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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. Atheus

    Why should atheists have to respect religion? That's like asking somebody to respect a hobbit.

    December 1, 2010 at 5:04 pm |
  2. AvidAtheist

    As an Atheist I find it discusting that other Atheists would go so low as to put a billboard up saying Christmas is a lie. The whole point of being an Atheist, other than not believing in a diety, is that we are supposed to respect other people's religious choices and not tell them outright that we think they're wrong. I do get frustrated when other religious groups, mainly Christians, really pound us with phrases saying we're the anti-Christ and that we have no moral values, but putting something up like that is just giving them more reasons to lash out hatefully. I'm embarrassed to call myself an Atheist when there are those of us who do things like this. It really should be taken down out of respect to the Christian/Catholic community.

    December 1, 2010 at 5:03 pm |
    • Carlos

      AvidAtheist, I have serious doubt that you are truly an atheist. Why should we respect any particular religion? Attacking a religion is not the same thing as attacking our fellow humans. Ideas do not bleed. humans do.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:11 pm |
    • Not A Sheep

      Would you respect a person who believes that Bigfoot lives in their basement? A person who thinks the sky is blue because of fairy magic? A person who thinks they can fly? Of course not. You would assume they're psychotic and urge them to get help. While every person deserves respect and dignity simply due to their membership in the human race (even those who are delusional), we do not have give their beliefs respect or dignity. At best, those who believe in a god deserve pity. Others who use religion as a tool for psychological enslavement or to justify committing atrocities belong in prison, not behind a pulpit.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:15 pm |
    • Gregory M

      Respect for Christians? Why should atheists respect Christians when their delusional religious beliefs have caused so much suffering in the world?

      If I'd known that this billboard was going to be put up, I would've gladly contributed. Where's the next one going up, and when?

      December 1, 2010 at 5:16 pm |
    • NL

      AvidAtheist-
      If it were just a matter of personal belief it really wouldn't be anyone else's business, you're right.

      If someone believes that Atlantis is real, who cares, but if they belong to a group that blows up ships crossing the Atlantic because they believe the king of Atlantis wants them to, well then it is our business, right?

      Remember that people who believe that Jesus was God's son are making decisions for all of us based upon this belief. They cite their certainty in this belief as reason enough to suppress stem cell research that could save millions of lives, amongst other harmful decisions. That's what makes their beliefs all of our business, see?

      December 1, 2010 at 5:29 pm |
  3. Muhia

    I am an Atheist and for some reason, I have always found religious people to have lower IQ's and to be really naive and lacking in common sense, maybe because they subscribe to blind faith...My mani question is, if there was a God, then why do we have thousands of different religions and thousands more denominations??And why do we have to keep worshiping this god every hour everyday??? Does he have low self-esteem that he needs his behind kissed 24/7 and his ego stroked from all corners of the world all the time???? Christians keep talking about free will but it really isn't free will because really there isn't an alternative since to them it's either you believe or burn in hell...Where is the free will in that???? To me, that sounds like dictatorship...Which brings me to another point... This god that is supposed to be merciful will supposedly banish the people who didn't kiss his behind to burn eternally in hell on judgement day.....Jeez, that doesn't sound like a loving god, that sounds like a man with serious revenge issues who is out for vengeance...Maybe he should talk to a therapist and get to the root problem of all this anger....I am a staunch Atheist and I try to live my life like a good human being...And I am happy and successful...That's all I care and that's all I need.....If anybody wants to believe in their invisible man in the sky, that's their business.... That's just my observation, now you guys can go back to bickering...

    December 1, 2010 at 5:03 pm |
    • NL

      I am also an atheist, but I was once a believer. Was my IQ somehow below par when I was a believer? No. I just lacked certain information because I lived a sheltered life where everyone I trusted told me the same thing, that God existed. When I matured and took it upon myself to investigate God that is when I had the information necessary to see things as they really are. Believers are told to repress doubt for a reason, you know?

      December 1, 2010 at 5:18 pm |
  4. Philo Cafe

    I believe in the Ancient Alien Astronaut Hypothesis. Does that mean I don't believe in God? No. It means that I believe that God most likely was/is an alien from another world/universe, whatever. In other words, I think God (and other gods in other cultures) probably came from space. Our ancient ancestors just referred to them as "gods," and for all intents and purposes, they were indeed.

