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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. ijreilly

    Question- Could Jesus have had a heart-attack for my sins and thus saved all humanity or did he have to be tortured and nailed to a cross? How does physical pain alleviate wrongdoings of others? Why couldn;t he have died in his sleep the night before and then saved all of humanity? How does physical pain solve anything?

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

      Common sense, if Jesus suffered what no one will never suffer then He has proven to humanity that it can be done and that He was willing to sacrifice himself in flesh, He did it to prove that he loves us more than anything and love is the only reason to exist.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:34 pm |
  2. adam

    stanwee: atheists need advocates because they are repeatedly discriminated against in all facets of life. There is a reason that most atheists are not comfortable sharing their views with others (at the workplace, school, etc.).

    December 1, 2010 at 4:26 pm |
  3. Serdar

    Dave

    Jesus existed. Not only has his existence been verified by eye witness accounts in the Bible, it was independently verified by other historians of the day – check this out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josephus

    -

    The only thing that is stupider to cite than the Bible is Wikipedia. Congratulations on reaching previously unknown heights of stupidity.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:26 pm |
  4. Jiggetty

    Well as I see if it's all or nothing. So that being said since Christmas isn't to be celebrated the way it has for a very long time, as this group wants. Let them also give up their days off, any holiday pay they are going to receive, and find a school they can send their children to that doesn't have a Christmas vacation time. Presents are definitely a no no "gonna be some happy tykes there". And all other holidays that are sprung from any religious belief let them work them also. Just an idea.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:26 pm |
  5. 666 WORSHIP SATAN 666

    SATAN IS LORD OF ALL THAT IS SEEN AND UNSEEN

    SUBMIT AND BOW BEFORE THE DARK LORD

    December 1, 2010 at 4:25 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      I've been trying to be a little more respectful of believer's feelings lately, so have not used my upper case "tag line", but this seems to be as good as place as any to say: THERE ARE NO GODs – NOT EVEN JUST ONE – NO SATAN EITHER!

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

    Visit us today. http://www.spirituallyraw.com

    December 1, 2010 at 4:24 pm |
  7. Chance

    Wow, what a bunch of pampas jerks. Get over yourselves!

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

      Pampas? Classic use of the wrong word. Get a dictionary.

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

    Ridiculous! Let me suggest that in the future you take your $20K and deliver it personally to one of several childrens' hospitals in your area.

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

      The $18.5K used in retaliation should be used in the same way then.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:31 pm |
  9. Cronus

    Keith

    You are wrong. That myth is used by anti-Christians to justify their hate. Athiests and Muslims have killed more people then Christians. In the past one hundred years in particular. Christmas is a time where people need to reflect on their lives and hit the rest button in effort towards expressing good will towards others. This bill board is designed to offend and is transparent in this organization's hostility towards the Christian faith becuase this organization rarely if ever offends other religions. In case you're thinking it, Hitler was not a Christian.

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

      Actually, Hitler was raised as a Catholic, and was confirmed. His religious views in adulthood are debated.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:39 pm |
  10. Shireen Kothari

    If you do a little search you'll find that this atheist group heavily relies on the "religion promotes intolerance" argument and that alone is what makes this all so laughable. What an offensive waste of money. What I take very seriously is how sad it is that everyone has let this go on when a "Mohammed is a myth" or even "Santa Claus is a myth" billboard would be promptly removed or, at the very least, shot with paintballs. Tri-state area... I used to be so proud of you.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:24 pm |
  11. adam

    Cooperman: I still fail to see how atheists are fools for not believing in a god idea that is completely non-empirical in nature. You seem to really know the central meaning of it all, don't you?

    December 1, 2010 at 4:23 pm |
  12. stanwee

    Doesn't being atheist just mean that you have no religion? Why do atheists need advocates? They can just not believe as they always have. Why try to ruin the holiday for those who believe? It's just rude. I'm Christian but I would never judge another religion just because I don't agree.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:23 pm |
  13. icygirl

    If someone wants to be part of religion or not part of any religion, it's their choice and no one should be forcing any kind of propaganda down their throats. I'm tired of billboards preaching to me about what religious beliefs I should or shoudl not have. Let's go back to billboards advertising products, not ideals.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:23 pm |
  14. Ray in Ohio

    How many children of this Nation with Freedom of Speach could that $20,000.000 have fed? Just because you have the Right, does that mean you Have to?

