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. Timothy

    I find it funny that people call this sign hateful towards religion but yet they can tell us nontheist how we are going to hell for not believing the way they do. I see so many religious signs everyday and get approached atleast once a week by christians on the streets trying to tell me how I should believe. It's refreshing to see people trying to promote a little common sense, I just wish there were more of these around. You guys are gonna go back and forth over this all day. People saying god exists and people saying no he doesn't. This will continue until we are all dead and gone and forgotten. My problems with religion is that it is constantly thrown in peoples faces as the truth and children (such as myself) are brought up being brainwashed into a ideal and never really given the chance to think for themselves. Thankfully I grew up and did my own research and actually thought for myself and just decided that since I no longer believed in santa it was about time to give up the silly idea of god. If there is a "god" it is just some energy that is inside of us all. I don't believe that atheism needs to be based on science it's just a little bit of good old common sense and being able to understand how things works. It's easy to let your mind go numb and just be told what to think but it's a lot more rewarding when you can actually let you mind go free and live your own life and not worry about fairy tales.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:37 pm |
    • Carina

      ...and agreeing with what you have said and for those that did let their mind go free, it is liberating. I can now believe in MY god, in the manner that I have thought this being to be without having my thoughts bound by religious beliefs, rituals and practices. This does not mean I am not a reasonable person or that my idea lacks common sense, and this does not mean that I listened to only what I was told. I questioned the religion I was raised into and you can say I pretty much made up my own system of practices and beliefs. Do I care if others believe in what I believe? No, not at all. Will I insult those who don't? No, not at all. I respect others and their choice to NOT believe in a divine being...but to be called unreasonable or that I lack common sense for believing in a divine being? THAT is offensive, and no one group should be generalized.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:46 pm |
  2. Kelly

    C.S Lewis notes the difference between our image of God and God. “My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence?” We might reply, yes, shattering of our image of God is one of the marks of Her presence.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:35 pm |
    • C.S Lewis = Stoner Extraordinaire

      He then finished the box of Twinkies and passed out.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:40 pm |
  3. Serdar


    Ofcourse you do not need to apologize for your religious shortcomings. It is not your fault you are Christian. You were likely indoctrinated as a youth. Handicapped people are not blamed for their shortcomings, this is really no different, you are handicapped.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:35 pm |
  4. Michelle

    If God gave us a ton of evidence and made it easy to believe in him, what would be the point of our free will? If we ever had evidence I don't think there'd be too many people that would deny him. They'd be like CR*P I'm on THAT side. 🙂

    December 1, 2010 at 4:35 pm |
    • BadReligion

      Oh, well with that unbreakable logic, sign me up!!! To think, all this time... lack of evidence WAS the evidence!!! God, you tricky little devil!

      But, what about werewolves... and dragons!!!! There's no evidence of them either!!!! I better pray to my newly acquired god!!!

      December 1, 2010 at 4:40 pm |
    • Carlos

      So your deity likes to play immature mind games?

      December 1, 2010 at 4:43 pm |
    • Jakie


      Please use the new memory erasing technique to eviscerate every piece of knowledge you have in your cerebral cortex. You are absolutely brain-washed.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:27 pm |
  5. BadReligion

    Newton: "I predict there's a force, let's call it gravity, that attracts objects in a uniform way, depending on their masses and proximity." An apple drops, and we have proof.

    Einstein: "I predict that at the speed of light, we can observe that Newton's gravity acts like a warping of the fabric of space-time." A few pictures are taken of an eclipse, the light from stars "bends" around our sun's mass, and we have proof.

    Christians: "Well, we don't predict anything but doom for those who don't agree with us, but we've got a lot of rules for you to follow, and a story about an invisible man who sends his only son to be murdered by the first flock of worshipers he created (while hanging on a stick because of some other heathens). And if you accept that son to be the meaning of everything, then you can avoid the worst possible things you can imagine happening after you die." Proof? ...

    Still waiting on that proof... HELLO!?!?!? Anyone seen some proof around here??? ANYONE???????

    December 1, 2010 at 4:34 pm |
    • edu

      Newton & Einstein: 'We have proven things that are in this universe but we can't prove what caused the universe of if it in fact was created by God, thus, all of our research is just for scientific data and that doesn't prove the logic of things.'

      Christians: 'God mentions in his Word, the Bible, that we don't have to understand how this physical universe was made because that's irrelevant and you will only fall into the paradoxes of the mind. What's important is to love each other like ourselves and to love God and believe in Him only through faith, don't lean to your own understanding to believe in Him, and then your heart will find its way, the real way, the way of love, because God is love.'

