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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. Maia

    I used to be a Christian once... but I got better.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:49 pm |
    • Chase Dorway

      me too! I'm now a Deist, but I follow some of the moral codes of the Bible. You have to admit, they make sense.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:00 pm |
  2. East Coast Reason

    Hmmm.. when people stop using religion to pursue any agenda in the public arena we can worry less about talking of the atheist point of view. If religion were actually a personal and private pursuit it probably would be long gone by now...

    December 1, 2010 at 3:49 pm |
  3. Observer

    How about everyone practicing the concept of the Golden Rule? That's something everyone can agree on. Maybe Christians then can pull that from the Bible instead of passages that promote mindless hatred of our fellow men?

    December 1, 2010 at 3:48 pm |
  4. James David

    atheist put a bunch always a bunch of lies. The only reason most have empowered is becaus ot protestants or related to protestants which shows protestants is a fake religion because it teaching are false. Protestants tried to undo what the catholic church did which was covert baSince 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".rbaric pagan, idol whorshiping barbarians, to catholicism

    .

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

      Trust those priests to be after the altar boys!

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

    Lol that Christian fellow comes across quite accurately as ignorant and foolish. Why is this not surprising...

    December 1, 2010 at 3:47 pm |
  6. Doug

    It comes to mind on proof GOD exist and its all around us.
    Here is some facts:
    1- we are at the right distance from the sun. We are a Goldie Loc's Planet
    2- we got the right of land to water ratio
    3- the moon is at the right size and orbit to prevent the earth from wobbling
    4- the gas giants in our solar system do a great job at cleaning up roaming ice and rock that is flying around our solar system
    5- right distance from the galactic core. to close and we fry, to far and our sun would be dead from old age
    6- of the 3 forces (weak nuclear forces, strong nuclear forces and gravity) scientist are stumped why gravity was not evenly split like the other 2. Had we to much gravity our universe would have been either short lived or not at all. Had gravity been to weak nothing would have formed, it would have flown apart. Yet gravity split just enough for us to exist.
    7- not to mention we got a ozone that protects us from the sun.
    Well the odds of us existing much less where we are today are very astronomical for sure. So think what ya what.

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

      Precisely, GOD is the ultimate scientist.

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

      Ah yes, because it's much more likely some male God who looks like a human magically created the world... but had to "rest" on the seventh day. Man, if it were my "all-powerful-God", he sure as heck wouldn't have needed to rest...

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

      Wow. Why would God make it so complicated??? Seems like God would just say something like "Let there be life" and be done with it, and we wouldn't need an ozone layer, and there wouldn't be astroids or comets that could destroy us. The earth wouldn't have to be the correct distance from the sun, and the sun would revolve around the earth.

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

      These are a few reasons why we were able to evolve to take over the planet, this is not evidence of God.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:55 pm |
    • Len

      Actually, look at current science book, please.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:55 pm |
    • Chase Dorway

      Maia- The bible isn't meant to be taken completely literally. "Turn the other cheek" does that mean go ahead, slap me again? No, it means man up, because it's coming again.

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

      None of those are in any way a shred of proof, give me a break.

      1. The only way life could begin is if we were the right distance – this is no coincidence.
      2. What? This doesn't even make sense. The sheer lack of fresh water is a major cause of death, pal.
      3. Same as 1 – if we had some catastrophic wobble, we wouldn't have gotten this far and ended up like most other planets.
      4. How does this have any relation to there being an omnipotent supernatural being? Gas planets are named after gods, not proof of them
      5. And once again, given the sheer number of planets in the universe, one would eventual end up like ours. This is not proof of God anyway.
      6. Infer logic from above...again

      None of this even starts off as evidence that could suggest the existence of a supernatural being to begin with. Like we've said for the past few thousand years, there are no gods or supernatural beings. We actually have a bit more experience with this than any other religion...

      December 1, 2010 at 3:58 pm |
    • Justin

      Beyond astronomy, the more one understands about the physical sciences and the world we live on, the more you come to see that it is too dang perfect to be the result of some random, godless cosmic event. Once you see that the world has countless numbers of perfect cycles and life balances you come to realize that only a Supreme Being could have put it all in motion. With ignorance as a fake replica for intelligence, truly it is the knowledgeable people that understand that there must be a God.

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

      Att: TheRationale
      Well once you get to one of them planets they 'detected' and land on it and see life and everything let me know ok?

