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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. AG

    For all those pointing out that it takes faith to be an atheist – that's why I call myself an agnostic. I can't prove there's no god. I would bet on it, but can't prove it.

    So, why don't I agree that atheists/agnostics should just "live and let live' and allow the religious folks to have their beliefs? There are a LOT of reasons. Some have already been mentioned (the usual controversies about gay rights, reproductive freedom, and – one that I think should be a moral imperative – stem cell research). But even without religious beliefs, we'd still not all agree on things like that, so here's a more practical reason to argue against religion:

    TAX EXEMPTIONS.

    How much property tax, income tax, etc. could be collected if religious organizations had to pay their fair share?? Take a look at some of those megachurches and cathedrals. They're huge! And they pay ZERO in property tax. Who has to make up for it? Yep, you and me. I say end the tax exemption- pay up.

    FEDERAL DOLLARS SPENT ON USELESS PROGRAMS

    Want to cut government waste? Let's start with the "faith-based" programs that Dubya was all excited about. I'm talking about addiction treatments, etc. Most of them have never been scientifically evaluated for effectiveness. Or, if they have, the statistics were played with to make sure the results came out in support of the programs (read "How to Lie with Statistics"). Let's get some INDEPENDENT studies going to check and see if those programs are worth anything. If they are, great. I have no problem supporting a program that works. (As long as they don't practice discrimination, of course). If not, get rid of them and use our tax dollars for something that works.

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

      "Atheist" means that you either 1) do not believe there is a deity, or 2) lack a belief in a deity. That is ALL that "atheist" means- the word says nothing about a belief that this belief can be proven. "Agnostic" means that you don't think the existence of a deity can be proven or disproven. So a person can be an agnostic atheist, or an agnostic deist, or an agnostic with some other belief about deities. But, agnosticism is not an alternative to atheism or deism, it simply refers to a belief about 'proof' rather than a belief about 'existence.' So I can be agnostic about the existence of Santa Claus, and still believe that he does not exist.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:12 pm |
  2. Phil

    Really. A group of atheists want to remove the core concept of the understanding of Christmas as it was created as a mass of the celebration of the birth of Christ way back in the 5th century AD – with reason. Reason would dictate that if a celebration was based upon an occurrence, whether actual or mythological, redefinition of that celebration is logically pointless; a steak knife is a steak knife; has been a steak knife, and will always be a steak knife (at least for about 500 – 750 years); the very same with Christmas. Unless you're prepared to create another holiday on December 25 celebrating reason – and of course calling it by a different name and expecting perhaps different customs to spawn forth from this – Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ. Atheists, get over it.

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

      So what is Saturnalia exactly? I mean a knife is a knife right?

      December 1, 2010 at 4:05 pm |
  3. Just a Thought

    You worry about your soul. I'll worry about mine.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:00 pm |
  4. Like that

    Its obama's fault

    December 1, 2010 at 3:59 pm |
  5. yboywonder

    What a total hypocrit. Christmas is a holiday to celebrate the birth of Christ. If he doesn't believe in the Christ then he shouldn't be celebrating the holiday, period!

    December 1, 2010 at 3:59 pm |
    • Brett

      When did this holiday to celebrate the birth of Christ begin, pray tell?

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

      Sorry but no trademark or copyright was ever registered for the word "Christmas", therefore it has become generic or public domain. You might think about renaming it "Jesusmas" or something, and then taking steps to protect the name.

      My town is named after an extinct Native American tribe - nobody disputes the public use of the name because it once belonged to that tribe.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:26 pm |
  6. JosephG

    What about the Dungeons & Dragons people?

    When do they get a holiday?

    December 1, 2010 at 3:59 pm |
    • Phil

      You never will. Sorry, you're not at the level to know why, either. And you don't have enough Health Points or Spellcasting Points for me to respond further to this, so there.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:05 pm |
  7. David M

    Regardless of what you believe about Jesus, He is a fact of history. He was a real person who lived here and was crucified. To not believe that is to not believe historical fact.

    Beyond that, this whole thing is nothing short of stupid. We have millions of kids in this country who do not have just their basic needs met. Yet we have two groups willing to spend thousands of dollars on billboards. Why??