    I know, I know...[Then who created the alien(s) (i.e., "God")??? ] Well, why couldn't the alien (God) always have existed? [But that's silly!...Everything has a beginning!!].... Realy? How can you be sure? Maybe some things don't have a beginning, or an end. Maybe our conception of time and existence itself is so myopic and human-centric that we in truth don't know what we think we know...we just don't KNOW that we don't know what we think we know. You know??

    Hey, I know it sounds a bit crazy. But in reality, it's no more crazy than presuming God just exists, has always existed, and will always exist...and, moreover, whose existence is somehow "off limits" to intellectual scrutiny; that is, that we are not allowed to use our brains that God presumably gave us to question things...like the existence of God. That's just nuts!!!

    Personally, I find it a comforting thought that Jesus might have been an alien. It somehow makes it more believable that maybe someday, Jesus really will return...in his spaceship...and take all of us believers home with him. I also find that infinitely more preferable than simply settling for the "3 +1 Brane World" hypothesis that you String Theory folks love so much. 😉

    Happy Holidays!!!

    – JB in Savannah, GA USA

    December 1, 2010 at 5:03 pm |
  5. Tony

    Repent now and turn to Jesus for your own sakes, eternity is a very long time....

    December 1, 2010 at 5:02 pm |
  6. Atheist cowards

    Atheist don't wan't the catholic church scorning/insulting 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 5:01 pm |
    • Dan

      Man you can ramble on. I had to stop reading after the third line of your weirdly spaced incoherent rambling. Sometimes less is more, and with you, less is better.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:23 pm |
  7. Quez

    Freedome of speech!!!!

    December 1, 2010 at 4:59 pm |
    • Carlos

      I second that, Quez. Our founding fathers were enlightened geniuses for making that a keystone of our republic.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:04 pm |
  8. galileo

    faith + ignorance = religion
    faith is a great thing, corrupt it with man interpreting it and using it to control the ignorant and add fear to it and you have most of the worlds religions today. Look up at the sky. Do you think that the God who created the Universe was so weak as to give us the Bible, and the Koran as its best effort. That is even weak for a God made in mans image. There is no God who would preach hate and conversion or inclusion through fear and hate. Science is the search for truth. Religion is the avoidance of it.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:58 pm |
  9. Carlos

    I am atheist, because every other alternative is just too damn silly.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:56 pm |
  10. cbozey

    I could care less about atheism or chritianity. I just want to go the rest of my life without seeing billboards...or bible selling idots..or anything religious wise. I want silence in this matter!!!! I want to worry about the smell of my next fart...rather than who created it.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:56 pm |
    • Carlos

      Cbozey, I agree that billboards are ugly. Having said that, Fundamentalist Christians are not the only people allowed to put up preachy billboards.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:00 pm |
  11. adam

    mark: Citing the Bible as evidence, as well as accounts from other believers is not empirical. Also, as an atheist who dislikes no group (religion, race, creed, etc) whatsoever, calling atheists antisemites is extremely offensive. With all due respect, Go f*** yourself.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:56 pm |
  12. Larry

    It's just the usual nonsense. They don't believe in something, so they can't stand the thought of someone who DOES believe being happy or content.

    They're probably the same ones who went around telling all their kindergarten classmates about Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy as well.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:56 pm |
    • NL

      Larry-
      "They don't believe in something, so they can't stand the thought of someone who DOES believe being happy or content."

      Well, can't it equally be said that believers don't believe in what we do, that the whole thing is likely a myth, and that they can't stand the thought of us being happy or content?

      "They're probably the same ones who went around telling all their kindergarten classmates about Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy as well."

      Kindergarten kids aren't driving the cars through the tunnel, and likely aren't going to get the message of the billboards unless some adult explains it to them, right? The message is for grown up adults who ought to be mature enough already to hear it, right?

      December 1, 2010 at 5:09 pm |
    • Phil

      @Altheus: If that's the best argument you have, you just gave me an even healthier respect for religion. And hobbits.

      This entire argument is utterly ridiculous. Christmas was created as the celebration of the mass of the birth of Christ, that's it. As other options may play in such as the "alternative to Saturnalia", etc., sure, why not? However, that does not change the original meaning and definition of Christmas at all. Dueling billboards are just a childish way of trying to tell people this:

      "The sky is GREEN!!!"

