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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. Observer

    Why do so many Christians ignor the Golden Rule and select passages they can use to promote hatred of their fellow man?

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

      Cite some examples. Your statement is quite general, and I have seen little or none of what you are claiming. Enlighten me please.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:34 pm |
  2. Bob

    I wonder what would happen if somebody put up a sign calling Islam into question.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:47 pm |
    • Carlos

      ISLAM IS NONSENSE!

      Happy, Bob? I would put up a better sign, but I can't afford it. What is going to happen now?

      December 1, 2010 at 4:54 pm |
    • Let Us Prey

      @ Bob & Carlos (sounds like a sitcom..)

      Standard Muslim response... "death to the infidels"

      Your phone will now ring 7 times.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:05 pm |
    • Let Us Prey

      .... er.. 7 days. Yeah – that's it... Days. Now I remember.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:07 pm |
  3. Play Nice

    I fail to see why either the Christians or the Atheists feel the need to put up a bilbord with their beliefs posted upon them. Perhaps if we could all learn a little more tolerance happey ness would abound. Happy Holidays to nall nomatter your beliefs.
    P.S. To the Fellow using the number 666 to refer to Satan please know that that is the wrong number. This common misconseption is due to a mistranslation. The correct number is 616.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:46 pm |
  4. dc4sense

    Personally – I don't belive a word of religion (based on hundreds of conflicting stories, told by word of mouth for hundreds or thousands of years, revised by committees, with supernatural claims, conflicting claims, interpreted differently by every "scholar" – yet every religion claims to be the "truth". At best, all but one is totally wrong. This of course does not prove or disprove the existence of a "god", except that with each religion having their own version of god, at best, only one can be the "real" god. Someone said (para) that we are all athiests for other religions – real athiests just believe in one less god. I dont see the value in putting up a billboard knocking religions though. I dont mind the religious, until they try to force their beliefs on me. Humans are most comfortable around those with beliefs that mirror their own, and uncomfortable around "different" people. We are still very tribal in our thinking, though we try to imagine otherwise. Being pragmatic, I note the shrink in the movie Miracle on 34th St, who says that delusional people become violent when their delusion is challenged. This seems to be the case with most religions, with a LONG history of killing people that dont share their faith (generally using creative torture first), so I prefer to not bring up the subject. I see no relation between science and athiesm, except that science does not allow for "magic" in its philosophical basis and religion does. I see no connection between Communism and athiesm. It is a form of government, like democracy, with some strengths and some weaknesses. All forms of government are flawed, the flaws our in ourselves – not the type of government we have. Bottom line – With humans so generally flawed, if someone did create this mess, they should get an "F".

    December 1, 2010 at 4:46 pm |
  5. anya10

    Really? It's just a billboard. There are more important things to worry about than a stupid billboard. As for the 'Christians' who felt the need to counter it, why let something ridiculous bother you like that? Instead of spending money on a billboard, spend it on helping people less fortunate. I am a believer in God, and it embarrasses me to see people who claim to have faith do something like this, for Christians already have a bad rep.
    I have many friends with different beliefs and I don't go trying to shove mine down their throat- what matters is a person’s character, and I know wonderful people who are atheists. To me, it doesn’t matter if they call themselves Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or Atheist,- I don’t deprive myself of meeting incredible people and neither should anyone else.
    But there are bad people on both sides- Christian, and Atheist. As for the Atheists, I see why you’d probably get annoyed, but instead of making a negative billboard, make something positive like what atheists represent- because making a billboard like this is only going to get negative responses and people are going to continue to stereotype atheists as mean, ignorant people. And I know there are very good people who are Atheists. Both sides are at fault, and they need to concentrate on more important things.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:45 pm |
  6. Jakie

    Many people are commenting about how science doesn't disprove the existence of God, or that science shows that there is a beginning to the universe and thus proves God's existence. Both of these suggestions are fundamentally flawed, and in my opinion are defense mechanisms used by those putting them forth. Christianity, and in fact any religion that believes in a personal god/creator, has two fundamental flaws that have absolutely nothing to do with science and everything to do with logic, which incidentally forms the foundation for the only universal/objective truths of reality (putting aside the Cartesian dualism problem). Since St. Thomas Aquainas failed miserably at logically defending the existence of God (i.e. the uncaused cause, etc.) the defense of Christianity has centered around two propositions:

    1) Because everything we observe can be temporally traced back to a prior cause, the universe had to have been created by something, and that something is God; and

    2) Because the universe appears to have order, someone or something had to have created it to have that order (think intelligent design).

    Using simple logic, these arguments are both fallacious. The first begs the question in the worst possible way. If the universe needs to have been created, then so does God. The natural question is then who created God? Defenders will assert that God was always there. This is nonsense since the whole purpose of introducing God into the equation is because the universe (or the supposed "singularity" that existed before the big bang) could not have always been there. The second proposition is equally nonsense, but for at least two reasons. For one, the universe may only appear to have order, just as causation may only appear to actually exist, when in fact any given event may be said to have unlimited causes and we only limit are decision on what "truly" caused something to GIVE order to the universe – think about all the finger pointing that goes on every time something unexpected happens. For instance, we think that

    December 1, 2010 at 4:45 pm |
  7. mark

    There is zero supporting evidence for the abiogenesis myth ("life from non-life" foundation of atheism), but mountains of evidence for Jewish (Biblical) history, including written records by multiple authors, confirmed people, places, events, timelines, fulfilled prophesies, Israel scattered, Israel restored etc.

    Really, most of the Jewish history deniers are, simply put, anti-semites.

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

      I am only part Jew. I am Jew-ish!!

