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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. Steve D in Chicago

    @Chase Dorway
    turning water into wine, walking on water, etc. these are fictional stories.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:06 pm |
  2. KATHY

    A big "thank-you" to the Atheists that posted this billboard. It has totally backfired on your cause. More and more Christians are now making a conscious effort to spend more time in prayer and service in the name of Jesus! Watch what good can be accomplished when two or more gather in prayer! (unseen movement) Thank you for igniting the passion in some of us that have allowed our busy lives to distract us from our real purpose here on Earth. Your billboard is just a reminder how desparately this country needs God and how all his people need to come together and pray that HIS will be done. Merry Christmas to all of you and I pray this billboard brings more people to Christ this Christmas than ever! God Bless you.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:06 pm |
    • Just a Thought

      Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight? You own Palin's book and watch ton's of Fox News I'll bet. Probably want to see Obama's birth certificate too. How close am I Kathy?

      December 1, 2010 at 4:10 pm |
  3. Alateos

    I want to start a new trend and I would like to call it Anti-ism... it just opposes any belief presented to it. So whatever belief system you follow I'm against it, and if you follow my belief system then I'm against you and myself. Who wants to join?
    I'm planning on making a billboard that reads: "It's time to celebrate the ability to oppose and argue"
    The entire effort will cost $1 (all proceedings will go to me so I can buy a chocolate bar)

    December 1, 2010 at 4:06 pm |
  4. Colleen

    @ Theresa in MD-This is the wording of the pledge of allegiance in 1953.."I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands; ONE NATION indivisible with liberty and justice for all." No mention of God and it INCLUDED everyone! It wasn't until 1954 when as a nation we feared the Soviet Union did our motto and pledge change to include God.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:05 pm |
  5. Richard

    Our species is hardwired to have answers to questions, when reason fails because we don't understand something we turn to ritual and religion. It's a age old issue that will be with us for a long time, its much harder to be a rational, and reasoning person than to simply accept with faith stories that make no sense and are totally ridiculous.

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

    I love the people that quote the bible as proof to people that don't believe in the Bible. Priceless.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:04 pm |
    • JosephG

      The Bible really exists. I saw one the other day with my own two eyes.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:07 pm |
    • Tom

      So, Joseph, by your logic if a book exists then everything in that book must be truth, correct?

      December 1, 2010 at 4:30 pm |
  7. JosephG

    God is watching when you touch yourself!

    December 1, 2010 at 4:04 pm |
    • edu

      Yes, apparently all people do when they bathe, or do you mean mast...? repent before God and don't do that

      December 1, 2010 at 4:13 pm |
  8. Mythology

    While I can't prove or disprove either God exists or Jesus really existed, this is FACT: December 25th is the not the true birthday of Jesus. December 25th was originally the day of worship for another God named the Roman Sun God, Sol. The Sol Invictus Festivals in Ancient Rome occurred on Dec 25th in praise of this Roman God. The Date was taken by the Vatican, and proclaimed the Day Christ was born for the sole purpose of assimilating Sol Pagan worshipers into the newly formed Catholic Church in order to increase the tax base of its members. Believe what you will with the Pope's assertation on how Dec 25th was chosen, but if you do, you will know the effects of brainwashing.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:04 pm |
  9. James

    apparently, atheists don't believe in good typography either.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
  10. surtur

    atheism – the disease of the knowing

    December 1, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
  11. Atheist are liars

    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 4:03 pm |
    • Thor Worshipper

      You blaspheme Almighty Thor with your lies and deceit, zombie-on-a-stick worshipper.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:11 pm |
    • Observer

      A recent religious test showed that agnostics and atheists scored much higher on knowledge of the Bible than Christians did and had more education on average. Good thinking.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:13 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      @Mike Edwards/Jones

