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. Chadd

    Kenny, Thank you!! Why are we spending so much time beating each other up and trying to put up signs that we are right and the other person is wrong, why aren't we doing something important? If you are a Christian, Jesus didn't tell you to protect him politically, he told you to care for each other and for those who need help! If you are an atheist, who is it really helping putting up expensive billboards? Why are you wasting your time telling Christians their wrong? Either move on and enjoy your life like you are telling Christian's to, or go help somebody so they can enjoy theirs more! Now, I've already wasted enough time on this, time to go do something that actually matters.

    December 1, 2010 at 7:07 pm |
  2. The Truth

    Atheists like to complain about "bible thumpers" and how Christians try to force their views on everyone. Some are guilty of this yes. However atheists not only do the same by replying to EVERY SINGLE post on any message board that mentions God that he's a myth, they also mock the Christians as well. Looks like there are people on both sides of the issue who are annoying.

    Also another big argument by atheists is "You have to use logic in everything, faith is useless". Faith is what makes us human. There are things that use logic, and only logic, too. They are called robots. If you wish to be no better than a robot then by all means squander your useless life away by being a heartless automaton that tries to find a logical reason for everything. If you want to be human, then feel free to believe whatever you want, but use a balance of logic and emotion.

    If you believe in God, fine. Don't push it on people who don't want to hear it. If you really believe in God, he'll take care of them in his own time, won't he? You want to follow the Bible, then remember the biggest lesson in it: Don't judge others. You aren't better than anyone else in the world, so don't act like it. Be humble.

    There are reasons most extremists are called insane. There are extremists on both sides of the issue.
    Find a nice place somewhere in the middle, believe what you want to believe, and keep your opinion to yourself and be happy. It's not that hard, people.

    December 1, 2010 at 7:05 pm |
  3. iowacorn

    you're dead on , perfect..

    December 1, 2010 at 7:05 pm |
  4. susanbellnc

    Freedom of speech, freedom of religion. There is nothing wrong with them putting up those billboards. It's their money, let them spend it. If you don't like it, don't pay attention to it. It's like that with any type of advertisement or slogan or whatever that appears on those things.

    December 1, 2010 at 7:03 pm |
  5. Kenny

    So, both groups thought that spending almost $40k to insult each other was a better idea than say, donating it to charity?

    December 1, 2010 at 6:59 pm |
  6. Perfectarc

    One thing is for sure ....... there will never be peace in this world until religion, and I mean all monotheistiic religion, becomes extinct. What an irrational, lunatic world we live in where millions of dollars are spent in Mitch McConnell's home state of Kentucky to build and promote a CREATIONIST MUSEUM!!!! How stupid is that? So you really think that this reactionary gang of religious zealots really cares about AMerica?? and really cares about the economic well-being of AMerica??

    Wrong again Goober ..... they care about guns, religion, embryos and .... gay marriage. All the while emerging countries like India and China are passing us by. Why???? ...... religion. Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann and other lunatic pentecostal religious zealots care about these four things ONLY. Stupid AMericans, led around by the nose by a bunch of lunatic, illiterate religious zealots.

    December 1, 2010 at 6:55 pm |
  7. iowacorn

    wow... lot of reading.. i'm not sure if i'm capable of being smart enough to comment here...good arguements, all..
    raised a catholic, spent nine years in a catholic school...hardest i've ever been hit was by a third grade nun..
    but after getting out of the army, i begin studying religion..this is what i have decided................
    religion, as we know it, it based on FEAR..take away the hell part of it, and religion would dissolve. FEAR...be afraid , be very afraid... you will burn in the depths of hell!! unless you repent, pay the till on sunday..and conform to our ways...
    take out the fear factor, the fact that NOONE has had anyone from the dead come back to life...ever...and i might question my judgment..and what religion is the right one.. what if i choose the wrong religion and worship the wrong god??? do i go to hell?? who knows?? depends on what book you read, the country you were born in, etc.
    i have never had anyone come into the yard and try to sell me on atheism.. but i do the latter day saints..nothing wrong with trying to sell me religion.but why?? to build their power base..to get me to go to their church, to get me to think like they do.. because is in numbers..i hate extreme religion.. have seen the damage it can do..
    when i die.. they put me in the ground. i rot, i can live with that , cause i won't care. i'm dead.. and i can live with death

    December 1, 2010 at 6:55 pm |
  8. atheists can't take what they dishout

    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 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. Only because of the unjust king hengry the protestant did protestants prevail against the catholic church and moreover coming to the new world.

