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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. His

    Jesus replied, "You're right that you only have my word. But you can depend on it being true. I know where I've come from and where I go next. You don't know where I'm from or where I'm headed. You decide according to what you can see and touch. I don't make judgments like that. But even if I did, my judgment would be true because I wouldn't make it out of the narrowness of my experience but in the largeness of the One who sent me, the Father. That fulfills the conditions set down in God's Law: that you can count on the testimony of two witnesses. And that is what you have: You have my word and you have the word of the Father who sent me." John 8:14-18, The Message

    December 1, 2010 at 3:42 pm |
  2. God

    this is true
    beileve me i am God

    December 1, 2010 at 3:42 pm |
  3. Derp

    I am losing faith in humanity. People blindly follow a book, regardless of what religion, without a feather of proof to back their belief up.

    When confronted on it, they claim that nobody can disprove it, so it has to be real.

    People are just stupid. Honestly.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:42 pm |
  4. Richard

    Once, just once I'd like to see a billboard erected by cowardly atheists against Islam.

    It ain't gonna happen folks, because atheists don't have the stomach to face REAL consequences of such an act.
    ...and you know very well what I mean by that.

    The modern definition of atheist is COWARD.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:42 pm |
    • jeffrey Root

      Look up Richard Dawkins on The Great Debate. He is no coward.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:46 pm |
    • Steve D in Chicago

      Actually, the cowardly thing to do would be to accept some archaic belief system that has been interpreted and reinterpreted thousands of times over the years without asking a single question.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:57 pm |
    • Richard

      I know all about Mr. Dawkins having read, listened and watched him for years.

      DAWKINS IS THE GREATEST COWARD OF ALL.

      He hides in his stacks of books. He has refused to debate religious issues any longer. His greatest efforts are in opposition to Christianity.

      As I wrote earlier, the atheist coward doesn't have the cojones to openly attack Islam or Judaism; only Christianity.

      Dawkins is nothing more than a smug self-righteous pompous ass.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:58 pm |
  5. maggie

    The “Wise Men”—How Many? Who Were They?
    The custom: Guided by a “star” from the east, three “wise men” are portrayed as presenting gifts to Jesus in a manger in a stable. Sometimes shepherds are also shown as being present.
    Its roots: Aside from the brief account in the Bible, “everything written about the Wise
    Men stems principally from legend,” says The Christmas Encyclopedia.
    What the Bible says: The Bible does not say how many “wise men” visited Jesus. There
    may have been two, or there may have been three, four, or more. Although termed “wise men” in some Bible translations, the originallanguage word is magoi, which means astrologers or sorcerers—professions that the Bible says are “detestable to Jehovah.” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12) By virtue of their long journey from the East, the astrologers did not arrive in time to visit Jesus in the stable. Rather, after perhaps months of travel, they “went into the house” where Jesus was staying. There they saw “the young child with Mary its mother.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:42 pm |
  6. Brett

    I keep waiting for that Day of Judgement. Wasn't it supposed to have happened like 100 times now? I think I'll go out in a pumpkin patch and wait for the Great Pumpkin. At least, he will be more likely to show up.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:42 pm |
  7. STOPTHELIES

    This is completely idiotic. You can post all the signs you want its not going to errode any Christians faith. You are wasting your money instead of feeding the poor and helping those in need. I can understand why the Bible says that those who say "There is no God" are FOOLS. Great POINT and CASE.

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

      by your name, i guess you are for outlawing the wholly babble, since it is full of lies.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:44 pm |
    • Maybe

      Um, who spends millions upon millions of dollars building elaborate, ostentatious, horrendous church buildings, temples and mosques... and funds the religious hucksters' posh lifestyles? Hint: Not Athiests

      December 1, 2010 at 3:53 pm |
    • Maybe

      *Atheists (dang, I cringe when I do that...)

      December 1, 2010 at 3:56 pm |
  8. Matt

    or those who have been saying that science is another 'belief system' what they don't understand is that while science has many theories, and not as many "laws" is that the rigors that are used to support theories are much more intense than "the man in the clouds spoke to me." The scientific method encourages challenging ideas and theories, and if a theory is disproven (i.e. the world is flat) new theories are constructed to address the new findings. Does science have the grand unified theory of everything yet? No, but understanding of the universe around us continues to expand.

    Religion on the other hand condemns questioning of its dogma. Religious fact (and I use the term extremely loosely here) comes from the deity who seems to expect the adoration and unquestioning loyalty of their followers. As our understanding of the world around us has increased (how many people still believe in a geo-centric universe?), we continue to disprove large sections of the bible myth. If the bible were a scientific text, it would have been relegated as a historical oddity long ago.