      December 1, 2010 at 4:29 pm |
  7. Dan

    Well, it is a myth.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:46 pm |
  8. maestra

    I am glad for this billboard. I grew up an evangelical christian, went to an evangelica christian school, but have always doubted. I know I'm an Atheist, but too nervous to "come out" since my entire circle is christian and everthing I know has been centered on what I do know is a myth. I hope this momentum continues in a civil and kind way and it will help to give others strength to come out...like me.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
    • Terry

      What you KNOW is a myth? Why I wish I had your super intelligence and obvious super powers to know the secrets of all.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:48 pm |
    • Chase Dorway

      I know EXACTLY what you mean. I have that same situation, except I'm a Deist (someone who believes in A god, but doesn't know which one). It's really hard to come out of the atheist closet, but if your family really were Christians, they won't hate you... a lot.

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

      well terry, it is a myth. no proof, full of falsehoods, sorry..

      December 1, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
    • ijreilly

      @ Terry- Try starting with a brain.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:56 pm |
  9. Jim (not that Jim, the other Jim)

    Everyone having fun?

    December 1, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
  10. Terry

    Reason? Sorry, but the perfection of the universe, mathematics, science, particle physics, etc, etc, is not just some random happening of things. To me, that is NOT reason. For people to argue that they KNOW the secrets of the universe just shows their stupidity.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
  11. Logic

    I thought this was the new board game for Christmas: Atheists vs. Christians

    December 1, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
  12. Lighthouse

    Atheism requires just as much faith that there *isn't* a God, as a religion requires it to believe there *is* a God.

    For both sides, neither can possibly know the truth, so again, we humans devolve into tribalism over our preferred credo.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
    • ijreilly

      Well, you can't prove there aren't multiple gods. You also can't PROVE that there aren't unicorns, ferries, and trolls. But, I'm sure you have no problem tossing all of those to the wayside. I don't need to prove the non-existence of something. You need to prove why you believe unicorns, ferries, trolls, or god exist.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:50 pm |
  13. robert

    Just ask yourself, as you're standing in Wal-Mart with a brand new X-Box 360 in one hand, and a Visa card in the other, would Jesus charge this? Or would he pay cash?
    -
    Seriously. Your beliefs are your own to keep, but it's been shown Jesus wasn't born in December, more like May... So it's the season to celebrate a birthday 6 months in advance, by giving away expensive presents and junk....

    December 1, 2010 at 3:44 pm |
  14. jeffrey Root

    I agree with Matts comment.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:44 pm |
  15. melissa

    Why don't this guy tell the Muslims that Mohammed is a myth and doesn't exist? He is a bully who rather take the safe route. The truth is no one knows what is true or false, that is why we call it faith. No matter what religion we are we have faith.

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

      Muhammed was not a myth. He was a real guy. Of course, the whole thing about him being a prophet of a deity was myth. (There, I said it). That is not true that we all have faith. I, for one, have faith in nothing. I follow only evidence and reason.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
  16. Kavita

    $20,000 spent just to prove a point? What is the point of proving this point? Who doesnt like christmas heh? If not for christmas, there would be no christmas cookies, christmas carols, decorations for a whole month or so, super delicious food, gifts, santa claus.......... Happy Holidays everybody!

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

      happy festivus!!

      December 1, 2010 at 3:51 pm |
  17. JosephG

    From now on only the Muslims can have billboards.

    Problem solved your welcome.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:43 pm |
  18. blake

    The fool has said in his heart,“There is no God.” – Ps. 14:1

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

      How clever of a religion to build into it a defense that will keep people from questioning it.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:47 pm |
  19. Alateos

    I want my Xmas present, beautiful decorations, mythical movies, and hot cocoa with family... what will the atheists be doing on Xmas Eve?
    Umm... ok so God doesn't exist... then what? How much time can you possibly sit and talk about God not existing. It's one sentence and it's over... pretty boring if you ask me. Atheists need to add more pizazz to the mix!

    December 1, 2010 at 3:43 pm |
    • Putting The X In Xmas

      Um... I would think that talking about your God all the time would get a little boring. Atheists get to talk about all SORTS of things! Television, politics, the environment, heck... even religion!

      You should try it sometime. Branch out... talk about OTHER stuff. All the cool kids are doing it!

      December 1, 2010 at 4:00 pm |
  20. Jay

    Bravo! About time someone posted the obvious on a billboard. It's time for the human race to grow up. If you want to stay behind, be our guests, just stay out of our way.

    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.