      December 1, 2010 at 4:53 pm |
  8. adam

    atheists are cowards: present a coherent thought in your next post and I might give it merit.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:44 pm |
  9. winger27

    I think it's great that people are speaking their mind instead of hruting each other. And what a great coutnry that we can even have this going on!! Try this in Afghanistan!!!
    One the other hand, I also feel like $38,500.00 could do a lot for someone in need... maybe send a kid to college, hire a new teacher at a public school, feed a bunch of families, help someone get a medical procedure.. heck, 'I' need a new roof!!
    Not sure exactly how to feel about it.. glad we can do this in America, but pretty much feel it's close to being just a usless waste of time and money.. either way, if you're sure in your belief, believe what you want, I think these people have too much time and money on their hands! Feliz Navidad!! ;0)

    December 1, 2010 at 4:44 pm |
  10. Rob W.

    Again, these guys are counting agnostics, anti-religionists under the flag of atheism and is an unforgivable/disreputable claim to make, shows their motives and their ignorance and like most minority movements, the propensity to recruit, prosiletyse and stretch the truth to meet their own ends (sound like anyone we know?) . The historicity/accuracy of Biblical events has long been an open subject inside theological traditions embedded in the major religions and has not been considered blasphemy for more than a century among this scholastic cohort. What these morons continually fail to realize is the enormously significant and sophisticated/progressive philosophical tradition that was established in that age that has been commonly attributed to the Judaic teachings of Jesus Christ. This is the thing of primary interest to anyone who studies the subject seriously (which these guys don't seem to.) The mythological trappings have long since been conceded by most serious theologians inside and outside these traditions.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:44 pm |
  11. Shawn

    Christians. If you were born in Afghanistan would you believe in Jesus? I dare say you would be Muslims as are 99% of the population. If you were born in ancient Greece you would’ve believed in Zeus. If you were an Aztec you would’ve sacrificed humans to make it rain. Christians believe in Jesus because they were raised in a Christian household in a Christian country. Don’t be ashamed you’re a product of your environment.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:44 pm |
    • Steve the real one

      Lots of IFs there, Shawn. None of what you said is true for the majority of christains on this blog. Have you heard of what happens to muslims when they convert to Christianity? Most are but there are those who are NOT a product of there environment, yet they are Christian! Ccare to explain that?

      December 1, 2010 at 5:02 pm |
    • Shawn

      Some people do find religion at a later age. If someone has a void in their life and their searching it’s easy to fall into Christianity or other cults. The vast majority though are brainwashed at a young age.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:16 pm |
  12. Kelly

    Agent K from Men in Black "A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow."

    December 1, 2010 at 4:43 pm |
  13. Lets see you do it

    The American Atheist Organization likes to bash the Christmas and Christians with their public sign. But considering that there are over 3 billion Muslims around the world, I have never seen a reporter come across a public sign that says that the Muslim religion, The God Allah, and the prophet Mohammed are myths too. How come there isn't a public sign denouncing that religion is a myth too? Is it maybe -that the American Atheist organization is scared to put a sign up like that because if they do a jihad will be placed on their heads and headquarters?? They probably know that bashing Christians is a safe thing to do-but keep your hands off the Muslims because they will take revenge on you, no matter who or what you are. This reminds me of a CNN article in the summer where Roland Emmerich was asked why no Muslims or Islamic holy structures were destroyed in his movie, 2012. In that movie, the Vatican got crushed, the Pope dies, the Rio de Janeiro statute of Jesus destroyed, the Great Wall of China got destroyed, but no pictures about the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem got destroyed. Roland said that he had shown that Islam was pillared, he would have been dead within a month. Such hypocrites. The American Atheist organization is hyprocritical too. If you want to bash Christians, don't forget to bash Islam and Buddhists(like myself) too. Be fair to everybody. Don't forget the Buddists are not an easy going group of people too.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:43 pm |
  14. microdot

    I worship the big stone in the forest and have run out of virgins. Know any?

    December 1, 2010 at 4:43 pm |
  15. Serdar

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

    December 1, 2010 at 4:41 pm |
  16. Truthseeker

    The whole argument is stupid because NO ONE really knows 100% about anything. Atheists rely on science and Scientists themselves will be the first to admit they're constantly being stumped by new discoveries regarding human and universal evolution. The Christian religion, like any other world religion is based on FAITH, not fact. As someone who doesn't practice or acknowledge any faith, I say: If you feel like celebrating Jesus' birth or simply celebrate the winter solstice, GO FOR IT. Who really cares, anyway?

    December 1, 2010 at 4:41 pm |
    • NL

      Truthseeker-

      So, who cares, right?

      Well, if the president said that he relied upon his horoscope to make decisions that affect us all would you be just fine with that because he had faith that it worked? Remember that believers are politically active in this country, making decisions that affect us all based upon something that they too only have faith in. Why should we treat one kind of faith alone belief any differently than another?

      December 1, 2010 at 4:53 pm |
  17. Heff

    Dear, Inside information
    You non-believers realize this country was founded on the Christian principal.

    Your a wrong..... please take some time are read actual history of the founding fathers.....thanks.....

    December 1, 2010 at 4:41 pm |
  18. whgage

    Don't get rid of christmas, just get rid of the myth.

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

    Furthermore, wouldn't this be more effective in the Midwest? I mean, when I go into the Lincoln Tunnel I don't exactly brace myself for the Westboro Baptist Church.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:37 pm |
  20. Catnmaus

    Ahh, the annual boxing match of 'Happy Holidays' vs. 'Merry Christmas'.

    Happy Saturnalia everybody! Gods bless us, everyone 🙂

    December 1, 2010 at 4:37 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.