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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. Nick

    It's so sad that all the non-believers who have died can't come back and tell the truth. Ouch – how awful it will be to be tortured and then on judgement day be sent to burn forever never having the relief of dieing. You just feel the unimaginable fire over and over every second forever. What's forever? Millions of years? Who knows, but I don't want to find out. Thank God for his son Jesus giving us a choice of everlasting life. It's so sad that some people allow their "brains" to get in the way of eternal peace. God hates to think of anyone perishing – that means forever, not the physical death on earth. And you really can't say Christians will have the last laugh because we don't want anybody to suffer eternally. There is no more important issue then eternal salvation my friends. Jesus should be "jammed" in your eye and hopefully your heart will take him in. I just pray as many people turn to Christ before they die and if they don't (and they can say and try to prove all they want) in the end it will be too late. It's so weird becaue Jesus only preaches love and forgiveness, but people hate that or don't believe in that. The invisible man in the sky..lol. Yeah and two rocks hit each other and made this planet. God help them!

    December 1, 2010 at 12:18 pm |
    • Mike

      Haha, awesome argument. You sound like a mob enforcer. "Hey you wanna ask someone what happens if you don't pay, too bad they can't talk to you no more." To threaten someone with eternal torture doesn't really help to attract them to believe in your loving god.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:24 pm |
  2. Big Duke

    To quote Bobby Fischer

    How about this: How about both sides shut the heck up? If you're atheist, fine, be atheist. If you're religious, fine, be religious. But each side should just let the other be. In this country, you have just as much a right TO say Merry Christmas as you have the right NOT to. But we've all become such grandiose attention freaks that we can't enjoy our own views without throwing them in people's faces.

    I have to agree 100% Both sides need to shut the @&%$ up. The one thing I dislike the most about religion is the arrogance that Christianity is the only choice and that they must convert everyone. Let's not even get into the Catholics and child molestation. And Atheist, if not a God, then how did life start. A Big bang doesn't answer the question of where the did the stuff that banged come from. I am an Atheist, but there will Always be unanswered questions in my mind. The intolerance of both sides in these posts shows only ignorance and nothing else. If Catholics want to be Catholics, that is their choice. If Muslims want to be Muslims, so be it. Everyone has a choice and no one should question that choice.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:18 pm |
  3. Rita

    From a logical viewpoint, without 'opinions', try the book
    Come Search With Me by Dr. Subodh Pandit.
    Available on Amazon.com or from the author directly as a new, expanded version.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:18 pm |
  4. Dave

    cindy

    "No matter what the athiests say, it will not shake the beliefs of true believers. We Christians do not launch attcks against non-belivers like this. That should tell you something."

    Then I guess there is nothing left to do except poison the lot of you. Pity.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:17 pm |
    • Big Duke

      That is a bunch of crap. Christians are always doing missions to poor parts of the world to push their faith on others. They have to tell those people how their God is false in order to get them to convert, so don't act like Christians are just letting everyone live their own lives.

      December 1, 2010 at 12:20 pm |
    • Jay

      ?

      December 1, 2010 at 12:21 pm |
  5. Jay

    We can agree, I think, that you can't prove God exists, and you can't prove God doesn't exist. People believe what they believe; and if somebody can present a reasonable argument for his/her stance to somebody who's willing to listen, that's a good conversation. But it seems to me that the atheist billboard is distasteful – I don't think there's a good reason to tell the atheists that there isn't a God, nor is there a good reason to tell the Christians there isn't a God. Once again, people believe what they believe, and if somebody can present a reasonable argument for his/her stance to somebody who's willing to listen, that's great. I tend to pick up an underlying negative connotation with the billboard – a sense of "let's see who we can provoke," versus "let's offer a meaningful argument." You can't prove it either way, so just be reasonable. Especially given the holiday season, I think the atheist billboard comes across as more of an "attack" against people who do believe in God. In short, my stance is "just relax and don't try to get a bunch of people all rowled up during the holidays." That seems reasonable, right?

