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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. Buleah

    Why is this such a surprise to Christians. This type of attack on our Christian religion has been going on since the death of Jesus. Satan is using the unbelivers in any way he can. It will only get worse as the end times approach. There is no talking to those who live in darkness. All we can do is stand up and not accept unacceptable behavior from the people of the world. They are fools. In the end, we win. God bless them and pray that their eyes can be opened before it is too late.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
  2. Wisdom4u2

    I find this to be quite humorous!
    I mean to pay so much money for a Billboard just to advertise their ‘Stupidity’ is just so beyond human comprehension!!

    Our Creator doesn’t give a rat’s navel that the ‘atheists’ doesn‘t believe in Him, as a matter of fact I believe they are known as ‘Fools’ to Him.

    Atheists are so full of pride that it becomes utterly impossible for them to see the truth and rationality of our Loving Creator, a being which nothing greater can be conceived, as having created them.

    It is absurd for the ‘created’ to deny the ‘Creator’; That alone shows ignorance and absolutely NO understanding.

    Since atheists don’t have God they have NO understanding because God is Understanding!

    Note: Proverbs 8:14 Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom: I am ‘understanding‘; I have strength.

    Atheists keep trying to ‘understand’ (which they lack) our existence, when we know that ‘reality’ is greater than understanding, because it ‘IS‘.

    God + Reality = TRUTH.

    It is so evident, to a rational mind, that our Creator does exist in the highest degree of all!!

    I just have to say DUH to their billboard and I‘m embarrassed for them!!

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

      You can call us fools all you want. Saying that does not make us fools. Your certainty is groundless. Your mind is mired in wishful thinking. You are the fool.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:00 pm |
    • Wisdom4u2

      @ Carlos

      I didn’t call y’all ‘'fools'’!!!
      You tell me who called you all ‘'fools'’!!!
      And there’s a lot more than just these few!!

      Bible Verses about 'fools'

      Psalm 14:1
      The ‘'fool'’ has said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that does good.

      Proverbs 18:2
      A 'fool' takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.

      Proverbs 29:11
      A 'fool' gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.

      Proverbs 1:7
      The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; 'fools' despise wisdom and instruction.

      Proverbs 26:3-12
      A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, and a rod for the back of 'fools'. Answer not a 'fool' according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a 'fool' according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes. Whoever sends a message by the hand of a 'fool' cuts off his own feet and drinks violence. Like a lame man's legs, which hang useless, is a proverb in the mouth of 'fools'. ...

      Psalm 14:1
      To the choirmaster. Of David. The 'fool' says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good.

      Proverbs 10:23
      Doing wrong is like a joke to a 'fool', but wisdom is pleasure to a man of understanding.

      Proverbs 15:20
      A wise son makes a glad father, but a 'foolish" man despises his mother.

      Matthew 5:22
      But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You 'fool'!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

      By the way, thank you, you just proved you lack understanding!! Duh!

      December 1, 2010 at 4:33 pm |
  3. Stephen

    Taken at face value the message of the billboard is absolutely correct: it is a myth. That said, people are free to believe in myths if they wish. The message of reason, however, is to seek to know, not just believe.

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

      While I respectfully disagree that Christianity is a myth, I do agree with you that people are free to believe in anything they choose (be it a myth or not). In fact, this freedom of will is an important concept within Christianity that can be found in the Bible as early as the Book of Genesis.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:11 pm |
  4. MrHanson

    Well that's atheists for you, spreading holliday cheer. If atheists want to live in their perfect non-Christian utopia, purhaps they should move to either North Korea or Iran.

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

      What an ignorant statement that is so typical of religion. Neither country is atheistic or agnostic. I shouldn't have to inform you what religion is required in Iran and in North Korea, the dictator is worshipped; he himself is a religion.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:01 pm |
  5. Zac Schneider

    ......................... Gosh darn it I give up. If atheists and Christians really have nothing better to do than snipe at each other, then BOTH of them miss a fundamental point of the holiday of Christmas. True, Christianity started it, but the reason it takes place in December as opposed to when Jesus was actually born is because winter is cold, dark, and miserable. That's also why Hanukkah has any public importance whatsoever. We have these holidays this time of year so that we can have a time of family, food, light, and warmth. THAT is the true meaning of the winter holiday, Charlie Brown. And both of y'all just goofed. It makes me sick. Just, whatever you believe, get together with family and/or friends and have a special day this winter. It can be for Christmas, Hanukkah, Festivus, or even the appropriately named 'Holiday' of the Pastafarians. Or just don't call it anything, just go have a big family and/or friend party and/or dinner. Just quit sniping at each other.

    BTW, I am really surprised that y'all is considered a word by this thing's spell check.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
  6. CNN wins

    Post something controversial, get your readers all riled up, get more money from advertisement. We're such monkeys.

