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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. Carlos

    Osiris will punish all you nonbelievers! Repent while you still can!

    December 1, 2010 at 5:30 pm |
  2. Muhia

    Religious people are just a product of their environment..If someone was born in Saudi Arabia, they would be Muslim and if they were born in the US, they would be Christian.....It's up to them to figure out that religion is a crock before they waste their whole life worshiping a non-existent friend in the sky and believing in a book full of fairy tales....My favorite fairy tale is about the guy who was told not to look behind and was turned into a block of salt when he disobeyed the command and took a peak.....lol...I was raised christian but I had too many doubts and questions especially after our scandalous pastor took the money that was raised to build a new church building and disappeared into thin air with the loot...lol...After I ditched religion, I had a peace of mind and I am still at peace....

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

      Sadly for people to think, or just take a peek that far outside of the box is way out of their grasp. What if they were adopted into a muslim family when they were a baby. I came to that conclusion when I was 10 years old, not that much longer after I stopped believing in santa.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:30 pm |
  3. Carlos

    Religious people, discard your religions. You have nothing to lose but your own fear and ignorance.

    December 1, 2010 at 5:25 pm |
  4. Scytherius

    Not that one needs to prove a negative, i.e. that which has no proof, but what you can prove is that Christians (as well as other religions) know deep down it's all mythology. They have no faith in their "truth" as they revert into a drooling hysteria whenever their "beliefs" are remotely questioned. They are terrified at the inevitable crumbling of their mythology ... and that day is coming.

    December 1, 2010 at 5:23 pm |
  5. TMBIII

    This is pure irony for two reasons
    1) Just because something is a Myth doesn't mean it didn't actually happen This is a common misconception that myths are indeed false. In fact myths are supposed to be "true' stories while fables are supposed to be "made up" stories. The story of the birth of Jesus is absolutly a myth....that doesn't mean it didnt happen

    2) An organized group gathered money to promote their beliefs while targeting the "unenlightened" and calling for them to convert to their beliefs assuming that their beliefs are truer than those who oppose them. How is this Atheist Group different from any other relgion? Just goes to show that its people, not religion that causes the problems.

    December 1, 2010 at 5:20 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Wrong on a couple of counts:

      According to the good folks at Merriam Webster:

      Definition of MYTH
      1a : a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon b : parable, allegory
      2a : a popular belief or tradition that has grown up around something or someone; especially : one embodying the ideals and inst-itutions of a society or segment of society b : an unfounded or false notion
      3: a person or thing having only an imaginary or unverifiable existence
      4: the whole body of myths

      The closest you will get to "true" is "ostensible":

      Definition of OSTENSIBLE
      1: intended for display : open to view
      2: being such in appearance : plausible rather than demonstrably true or real

      So I don't think you can claim that myth = true.

      Now with regard to the atheist billboard, it is not trying to convert anyone – it's urging those that already know the christmas story is a myth to openly recognize it as such.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:41 pm |
  6. Gary

    Are these really the best spokesmen for their organizations? They're pitiful and their comments are pitiful. No sign is going to change my opinion about Jesus. I think he is a real man but incorrectly characterised as a supernatural being. The rest of humanity can think what they want. If you're christian...I'll probably think less of you. But, that is your right.

    December 1, 2010 at 5:17 pm |
  7. Alonzo

    The nocturnal equinox was celebrated by pagans long before Christianity. After Christ, and through the ages, Christians themselves have celebrated the Christmas Story in myriad ways. Are they all "true"? How can this be so? Or is it just what you believe is the truth and all the rest are myth. There are as many "Christian" ways of celbrating Christmas as there are versions of the New Testament. Tell me which is the "true" one – I'd be glad to celebrate it.

    December 1, 2010 at 5:16 pm |
  8. Melissa

    I'm fully Atheist. Christmas is my favorite time of year. I just wish the Christians would learn to butt out of other peoples lives.

    December 1, 2010 at 5:16 pm |
    • Let Us Prey

      @ Melissa

      Annoying Christians... always getting in the way of your favorite atheist holiday. *Sigh* If only this wonderful holiday wasn't named that way.. it'd be so much better – wouldn't it? So "Happy Melissa Day !" I hope you get lots of presents.

      December 1, 2010 at 6:36 pm |
  9. infomebaby

    question your own intelligence in needing an atheist billboard begging for friends and support with "reason" and no hope. Money well spent ?? I think that is ironic . That billboard is boarding an anatomically incorrect.

    December 1, 2010 at 5:15 pm |
  10. mark

    Atheists don't rely on science. Atheists rely on the abiogenesis myth (life from non-living matter) which is irrational and
    unsupported by evidence, scientific and otherwise.

    Christianity is actually closer to factual science (all life comes from life). If the scientific evidence says all life comes from life without exception, then it's only rational to conclude that in the beginning Life created life.

    December 1, 2010 at 5:13 pm |
    • Observer

      Factual science? LOL. Talking snakes? Men living in whales? Flood with more water than in the clouds? 900-year-old people? Every known land animal on one ship with food for a year? Earth stops rotating for a day? Get back to REALITY and SCIENCE.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:23 pm |
    • Tommas

      Your a fool to think that within the next century we will not be able to create organic life from just inorganic matter. We can make nucleotides/proteins/lipids from scratch, all that is left is assembling them in the correct fashion (granted not an easy task). Within just this past year researchers have already pieced together a genome and placed it into a cell "husk". All we have left to do is make the husk. It will be a tiny bacteria at first but then larger cells to follow. Before than we will create inorganic life.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:23 pm |
    • Jakie

      Mark,

      People like you make me question my understanding of sanity. What you have written makes no sense whatsoever. Life from life??? Really? You're kidding right? What was the life that created God? Oh that's right, the God creator, who in turn was life. That's right, and the God creator was created by the God creator creator, which in turn is life. And the God creator creator was created by....

