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. tbird

    I'm pretty skeptical, but this sign is just mean. It seems as if they are trying to shove their beliefs down other people's throats. I'm not a Christian, but I have a lot of Christian friends who say very reasonable and interesting things about knowledge and faith. I don't like self-rieghteous people who are contemptuous of everyone who thinks differently than they do, athiest, agnostic or religious. This sign was funded and conceived by those people. They are much to sure of themselves and proud of their views. What about uncertainty, humility, friendliness toward humankind?

    December 1, 2010 at 12:06 pm |
  2. kjcube

    This seems extremely petty... Erecting a billboard that in all honesty will do nothing in terms of convincing people and then getting into a "billboard war" with Christians at the cost of thousands of dollars. That's just stupid. It's like those commercials by the Mormons. I mean seriously; I'm not going to your f-ing church just because I saw it on T.V. and I'm not going to be convinced to think the way you think in a four sentence advertisement. This is a waste of money, doesn't actually encourage any meaningful discussion whatsoever, and pi-sses just about everyone off. Religion isn't the source of Evil, people with poles up their asses are.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:06 pm |
    • Freeman3000

      Well said!

      December 1, 2010 at 3:34 pm |
  3. Leo

    I consider myself an atheist and this is embarrassing. Christmas is more looked at as a tradition rather than a religious symbol.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:04 pm |
    • JustPlainJoe

      Agreed. Most atheist, agnositics, and non-chrsitian americans celebrate some version of christmas. Nice family get-togethers, people are nice to each other, good food. Practical and lovely.

      One can enjoy traditions, the metaphors of myths and not buy the religious overlay.

      December 1, 2010 at 12:26 pm |
    • Christmas Carol

      Leo – It's not just a tradition to true Christians. It is the celebration of the birth of our Savior, and the fact that this gets lost in all the shopping and decorating, etc. is really sad for Christianity. I'm frankly offended by people who celebrate the holiday with gift giving, etc. when they don't really believe in the true meaning of the holiday.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:08 pm |
  4. fedupin2010

    I wonder how many athiest last words are " please god" or " dear god" or "help me lord". For all you non believers- is it really worth it???? do you really want to take that chance????

    December 1, 2010 at 12:03 pm |
    • kjcube

      You can't believe "just in case." You either do or you don't. Faith isn't utilitarian.

      December 1, 2010 at 12:10 pm |
    • JustPlainJoe

      ultimately, the most foolish reason for any action or belief. The why not logic.

      You never know there might be extraterrestrials among us, better to believe than not.
      (not compelling in either case)

      December 1, 2010 at 12:21 pm |
    • civilioutside

      Pascale's Wager is a horrible reason to believe in god. It essentially brings faith down to believing in whichever religion promises you the greatest reward for participating while threatening the worst punishment for not participating (with the assumption being that since Christianity promises infinite reward and threatens infinite punishment, that's the one you must pick). Truth never even enters into the argument.

      Also, by this logic, there is no guidance whatsoever for deciding between Christianity and Islam (just as an example), since both promise infinite reward and threaten infinite punishment. For that matter, if I make the claim that there will be infinite reward for everyone who gives me ten percent of their income for the rest of their lives and infinite punishment for anyone who does not, my claim has equal standing with either of those religions under Pascale's Wager and you'd better start paying up if you want to hedge your bets.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:25 pm |
    • ChristiansResigning

      I think their last words might be "oh cr–" or "oh sh–". But then again, it doesn't matter what last words people say for their last words. "Oh god" "oh my lord" will still leave you dead – God won't help you still. Especially if God permits evil to prevail like the thousands of innocent men and women whom God allowed to die in the twin towers.

      December 3, 2010 at 6:49 pm |
  5. Todd Zmina

    @ "Having a good laugh": really pretty assumptive on your part...what if this person is a hunter and a Christian making a play on words....you're making a judgement without the "facts"...after all, the facts are all that matter, right? Just stay consistent, that's all I'm saying...

    December 1, 2010 at 12:02 pm |
    • Let Us Prey

      @ Todd Zmina

      'having a good laugh" posted this several times. I responded to him the first time with:

      @ have a good laugh

      You need to catch up. I explained my name to GSA in the first 'billboard' string.
      Just FYI. Thx.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:00 pm |
  6. get the truth

    In the other hand, it’s true that Christmas is a lie. We teach our kids, and even discipline them if we caught them lying, but he openly teach him to lie every year for the rest of their lives. Rather than teaching him to love God, we teach him to love some one that does not exist or even give them anything.