      "IT IS NOT IT'S RED YOU @*@#&#& TROLL!!!"

      "You are ignorant and st00pid – byproduct of your kind. The sky is green and that's final!"

      December 1, 2010 at 5:12 pm |
  13. Phil

    @Serdar: Aren't you finished making your social darwinistic, overstated and utterly non-original point by now? You're late for WoW.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:56 pm |
  14. achap

    There will be a day that the non bleievers will see there is a God and his son is Jesus Christ, for whom we celebrate the Christmas season, how can you celebrate or even acknowledge Christmas if you don't believe in God. It seems you are a little hypocritical. It is still a free country (for now) but that's another topic. believe what you want but let us Christians have our holiday without someting so stupid as the signs you are putting up. One day you will see, and it is not gonna be pretty ofr you non believers! in Jesus name I will pray

    December 1, 2010 at 4:55 pm |
  15. Jakie

    Not sure why my last comment got cut off, but there are other reasons using simple logic to believe that a personal God/creator is absolute nonsense. Even putting aside the fact that introducing God does nothing to explain the infinite existence of the universe, the idea of God makes absolutely no sense. Ok, so God has always been here, bored as sh** for the infinity that is time, and then one day says I'm going to make a species that will be really smart so that they will worship me, because after all I was really f'ing bored. Now, not only am I going to create this species, then I'm going to keep my eye on iit (reality show style) so that I can make sure that they do the "right" thing. Even though these people will live extremely short lives, I will punish them for eternity if they don't do what I say (or really what some of them really late in the game, like a million years after they've been around, write down in a book) or in fact, even if they just don't believe in me. Nevermind the fact that I have now created a species for the sole purpose of punishing the majority of it in a burning pit of fire. Nevermind the fact that I've made this species really smart so that they can use logic and their powers of observation to come to a conclusion that it is illogical that they believe in me...whatever, I still punish them. At this point, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that this God is one mean mother f***er. He sits around forever, gets bored, makes a species, and then punishes the crap out of them for only doing what comes naturally by his "intelligent design".

    December 1, 2010 at 4:55 pm |
    • Gretchen

      Unfortunately you have chosen to view God from a very painful perspective and I really don't blame you for thinking that way and it is very brave that you express your perspective so openly... But you have chopped pieces of the story and put them together way out of context. You should (if you want to) seek the truth wherever it may be found and accept such truth whether you like it or not, because in the end your life does depend on it. It will all become clear some day, as God will help us understand why things went the way they went, which we are not capable of understanding now. The feelings you are expressing are coincidentally the same expressions of resentment and anger against God displayed by the fallen angels... The truth shall set you free.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:25 pm |
    • Salvatore

      Well said Jackie. And all you will get back is ..."some day you'll be sorry and see the light..." These people are affraid of a life without a god and will believe in it no matter what. You can't use reason against a position that is so unreasonable. If someone gave you a pill and said that it will take away any pain imedeaitely most people would be sceptical and want proof. And even if you just took the pill anyway, if it didn't work, you would stop taking it. But when it comes to something as important as an almighty god, people will suspend reason. And then yhey give you the "I feel sorry for you" line as they clutch their teddy bear. I will live my life doing good things and treating people well and helping others. If there is a god and that's not good enough, he can kiss my A$$. But let's remember, the christian god said he would not only punish you, but your offspring as well for four generations... nice. Inocent people being punished... yea, sign me up.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:55 pm |
  16. Easter Bunny

    As an agnostic, I'm not about to try recruiting or converting anyone away from religion. It's an individual choice. Do I understand it? No. I was raised as a Christian, and when I was old enough to question it, I got out.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:53 pm |
    • TheRebel

      One called out by God cannot opt out of service. That means that you never were a part of the Universal Church as calling yourself something doesn't make you one. There are plenty of Christians that think they are a Christian because they were born a Christian or decided to become a Christian. I was one of them. Until I experienced the presence of Christ a few years ago I thought I knew a thing or two about a thing or two. Not in His presence though, no way, I knew right then that I didn't know anything. Sure I thought this and believed that, but who the heck am I? Until a person truly humbles themselves and realizes they are mentally blind to so much, then they are lost in their pride. "Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find."

