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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. Greg

    It IS a myth – look up the definition sometime.
    Religion is all one big falsehood, whether perpetrated onto people or they do it to themselves,
    it only works if you have ignorance, hope and fear. What other qualities are more uniquely human??
    We all want answers and all want our individual existence to have meaning... whether it does or not.
    Atheists simply reject all the nonsense and fairytales and seek those answers through reason, scientific experimentation and factual data – regardless of our personal comfort level with it.

    December 1, 2010 at 6:35 pm |
  2. KAScofield

    It's better to teach people how to think than to tell them their beliefs are wrong, socially acceptable, socially unacceptable, damned, nothing but fairytales, or less intellectually evolved.

    If attentions are turned to pumping a dry well like this Rationalism vs. Religion false dilemma, no matter which way it's flipped, ahem, then people will clump into opposing camps and the jabs, barbs or slams of one sort or another increase.

    If we turn our attention toward what matters, what really really matters, then that can help determine the directional force of a person, family, group, or even nation. And it's certainly a lot nicer to be around. Challenging and tough sometimes perhaps, but much nicer.

    December 1, 2010 at 6:32 pm |
    • sjenner

      Thank you. A truly rational post.

      December 1, 2010 at 6:42 pm |
  3. William G Stockglausner

    A myth?! The atheists must not have any history books.

    December 1, 2010 at 6:28 pm |
    • Historically Speaking

      The Bible is not a history book.

      December 1, 2010 at 6:35 pm |
    • NotSoMuch

      Your school must not have been very well funded.

      December 1, 2010 at 6:39 pm |
    • phillip

      WRONG,THE BIBLE IS A HISTORY BOOK,AND IT ALSO TELLS THE FUTURE,AND ITS GOOD READING,HAVE YOU EVER READ IT?

      December 1, 2010 at 6:44 pm |
    • Sam

      Um, no... the bible is a story book. It has been proven historically either A) wrong and/ or B) baseless many, many times. Earth is flat? And we are a geocentric universe? Tip of the iceberg, you'll get more history reading Dr. Seuss.

      December 1, 2010 at 6:48 pm |
  4. jaz

    Yes, by all means, right when it becomes obvious that the newly elected House has no interest in representing anyone other than the wealthiest 2-percent, roll out the same old "liberals just want to destroy Christmas" story.

    Exactly how big of a check did the Koch brothers write to you for this, American Athiests?

    December 1, 2010 at 6:27 pm |
  5. Bill

    I will give the athiests one point, christmas existed long before the christian religion came into being and it was coopted by them.

    December 1, 2010 at 6:27 pm |
  6. Harry

    Faith LOL

    December 1, 2010 at 6:25 pm |
  7. Terry

    So, the atheists are $20,000 poorer? Good!

    December 1, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      And the thumpers are $18,500 poorer. Seems to me the atheists are doing a better job of sharing their riches.

      December 1, 2010 at 6:27 pm |
  8. mark

    Reason says a scientific impossibility (abiogenesis "life from non-life") is still an impossibility.

    How pathetic that the atheists' entire foundation is a proven myth that has been debunked by science time and time again and is unsupported by the evidence, unsupported by history and utterly void of logic and reason.

    December 1, 2010 at 6:21 pm |
  9. MGC

    To those who believe in God, prove he exists. To those who don't, prove he doesn't exist. Provide solid, empirical evidence to support your case.

    December 1, 2010 at 6:21 pm |
    • Disgusted With Humanity

      Agreed. Of course, neither can nor will ever be able to prove their case thus proving my hypothesis that this entire argument is a waste of time between the two sides.

      December 1, 2010 at 6:28 pm |
  10. Silverdog

    The question about God has three answers.

    The religious: YES!

    The atheists: NO!

    The agnostics: I don't know.

    Only one of these answers is rational. None of us KNOWS! No one! Claiming to "feel" it or "know it in your heart" is wishful thinking. Claiming that there is no proof, so it's just not so is stubborn. We don't know. We don't. That is the only honest answer, and we will not go to hell if there is a God, because it would not be some egomaniac that needs a bunch of humans to stroke its ego. We would not be punished by a creator that created imperfect beings and expected us to be perfect. Okay, now I'm speculating, but the point is WE DO NOT KNOW. To claim otherwise is just silly. Merry Christmas though. It is a lot of fun to give and make others happy – and remember, you don't have to be religious, or non-religious to live an honorable life. Peace Earthlings!

    December 1, 2010 at 6:19 pm |
    • Disgusted With Humanity

      While I find your post to be extremely rational, what about those on both sides who call agnostics fence sitters? Do you believe it's truthful or just simply jealousy at the rationality behind it?

      December 1, 2010 at 6:24 pm |
  11. Kana

    Did you know there are nearly 2000 prophecies that have already been fulfilled as foretold in the Bible. No Myth about it, thanks for playing, nice try though.

    December 1, 2010 at 6:18 pm |
    • Believe in Santa

      So you will conveniently leave out all the nonsense there?
      Oh, and tomorrow will be Thursday. I'm pretty sure my prophecy will be fulfilled. Feel free to worship me.