      Thank you for demonstrating so eloquently (NOT!) what too much religion can do to a human brain. I hope you get over your dual personaility problem soon.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:20 pm |
    • Cooperman

      your just a tad bit too intense my friend....makes you seem like kind of a lunatic

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

    Doesn't CNN have anything better to report on than two grade school gangs of bullies? Neither side have anything important to say.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
  13. Mel

    Christmas was invented by the church in order to convert pagans who celebrated the Winter Solstice. The Santa Clause legend came in later from the Germans. Easter too was created from a pagan celebration. Easter comes from the goddess Ester who was the goddess of fertility. The rabbit is a symbol of fertility. In any case, if people want to celebrate Christmas, they do not have to believe in Christianity or Paganism or anything to do so. It's a time to be with family and show goodwill. Many of you should try that whole goodwill thing.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
  14. sounder

    People are right to be upset with organized religion. Most all of it is man empowering himself to have a following, or at the very least his/her way of thinking. Denominations show this pettiness and the Bible does speak against it – You are not saved by Peter, Paul (or any other apostle); You can only have one master. Now that was religion.

    Christianity is about faith. Faith in God; that He sent His only begotton Son (who is a part of the triune God) – This whole story of Jesus being our Messiah is about Faith.

    Now consider this billboard. Who would spend $20,000 on nothing? Answer – no one. Atheists believe in God, they just don't know it yet. Otherwise, who are they fighting against? Can't be nothing, must be something. They just don't believe in any form of religion that's been presented to them. Don't believe in religion (or some person like the pope). Believe in God (and yes He can fit in a box, but He doesn't fit in a box).

    December 1, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
  15. Rivik

    Personally, I would rather be a believer and find there wasn't God than to be a non believer and find out there was

    December 1, 2010 at 4:01 pm |
    • Brett

      Personally, you have no balls.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:04 pm |
    • edu

      That's contradictious. I believe in God because my heart knows He exists, and then my mind can understand that it is an imperfect mind that can't have all the answers explained through science. To believe in God is to be rational and have common sense.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:08 pm |
    • John

      How about if it's the wrong God? You'll feel awfully dumb if you die and find yourself atop Mount Olympus facing Almighty Zeus.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:08 pm |
    • ijreilly

      Great plan, cuz I'm sure god won't know you were playing the odds.

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

      Your had better pick the right deity, coward. there are thousands to choose from. If there truly were a merciful deity, don't you think she would respect you more if you used your reason, than if you just paid her lip service because you feared punishment?

      December 1, 2010 at 4:10 pm |
  16. Raymond

    "There is no way to have definitive proof that God does not exist. Throughout history, there is more proof that God exists than there is not."

    Everything about your comment is ridiculous!

    The burden of proof is on he/she who claims that a god, any god, exists; no one is obligated to disprove any god. It is an unreasonable, goofy and illogical argument that you present.

    Further, there has never, ever, been a shred of evidence that a god exists; it is entirely faith based which requires no evidence.

    Get real.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:01 pm |
    • Victor

      God's existence is interesting. If you read the Bible, you see that He came to people who were away from the distractions of city life and political power. One has to take time, listen before discerning God's presence. LOL, either that or getting shot at in a fox hole. At any rate, given that there is no way to prove or disprove God's existence, it seems rather churlish for the atheist to declare emphatically that God doesn't exist. Frankly he seemed emotionally unstable.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:13 pm |
    • TheRebel

      Actually the "burden of proof" falls on you to explain how an all powerful being would have to leave evidence of it's existence. Your finite mind cannot grasp the infinite so therefore you are mind-locked. Try to grasp all powerful and infinite, and humble your self when you realize what you truly are.

      You cannot as a thinker deny that an omnipotent being would have the ability reveal Himself to some and conceal Himself from others. I suspect that you will not respond as my words are true. Even you must realize arguing with truth would make you a fool.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:44 pm |
    • Raymond

      There is no "truth" whatsoever to religion; it is 100% faith based. Beleiving it does not make it "truth", it makes it faith.

