that there will be no violent reaction. Therefore atheists are cowards and hold to their philosophy only so far as it does not endanger their skin.

      What does an atheist put on top of his Christmas tree? A Yellow Flag.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:10 pm |
    • Tiglath

      Dear Ricky:

      Today is a good day for you to learn to take responsibility for your words. Among other things you wrote:

      "Those who speak loudest against the Christian god are the greatest fools of all. [...] Not one of them has the gut to attack any religion except Christianity."

      Your post is still there. Do you see those lines I quote in it?

      Judaism, Islam and Christianity share the same god. Attacks on the Christian God is an attack on THREE (3) religions. Duh!

      One stone, three birds. Isn't it a shame that you have to learn basic facts like this about your god from an atheist?

      December 1, 2010 at 6:50 pm |
    • FAITH

      the God of the jews and Christians is Jehovah(God the father). Christians believe Jesus is the Messiah.Traditional jews don't. allah is the god of islam.

      December 4, 2010 at 12:34 am |
  12. LP

    Fighting over this is kind of ridiculous. Either you believe or you don't...I just don't think that drivers on their way through the Lincoln tunnel that are on the fence are going to consider these very persuasive. They could have done so much more with all that money.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:33 pm |
  13. Brett

    1000 years into the future, Jesus will be replaced by Santa Claus. And if you try to argue with people that a fat man in a red suit and rides in a sleigh with flying reindeer doesn't exist, they will get all bent out of shape. That's how these silly ideas get started.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:33 pm |
    • edu

      Santa Clause didn't sacrificed himself because he loved us, and he has never said he created humanity and this universe, Jesus has.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:40 pm |
    • bill

      EDu – Jesus said no such thing.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:43 pm |
  14. maggie

    What the Bible says: The Bible does not give Jesus’ birth date. But we can safely conclude that he was not born on December 25. How so? The Bible tells us that when Jesus was born, shepherds were “living out of doors” tending their flocks at night in the vicinity of Bethlehem. (Luke 2:8) The cold, rainy season usually began in October, and shepherds —especially in the colder highlands, such as those around Bethlehem—brought their sheep into protected shelters at night. The coldest weather, sometimes accompanied by snow, occurred in December._ Significantly, the early Christians, many of whom had accompanied Jesus in his ministry, never celebrated his birth on any date. Rather, in harmony with his command, they commemorated only his death. (Luke 22:17-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26) Still, some may say, ‘Does the pagan connection really matter?’ The answer? It does to God. “The true worshipers will worship the Father with spirit and truth,” said Jesus Christ.—John 4:23

    December 1, 2010 at 3:32 pm |
  15. Carlos

    Closet atheists, there is no reason to hide. You have reason on your side. The religious have only smoke, mirrors, ridiculous books of mythology, wishful thinking, empty slogans and psychobabble. If any friends or family reject you for your rationality, they never truly loved you anyway.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:32 pm |
    • Chase Dorway

      I'm not gonna believe that because I'm in a similar situation.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:12 pm |
  16. Tiglath

    "Or it could be that not everything can be easily understood by the human mind "

    Thank you for making my point. If we don't quite understand something, then it is not time to decide, but to leave the question open until better data or better understanding is available. God's powers are contradictory by our current understanding of logic. But instead of prudence you recommend firm belief over the protestations of our reason. That's another example of the "anything goes" mentality of theists. Avoid.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:32 pm |
  17. Marty

    Atheists love to prostelyze.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:32 pm |
    • Carlos

      Oh, yeah, and Christians and Muslims don't prosthelytize? Pot calling kettle black. I, for one, feel an ethical responsibility to argue openly for atheism. I think my effort will make humanity a little better. Too few atheists, secularists and agnostics stand up to the clamor of the religious fundamentalists. If more did, religion's poisoning of human relations would weaken and wither under the relentless assault of reason.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:42 pm |
  18. Trowsh

    I'm Buddhist, with most of the same values as Christianity/Judism/Islam, with none of the guilt or get out jail free cards. I question everything and decide for myself not to accept anything on hearsay, tradition, rumours, scriptures, supposition, inference, appearence, preconceived notions, acceptablity, or because someone who claims to be Holy or Authoritive demands it. I am assaulted in the media and the street all the time to "Know God". If non believers are expected to respect believers, then start respecting nonbelievers. I did my research, if I want to know about your belief I will seek you out. I dont push my belief on you so please refrain from pushing yours on me.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:32 pm |
  19. Where can I donate?

    Where can I donate to Silverman so that he can put a anti-Muslim billboard that would be equally offensive to that religion? Oh I forgot, you can't buy courage or integrity so he wouldn't use the money for its intended purpose anyway. But, if he were to put up such a billboard, I am sure the world would be freed of one less hater in very short order.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:31 pm |
  20. JoeSchmo2000

    I find it funny that their retort is "You know it's Real". How do they know? Because of a book written by a bunch of humans tells them so?

    You know what? Nevermind. It isn't even worth the argument anymore. Religion is what holds back the human race. ALL religion. Stem cells should be enough to prove that.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:31 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.