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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. Billybob101

    News just in: Atheism is the fastest going religion in America... DOH!

    December 1, 2010 at 6:04 pm |
    • Let Us Prey

      @ Billybob101

      " the fastest going religion in America "

      Really? Where's it going? Did it give you 30 days notice? If not, you should keep it's security deposit.

      December 1, 2010 at 6:15 pm |
  2. Patrick

    The reason atheists feel compelled to say something is the same reason you believers feel compelled to share and defend your belief.You want to spread the word about something wonderful in your life. Atheists have something wonderful too. We have found reason and enlightenment. Atheists simply want to deliver people from ignorance and a childish dependence on a magical and unprovable being in the sky who gives them comfort. Religion is anti intellectual, divisive and halts all spiritual development. To an Atheist you religious types are a sad and dangerous lot. Those with religious differences kill each other daily. As the world get smaller and more crowded these killings will continue to grow. It seems likely that Christians and Muslims will eventually war outright. Imagine how it feels to an atheist who is caught up in this pointless mess. The only path forward is for all to give up their gods and embrace the full measure of our intellect and capacity for reason. We humans are indeed spiritual by nature and there will always be questions and mysteries and moral challenges to face. There is an infinite amount of material to feed the best parts of our selves if we embrace the mystery and beauty of this life in a peaceful and reasoned way. Religious dogma is incompatible with this vision of the future and must be set aside as we move past our collective human infancy. There is not room for both and reason must prevail least we slip back into darkness. Happy solstice to all.....

    December 1, 2010 at 6:04 pm |
  3. DEVOUT CATHOLIC

    Wow, what a waste of $20,000. So what is the message that Atheists are trying to convey? Besides the fact that "God doesn't exist." Atleast the Christian religion advocates peace, love, and hope. Do all Christians live by this, NO. But at least it is a belief. There are Christian organizations that travel around the world in missionary trips and have charitable societies, not just to give handouts, but to uplift the individual spiritually and emotionally. I don't see Atheists doing that. So what if millions of people celebrate Christmas?? Just let us keep believing in something that's REAL to us. At least Christmas gives the message of Jesus entering our hearts and giving us joy. What's so bad about that?? Celebrate the season with REASON? Why is reason separated from faith and spirituality?? Religious people also use reason incase you didn't know. Anyway...

    December 1, 2010 at 6:01 pm |
    • Margot707

      There is no reason to religion. Maybe blind faith works for some, but definitely not for others. It's the prosthelytizing and denial that any other religion could also be valid that is so off putting about many Christians. One book with the same words, interpreted (or misinterpreted) very differently by three major religions with hundreds of sects, all insisting they each have the one and only set of true answers. Where is the reason in that?

      December 1, 2010 at 6:28 pm |
  4. Pappy468

    The United States of America, land of freedom of religion. That is unless you don't believe in religion ... if that is the case, then you're screwed.

    December 1, 2010 at 5:58 pm |
  5. Chris-D

    "Disgusted With Humanity
    Atheists are as bad as their theist counterparts, neither one can prove their claims, so how rational is it to argue about this?"

    An atheist does not *try* to prove there is no god. We just ask for evidence to believe *anything*. Do you try to prove there is no pink unicorn? Of course not. You expect me to provide evidence for one.

    You know what its like to be an Atheist. When you understand why you dismiss all other gods, then you know how I can dismiss yours.

    December 1, 2010 at 5:57 pm |
    • Disgusted With Humanity

      Dismiss my God? I don't have a God.

      I expect both sides to provide evidence for their claims. If they can't, then shut the hell up. Both sides. Go back to your respective corners and suck your thumbs like good lil adolescent minded folk.

      PS: Next time read thoroughly. I stated atheists and theists in the beginning of my brief post, so how you figure I have a god is beyond me, mang. Nice try though 😀

      December 1, 2010 at 6:01 pm |
    • THEY BOTH INVOLVE FAITH!!!