      December 1, 2010 at 5:25 pm |
  11. Jerry C

    "18Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD"

    December 1, 2010 at 5:13 pm |
  12. the truth again

    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 using the law.
    atheist put a bunch always a bunch of lies. The only reason most have empowered and spread in number is because to 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.

    Trust 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 5:13 pm |
  13. Overman

    Christianity promotes a better life in the afterlife, regardless of how good or bad you're doing right now; NOW is the moment that counts, not something you can't even prove. It's simply the greatest irony really, you condemn, hope, wish for people depending on their actions to their respective places in the afterlife, yet you restrain yourself and others on behalf of an abstract thought.

    After all, do you know death? have you experienced it? Christianity promotes negation in so many ways, how is that even life-affirming?

    December 1, 2010 at 5:12 pm |
    • Not A Sheep

      I've known a number of Christians whose goal is to suffer through life quickly so they can enjoy the afterlife. I, on the other hand, know my days are numbered and that's all I'm going to get. This is not a depressing thought whatsoever, but gives me a sense of urgency to squeeze every drop out of life and to savor each day. As a former Christian and now an atheist, I can say that my outlook on life has become dramatically more positive after I came to the realization that my days here are finite.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:44 pm |
    • J

      Oh, everyone alive today was once dead. Death is simply the state of 'not being alive'. Where were you in 1492? You weren't. Where will you be in 2199? You won't be. There is no 'afterlife'...just the same thing for every currently living thing...a state of 'not being alive'. We're little more than highly evolved primates with overactive imaginations and an insatiable curiosity.

      December 1, 2010 at 7:15 pm |
  14. the truth

    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 to 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.

    Trust 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 5:11 pm |
    • Observer

      This is still wishful thinking and nonsense but it's getting closer to 5th grade English.

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

      So all other religions besides your "brand" of Christianity are fake. Well, I'm pretty sure all those religions feel just about the same. I've got an idea, they are all fake. Christmas is a co-opted pagan holiday just like Easter. Religion stops ones spiritual development in it's infancy and you are stuck there desperately believing in a imaginary father in the sky who makes your incomprehension of the universe tolerable. Your life makes me incredibly sad.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:33 pm |
    • Dan

      I disagree, i guess i'll burn in hell or something.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:38 pm |
  15. Jennifer

    The Atheists must really be concerned about a "myth" to spend this much on advertising that it's just a "myth". God Bless them, everyone.

    December 1, 2010 at 5:10 pm |
    • Carlos

      Jennifer, if it were not for the existence of loud religous people, there would be no need for loud atheists.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:21 pm |
    • Believe in Santa

      Wow... Let he without lots of crappy billboards cast the first stone, shall we?
      Atheist billboards= 1
      Christian billboards= ???,???,???,???

      December 1, 2010 at 5:24 pm |
  16. Alonzo

    It's all a question of what "it" is.

    December 1, 2010 at 5:09 pm |
  17. Jeremy Painter

    Ironic I just pulled up this article after reading a local one on Nashville news w/ a similar picture (on a billboard)

    http://www.wbir.com/news/article/145535/2/Nashville-billboards-claim-Jesus-will-return-May-21-2011

    December 1, 2010 at 5:09 pm |
  18. the big G O D

    Why doesn't Jesus like M & M's? They fall through the holes in his hands. I wonder why that isn't in the bible?

    December 1, 2010 at 5:07 pm |
  19. Mark Estrada

    i am an atheist, and i really don't get the point of this...do they think it's going to make xtians et,al, renounce their religion?...don't think so...if i was a member of American Atheists i would be asking for a refund of my dues...if people want to believe in a sky faerie, don't attack them with a billboard...stupid waste of money...this equates atheism with religion and does nothing but cause problems...

    December 1, 2010 at 5:06 pm |
    • Jay

      Mark: This is exactly what I was trying to say in my earlier post. I'm not an atheist, but I sometimes feel like I have a better understanding of atheism than many self professing atheists do.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:43 pm |
    • Elena

      The point of this billboard is not to change people's minds or faiths. Did you not see the video? The point of this billboard is to awaken the atheists hidden in the closet for fear of discrimination from their families or friends or society itself. I am atheist too and i do not feel like i have to hide my lack of belief in gods; but not all atheists feel the same way. And it is important that the country realizes that we exist and deserve to be heard, because we are an important group of people.

      Not all atheist get offended by the "in god we trust" and the "swear to tell the truth and nothing but the truth and so help me god" or the "under one god" or the "god bless america". But some of us do find offense. And it's time others realize this. And it's time others understand it. Would somebody get offended if the president said "may the boogyman bless america" ?

      December 1, 2010 at 6:28 pm |
  20. Not A Sheep

    The lack of proof for the nonexistence of a god does not prove a god exists, any more than a lack of proof for the nonexistence of a planet somewhere in the universe made entirely of chocolate pudding proves that such a planet exists. Those making claims that something exists (e.g. the existence of a deity) are the ones responsible for providing the evidence, not those who deny the claims. Since such evidence has never been provided (personal feelings or experiences are NOT empirical evidence), the default stance of any rational person should be atheism. Those who believe in a god are just as delusional as those who believe in pudding planets.

    December 1, 2010 at 5:05 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.