    Jesus birth wasn’t in December, actually there’s no date anywhere stating his birthday. Christmas was invented by Constantine in the 4th century and you can find more information in the Councils held by him where all the current Catholic/Protestant believes gave birth. Britannica and Catholic’s Encyclopedias clearly indicate that Christmas is a pagan celebration created to attract other religions to Catholicism.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:02 pm |
    • Freeman3000

      If you celebrated your birthday in a different month than you were born, would that make your birthday a lie?
      I rarely celebrate my birthday with my friends on the exact day, as its usually during the week. But that doesn't make the celebration itself a lie.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:31 pm |
  7. Snoopy

    It's ok this billboard makes us talk about jesus and that's just what we need to do more.

    Proud to be a Christian

    December 1, 2010 at 12:01 pm |
  8. Chris A

    We need more of this, it is about time reasonable people stand up to the sillyness of religion. The world has suffered enough at the hands of these stupid myths.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:00 pm |
  9. LMG

    Geez people...believe what you want to believe! This is stupid and there are more important issues. Why did they not spend 20k on a billboard addressing animal abuse..teen pregnancy...domestic violence..remembering the soldiers. I think both sides have people who just gets so angry when others do not agree with them! Iknow...let's all believe in the same thing this season...PEACE!!

    December 1, 2010 at 11:59 am |
  10. redmonde

    Seriously!... you couldn't find anything better to do with your 20K? Like donating to feed the hungry or clothing drive for the homeless. You can't change a Christian into not believing the same way WE can make you believe. But, to waste your money on a billboard for a few weeks to state your claim is really careless.

    btw: I would much rather die believing in a God, that doesn't exist; then to die and not believe in a God who does exist!
    Which chance would you take?

    December 1, 2010 at 11:59 am |
    • Ryan

      "btw: I would much rather die believing in a God, that doesn't exist; then to die and not believe in a God who does exist!
      Which chance would you take."

      Is that what you are going to tell "God" when "he" asks you why you believed in "him," I think "he" would send you to "hell."

      December 1, 2010 at 12:08 pm |
    • redmonde

      No Ryan, I know what to say come judgment day.

      That was brought down to the level of an atheist, so they could better understand the chances they are taking. Besides, I don't have time right now to type all the good of being a Christian and quote bible, for which they not believe in. Thanks!

      December 1, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
    • Iphantom

      any god that would send every person who simply does not know to hell is not worthy of praise. I've seen absolutely nothing that leads me to believe that the christian god (or any other described in religion) is real. Even if there is a higher power, I say with 100 percent certainty that nobody here on earth has any concept of what this being might be like....sorry friend. Even if you get something out of being a christian, you aren't getting the truth. fact.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:12 pm |
    • ChristiansResigning

      redmonde, speak for yourself. Many christian members will be planning to stop going to church as many members already have atheists beliefs while attending church. There are millions of members who are forced to join the church by family, friends, and neigbors but eventually really do not develop or share the same beliefs written in the bible or enforced by ministers.

      remember that believing in god does not give you a free ticket to the kingdom of heaven. you must do more than that and you must make sure you are attending the right church. There are well over 2,000 churches who argue and claim to be the true church...you've got a lot more gambling to do buddy to get your foot in the gates – go find the right church first. Or maybe you should switch religion to Judaism. Afterall, Jesus' religion was not Christianity, it was Judaism...Jesus was a Jew according to historians.

      December 3, 2010 at 6:40 pm |
  11. jj

    Many have had to put up with anti-reason signs our whole life. If we're bigoted, it's against the push from the extremists. The ones pushing jesus down our throats. How about all those big triple crosses that dot our national highways? It really steams me to see those things! They are not there to promote religion, but to jamb jesus in your eye.
    But thanks for the story – now millions more can see it.

    December 1, 2010 at 11:59 am |
  12. Ryan

    Atheism is based on reason. I know for a fact that that Gods do not exist because of the religious requirement of faith. If someone told me that their is a giant sea monster at the bottom of a lake I couldn't say for sure that it did not. However if someone told me that their was a giant sea monster at the bottom of this lake and I could never find it or prove that it exists then I would know for sure that it in fact does not exist.

    "Could an omnipotent being create a stone so heavy that even that being could not lift it?" If so, then it seems that the being could cease to be omnipotent; if not, it seems that the being was not omnipotent to begin with.

    December 1, 2010 at 11:58 am |
    • peter

      woe to you people who never believe GOD, judgment day is near be prepare.

      December 2, 2010 at 2:24 am |
  13. AEF

    Celebrate reason? I suggest reading Thomas Aquinas. If you don't believe in a supreme being of some fashion after reading his works then you're ignoring reason. Want something more recent? Try Einstein's writings on religion and faith.