    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".

    Keep on saying the lord God, the Catholic God, won't do nothing because all of you are biding your time for a huge punishment is coming for the hour of reaping is at hand. Repent.

    December 1, 2010 at 6:53 pm |
    • Sam

      OK, I repented, burned all of my diplomas and my Mensa card. Are we all good now? I've seen the light and I'm all about the magic guy in the sky and a church that only acknowledged that the Earth revolves around the Sun in 1982.

      December 1, 2010 at 7:00 pm |
    • Logos

      Clearly you don't know anything about atheists, period. You came up with a bunch of scenarios and then described exactly what atheists wouldn't do. You also completely misunderstood the Bill of Rights, and if you want more insight into the founders, I suggest you read "The Age of Reason" by Thomas Paine.
      You then go on to basically say the Bible is true because the Bible says so. No circular reasoning there...... -_-

      December 1, 2010 at 7:11 pm |
  9. james

    If God is in control...he need to go ! his creation is not working.

    December 1, 2010 at 6:53 pm |
  10. Non Believer

    Some quotes from billboards I pass along the freeway here in Rural Ohio

    -"Do you want me to flood this place again? -God"
    -2 boards stating the ten commandments followed by a 3rd saying "HELL is real!"
    -"If you died today, where would you spend ETERNITY?" (with 'eternity' engulfed in flames')

    Hypocrisy, anyone?

    December 1, 2010 at 6:53 pm |
  11. chuckie


    December 1, 2010 at 6:50 pm |
  12. aginghippy

    I keep hearing believers complaining that the billboard in question is somehow an attempt by atheists to "force" people to abandon their faith, or that it is "pushing atheism" on society. Is your faith so fragile that a billboard can shake it? Are atheists not American citizens with a right to express their views publicly?
    There is a delicious irony in Christians complaining about having atheism forced on them, when everywhere you look there are Christian symbols, there are evangelists asking if we atheists have 'heard the good news', and most infuriating, there are those who would deny basic civil rights to those who offend their Jesus. Many Christians want to prohibit gay marriage and abortion, want to put the ten commandments on public buildings and insist on putting God on our currency. Many of them want to eliminate the study of evolution in our schools and replace it with creationist nonsense. They would also like atheist children to be subjected to prayer in school, and have added "under God" to the pledge of allegiance, a phrase that was NOT in the original pledge.
    Tell me again who wants to push their beliefs on others! Go on, pull the other leg! HA HA

    December 1, 2010 at 6:49 pm |
  13. Silverdog

    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?

    I think most people need a definitive answer. I don't know is frowned upon probably because it didn't go over well with our parents when we were little, but intellectually curious adults find "I don't know" to be honest and refreshing, and even a platform from which to take a subjest further. I don't see it as fence sitting simply because the questions our wonderful minds are able to conjur up are far to big for those very minds to answer. We all need to find balance in our pysche. We all have egos, temperments, emotional baggage, personalities, etc. We have to find a way to balance the chaos in our minds. Some find comfort in religious beliefs (the religious). Some find comfort in logic (atheists). Agnostics find solace in being rational which includes being comfortable with the unknown. Most people are uncomfortable with the unknown so they choose one of the other options and chalk up agnostics as wishy washy. I like the fact that I don't know. I don't need to know. Oh, I want to, and I really hope there is some sort of afterlife for a bunch of reasons, but mostly because it would be wonderful to really experience the truth. Worm food is very much a possibilty, but offers no answer. Is all this a cosmic mistake? Maybe – but what a shame that would be. Yes religious and non-religious, it is okay to be hopeful AND uncertain. I do not believe in any penalties for using my brain. If there is a God, there is no way it's a jerk.