    As an atheist, I really don't care whether people believe in Jehova, God, Allah, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, as long as they do not try to push those beliefs on me or my family, and are willing to basically live and let live. Where I get concerned and frustrated is when those religious beliefs are used as an argument on what should be taught in school (evolution vs. creationism), how people should or should not marry, what a woman does with her own body, how scientific research is funded, etc.

    What worries me, is that most belief systems create an illusion that one group is better than another (saved vs not saved, believer vs infidel, etc) Many of the posts above are proof of this. As long as people believe that they are truly better than others due to their belief systems, they diminish the others, and make it easier to cheapen the lives of those with different belief systems. As an atheist, I have yet to see any evidence that that we have but one go-around in life, and I would rather see mankind focus on making this world of ours a better place rather than trying to prepare for the next one.

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

      Well said. The only intelligent, well-written post in this whole discussion. Thank you.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:21 pm |
  9. jeffrey Root

    I'm an Atheist but this is tasteless. I like Christmas. People give and actually think about other people. My family, who are Mormons, actually like going to Midnight Mass on Christmas eve at a Catholic Church in Salt Lake City. It's nice to see that Christians can put aside their differences for one day and actually celebrate someone they all believe in.
    Don't get me wrong, I know God was made up by humans because we felt lonely and unimportant. I also know we share a COMMON ANCESTOR with apes, but if people want to go on believing in God, I'm ok with it so long as they don't force their beliefs on me. Pick and choose your battles. Christmas is not a bad holiday.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:41 pm |
  10. Mary

    Religion warps people and their thinking!

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

      Atheism, not religion, lies at the heart of the mass murders of the twentieth century.
      Evey oppressive regime in modern times has used the suppression of religion as a tool to justify their own authority.

      Atheism in the twenty first century continues to follow that tendency.
      Except that in America, atheists are gutless fools who only openly attack Christianity.

      Openly admiring their own cleverness, atheists refuse to admit to their own duplicity/double standard.
      Failing to attack Islam and Judaism as they do Christians, they hide in the shadows and nurse their cowardice.

      If there was a single atom of truth to their bankrupt philosophy they would deny all equally.
      But they don't, do they? If atheism had a flag it would be yellow.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:50 pm |
    • STOPTHELIES

      True Christianity (Bible based), not any other religion, is the only thing that can change the heart and the mind of an individual. Atheism warps peoples mind to believe stupidities like those afirmed by Richard Dawkins. How can people be so naive seeing a world created with inteligence and attribute such beauty to a stupid-nothing billion year blob? There is NO irrefutable proof of evolution, every scientist knows that....

      December 1, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
    • Justin

      Beg to differ. Religion, whatever it is, brings peace and focus by providing a moral code to live by. Lack of religion in its nature is chaos, in chaos you find your warped sense of reality.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:01 pm |
  11. Justin

    He knows that Jesus/Christmas/God is a myth? How does he know for sure, did the Devil tell him so? If he wants to celebrates reason, we can start with some real proof to his claim.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:41 pm |
    • Chase Dorway

      God point. 🙂

      December 1, 2010 at 3:43 pm |
    • STOPTHELIES

      Hi Justin, I'm pretty sure that's the case. And if not, the Bible clearly states that the FOOL says: "There is no God".

      December 1, 2010 at 3:44 pm |
  12. James David

    Its always atheists who want to attack the catholic church but will complain when a catholic scorn them even try to sue but they should learn to defend themselves.
    Since someone keeps deleting what I post I will repost this. Atheists, Pagans, Jews, Muslims, Protestants are fake regilions made up for sin, money, adultery, famine, politics they also know that God, the Catholic, God exists but want to deny it because they don't want to hear what Jesus said so their is no exuse for your sins. We catholic know this thats why we say this, its not because you can't believe. To anyone read the catholic Bible written by God thru his followers which God, the Catholic God, has made sure it will stay perserved and unforged.

    The two last popes aren't doing what Jesus told them to do. If they are not do what God told them unintentionally than God has a punishment for them or anyone else corrupt in the Catholic Church.
    To all who disobey and sin God says "Vegeance is mine and mine alone" only a specific day will he punish each person until they repent but the stubborn will suffer not only in this world by the next eternal hell.
    Thru natural disasters, diseases, famine, your enemies, war, etc.. he will punish everyone.