    December 1, 2010 at 12:16 pm |
  6. Todd Zmina

    @ Jen: as a fellow Christian, you believe that Christ died for the forgiveness of our sins....it was not just for prior sins, but also for any sins that we may commit...one baptism for the remission of sins....we are human....God made us human, and he offeres us cleansing through his son's sacrifice...instead of being "saddened" why not look at the opportunity to do God's will in spreading His word and in offering support to your fellow Christians instead of admonishing them and placing yourself above the rest of us? That position is addressed in several passages in the Bible as a deterent to those who don't believe or who ARE seeking God's way but are confused by our actions...we are each God's representative to the world. I hope I am not coming off as viewing myself as above anyone....we are all sinners, and we all need to support each other...your post just struck me as "I'm better than the rest of you".....

    December 1, 2010 at 12:15 pm |
  7. cindy

    No matter what the athiests say, it will not shake the beliefs of true believers. We Christians do not launch attcks against non-belivers like this. That should tell you something.
    If they do persuade people to not believe in God, all they are doing is taking people to h$ll with them. They will find out the truth in the end.
    There are also some Christians that do not celebrate Dec 25th as Jesus' birth. No where in the New Testament do you find any instruction for celebrating Jesus' birth. They celebrate Christmas strictly secular.
    So, celebrate as you wish, but, if you don't celebrate Christams, feel free to volunteer to work that day!!!

    Merry Christmas!!

    December 1, 2010 at 12:14 pm |
    • arbutus

      "No matter what the athiests say, it will not shake the beliefs of true believers. We Christians do not launch attcks against non-belivers like this. That should tell you something."

      Um, Christians are always launching attacks against non-believers. Many of these attacks are aimed at people who do not believe in Christianity. Look at the majority of politicians. If they did not declare their religious preference as being Christian, many of them would not be elected because the public thinks that it is important. People believe that in order to be a good person, you have to be a Christian. Why? If you do not believe in the Holy Trinity then you are made to believe there is something wrong with you. If it weren't for religion, we probably wouldn't have so much fighting in the Middle East or on our own soil.

      When I tell people I don't like to celebrate Christmas, I get looks like I just kicked a puppy. Why do we have to like Christmas? It just brings out the worst in all of us because of the pressure to buy, buy, buy.

      December 1, 2010 at 12:40 pm |
    • drk

      Well, hon, I've been looking at Jesus Saves, God Bless __fill in town name___, and anti-abortion billboards for years around here. So, clearly Christians DO do the exact same thing. The reason this is news is that atheists so RARELY publicize their (non) beliefs. The reason Christian billboards aren't on CNN is that they have approximately the same news value as "A fly landed on a sandwich at today's picnic."

      December 1, 2010 at 2:58 pm |
    • Paul

      Cindy, would you care to recite for us Psalm 14:1 from your "Good Book"? ... now then, what you were saying about Christians not attacking non-believers?

      December 2, 2010 at 11:53 am |
  8. Santa

    How many of you celebrate your birthdays in a different day than the real one?

    Why you teach your kids to love and inexistent been and thing than some one else care more about them than you by bringing them gifts that you worked and pay for?

    Your kids will love Santa more than you ๐Ÿ™‚

    I see it this way. Would you let your spouse/kids to thank your neighbor or a stranger instead of your for your hard work and love? How would you fill if they don't show appreciation or recognize your efforts?

    Total non-sense.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:13 pm |
  9. deek5

    Athesists have got to learn to let go. Do you actually think that you will have any influence on someone who believes in God? No one can say for sure if God exists...no one. Not Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton......no one. Just because you prayed hard to hit the lottery so you can buy that sweet Ford Escort and it didn't work does not mean God doesn't exist. Why should He reveal himself and "Fix" the world......what have we done for Him to deserve that?

    December 1, 2010 at 12:13 pm |
  10. Brandon

    Funny how atheist call all religion a myth in this case. I have seen all the talk of atheism is based on what science can prove or disprove. However, atheism is also a religion as science can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God. Sounds like most atheist don't know the basis of what they believe. Keyword being believe, as atheism is also a religion, in the fact that God's existence is neither proven or disproven. I guess atheists didn't believe in gravity until recently, and protons and neutrons even more recently, some fundamentals of their science basis. It is quite easy to just believe what someone writes in a text book isn't it? Part of the beauty of faith is that it is likely that science will never answer the question of the existence of God, nor does it have to.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:13 pm |
    • deek5

      Well said Brandon. Science is still new and evolving. The bible is 2,000 years old. That is staying power.