      HAVE you wondered why everything from atomic particles to vast galaxies is governed by precise mathematical laws? Have you reflected on life itself—its variety, its complexity, and its amazing design? Many attribute the universe and the life in it to a great cosmic accident and evolution. Others give credit to an intelligent Creator. Which viewpoint do you feel is more reasonable?

      Of course, both viewpoints involve faith. Belief in God rests on faith. As the Bible says, “no man has seen God at any time.” (John 1:18) Likewise, no human saw the forming of the universe or the commencement of life. Nor has anyone ever seen one kind of life evolve into a higher kind or even into a different kind. The fossil record shows that the major groups of animals appeared suddenly and have remained virtually unchanged. The key question, therefore, is this: Which faith sits on a firm foundation—faith in evolution or faith in a Creator?

      December 1, 2010 at 6:11 pm |
    • Disgusted With Humanity

      THEY BOTH INVOLVE FAITH, animals didn't just suddenly appeared. The fossil record shows without a shadow of a doubt there were transitions between primitive animals to present animals and the evidence keeps mounting, so there's no faith involved, but cold hard facts.

      December 1, 2010 at 6:17 pm |
  6. Chris-D

    Consider the post by 'the truth again again'. Its thinking like this that is the reason Atheists need to speak out. Claiming to know god exists and to *know* its mind. This person is as troubled as a Muslim fanatic is. Just a different brand of *nuts*.

    December 1, 2010 at 5:54 pm |
    • THEY BOTH INVOLVE FAITH!!!

      HAVE you wondered why everything from atomic particles to vast galaxies is governed by precise mathematical laws? Have you reflected on life itself—its variety, its complexity, and its amazing design? Many attribute the universe and the life in it to a great cosmic accident and evolution. Others give credit to an intelligent Creator. Which viewpoint do you feel is more reasonable?

      Of course, both viewpoints involve faith. Belief in God rests on faith. As the Bible says, “no man has seen God at any time.” (John 1:18) Likewise, no human saw the forming of the universe or the commencement of life. Nor has anyone ever seen one kind of life evolve into a higher kind or even into a different kind. The fossil record shows that the major groups of animals appeared suddenly and have remained virtually unchanged.* The key question, therefore, is this: Which faith sits on a firm foundation—faith in evolution or faith in a Creator?

      December 1, 2010 at 6:14 pm |
  7. Disgusted With Humanity

    Atheists are as bad as their theist counterparts, neither one can prove their claims, so how rational is it to argue about this?

    December 1, 2010 at 5:50 pm |
    • NL

      I'll say this again. Atheists are not claiming anything extraordinary. We are simply rejecting an extraordinary claim that God, any god, actually exists. We reject it because there is no evidence to support it the way we would reject a claim for a cancer cure if the makers didn't have any research suggesting that their product actually cured cancer. It is simply not a choice between two arguments of equal weight.

      December 1, 2010 at 6:02 pm |
    • Disgusted With Humanity

      So, god can't be proven, once again where is the rationality in wasting time arguing with believers about this? Go play some WoW or Modern Warfare and live life. Live and let live...unless they're on your front step trying to convert you at gunpoint.

      December 1, 2010 at 6:06 pm |
    • NL

      Disgusted With Humanity-
      Personally, I'd like some stem cell research done so that some cures can be found to save my loved ones from needless pain and early death, but some of the folks who believe in God are so certain of their belief that they would withhold this from everyone. That's one of the reasons why their beliefs are all of our business.

      December 1, 2010 at 6:41 pm |
  8. the truth again 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.
    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 5:46 pm |
    • Believe in Santa

      This doesn't get any less crazy with repeated posting. Please lock yourself in a closet and do 500 rosaries.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:51 pm |
    • Observer

      "Atheist don't wan't the catholic church scorning them". What total nonsense besides the poor English. Spamming the same poorly written and poorly thought out message is a waste of everyone's time.

      December 1, 2010 at 6:03 pm |
  9. doncha know?

    ummm, this has probably already been addressed but, Jesus was real (whether or not you believe he is "divine" is up to you) so the fact the slogan reads "you know it's a myth" could have been better applied to a scene of his ressurection (more appropriate for Easter) rather than his birth. As far as who is right goes, who cares? believe what you want, just don't mock others for their beliefs or lack thereof.