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

      +1, News it isn't. It's just a business.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:58 pm |
  7. NCSouthernBelle

    HORRIBLY OFFENSIVE!!!!

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

      Telling children they will spend eternity in hell if they don’t believe is offensive.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:17 pm |
  8. Alateos

    The atheists were planning to get 10 more billboards... though, due to its being Xmas time, they had to be frugal in order to pay for the Xmas gifts 🙂

    December 1, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
  9. Mike

    REAL freedom is hard. But if you believe in it and things like Freedom of Speech then you have to support the the Atheist's billboard...or at least their right to communicate their message via it. Peace

    December 1, 2010 at 3:51 pm |
  10. MadYeti

    I am ashamed to live in a country with so many religious citizens.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:51 pm |
  11. realist

    Festivus...for the rest of us. Only sheep need a shepherd.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:51 pm |
  12. ranch111

    Go atheists. The problem with Christians is that they can't think for themselves and are too easily led down a dead end path.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:51 pm |
  13. Buddy

    So many christians
    not enough lions

    December 1, 2010 at 3:51 pm |
  14. Shawn

    I grew up thinking if I didn’t ” believe” I would spend eternity in hell. This is revolting and nothing short of brainwashing. That is why I speak out against religion. To teach children that the earth is only a few thousand years old and the scientists have it wrong is also revolting.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:50 pm |
  15. Len

    Really, I see the Christians as being the haters here. The sign is free speech, and if it challenges people to think, go ahead. If you are Christian and the sign bothers you, maybe you don't like your beliefs being challenged since you are unsure yourself. I think the Christians should be ashamed since this is obviously not Jesus's message.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:50 pm |
  16. JLC

    That billboard is not atheist – it's anti-theist. That's not going to win anyone over to their cause, no matter whether it's right or wrong. People need to just live and let live, regardless of their religion (or abstention there from).

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

      As long as people base decisions that impact others on their religious beliefs, there is a good reason to make this part of the social dialogue.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:56 pm |
  17. Mark Andrew

    atheist put a bunch always a bunch of lies. The only reason most have empowered and spread in number 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 3:49 pm |
    • Len

      Am I the only one who thought this message made absolutely no sense. Consider proofreading or grammar lessons, please.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
    • ranch111

      Hey moron...that is all.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:53 pm |
  18. Salvatore

    As an Atheist I don't like the sign. It is an attack on Christions only and Atheism is about not believing all religions. I have nothing wrong with the words but they could have included all faiths or just put the word "religion..." in front and had no picture. That said, I think it would be better to say "I hate what religion does to people" rather than "I hate religious people". The problem I have with most religions is this; You have a book written by men long ago, when the earth was flat and the center of the universe, making amazing supernatural claims. No one on earth today has any proof that these weren't just some crack-pots making up a story. You want to have "blind faith" in these words of men and then act like you are surprised that some people think you are nuts. Atheists look at all religions the same way the same way most religions look at other faiths, we just think you're ALL wrong. You can't prove that there is a god, hey... we agree... we don't think you can either.

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

      @Salvatore, just becase you can't prove something exists, does that mean it does not exist for sure? if you can't prove something exists that means it may or may not exist, right? only when you can DISPROVE the existence of God, you can claim He doesn't exist for sure.
      Also, there are more than 40 people who wrote the Bible, most of them historical figures.. many secular historians can tell you that. Now, can you prove all of them are 'crack-heads' who made up the story?
      you have a really weak argument for an atheist. Hope you find God (not a religion) in your life.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:57 pm |
  19. Joe

    this is the headstory on CNN? this debate between christians and atheists will go on for a while.
    Also, wonder why these atheist people won't put up similar signs against muslims during lamadan... hmmm somthing to think about.

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

      They don't for the same reasons that people wouldn't have done that in times before Jesus when God commanded his people to kill unruly kids, adulterers, people who worked on the sabbath, orwere non-believers. Something to think about.

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

      @observer, you raise a good point, except killing unrully kids.. anyways.. I hope you go back and read the entire old testament very carefully.
      First of all, those non-israelites who acknowledged God and followed Him were saved even in old testament times. And, about the killings, assume for a moment that God in the old testament is the only God of the universe, the creator and wanted their creations to live in His love (that's why we're created) and He's in charge of where the souls of every human beings would end up when they die. God didn't want to kill them! in numerous places in the bible, He expresses His love for human beings even in their sinful states and He wanted them to turn to God.
      Of course, if you don't have faith and don't have the first assumption, this doesn't make any sense, and I understand where you're coming from.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:12 pm |
  20. Speakeasy

    i repeat what i have read throughout these statments, WHY put down deny resist something (God) if He is not even there?
    use your money for the good of the world spread peace kindness and not hatred!

    December 1, 2010 at 3:49 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.