      December 1, 2010 at 12:15 pm |
    • Ryan

      The burden of proof is on the ones making the claim. You are correct there is no proof that "God" exists. Atheism takes the argument that it is presented with and says it is false. Christians claim to have the answers, they actually believe in a very specific God that cannot be proven and has to be accepted on faith. I'm sorry, I am not going to base my life on the writings of some crazy people who starved themselves so that they could hallucinate angles. Christianity is a burden to society and it should not be left unquestioned.

      December 1, 2010 at 12:22 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Deek5
      The age of a story does not prove it's veracity.
      The Epic of Gilgamesh pre-dates Christianity by thousands of years and is still told today. THAT is staying power.
      Do you believe in a super strong demi god who ruled his kingdom for 125 years?

      December 1, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
    • robbo88

      I'm not a atheist or a christian but all religions seem like a cop-out to me. Most religions are "fear based" and their followers simply need something to justify their own faults and weakness . Animals live out of instinct and aren't bound by some imaginary god, making them far more superior than humans.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
  11. Stanley

    I notice jewish and muslims are wasting billboard money.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:11 pm |
  12. Tom

    You silly atheists, stop pestering me with your in-nothing-I-do-believe-in belief system. You're like dogs barking at the moon.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:11 pm |
  13. Prof X

    A reasonable atheist is an oxymoron. At least agnostics allow the possibility of God and admit there is much they don't understand. Atheists arrogantly deny the mere chance that God might exist and belittle all those that believe as suffering from some sort of mass delusion bred from the need to feel weโ€™re not alone. They claim if science can't prove something then it doesn't exist. But when science makes a new discovery, did that thing not exist until science found them? MOST people who believe in God also believe in science and the big bang theory, etc. We just believe that God fits in there as well. By the way atheists, what exists outside of the universe? There must be something, right? If you believe it ends, what is beyond it? If you believe it doesn't end, then it sounds like you must believe there are some things human beings simply can't understand. So why are you so arrogant to think you have proved God doesnโ€™t exist?

    December 1, 2010 at 12:10 pm |
    • Marvin

      Proof matters only in a court of law. Its unreasonable that Santa Claus, Truth fairy etc exist. But it is not unreasonable that we have a maker just like any other complex thing in the universe. I thought the whole point of science is to learn about the unknown. To learn from mistaken misconceptions. To correct and correct yourself again. Yet Atheists leave no room for the belittling chance that maybe just maybe they are wrong. Instead of correctly saying there is no proof, so far or something like to our current understanding.

      December 1, 2010 at 12:21 pm |
    • kjcube

      Atheism is no different from theism. One is merely the positive affirmation of a theory and the other a negative affirmation. They're still both in the confines of the same theory and have not actually come up with a different theory. The cliche that science only explains the how and not the why is true, but the assumption that the why automatically assumes God is faulty. If the model is flawed (and there's no guarantee that it is or isn't flawed either way) then a new model needs to be developed in order to move on. Atheism doesn't do that if it still works within the confines of the "old" model.

      December 1, 2010 at 12:24 pm |
    • Maybe

      @Prof X,

      Agnostics really fall under the umbrella of "Atheism". If one doesn't know if there is a "God", does he behave as if there were one or does he behave as if there were not? I suppose some agnostics 'pray' just in case something is out there, but I think that most do not.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:17 pm |
  14. GbreadMan

    Does he think Christians are so weak and docile that they're the perfect target for these kinds of ads? He didn't dare do this for Ramadan or Yom Kippur (he doesn't want to be hunted down as "the new Salman Rushdie", and the latter with a name like "Silverman" he was probably a former Judaist). He's a hypocrite; he won't even put up an anti-Wicca (druid) board for the winter solstice (December 21st), simply leaving the anti-Christian one up there.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:10 pm |
    • KDW31

      As someone said earlier the majority of americans are ... gasp.... christian. Why would you put up a sign about Islam, Judaism, all eastern religions, and all other religions when they combined make up around 4% of the US population. Not hitting a very large target there.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:46 pm |
  15. Ando R

    Why does every freaking story have to have a video instead of art? CNN- I didn't even read the story because of this. STOP USING VIDEOS FOR SOMETHING I JUST WANT TO READ!

