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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. Raymond

    The bible was thoroughly discredited and debunked long before any of the bandwagon-jumpers were born and brainwashed by their family and preachers who told them what to believe over and over; now they repeat the same lies over and over to condition young people into believing the lies of religions. What a viscious cycle of lies and deception; the nasty tangled web of religious dogma and lies.

    Nothing within the bible can be supported by outside reference so...

    claiming the bible is true because the bible says so is illogical, dishonest and ridiculous which is exactly what the bible is.

    The bible was fabricated by man.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:20 pm |
    • Steve the real one

      Raymond,

      Is this fact or option? If it is fact, proof please! Who debunked and dicredited the Bible? Got any names, places, or dates? Since Atheists are all about proof, how about you provide some!

      December 1, 2010 at 4:44 pm |
  2. Tooth Fairy

    Leviticus 20:9
    If anyone curses his father or mother, he must be put to death.

    Exodus 35:2
    For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a Sabbath of rest to the LORD. Whoever does any work on it must be put to death.

    Exodus 21:20-21 If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property.

    Ephesians 5:22-24 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

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

      Yes. Those are the rules God wanted when he set up the world. It was only after Jesus got him to change the rules that common sense prevailed. Sounds exactly like the radical Muslims.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:27 pm |
    • edu

      The Bible is a very antique book, with extreme laws in a society where there was no justice system like nowdays, God never said we should keep doing it like 4000 years ago laws of the hebrews. If you're trying to look for 'mistakes' in the Bible you have failed completely.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
    • Matt

      @edu

      So, how does one decide what portions of the Bible still apply, and which ones are too "extreme" to apply anymore? How does it work when believers can pick and choose what portions of the Bible to follow?

      December 1, 2010 at 4:47 pm |
  3. james

    yawn.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:19 pm |
  4. Historically Speaking

    "Christmas" is a pagan fesitval. In fact, the feast of Saturn, also known as Saturnalia, was celebrated at this time. The celebrated birth of Christ was moved to December 25 to try to move people to celebrating Christianity instead of a Roman god. Also in fact, the Puritans and many other Christian sects refused to celebrate Christmas as a heretical holiday. As Matt pointed out, many, if not most, of the facets of Christianity are derived from previous religion and god-stories. Even Paul didn't teach a physical Jesus; the stories of a physical Jesus came AFTER the writings of Paul. So Christians, please research the history of your religion before you make foolish statments in a public forum.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:19 pm |
    • MarkyMerlot

      I think you'll find that the "December" celebration predates the Roman one; with the passing of the shortest day of the year (a real low point in the year when many thought the world might run out of light and therefore end.) When by the 25th it was apparent that the day, had indeed, started to lengthen, great celebrations were in order. It was easier for early missionaries to convert pagans my modifying existing celebrations than to throw too many new concepts at them. If I'm not mistaken, most theologians believe Jesus was actually born, sometime in April.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:04 pm |
    • FAITH

      Talk about foolish statements! wow! Have you even read the Bible? Here is WHAT Luke the Physician says about Paul in Acts9:19,20 "...Then was saul (Paul) certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God." Acts13:16,23 "Then paul stood up, and beckoning with his hand said,...(speaking of king David) of this man's seed hath God according to his promise raised unto Israel A Saviour, Jesus:" Interesting that you should pick paul, since he also did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God once and then was converted by Jesus himself! oh and please provide proof that true christianity was derived from other religions!! And i do not mean the celebration oF Christmas.This is not a tenant of thE Christian faith.Christians follow the Holy Bible. We do also practice tradition, not as tenants of our faith though.Tradition at our house holds that the birthday person picks the meal , it also includes giving gifts at christmas.Not because it was created the same day as a pagan holiday,but because it is a family tradition. I do not know the exact day oF Jesus's birth, but because we celebrate our birthdays i think it only right to pick a day to celebrate hiS.

      December 3, 2010 at 9:38 pm |
  5. Dave

    A serious question for my athiest friends. why all the concern for being heard, being fair, being good or tolerant? These are standards that either came from God (you've rejected) or we've evolved to these "good" standards. In that case why chastise someone else who's simply not as evolved as you are...They can't help it can they? Or perhaps a guy should thinking more deeply about the possibility of God.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:19 pm |
    • Fred Evil