    In this so called present his enemies think they have prevailed against God with their sins but God for the time being has let this occur for their are times in the world when the harvest is left alone but when the harvest is full he shall say to his angles the harvest is full pick the harvest and pull the weeds and throw the weeds into the fire. The angel had previously asked master why don't I seperate the weeds to throw them into the fire from the harvest. God said if you do it know you might pull the good wheat along withe weeds. Meaning their will be some that come to believe and repent the rest will be thrown in the fire.

    Turst a devoted catholic church and devoted priests who are their to guide you esp. to give confessions and communion to liberate you from sin and give you God's grace. "The Lamb and the bride which is the church, say come let the hearer come and from you shall pour living bodies of water. I'm knocking at the door of your heart. If anyone listens he will let me in and I will dine with him."
    "I the lord God do not change".

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

      I don't want to discuss or war over religion, but it appears that you don't know how Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, Mormons are all related. They really all stem from the same root.

      Jews believe in a Messiah, but don't believe it was Jesus (though the passover ceremony is all about Christ); Muslims go back to Abraham but since the prophet Mohammad don't have any recent connection to God; Catholics came from a combination of the Roman and Christian church after the death of Christ's apostles; Protestant's see misunderstandings in the Catholic church and have tried in various forms over the years to correct them without any true religious authority; Mormons believe God restored the truths of the original Christian church back on earth through modern prophets and revelation.

      All said and done, all these religions are in the same family and are closely related. Only atheism and paganism are not. They are also considered religions, but in a different family. Before you tear at similar religions, try to better understand yours.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:57 pm |
  13. Loki1983

    I have comments for both sides. First of all, it is not irrational to believe in a higher power. What is irrational is stating that there is only one true way to believe in him/her/it. Second, Atheism is not irrational either. As a child you believe in Santa Clause, the Tooth Dairy, and the Easter Bunny (which, by the way, is Pagan in origin). When you grow older, you stop believing in these figures and are not considered irrational. Why should not believing in a higher deity be any different. Thirdly, and this is certainly to BOTH sides, no matter what you believe or don't believe, it is ethically wrong to believe that your way is the only way. Furthermore, pressing your beliefs and views upon others in order to "save" them or get them to think "rationally" is even more sickening. Having an academic discussion about religious views and theological beliefs is fine enough, but there is certainly no reason to go into a discussion of who is right an wrong because frankly, you do not know. You can only truly vouch for what you believe and what is right for you. If there was one right way, then there would have been only one book, or only tablet, or one scroll, or nothing at all.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:40 pm |
  14. melissa

    I think the mystery will be solved when we die, until then all this fighting amongst ourselves is pointless.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:39 pm |
    • Chase Dorway

      I totally agree.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:41 pm |
  15. Fishman

    Now, c'mon.....you aethists are brave, right? Put up a billboard with your name on it criticizing Islam or the prophet. Attacking a religion that turns the other cheek is easy....c'mon, show some hair and blast the other faith....and put your address up their for them too.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:39 pm |
    • Tom

      Dude, don't be stupid. They would send some lunatic over to blow up my house. Why don't you go do Christian missionary work in NW Pakistan? Chicken? They should make people pass an IQ test before they post on this SoundOff.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:59 pm |
  16. Gary

    So, if there is a God, the Bible says there are two, doesn't it come down to 'those who believe, and those who don't believe?'

    The Bible was written for believers, not non-believers.

    If someone wishes to believe there is no God, that's fine. I only hope that those who believe in a God are believing in the right one.

    If there is a God, those who don't believe won't be thrown into a pit of fire to be tormented throughout eternity. They will know, at some point, that they were wrong, but then they go back to just being dead. They will stand before a true and living God and they will see what they have missed, but they won't have to endure what people wrongly describe as 'hell.'

    There is a God, the Bible says there are two. One is the God and Father of Jesus Christ, the other is the god of this world, the devil, the adversary. One corrupts, lies, steals and blinds so many people, and has since his fall, the other is willing to offer something no one else can. I know which one is my God, and my Father, and what my future holds.

    For everyone else, people have dismissed God through all of known history. That's okay, too. But, in time, at the prescribed hour, you will know you were incorrect.

    My question for those who believe that God is a myth, can you truly afford to be wrong?