    December 1, 2010 at 12:09 pm |
  16. yrush007

    i am a christian & i take offense 2 the sign posted by the atheist group. but i will do what THEY shld have done when seeing any sign of christian advertisement – ignore it & go about your day. instead they chose 2 add fuel 2 the fire. it's fine that u do not believe as i do, but don't dispute my beliefs. i know in my heart there is a God. He has proved Himself 2 me more times than i can count. i'd rather live my life as though He exists, die & find out He doesn't, rather than 2 live my life as if He doesn't exist, die & find out that He does!

    December 1, 2010 at 12:09 pm |
    • Ryan

      I take offence to Christianity, terrorizing and raping children and spreading misinformation in the community.

      December 1, 2010 at 12:14 pm |
    • on_my _soapbox

      what's it like living in fear. you are nothing but a sheep. LOL

      December 1, 2010 at 3:46 pm |
  17. cest la vie

    Have not yet determined if atheists are intellectually dishonest or just outright stupid. I can, to some degree, sympathize with the agnostics, but for a finite being whose life is here and gone like a vapor, to KNOW and PRONOUNCE that there is no God, well that's just silly.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:09 pm |
    • Popeapalooza

      And you my friend are a mental midget. Happy Holidays fruit loops.

      December 1, 2010 at 12:18 pm |
    • cest la vie

      @Popeapalooza. I'm guessing you would be the latter of the 2 choices in my first sentence?

      December 1, 2010 at 12:25 pm |
    • Popeapalooza

      Not at all cest. You see i grew up in a very christian household. Owned many bibles, collected crosses, and attended church regularly until my mid twenties. The difference between you and I is, I actually began to read other things besides just the bible. It's really quite amazing what you learn when you read other things besides the ancient fairy tales. Hell even prominent religious scholars will tell you that the bible is in now way a reliable source of history.

      December 1, 2010 at 12:34 pm |
    • cest la vie

      Sorry Pope, I must disagree. The difference between you and I is not one of literary prowess but rather of faith. Like you , I too was raised in a Christian home, went to church, expanded my point of view etc.., but without relinquishing my faith. I can assure you I am rather well read and have considered every conceivable argument against Christianity, some of which I have NO answer for, but still maintain my belief.

      December 1, 2010 at 12:59 pm |
    • Nonimus

      @cest la vie,
      Your statements seem intellectually dishonest. You say, "to KNOW and PRONOUNCE that there is no God" is silly, when you would know, if as you say, you "have considered every conceivable argument against Christianity," that very few Atheists are "strong positive" atheists. Most, I think, are of the "lack belief in a God" or "insufficient evidence for God" varaties, as opposed to your absolute "there is no God" strawman.

      On the other hand theists stating, 'God exists' or 'Jesus saves' are not being intellectually honest unless they provide objective evidence for such a claim. Fortunately for them, I don't think they are claiming intellectual honesty, just belief and faith.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:46 pm |
  18. Science

    And sorry for the typos –fingers and mind are in a fight ๐Ÿ™‚

    December 1, 2010 at 12:08 pm |
  19. Joe H

    If they are addressing the 50 million people who are already atheists, why utilize religious scenes/icons? Seems to me they are out to convert or simply ruffle feathers.

    Anymore it is simply about pushing an agenda and using shock value to do it! I fear the country my children will inherit.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:07 pm |
  20. Science

    A note about science:

    Science it is not a tool for believers or disbelievers to prove their point. Science just search for knowledge of what our world is. Science does not prove right those who believe in something above us neither those that believe we are alone. In fact withing scientist, the whole spectrum of believes exist from the pure atheist, to the agnostic, to fundamentalists.

    In a summary form: science is driven by curiosity only.

    Good day to all!

    December 1, 2010 at 12:07 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.