    There's no disconnect between reason and faith. There are only those that choose to ignore it.

    December 1, 2010 at 11:57 am |
  14. not sayin jus sayin

    ArticulateAtom: have someone proof your postings b4 hitting reply NUMB... , i sure kids come away from sunday school thinking the bible teach murder..... as your email quotes: Religion does not only teach good. ( u frickin idiot )

    December 1, 2010 at 11:57 am |
  15. Radman

    WOW!!!! all of this really makes me happy that I'm a Buddhist.....

    December 1, 2010 at 11:57 am |
  16. Well...

    I don't believe in God, but I celebrate Christmas as a secular, fun holiday. I also think it's a bit tacky to put up a billboard like the Atheist one around Christmas. It's in everyone's best interests to respect one another's beliefs or lack thereof. I think sometimes it's good to put up the billboards so that non-believers know they're not alone in a world where everyone else seems to believe in something that seems to not make sense to those of us who don't believe. But doing it around the holiday is just inflammatory and unhelpful.

    (P.S. I grew up in a pretty religious home and I try to respect other people's beliefs even if I don't understand them. It would be nice if more people who claim to be Christians would try to do the same.)

    December 1, 2010 at 11:57 am |
  17. get the truth

    If science can't prove the existence of God, then science and the so call scientific are a total failure. Just look at our bodies, the earth, and the universe to see the real evidence of a higher, powerful and intelligent Creator. Everything has a creator, such a watch, a car… Until today I haven’t seen anything been suddenly created from nothing… if so, we all would be rich!

    December 1, 2010 at 11:56 am |
    • Good Grief...

      That's your argument? Really?

      December 1, 2010 at 12:00 pm |
    • get the truth

      yes. I dare you to come up with something more logical than that 🙂

      December 1, 2010 at 12:03 pm |
    • Really.....wow!

      Really.....the watchmaker theory? Already argued against by numerous philosophers and put to rest a long time ago. Any new arguements? Remember, burden of proof is on those who make the claim.

      December 1, 2010 at 12:13 pm |
    • Good Grief...

      Ok, I'll give it a shot:

      Religions have come and gone since the dawn of civilization...much like languages. There are THOUSANDS of gods people have come up with over time. And guess what. Those gods were all "created" by people who had questions they didn't know the answers to. So, they made something up and that got passed on from generation to generation and changed and morphed and sometimes died altogether.

      If you just do a little research, into the history of religions, it becomes pretty apparent how this stuff happens. Read about Constantine and how December 25th became the day Christmas is celebrated. You will probably be surprised.

      December 1, 2010 at 12:15 pm |
    • Mike, not me

      "Remember, burden of proof is on those who make the claim." has been long put away also that one belief, the belief in God needs more explaination then another belief that God does not exist, or for that matter your belief on the meaning of life.

      The Reason for God would be a good read for you.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:41 pm |
    • Diana

      If everything has a creator, wouldn't "God" then have to have a creator? Your "logical" theory has a massive flaw.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:42 pm |
    • Ben

      If humanity is the product of an intelligent designer, the designer is a complete moron. Our bodies are total garbage. They require constant, diligent maintenance to not fall into complete disrepair. Not to mention how fragile they are.

      If I bought a product that required this much upkeep, I'd return it! Please explain to me why god is such a failure.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:39 pm |
  18. The Dude

    Religion is for the weak ans fearful,,,which describes most of the human race.

    December 1, 2010 at 11:55 am |
  19. Elsa

    I LOVE God, I LOVE Jesus, I LOVE Christmas, I BELIEVE SO WHAT?? I have the right to do so and I WILL!!!

    December 1, 2010 at 11:55 am |
    • USN Atheist

      Knock yourself out, no one is denying you that right.

      December 1, 2010 at 11:57 am |
  20. Peacewalker

    I can think of a thousand better messages. If you want to advance people's acceptance of those who are athiests, attacking other people's beliefs is not very helpful. Much more helpful is to explain your beliefs. You need more of those like "Millions of people are good without God." "Compassion and service to humanity are not dependent upon a belief in God." "Athiests do the right thing because it is the right thing." "It is possible to have strong morals and values without a belief in God." "Love is universal, even without religion."

    All these are things which MIGHT have been said. Sad, that so much money is wasted on belittlement and alienation. Athiests and agnostics should be outraged at what is being posted in their name.

    December 1, 2010 at 11:54 am |
    • Freeman3000

      I think your totally reasonable comment has gone over the heads of many of the people posting here. 🙂

      December 1, 2010 at 3:25 pm |
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