      "A serious question for my athiest friends. why all the concern for being heard, being fair, being good or tolerant? These are standards that either came from God (you've rejected) or we've evolved to these "good" standards."
      Yep, evolved.
      "In that case why chastise someone else who's simply not as evolved as you are...They can't help it can they?"
      Exactly, they can't help it, so it's (usually) not about chastising them, but about trying to help open their eyes to the manipulation and exaggeration that is rife in most religions. If they can't help it, the moral thing to do is to help them. Unfortunately, some of the more 'militant' aspects of atheist groups, have been oppressed for so long, they get offensive in their offense.
      "Or perhaps a guy should thinking more deeply about the possibility of God."
      Here's the trick Dave, there is not an atheist alive who has NOT thought deeply about the possibility of god. NOT A ONE. ALL of us have considered it long and hard, we have looked at the various 'versions' of god that are popular on Earth, and have come to the conclusion that none of those theories are right. God is certainly a possibility, but so are little green men from Mars, in truth, I cannot DISprove either. But the trick is the PROOF, and there is VERY little tangible, indisputable evidence of any god's existence. Shall we go deeper? Ill wager that as a group, atheists have thought FAR deeper about god than most theists.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:52 pm |
  6. Serdar

    When one man is delusional he is insane, when the masses are delusional they are religious..

    Honestly as an atheist, I would like people to stay religious, them having fear of God is a great thing, it allows us to reap the rewards they choose to ignore. I also don't think most people have the necessary reasoning skills or moral compass to function without the fear of burning in hell. I for one wish your religions were true, it would be great for people to get their comeuppance, as most do not get it in their real lives. That sense of justice would be great, unfortunately I am not delusional, I do not have a single digit IQ, I can not believe in fairy tales with a straight face. Sorry guys, but as I said, keep the faith!

    December 1, 2010 at 4:19 pm |
    • Phil

      Wow. Social darwinistic, much?

      You never did explain what this specific "reward" will be to those like you to reap. I was thinking that were it to be immortality, you've been cheated. Sure, you'll live a relativistically short life in the grand scheme of the atheistic viewpoint of the eternal universe by being smug, self-assured and maybe even sporting a nice tan while you're at it, but, in the end, you die. And if the atheists' concept of absolute nonexistence comes to play, you're dead, pal. Dead. Your essence is finito. You don't exist anymore, you, your smugness, your tan and whatever reward you thought you'd get (e.g., immortality). are gone with you. Though I have to admit your comment on "comeuppance" would imply that, were this true, your statement is self-abasing, because it would universally apply, including to you, your smugness and your tan.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:29 pm |
  7. kjk01

    The interesting thing here is the group that placed the billboard will only attack Christianity. You will not see them make the same 'myth' attacks against other religions. The reason is fear. They are afraid of the attention they will get from attacking any other religion that is not Christian based. So these are not battles between atheists and religion, they are battles between christian-hating atheists and christianity. I doubt they have the backbone to put up a similar billboard during any other religious holiday. This group simply does not fear Christianity, which should be a feather in the cap for christians, since I doubt christians want to be feared.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:18 pm |
    • Andy 666

      One religion at a time, have patience. And to settle your mind: All religions are myth, Odin and Thor, Buddishm, Hunduism, Scientology, Judaism, and yes, Islam. There, feel better now?

      December 1, 2010 at 4:24 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Christians have put up billboards attacking islam. Does that make christians better than atheists?

      December 1, 2010 at 4:31 pm |
  8. MClax

    Pathetic on both sides. That money could have been used to make the world a better place, but I guess selfishness can become the true spirit of this time of year...

    December 1, 2010 at 4:17 pm |
  9. Thomas

    They are such wimps, they won't dare put a picture of Mohammed on a billboard, they would be killed.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:17 pm |
    • Thor Worshipper

      Jesus is regarded as a Prophet and Messiah in Islam too you knucklehead.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:18 pm |
    • Steve the real one

      Thomas,

      In Islam Jesus is regarded as a prophet and a teacher but not the messiah, nor the Son of God!

      December 1, 2010 at 4:49 pm |
    • John

      That is patently false. He is explicitly called messiah ("mesir") in the Quran. You are correct that he isn't regarded as the literal "son of God", but messiah does not – nor has it ever – meant "son of God". It just means "annointed one".

      He is also supposed to come back and rescue us from the Antichrist – their end times myth is almost identical to Christianity's.

      December 2, 2010 at 5:37 pm |
  10. Thor Worshipper

    Christians have the right idea, but go about it the right way. Why would you worship a ridiculous hippie like Jesus when there are awesome gods like Thor, Zeus, and Odin around? What kind of goofball submits himself to be crucified anyway? If his father wanted to forgive peoples sins, he could have done so without his son dying - he supposedly created the entire universe!! That'd be like me saying that I have to shoot my wife because some people down the street stole my lawn furniture and shrubbery.

    Thor would easily beat any of those bozos – father, son, or holy spirit – in a fight anyway.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:17 pm |
    • Phil

      So how do you all in Asatru rationalize Ragnarok? Isn't that a question Storrkongen Harald once asked?

      December 1, 2010 at 4:21 pm |
  11. Bea

    There is a stereotype out there about Christians... That they are all nuts! (actually this could be applied to any religion). Not all believe that God is a old man with a beard looking down on us. No... there are smart people, reasonable people, who don't reject science and actually embrace it with they faith. I wish they would come out more! I believe in God, I don't read the Bible literally and I don't believe the earth is flat. We are not all stupid!