    December 1, 2010 at 5:45 pm |
    • Historically Speaking

      Paul's writings were first, and he didn't teach a physical Jesus. The stories of a "real" Jesus came much later.

      December 1, 2010 at 6:27 pm |
  10. ExB

    There are so many posts on this subject that I am sure mine will be overlooked or lost in the frenzy, but I have a dog in this fight and I intend to voice my opinion. As an atheist I do not BELIEVE(no science involved) there is a god of any kind. To me there is no Jehovah, no Jesus, no Muhammad, no Krishna, no one. However, I am lambasted every day with Christians trying to "save" the "lost". I live in a big city and I am NEVER bombarded by anyone trying to convert me to Islam or Hindi. Christians don't mind telling people they are going to hell for not believing what they do but when someone other than a christian says anything about their beliefs the Christians go nuts. But before you all get your knickers in a twist, I don't think atheists are absolutely right in what we do or do not believe, but it's what is right for me. Maybe one day when Christians stop trying to force their beliefs on everyone else, atheists will stop putting up billboards saying they are wrong. By the way, Christmas started as the pagan holiday Yule and when Christians wanted to celebrate the birth of Jesus, they just used the Yule celebration . And it is often said, by scholars and Christians alike that Jesus wasn't even born on December 25th. So Happy Yule everyone!

    December 1, 2010 at 5:45 pm |
    • sealchan

      I caught your reasoned post in the general melee...I am an atheist turned Christian who finds that much of the hard core proselytizing is irritating and counter-productive. I suspect that those who have the nerve to tell you that you are going to Hell if you don't get saved are afraid for their own souls moreso than they are truly concerned about saving anyone. I also think that simply believing that Jesus died for our sins is enough to gain you Heaven is also too often taken in its most simple sense. This turns belief into some kind of magic spell and not a living product of sincere, on-going, spiritual effort.

      This widespread insecurity on the part of Christians speaks to an immature development in the faith. One of the problems I suspect is that shallow believers are afraid to get angry at God and so they turn that anger on those who don't seem in their eyes to hold themselves accountable to God...easy prey.

      December 1, 2010 at 6:09 pm |
    • I was an Atheist and now I Believe in GOD

      I used to be the same way, but its a lonely way to be for sure. I know that you still sit there with no answers wondering WHY the world is the way it is. You rejected God because of what FALSE RELIGIONS have done to the name of God. They are wrong. Any religion that goes to war, insults you, forces their religion down your throat, or tells you you are going to Hell is wrong. HELL is just the English word for grave. There is no fiery torment. It is inconsistent with a loving God. Search for the truth because you will find it.

      December 1, 2010 at 6:37 pm |
  11. Jimmy the Gent

    Ok, let's get down to brass tacks, people. The Atheists are wrong in that they seem to be forgetting the point of Atheism which is to not be like the Christians. Atheists keep their mouths shut and they don't gather and they don't protest and they don't force their beliefs of non-beliefs down everyone else's throat. The Christians are wrong in that they feel the need to retaliate. Christian love, much?! Everyone, keep your mouth shut and your beliefs and faith (or lack of) to yourself. No one cares about you and your faith and beliefs. Let me say it again because it needs repeating: NO ONE CARES! Let's just agree to disagree. Let's stop the nonsense and get real. I'm not a Christian and I'm not an Atheist. I'm a Realist. I don't believe in God because it is absolutely, positively without a doubt 100% not possible to die and come back to life. Bottom line. I don't care who you are. If you die, you are dead and you don't magically come back to life. Christians, you must accept this. You can believe in whatever you want but you must be real- YOU CANNOT DIE AND COME BACK TO LIFE DAYS LATER. Period, end of discussion. I don't support organized religion because all it does is make people stupid. Evidence? See all the above comments. Nothing causes more disagreements in our world than religion. I don't need it. I don't need to belong to a group to prove my faith. Faith is personal and doesn't need to be discussed every waking moment. It doesn't need to be on billboards. Everyone here is missing the point entirely. Just shut the hell up and be who you want and believe you want. But for goodness sakes, keep it to yourselves!