      December 1, 2010 at 6:25 pm |
    • Observer

      Did you know that snakes and donkeys know languages and can talk? Did you know that the earth is flat and the center of the unverse? Did you know that men can live 900 years? Did you know that slavery is acceptable? Did you know that women are inferior to men? Did you know that 2 to 5 of every land animal can live on a boat with a year's supply of food? Did you know that people can live inside a whale? Thanks for playing.

      December 1, 2010 at 6:31 pm |
    • NotSoMuch

      Guess we should all worship Nostradamus. He has quite a track record with prophecies too.

      December 1, 2010 at 6:37 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      @Kana

      I'd like to read about those 2000 prophecies – please provide a reference or two.

      December 1, 2010 at 6:44 pm |
  12. Bill

    So, let me get this straight. One religion posts a billboard stating christmas is not a christian holiday and another religion posts another billboard arguing the point when both religions could have spent the money helping the less fortunate in this season of giving. Yes, atheisim is a religion . . . belief in nothing is still a belief and they seem every bit a zealous as the rest of the fanatics.

    December 1, 2010 at 6:16 pm |
    • Disgusted With Humanity

      The funny thing about organized atheism is that it is structured on the same foundations as the mainstream religions. Buy the pins, necklaces and what not (see American Atheists website and Richard Dawkins Atheist Out Campaign)to show off your affiliation with them while pumping money into yet another money making scheme. Both theism and atheism are nonsense.

      December 1, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
  13. Jdb

    I'll take the message of hope over the message of nope every time!

    December 1, 2010 at 6:13 pm |
    • Patrick

      You have just illustrated the problem with religion. People believe what they want to believe and what gives them comfort no matter what the facts are or are not. I personally find boundless hope in atheism and reason. It sets a person free from the dark ages of the soul and provides a path to peace and well being. To follow science and reason is to follow truth. This leads people towards the light of this universe as we collectively explore the mysteries of this life. Spiritual evolution is the food of the human soul.

      December 1, 2010 at 6:33 pm |
  14. Gilbert

    Christianity is about forgiveness. Jesus Christ died for our sins. Imagine a world where you were never forgiven for every little mean thing you ever did. Even those confused, pushy Christians deserve forgiveness. Everyone has the right to choose their own beliefs and still be loved. However, gravity is invisible magic that everyone knows is real 🙂

    December 1, 2010 at 6:13 pm |
    • Patrick

      First off, I agree that it is nice to be forgiven. Guilt is not a very nice feeling. Given those facts it's not that surprising that a system of belief that allows one to be forgiven would become popular and give comfort to people. I can see why a person would want to believe that even with out a shred of proof. Sadly a person can't just go believing things just because they make them feel god. That is what a child would do. Second: The effects of gravity can be seen and measured. Gravity is also consistent in it's effects and acts in a predictable manor. Gravity does not require I believe in something with out proof. Happy Solstice!

      December 1, 2010 at 10:09 pm |
  15. bea

    okay...the Christmas story,...we all know that there was no way under the sun could Jesus have been born in December.....

    December 1, 2010 at 6:11 pm |
  16. Brooklyn

    God + Jesus Are Very Real. Christmas Not So Real. = The Truth

    December 1, 2010 at 6:10 pm |
    • Observer

      = A Belief. Truth can be proven.

      December 1, 2010 at 6:14 pm |
  17. An Athiest

    As an Athiest I don't have a gripe with "Christmas." To me, it's not about whether or not you believe in God (or A God, or Any God), it's about spending time with your family.

    My world view does not require, nor even have room for, a God of any stripe. The world is much more amazing without one. I don't need the fear of an afterlife to make me be a good person while I'm alive; being good makes me feel good.

    If you need your God to make your world complete, then, by all means, keep them close to your heart. But, please, don't try to foist your beliefs off on those of us who neither want nor need them.

    December 1, 2010 at 6:08 pm |
  18. NickB5

    I'm fine with it. Christians certainly have no problem putting up billboards asserting their beliefs, why should anyone else ? Happy Winter Solstice!

    December 1, 2010 at 6:06 pm |
  19. DEVOUT CATHOLIC

    Oh, and also, why do Atheists only bash on Christians??? Not that I want other religions to be criticized, because I know what it feels like, but there are other religions such as Islam and Hinduism. Science, Science, Science, as if that's real progress. With all the advances in technology and everything, that doesnt mean anything when the spirits and hearts of many people around the world are the way they are.

    December 1, 2010 at 6:05 pm |
    • Disgusted With Humanity

      Humans may have the power of rational thought, but we have still yet to evolve from our primal beating of the chest like gorillas when it comes to our beliefs or disbeliefs.

      December 1, 2010 at 6:11 pm |
  20. Julie

    This billboard is totally awesome!! I can't wait until people wake up and realize that this "invisible god, and book" they externalize everything in their life to, doesn't exist.. Yay, happy to live the truth everyday as a atheist!

    December 1, 2010 at 6:04 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.