    December 1, 2010 at 4:16 pm |
  12. Ryan

    Atheists... Rubbing it in people's face that you think there's no God as is annoying as someone trying to convert you to their religion.

    Perhaps some people have concepts of God working through, oh I don't know, the natural laws of science? It is possible to believe in a form of God that is not a man in the sky, while simultaneously studying evolution and cosmology.

    Can you explain the origins of the big bang? Or the recent evidence of events which occurred Before the big bang?
    Atheists are as in the dark about the universe as religious people are. Where do you get your certainty that there is no God?
    There's no such thing as certainty on the subject.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:16 pm |
    • Andy 666

      haha, remember... A hundred years ago we didn't even know there was a big bang. 2000 years ago the earth was flat. I can assure you we are working on all the answers while you cling to God, so stay tuned...

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

      @ 666, yeah, please keep working on those answers. How much time do you need? when you reach an answer, please let us know, we'll be waiting for you there.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:29 pm |
    • Carina

      Andy 666, by "we" I assume you are referring to science. It has been a bit slow at "discovering" concepts that have been around and taught for hundreds of years...and no, I'm not referring to the bible.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:29 pm |
    • Matt

      >> Can you explain the origins of the big bang? Or the recent evidence of events which occurred Before the big bang?

      No – we can't explain the origins. What some people fail to realize is that it is okay to say "I don't know" We don't necessarily have to attribute the details we don't yet understand to God. That does not prevent people from continuing to strive for understanding, and to try to figure it out. Maybe that is one of the reasons for some of the research that CERN is working on with the LHC.

      It seems as if God is in a constant retreat. As we expand our understanding of the universe around us, it gets harder and harder for God to be the explanation.

      One question for you. If something like the big bang did indeed require a creator, who created the creator? It seems to me that if something is so complex that it requires an intelligence to create it, that creator is infinitely more complex, and would require a creator of its own.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:30 pm |
  13. Carlos

    People who claim atheism is a 'faith" are clearly trying to redefine the meaning of the word. That is the beiggest "pot calling the kettle black" argument.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:16 pm |
  14. Matt

    I've always felt if you are secure in your belief that there is no God then you would not need to argue against it. Act like an adult and allow people to worship or not worship as they want. Christmas is the celebration of Christ's birth though for me and I would love the same respect an atheist would want, mutual respect. As for the Christian billboard, we Christians need to better learn how to turn the other cheek. It is not our fight but in the end it is in God's hands. May God bless us all!

    December 1, 2010 at 4:16 pm |
    • Carlos

      So Christians can prosthelytize their nonsense all they want, and it's fine, but atheists have to stay silent, and allow themselves to be dominated by Christianity? I don't think so. Sounds to me like many christians can dish it out, but they can't take it. You have a right to worship whatever myths you want, but I do not have to "respect" that, and I am perfectly free to criticize your expressed beliefs.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:22 pm |
  15. Cooperman

    You people are all fools....the atheists for not believing in any god and the christians for believing in an anthropomorphic god (for those of you who are too dumb to know what that means it means having human-like characteristics) who humans created to better relate to. The Universe, and everything in it (including us), is God. Thats right folks, I said it....WE ARE GOD, or at least part of God.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:16 pm |
    • Joe

      what makes your belief superior to Christian belief that you call names to those who believe in a God who posses human like characteristics? didn't you call yourself God (or part of God), don't you have human like charactersitics too?
      you can believe whatever you want but don't denigrade someone else's belief.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:23 pm |
  16. Carina

    How snobby...two wrongs don't make a right.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:15 pm |
  17. Eric

    http://www.everystudent.com/features/isthere.html

    December 1, 2010 at 4:15 pm |
  18. Mike Edwards

    Atheist don't wan't the catholic church scorning them and they will try to use the law to prevent them however they want to attack the catholic church which is against the bill or fights in freedom of religion to do so publicily. If the catholic church did a billboard attacking them they would forcibly take it down.
    atheist put a bunch always a bunch of lies. The only reason most have empowered and spread in number is because ot protestants or those related to protestants which shows protestants is a fake religion because it teachings 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 catholics 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 doing 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 now 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.

    Trustt 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 4:14 pm |
    • Observer

      Even George Bush wouldn't have said such nonsensical babble.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:22 pm |
  19. Colby

    All I have to say is: "MERRY CHRISTMAS" 🙂

    IF I OFFENDED YOU WITH THAT POST THEN PLEASE READ IT AGAIN...AND AGAIN...AND AGAIN

    December 1, 2010 at 4:14 pm |
  20. the big G O D

    Praise the Lard! I would like to see Santa and God in a boxing ring. I wonder who would win. Oh that's right... neither, because neither of them actually exist.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:14 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.