      I asked for Him and I got Him. I sought Him, and I found Him. What are you asking for? What are you seeking?

      December 1, 2010 at 5:15 pm |
    • Grippage

      @TheRebel: I truly believe you have had the experience you describe. The problem is that that experience, just as you have described it, has been had by many people of many different religions for thousands of years. I mean that, with very little research you could thousands of writing describing precisely the spiritual experience you have had. This kind of spiritual/transcendental experience surely exists, but it isn't evidence of a God.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:23 pm |
  17. Tom

    What did the bhuddist say to the hot dog vendor?

    Make me one with everything.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:53 pm |
  18. -=

    truly moral choices can only be made out of free will

    living according to a moral code because of the fear of punishment (i.e. going to hell, getting caught by police, etc) is not truly moral

    if you live a moral life and do your best to be a good person and there is some sort of god, it is likely you will be rewarded in the afterlife regardless of your faith or lack thereof. if there is no god you have lost nothing.

    thus the question of whether or not god exists is pointless (not to mention there is no way to prove your belief), and– while many religions contain important lessons on love and morality– a virtuous, loving atheist lives the most moral life of all.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:53 pm |
    • Tom

      well put.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:55 pm |
    • TheRebel

      The law condemns not saves. If you think the existence of God means little then you could care less. I've seen were apathy leads. The Holocaust is one example. Plenty of "good" people who were doing their "moral" duty to exterminate their enemies. You can obscure what happened and try to point the finger and blame the countless patriots that did what most (including me) consider as horrific "crimes". But they were just like you and me. Your lifestyle directly causes misery on another part of the planet by supporting the corporations that spread misery to billions of people through the effects of industrialization, taking all natural resources from the masses, and herding humans into ever denser and easily manageable population centers.

      There is One who saves. It's not you, and it's not me.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:31 pm |
    • -=

      the absurdity of this response barely merits any reply but....

      my point is the exact opposite... iffff a higher power exists then it wouldn't care what book you pray from because they are wayyyy above such details. Only your actions, not your faith, matter. I think an ancient mayan, a muslim, a christian, or an atheist all would have the same shot at getting into 'heaven' if they lived a moral life. The idea that faith alone will atone you of harm you cause to others is ridiculous.

      I don't think that people who were instructed to murder others are moral just because they believed in what they were doing.

      I have a way bigger issue with the idea that a genocidal nazi could, according to christian dogma, conceivably get into heaven just by asking forgiveness on their death bed; while at the same time a charitable, respectful, and loving buddhist would be condemned to an eternity in hell because he bruised some god's ego.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:59 pm |
  19. Jonathan

    I'm tired of the hypocrisy of anti-religious organizations. There is just as much and as little evidence for and against religious beliefs as there is for, for example, the big bang, or evolution. Yet those are accepted as truth. Is it any more ridiculous to believe that a sufficiently advanced being was behind the creation of the universe than it is to believe that a series of coincidences caused it?

    "In reality", no one knows for certain what the absolute truth is. Call it what you will, but both sides are operating on what is in essence faith – whether it's faith in God, or faith in man/science/math.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:50 pm |
    • Grippage

      For starters, you don't understand the big bang at all. There are no "coincidences" in the big bang.

      Secondly, many atheist believe an all powerful being COULD HAVE built our world, they just don't presently believe in one because there is no evidence that that happened. Even if there was an all powerful being, it almost certainly wasn't one of the hundreds that have been worshipped on this earth, as those Gods were pretty much all obviously created out of a fear of death and in order to control people.

      As soon as evidence of an all powerful being emerges, I will be the first in line to be amazed and to acknowledge its existence.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:58 pm |
    • Historically Speaking

      When god shows up in the Hubble telescope, I might start to believe.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:17 pm |
    • Alonzo

      Reading what you have written it seems that you feel that anyhing that anbody conjures up has as much validity as anything else. Tooth-fairy, Jesus, the Devil, Zeus, etc. Am I wrong?

      December 1, 2010 at 5:26 pm |
  20. infomebaby

    @Thor that was his "son". Our GOD created the energy which cannot be made or destroyed, not even, by you sad creature.

    December 1, 2010 at 4:49 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.