    December 1, 2010 at 3:38 pm |
  17. Kana

    66 books written by 40 different authors, over a span of nearly 2000 years & 3 continents, in 3 original languages Hebrew, Aramaic & Greek that all remarkably carry the same message through & through without even the slightest degree of error or bend that all form into one concise book that has successfully been translated into 2300 languages written in clear, simple terms so that even a child could understand, yet complex & Holy enough that it can leave even the most brilliant men dumbfounded. A book that has been tried & tested & has survived centuries & millennia, despite severe scrutiny & even numerous attempts by evil and hateful dictators & world leaders who have attacked & tried to destroy it yet failed. A book that has been excavated in forms such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, a book in which it's content has been found and confirmed by numerous archaeologist & historians both secular and religious. This book the Holy Bible which is much more than a book, but is in fact the Spoken & Written Word of God, God Breathed & Inspired given not 'by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. to show mankind the Person & Love of God Almighty YHWH & His Son Jesus Christ Messiah.

    So, Some 'atheist' fools want to spend $20,000 to claim it's a myth what a cheap, weak & futile attempt to disgrace their Maker. SO LAME

    December 1, 2010 at 3:38 pm |
    • BadReligion

      "carry the same message through & through without even the slightest degree of error or bend..." That's laughable. I guess that's why there's unanimous agreement about religion everywhere.

      Anyway, the continuity to which you refer is due to the "books" being written, translated, re-written, edited, etc., etc....

      The "Torah" was the closest to the original, but even that borrowed from the Cuneiform "Epic of Gilgamesh." Learn the history of your cult.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:47 pm |
    • taildragon

      Kana, EVERYONE's holy book is perfect and infallible, at least to its adherents. But to an objective observer, the 'holy book' of any religion is filled with nonsense, whether talking snakes and donkeys, or thunder caused by the hammer of an angry god. I hope someday you can see that the reason you dismiss the nonsense of others is the reason other people reject yours.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:56 pm |
    • edu

      Excellent kana, never mind what this fools think in their corrupt minds, let them, is there choice, God's people are different from them because we don't believe in him through our minds, we believe in Him because of our heart: "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil." (Proverbs 3:5-7) "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)

      NOTHING CAN SEPERATES US FROM GOD'S LOVE, NOTHING

      December 1, 2010 at 3:57 pm |
    • taildragon

      "we don't believe in him through our minds, we believe in Him because of our heart:"

      Unfortunately I couldn't have said it better. Do you take that same approach when pricing a used car? How about buying a home? I would bet that you put more thought into which brand of orange juice you buy, than whether your religious beliefs make any sense.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:16 pm |
  18. Paulie

    We're all atheists. Some of us just choose to believe in one less God than others.
    To the believers, if you take a moment and consider all the reasons why you personally don't believe in any of the other Gods man has created throughout history, perhaps you'll begin to understand why so many of us choose not to believe in yours.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:37 pm |
    • Weathers

      Well said. Why is it any less silly to worship Jesus than it is to worship Zeus.

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

      Paulie,
      I don't believe in ANY of the gods that man has made, but I most certainly do believe in and believe the God that made man.

      December 1, 2010 at 8:50 pm |
  19. Christine

    Philippians 2:10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

    December 1, 2010 at 3:37 pm |
    • Paul in Louisville

      Sorry, Kana, but if you believe any of that, you're the one that's lame. Come on into the reality-based world – the water is fine.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:39 pm |
    • Steve D in Chicago

      No man should have to bow before anything, certainly not a fictional character.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:41 pm |
    • Chase Dorway

      @Steve D It's a historical fact that Jesus existed. I'm not taking sides, but that has been proven on many accounts.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:46 pm |
    • taildragon

      Supeman died in issue *75. Has the world really lost its greatest superhero? The point is, quoting some book is pointless if you're trying to prove something in the real world. Proof requires evidence, not quoting some old book, no matter how precious it is to you.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:48 pm |
    • edu

      "The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good." (Psalm 14:1)

      December 1, 2010 at 3:49 pm |
    • Steve D in Chicago

      @Chase Dorway
      I'm not arguing that. Jesus probably was an actual human being, but to walk around saying you are the son of god is pretty presumptuous and arrogant and he certainly wouldn't be someone i would bow before.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
    • taildragon

      @edu: did you really pop "The fool hath said..."?

      You realize this is no different from a 2nd grader saying "The fool hath said in his heart, there is no Santa". If you have some evidence for a supernatural realm, now's a good time to produce it. Otherwise you just sound like you're threatening people with the wrath of Tinkerbell if they don't believe in Peter Pan.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:22 pm |
  20. Paul in Louisville

    Go, atheists, go!!

    December 1, 2010 at 3:37 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.