    December 1, 2010 at 5:44 pm |
    • Disgusted With Humanity

      I award this the most Reasonable, Rational post here.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:57 pm |
    • Let Us Prey

      @ Disgusted With Humanity

      Hmmm. The "Disgusted With Humanity" Award. What a prize. I'm sure Jimmy will treasure it. What does it look like? Is it ok for the mantel? Or should we stuff it in a cabinet so we don't have to dust it..? Maybe not.. people will ask where it is and what we did with it....

      December 1, 2010 at 6:25 pm |
    • Jimmy Fails at LOGIC

      Sorry Jimmy but you can't have it both ways. It is the most fundamental question that MUST be answered. There absolutely IS an answer. We cannot reduce logic to a debate. Should we debate whether killing someone is 'wrong'? You see, we were created with a GOD-GIVEN CONSCIENCE and MORAL CODE. Every last one of us. You can CHOOSE to believe it or not but it is what it is. This is the reason we ALL feel remorse and regret, we ALL feel pride and warm-fuzzy feelings when we help each other. Those who do NOT, have been warped in some way either by environment, upbringing or other.
      The fact still remains: We were created. It is wholly illogical and downright arrogant to accept a simple watch was made by someone but our planet Earth with its BILLIONS OF LIFE FORMS is not... it saddens me that with our amazing supercomputer, our brain, that people can throw logic clear out the window.

      December 1, 2010 at 6:31 pm |
  12. Muhia

    1529...Were you there when they wrote the book of genesis??How do you know it's true???

    December 1, 2010 at 5:44 pm |
    • 1529

      lol. question to you is, how can you explain how these people, born hundreds and thousands of years apart could have come up with their names? It is good to study. Scripture is GOD breathed. Amazing hey?

      December 1, 2010 at 6:04 pm |
  13. NL

    Has anyone ever read ‘The Star’ by Arthur C. Clarke? It puts an interesting spin on the Star of Bethlehem.

    December 1, 2010 at 5:44 pm |
  14. Jeannot

    There cannot any proof that there is no God, that is simply illogical. In that view, atheism is also a leap of faith.
    Agnosticism is more intellectually honest and humble.
    However, I'm glad I live in a country where people who disagree can both put up a billboard.

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

      Jeannot-
      Might I suggest that you are looking at this the wrong way around?

      The believer's claim is that gods are real, but of all the gods that humanity has had, their god is actually the only real one. That is an extraordinary claim for which they offer no compelling evidence. Atheists are not claiming anything extraordinary. We are simply rejecting this claim.

      If somebody offers up a cure to cancer is it up to us to disprove that it works, or up to them to prove that it does?

      December 1, 2010 at 5:53 pm |
    • A Creator is a only a logical conclusion

      Archaeologists draw conclusions about earlier civilizations, often from items that have lain buried for thousands of years. Imagine, for example, that an archaeologist has unearthed dozens of carefully cut stone blocks of precisely the same size neatly aligned on top of one another. They are also set out in a distinct geometric pattern that does not occur naturally. What would the archaeologist conclude? Would he attribute his find to coincidence? Most likely not. Rather, he would interpret it as evidence of past human activities, and that would be a reasonable conclusion.

      To be consistent, should we not apply the same reasoning to the design manifest in the natural world? Many people have taken that view, including respected scientists..

      December 1, 2010 at 6:25 pm |
  15. merryCHRISTmas!

    Stop, Drop, and Roll won't work in Hell.
    *+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*
    Coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous.
    *+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*
    Don't put a question mark where God put a period.
    *+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*
    Don't wait for 6 strong men to take you to church.