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

      Stupid CNN removing responses for no reason:

      Newton and Einstein were logicians, as in, used logic to arrive at their respective formulae. Just because you like a book that absolves you from learning anything doesn't mean you will get anywhere in life without... wait for it... LEARNING SOMETHING!!!!!

      Your book is the most recent rewrite of a fairly recent development in human evolution. Modern man has existed for about 50,000 years. For the last 1600 or so, the various re-spawnings of the Roman Empire have been using a religion called "christianity" to dominate its populace.

      December 2, 2010 at 9:04 am |
  6. Amigwyn

    I love how it's freedom of speech until it isn't the belief of the masses.

    I don't agree with the wording "You KNOW it's a Myth" however. I don't expect someone to tell me to believe the Bible just because they "KNOW" it's real... so the same should go the other way. Don't tell me I should believe it's a myth because you "KNOW" it's a myth.

    Sadly, no mater what the wording was Christians and Atheists would both be in a tizzy about the whole thing. It is good this issue is coming out because it is something that needs to be discussed but there's so much yelling and arguing on both sides I'm afraid you would get as much discussion from a group of first graders.

    My beliefs are mine. I don't think they're for everyone and I don't expect everyone to believe in them. I will stand up for my beliefs if someone tries to tear them down or convince me otherwise. I will not tell anyone their beliefs are wrong. Their soul belongs to them and their God(ess)/Budda/Supreme Being/Jesus/etc. I know what's going to happen to my soul, that's all I'm worried about.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:33 pm |
    • Rivik

      I would much rather believe and be wrong than ti not believe andand find out I was right.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:40 pm |
  7. Serdar

    "I think as atheists we should have the right to recruit much like any other religion, and to question other ways of thought, just as religions do. "

    Dude, the whole point of being an Atheist is not belonging to a school of thought/religion. There is no "nonbelieveranity". I don't want to recruit anyone, their ignorance is bliss. It keeps them in line.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:33 pm |
    • Carlos

      The way those blissfully ignorant religious people vote has a direct affect on your life, Serdar.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:39 pm |
    • Vin


      You have to see that Atheist, Agnostic, Christian, etc are all schools of thought. At its most basic level it is a belief in one thing or another, even if that thing is the belief that they don't believe in anything.

      The second option, not humanly possible, is to not think, in which case it would be possible to not recruit from one school of thought to another.

      I tend to think we should have less religion imposed on us from the masses, thus recruiting from the major religions is required, otherwise we get into problems and wars which are heavily faith-based and have little or no humanistic value.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:51 pm |
  8. Atheist are cowards

    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 4:32 pm |
    • BadReligion

      And should 12-year-old altar boys trust catholic priests, too?

      December 1, 2010 at 4:37 pm |
    • Historically Speaking

      So, I should consult a priest that is devoted to diddling little boys?

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

      @Athiest are cowards,

      Quit spamming this forum with your tripe. It has been said that the best way to promote a lie is to make it a really big one and to repeat it often...

      December 1, 2010 at 4:55 pm |
  9. Carlos

    Thank Thor I am an atheist!

    December 1, 2010 at 4:32 pm |
  10. David M

    Either you believe in Jesus or you don't. A billboard is not going to change anyone's mind. Neither will any of the comments on here. I'm a Christian and don't feel the need to apologize for it or justify it. It's what I believe. If I'm wrong, then I'm wrong and have lost nothing. If the athiest is wrong and I'm right, then he has lost everything. You decide for yourself.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:30 pm |
    • Will

      What if you pick the wrong god?

      December 1, 2010 at 4:33 pm |
    • greenbird

      well stated, sir!

      December 1, 2010 at 4:34 pm |
    • Brett

      If you are wrong, then you would have spent the only life you will ever live believing a lie.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:35 pm |
    • Carlos

      You have only one life, David. Does living that life under an illusion of ancient myth mean nothing to you? The point of the billboard is to show you that there is an alternative. Free your mind. If you only believe what you believe out of fear of punishment, you are a coward.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:35 pm |
    • Joe

      @Carlos, do you think Christians believe out of fear of punishment? where did that come from? you should study Christianity or ask any christians around you if there are any why they believe. Don't call someone a coward if you don't know what or why they believe.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:42 pm |
    • Brett

      Does Jesus watch you when you're taking a dump?