      Religious policy: A lie repeated 1,000 times becomes the truth.

      The bible was fabricated by men.

      Hitler was xtian to the core, to the bitter end.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:51 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      @TheRebel

      RE: "You cannot as a thinker deny that an omnipotent being would have the ability reveal Himself to some and conceal Himself from others." As a standalone sentence you might have a point. Now all you have to do is show that the supernatural being that you would like us to believe in is actually omnipotent. There're numerous refutations of your magic man's omnipotence and omnisience in this blog, including one in the comments here, and there are many more outside this blog. Please go do some homework and come up with a non-circular argument supporting your claim.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:12 pm |
  17. surtur

    i am amazed at the level of ignorance on these postings......you have ignorant atheists stating that atheism is a belief , atheism is the lack of belief in a theistic God, the burden of proof lies upon the claimant that something exits, thus the statement God exists lies upon the one trying to prove his existence. Considering that there is actually no evidence for God (which is why in the first place you have faith....), and hopefully you all do know the definition of faith --Believing in something without evidence, already states that there isn't evidence for God.....no going back to Atheism. Atheism is not believing particularly in a Theistic God (meaning one that intervenes –which then covers pretty much every single God ever created by men ie: Zeus, Yahweh, Elohim, El, Thor....there are countless more, and everyday we continue to disprove their existence

    the fact that one needs faith is the problem......Reason Logic and Science are immediately thrown out the window you can not approach a subject without being objective, having faith is completely going against rationalism......

    for example – the christian faith today is approaching a more apologetic and encompassing position on their faith. That everyones belief leads to the same God, which is why the whole position is about your relationship with God.....its honestly a retreat and last attempt, they completely contradict themselves (makes sense majority only read a couple passages off of the New Testament) when trying to justify their current position.

    point is western Faith is dead, they just haven't realized it......

    December 1, 2010 at 4:01 pm |
  18. Ian J

    While I understand and agree the Atheists message, I also believe in live and let live. If you think religion is a real, enjoy yourself. http://www.deism.com

    December 1, 2010 at 4:01 pm |
    • Victor

      Amen! I am Catholic, and many of my friends are atheists, and we respect each other enough to not try to change each other's beliefs.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:32 pm |
    • TheRebel

      So you haven't realized that all human understanding is flawed including yours and mine? Do you understand that what you, me, or anybody thinks or believes will not change reality one bit?

      Once you realize that those thoughts in your head do not create reality you will be humbled and most likely hunger and strive to find truth, while rejecting all falsehood. Or you may just sip lemonade while floating down the river of life. That's up to you. I've done my part.

      Peace

      December 1, 2010 at 4:52 pm |
  19. Len

    *sigh* It's so funny watching the Christian's and atheists go at it. The biggest irony to me is that the Christians are doing the exact opposite of what they should do. Is it about time that most Christian's actually read the the Bible and understand what they are preaching. We can't prove there is or isn't a god. Lets move on and live life please.

    Spread some Christmas cheer and help those in your community. Lets see if you will actually do all the things you claim, or just hope you can buy your salvation. If a god exists, he will think more of this than your arguing and pride.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:01 pm |
  20. taildragon

    I don't see the billboard as offensive. Believers would eventually get used to it in much the same way most non-believers tune out the ever-present religious imagery that bombards us every day. As a non-believer though, it is nice to see this billboard just because you get so used to thinking that the 24/7 religiosity is the norm. The billboard is a nice reminder that there are other rational thinkers out there.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:01 pm |
    • Carlos

      I agree completely taildragon. More atheists, agnostics and secularists need to speak up. If we do not, the religious fundamentalists will arrogantly claim to represent the majority, and those on the fence will let them.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:05 pm |
    • TL

      What's the ever-present religious imagery? I don't doubt it's there, but (oddly enough) I may not notice is as much because it doesn't offend or bother me.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:51 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.