    As for atheists, you state it as a FACT that Jesus is/was a myth. What do you base that on? If you don't want to believe what Jesus taught, then fine. But why is it such a mission of yours to ram your ideology down the throats of everyone else? And for the Christian group, why do you even bother to dignify it with a response? Both groups need to grow up and realize you're wasting time and money. Meanwhile, people are starving. But you're paying for that billboard. Way to set your priorities.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:59 pm |
    • ijreilly

      A Fact eh? Where are you getting this fact?( If you're going to respond with "The Bible" please don't bother responding.)

      December 1, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
    • David M

      I wouild refer you to Josephus, the Jewish historian from that day. Also, there is more extra-biblical evidence for the existance of Jesus from eye witnesses. Maybe you need to spend time reading some of the Jewish writers.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:26 pm |
  8. Disgusted With Humanity

    Man, what is it with atheists and theists that they need to fling mud at each other on a joyous time of the year. Both sides need to grow up and let each other be. Live and let live, for goodness sake!

    December 1, 2010 at 3:59 pm |
  9. Tony

    Attacking Christianity is safe – we won't start a jihad over it. Put one up at Ramadan if you want to really impress people with your convictions.

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

      Seeing as how Muslims comprise 2.25% of the US population, what would be the point? The ENTIRE purpose of doing this is to turn heads, get some media exposure, and stir up opinionated discussions like this. But if you want, I'll say it... Muhammad was a charlatan, there is no Allah, and Ramadan is a myth. Feel better?

      December 1, 2010 at 4:14 pm |
  10. Hengry Greg

    atheist put a bunch always a bunch of lies. The only reason most have empowered and spread in number is because 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 barbaric pagan europe, people who used to whorship idols made of stone, wood, etc.. into catholics.
    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, fame, 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 3:58 pm |
  11. Andy 666

    Excellent work Silverman, keep it up (and the billboard too).

    By the way, calling it a myth should be no more offensive than calling it truth. By calling it truth, you could be offending atheists? Or Buddhists, or believers in Odin and Thor. What about their feelings? By calling something "the truth" you are implying all other religions are NOT the truth, which seems to be to be equally offensive. So chill.... it's all just opinions that we all have a right to express...

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

      One day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. If the Atheist is correct he and I will die and no big deal. But if the Christian is correct in their Faith of things unseen (Jesus Christ) and there is a Jesus which all have free will to believe in on faith. Then eternity will truly suck for the Atheist. Jesus Christ and His Father will that none should perish but alas some will because they have free choice and they will choose to remain defiant and humanistic. Brush your sandals off oh Christian and move on to the next town.

      Yes I am a right wing religious, insurgent, Christian nut and I believe in Jesus Christ.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:44 pm |
  12. mary

    I find it amazing that people can actually look at the universe and all thats in it.. And believe it all just "happened"..Amazed by those that can deny the existence of an intelligent creator in favor of the theory of the "big bang"..
    "First there was nothing, then it exploded"~!! And from that came "everything"...In all it's glory..
    Now THATS a leap of FAITH~! LOL

    December 1, 2010 at 3:58 pm |
    • Andy 666

      I guess the difference is that science is in the process of proving that. The fact that it's not explained yet, doesn't mean it will be. Let's say next year that we DO explain the big bang with solid science. Would that change your mind? Probably not. I find it amazing that anyone would believe in a higher being that listens in on our conversations, judges us, and punishes us if we don't behave. One that has the power to do anything, but allows suffering. I find that science offers much better explanations for gravity, energy, emotions, evolution, the universe, and conscience, collaboration, photons, the evolution of eyes, and on and on it goes... I guess the point is... Prove that God exists, and we can talk. "Claim" he exists, and I will claim that so does Odin and Thor, Buddha, The flying Spaghetti monster, etc ad nauseum.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:06 pm |
    • taildragon

      Mary, I think you represent why some people believe, and some don't. Science is sometimes hard to understand, and if you're not willing to invest the time and effort it takes to learn, one option is to believe a just-so story. Think about your words...you could just as well be mocking the fact that diseases are caused by little bugs you can't see. Diseases used to be caused by demons, but now we know bacteria and viruses are often the cause. I hope you're not so close-minded that you refuse to learn other things about the natural world.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:10 pm |
    • forexjam1