    December 1, 2010 at 5:41 pm |
    • 1529

      Though the practice of Christians was never celebrated by early followers; that was funny what you posted.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:52 pm |
  16. MarkyMerlot

    Many Christians critisize atheists, for being provocative and yet, I feel this is somewhat hipocritical, as in the US is probably, the only western country where one's faith is so closely examined and appears to be a pre-requisit, to political ambition....does he go to church...how Christian is he....is he a muslim? The military too, especially the USAF has been particularly insensitive to non-Christians. I have learned to keep my lack of religious faith close to my chest for that very reason.

    December 1, 2010 at 5:40 pm |
  17. locdvegan

    "think hard about whether or not they actually believe in what is, in reality, an invisible magic man in the sky."

    i wont push my vegan beliefs on you so don't u dare push your non-believing views on me...your reality isn't everyone elses...sorry, struck a nerve...*walks away singing 'if you don't wanna praise Him, don't hinder me...'*

    December 1, 2010 at 5:39 pm |
  18. gargoyle999

    It seems like whenever an atheist message pops up in a big way some religious group always has to put it's own message next to it. Why so threatened? Maybe 'cause there are more of us than some people realize or want to admit exist? BTW...does a christian count all the billions of people who don't believe in their god but do believe in a different one as an atheist?

    December 1, 2010 at 5:39 pm |
  19. 1529

    Now, this is for my friends who do not believe in GOD YAHWEH. Read this and be amazed! Over hundreds of generations, through genealogies that span across different people, what is found in the book of genesis is astounding. And lets hear the critics explanation for this event. This is a hidden message in the book of Genesis 5.
    From the genealogy of ADAM to NOAH (remember, each name has a meaning as is the custom back in the days).
    Adam(man);Seth(Appointed);Enosh(Mortal);Kenan(sorrow);Mahalalel(the blessed God);Jared(shall come down);Enoch(teaching);Methuselah(his death shall bring);Lamech(the despairing);Noah(rest or comfort).
    Lets put it together now:
    Man (is) appointed mortal sorrow; (but) the Blessed God shall come down teaching (that) His death shall bring (the) despairing rest

    December 1, 2010 at 5:36 pm |
  20. LP

    Jesus IS real! He cuts my lawn every Friday.

    @Serdar- My sentiments exactly!

    I have encountered too many supposedly religious, practicing Christians (or Muslims or pretty much any religion for that matter) that cannot independently discern what is intrinsically "right" or "wrong". If you're only reasoning or defense for why something is right or wrong is begins with "the Bible/Qur'an says..." or "Jesus/Muhammed said..." then perhaps you need to do a bit more souls searching and critical thinking for yourself. I may not believe in Jesus but I can absolutely provide you logical and defensible reasons for my opinions on the morality of various acts or beliefs.

    Oh, and as for those that keep bringing up the argument "why do the mean Atheists that funded the billboard attack Christianity? Are they too scared to put up a similar billboard for Muslims?"...you are off point. Frankly, I can't think of anyone that would describe the Islamic religion as popular, well liked or even begrudgingly supported in the US. What would a similar billboard against Islam accomplish? Nothing! A hoard of Christians would drive by it smugly nodding their hypocritical heads in agreement, never once considering that the argument would apply to their oh so special brand of religion as well.

    December 1, 2010 at 5:34 pm |
    • Believe in Santa

      Well said.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:39 pm |
    • MarkyMerlot

      hear, hear!

      December 1, 2010 at 5:43 pm |
    • With Atheism: Logic goes out the window....

      Archaeologists draw conclusions about earlier civilizations, often from items that have lain buried for thousands of years. Imagine, for example, that an archaeologist has unearthed dozens of carefully cut stone blocks of precisely the same size neatly aligned on top of one another. They are also set out in a distinct geometric pattern that does not occur naturally. What would the archaeologist conclude? Would he attribute his find to coincidence? Most likely not. Rather, he would interpret it as evidence of past human activities, and that would be a reasonable conclusion.

      To be consistent, should we not apply the same reasoning to the design manifest in the natural world? Many people have taken that view, including respected scientists.

      December 1, 2010 at 6:20 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.