    Look it's simple, if you don't believe in the birth of Jesus...DON'T CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS. Celebrate your gift exchange on your birthday or April 1st.

    Sad how atheist's will call out "Oh My God" or add God to a curse, but reject His Love.
    Just Leave Christmas ALONE. The only myth, LIE, UNTRUTH is the one they are trying to shove down our childrens throats.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:22 pm |
    • Carlos

      Drive down any rural highway in Ohio. How many Christian billboards do you see? Why is it so controversial when atheists want to put up a few billboards of their own?

      December 1, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
    • Maureen Van Dusen

      The atheists are just kidding themselves. As St. Padre Pio said to an atheist when he told St. Pio that he didn’t believe in hell “you will believe it when you get there." St. Pio had the stigmata for 50 years. God cured a girl born without pupils through him. The girl still had no pupils but could now see. Scientists were baffled. The atheists should read about the hundreds of Eucharistic miracles that have taken place throughout the centuries, go to Lourdes where hundreds of people have been cured and read about the story of Our Lady of Fatima. She appeared to three children in l917 prophesied that fashions would be introduced that would be displeasing to God, prophesied another war if mankind did not cease offending God and said that Russia would spread it’s errors throughout the world. The last apparition was October 13th where seventy thousand people witnessed a great solar miracle that converted many atheists who were there to witness it. The story was featured in the Portuguese press the next day. Within a month of the last apparition the Bolshevik revolution took over Russia destroying churches and doing away with all worship of religion.

      I guess the homes the atheists live in just popped into being. They believe the human race did, yet our bodies are too complicated. They were designed by Almighty God who someday they will stand before in judgment.

      December 3, 2010 at 5:59 pm |
  15. Dave

    Jesus existed. Not only has his existence been verified by eye witness accounts in the Bible, it was independently verified by other historians of the day – check this out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josephus

    No rational person can dismiss the existence of Jesus as a myth anymore than they can dismiss the Roman empire as a myth.

    If you can't believe the Bible is true, how can you believe other old books (like Homer's Odyssey) are true? Would you have a double-standard against the Bible based on content or because you don't like what it teaches?

    Jesus existed. Not only did he exist, he died on a cross for my sins and for yours to create a way for you and I to have a restored relationship with God.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:22 pm |
    • Avram

      The God of Israel CHOSE to save HIS people, not you you filthy gentile.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:36 pm |
  16. RJ

    The US is a nation that offers religious freedom to all and everyone has the right to believe or not believe in whatever they want. I however find it most amusing that Atheist themselves get riled up and want others to share their non-belief which too is perfectly legal. But this has begun to border onto Atheism becoming their own new religion. Ads like the above are beginning to showcase Atheist with all the trademark qualities of a bad religion, intolerance for others choice in a private belief system and the subsequent almost christian like Proselytism.
    But at the end of the day to me some people need religion like me while other don't. The reasons may wary but everyone has the right to feel what they believe or are part of isn't any less than what others have.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:22 pm |
    • Shireen Kothari

      EXACTLY

      December 1, 2010 at 4:26 pm |
  17. LearnToFish

    All the whining from atheists on this site is amazing. No one is forcing you to believe in God, no one is forcing you to pray, where's the inquisition? "We need more atheists to speak up" Why? Atheism is a choice just like being Christian. If you're not comfortable with your decision then that's your personal problem. Banding together to insult someone else's beliefs? What's the goal?
    Maybe the American Atheists should put up a billboard with a picture of Muhammad and insult Islam.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:22 pm |
  18. Deadhead4ever

    Where was god when his people were being thrown in ovens ? Anyone ?

    December 1, 2010 at 4:21 pm |
  19. Willis Montgomery

    Fantastic idea, love it.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:21 pm |
  20. Free the Leaf

    let 'em fight it out
    http://www.facebook.com/free.the.leaf

    December 1, 2010 at 4:20 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.