      u know what happens.. that we dont settle with a simplistic explanation due to our lazyness to find out... example of lazyness thinkin... the big bang theory is back by string theory..so its is not that it came from nothing.. it came from something.. go read it and then come back n argue.. we may never find out if there is such thing as a beginning or an end to all that have existed and will exist.. but we will never get tired of testing and coming up with new ideas based on evidence,.. in our journey we have learned to understand the universe in contrast with the religious one.. if it wasnt for great men and women of science we'd still be thinkin that t he world is flat and that the sun goes around the earth and would be killing whoever doesnt believe in a higher power... thanks to QUESTIONING our surroundings is that we have put robots in mars, and have cures for deseases .. and life expentancy has increased, all thanx to ppl who one day looked up in the sky n said.. **i wonder whats up there besides the fantasy of god** .. dont be mentaly lazy.. think a bit more.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:20 pm |
  13. Charles Harvor

    atheist put a bunch always a bunch of lies. The only reason most have empowered and spread in number is because 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 barbaric pagan europe, people who used to whorship idols made of stone, wood, etc.. into catholics.
    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, fame, 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 3:57 pm |
    • Andy 666

      Sounds like in terms of Hinduism, Buddism, Odin and Thor, Baal, Judaism, and all the others, you are an atheist.

      I just go one God further than you.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:09 pm |
  14. Jerry

    I've never seen in my life a group more threatened by something they don't believe in.

    Those of us that believe don't have to 'worry' because our souls have been purchased by Jesus' precious blood....our eternity is secured in heaven. What else is there to worry about?

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

      Maybe it's the thousands of years of persecutions and executions of heretics and non-believers by the Church that has them a little nervous. Or did the Spanish Inquisition never really happen, and did Galileo just fall down some stairs?

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

      How about the part where you try to forcibly change everyone's kids' Biology curriculum to teach them things that are demonstrable nonsense?

      December 1, 2010 at 4:07 pm |
  15. Adam

    If you're a Christian and believe in God then this billboard wouldn't bother you because you would have already forgiven him for it. Hypocrites.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:56 pm |
  16. Alex

    Are overly zealous and vocal fundamentalist Christians an annoying part of life in America? Sure. But stuff like this doesn't change anyone's mind, it just gets the religious people angry and lets the atheists snicker to themselves. This is a bit antagonistic for my tastes. I mean, I don't believe in supernatural stuff in general, which includes gods and divine realms and such. If a fundamentalist starts aggressively proselytizing in public, sure, I'll heckle him. If evangelicals come to my door, they're welcome to come in, but I'll make sure they leave with more questions than they answer. If you get in my face, I have no problem making you look like a fool. But I don't go out of my way to start a fight.

    I mean, all in all, religion, gods, and supernatural things just don't do anything for me. If they do, they're so difficult to detect/prove as to be indistinguishable from nonexistence. They just don't have any bearing on my daily life. And I'll be honest, looking at the whole gamut of religion and ghosts and afterlife etc from the outside, these kinds of beliefs are really, really just... strange.

    All in all, I think this billboard is in bad taste. But hey, this is America, and the atheists paid for the billboard space fair and square. I believe in the principles of free religion, free expression, and private enterprise. They have the right to throw down $20k to put up a billboard expressing their views just like the Christians do when they pay for all their zillions of "'Insert cheesy phrase here.' -God" billboards across the country. You don't like it? Wait till their rental time runs out, or take a different freeway. Get over it.

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

    Christians complaining that athiests are pushing their ideas down people's throats it a priceless irony.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:55 pm |
  18. Just a Thought

    To my Christian friends: Do you consider hindu gods Vishnu and Shiva myths?

    December 1, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
  19. Maltheus

    As an agnostic, the only thing I hate more than Christians are atheists.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
    • forexjam1

      wow.. it must suck to be u then.. u hate billions of christians around the world.. and hundreds of millions of atheists around the world.. i bet more than half of the ppl u see everyday have some type of religious believe.. do u hate em too? damn..... so much fkin hate lmao... i thought i was tough by simply disagreeing with them.. but u take the 1place dude.. feel free to hate me too tho..

      December 1, 2010 at 4:07 pm |
  20. Where can I donate?

    For all those "believers." Where is the missing link? The theory of the evolution of man has no shred of proof...none...zip..nota! Yet, even our puny brains have discovered how to clone life. Why is it so hard to believe that we were created by a higher intelligence or a supreme being?

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

      Just because you willfully choose not to educate yourself of what the facts are, does not mean they do not exist. The ONLY way you can claim that there is no evidence for evolution is through ignorance, pure and simple. And willful ignorance at that. Go buy a used 6th grade Biology textbook rather than posting your uninformed opinion on news articles. Your time would be much better spent.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:01 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.