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

      Joe, my parents already put me through plenty of christian "study." I don't need any more. I only need to read random paragraphs from the Bible or the Quran to know that the influential force behind religion is fear, not some higher motivation.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:48 pm |
  11. Gabriel

    I think it is funny the atheist said "Happy Holidays" at the end of the vid. The origins of that phrase are Christian as well.
    Has to get that off my chest. In all seriousness, I agree with some posts here. They both need to hush. Why can't we all just believe what we want without being lashed for it?

    December 1, 2010 at 4:30 pm |
  12. 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 4:30 pm |
  13. adam

    Cronus: Argue your point all you want, but to state that atheists have killed more people than Christians is just a lie.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:30 pm |
  14. Vin

    As an atheist, I think it is great that a billboard has been put up to promote atheist thought and to bring unity to a way of thinking, this is a very lonely time of the year for those of us who look to this holiday season as a facade. Given the background on the billboard I can assume it is directed toward the major religion in this country, Christianity. However, the wording and timely placement of the billboard could encompass most standard religions; Islam, Judaism, Christianity as the "most important" dates for those all fall within the time-frame this billboard has been posted. I would like to see more action of this kind, though maybe not so pointed toward Christians, but to encompass all religious, faith-based, thinking. I think as atheists we should have the right to recruit much like any other religion, and to question other ways of thought, just as religions do.

    Provided all the religions, in all the ages, with all the gods, why is your belief the correct one? I think that seems a bit arrogant and self-indulgent. Over the ages we have declared witches, mystics, and gods for anything we cannot rationalize and as answers for questions beyond our capacity to solve, I find religion to be another one of these solutions.

    I tend to be a humanist, and will take the best of humanity and pass it on to the next generation, without the disdain taught by religion. With this thought I take Christmas in stride and as a official opportunity to thank those closest to me for their enduring patience, love, respect, and dignity that they provide me, gifts are offered but not in the spirit of Christmas but to provide a tangible memory for when I am no longer living.

    I tend to agree with some other posts I have read; If the billboard offends you so, your personal beliefs must be in question and maybe you should spend more time reflecting on why it is so offensive to you. If you are such a hollow person that a billboard challenging your religion is reason to fight it is truly a thin veil you wear, and undoubtedly you are over compensating. I endure direct challenges to my belief system routinely and grow the wiser with each encounter; not hardening my position but encouraging me to think more deeply and walk the line of humanistic values all the further to justify myself to those who ask me to do so.

    Science is not fact but probability constructing rules we can base assumptions on. Faith has nothing to do with science and is purely opinion handed from person to person. The two should stay separate, and one (faith) should stay the hell away from non-faith-based schools.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:29 pm |
    • Where can I donate?

      Is it highly probable that you are the missing link?

      December 1, 2010 at 4:32 pm |
  15. Dave

    The bible says in John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotton Son, that for whosoever believeth in him shall have everlasting life. You so called atheists, you better wise up. It is inherently obvious that the universe and all living things were created be a creator (God). You have to be an utter idiot to thing everything just came to be after a comet blew apart in space. Repent and be saved. God loves you and wants you in his family. If you don't, the price is internal hell, fire and brimstone. As for the question, why would God not everyone to worship him in their own way? Nobody knows the answer to his reason. I only know that God is God and he does what he wants to, not questions asked. Jesus said: "I am the way, truth and the life, no man can come to the Father but by me." You have your entire life to repent and ask Jesus to forgive you of your sins and to save you from eternal judgement in hell. THIS IS NO JOKE...WAKE UP MAN!

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

      In the spirit of word twisting believers, you are right, it is not a joke – it is complete garbage!

      December 1, 2010 at 4:39 pm |
    • Observer

      The Bible also supports slavery and the inferiority of women. So what was your point?

      December 1, 2010 at 4:40 pm |
  16. Will

    His name is "David Silverman". His anti-Jesus billboard surprises people???

    Call me when he puts up an anti-Passover or anti-Abraham billboard, or one that states that the religious premise behind Zionism is fake..

    December 1, 2010 at 4:29 pm |
  17. thedudesays


    December 1, 2010 at 4:29 pm |
  18. Veggo

    Good. I was tired of seeing the billboards saying "In the beginning GOD created" and "Abortion: the ultimate child abuse" At least now there is some balance.....

    December 1, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
  19. Brett

    Jesus is watching you take a poo.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
  20. the big G O D

    Hey Dave, you may want to take a basic course in logic. This is God speaking to you so you better do it!

    December 1, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
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About this blog

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.