    December 1, 2010 at 6:47 pm |
    • Mark

      Silverdog, your comments are wonderful, thank you for your post! It is difficult to see beyond a "fencesitting' position when someone can see both sides of the same coin. i am tired of religion being black and white, it's not, it's far from it, if someone desires truth, I would coin richard rohr and say one is blind in total light as well as total darkness. With that said, i believe it is important to have a foundation that can be bult upon certain values such as justice, kindness and humility (micah 6:8). this foundation should be taught to our children, however, as an adult, things can change, faith after all is kinetic. being ok with the unknown has inspired greatness at all levels especially in science (i.e. albert einstein once said 'the most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. it is the source of all true art and science.') find your own god experience, stop being preoccupied with trying to prove or disprove the existence of god and learn to expereince god in your life, this will lead to a joyful mind, free of hate, fear and ego. confucious once said to love all things and treat them well without thought of self, this is good and just. maybe this is what humaity needs rather than bickering over a billboard. Peace to you and your family, in this holiday season Silverdog!

      December 5, 2010 at 7:38 pm |
  14. Mark

    This is a sad example of shallow, dualistic thinking by both groups. We all need to realize that a myth is not true because it contains facutal information, a myth is true because is moves us to action, it inspires us, it is effective in our lives. The christmas story is a great example of the deeper truth that is beyond reasonable thinking. Some people call this truth God.

    December 1, 2010 at 6:44 pm |
  15. matt

    why can't we all just get along? who cares if someone's atheist christian buddhist or jewish. what's the difference? why is it necessary to denounce eachother's beliefs or nonbeliefs? for the love of god– well... umm.. for the love of... for goodness sake just because someone believes in something that you disagree with doesn't mean its wrong.

    December 1, 2010 at 6:43 pm |
  16. Dave

    Its not religious people who are ignorant. Its extremists. Extremists are the ones who refuse to accept anyone outside their beliefs. They come in all forms including Christians, Muslims, and even Atheists. I'm a Catholic myself but I will respect any belief. In fact, I have friends that are atheist, agnostic, and gay and I know a lot of other people who are the same way.

    I hate how extremists condemn any belief that is not their own. Its just so ignorant. No one has any proof their one belief is 100% true(even atheists). Thats why they call it a belief.

    This particular billboard incident is just another example of extremism. One belief trying to strike down another belief just because they think their own is superior.

    December 1, 2010 at 6:40 pm |
    • Jimmy the Gent

      Last time I checked, gay wasn't a religion or a belief. Why even bring that up? You little pot-stirrer...

      December 1, 2010 at 6:57 pm |
  17. sjenner

    Who exactly do these atheists think they're convincing? All they're doing is coming across as a bunch of no fun spoil sports. Even if it's a myth, so what? It wouldn't be the first time we've celebrate mythology, because it still conveys something important. This isn't helping their cause one bit.

    December 1, 2010 at 6:40 pm |
    • Logos

      Clearly they're not trying to convince you. 🙂 They're just reaching out to people who otherwise don't think about it or are on the fence.
      By the way, assuming it is a myth, what important point does it convey?

      December 1, 2010 at 6:46 pm |
    • ijreilly

      Yeah, well when people start guiding public policy because of those myths, then it puts me in the position to have to say something. You can go "celebrate" whatever fictional characters you want in YOUR house, just don't let it spill on to the street because that's when the neighbors have to get involved.

      December 1, 2010 at 6:49 pm |
  18. phillip


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


      December 1, 2010 at 6:44 pm |
  19. bob

    Can we please tolerate other people's beliefs? If the other side sounds stupid, ignore it and move on. Religious people say that the bible teaches forgiveness, well.please show it. Forgive what you see as dumb and stupid. Athiests say that religion cause people of different faiths to kill each other and that intolerance is immoral. well. how about taking your own advice and show some tolerance, if you can't show it. Don't be a hypocrite and ask other people to.

    December 1, 2010 at 6:38 pm |
  20. Muhia

    MGC, how can we Atheists prove something that doesn't exist? Tell the Christians to prove if anyone has ever seen this God..If somebody comes out and takes me to the McDonald's that God is chilling at right now, then I will convert today....

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

      That's the point. The existence of God cannot be proven or disproved. It's a mute point. People either believe or don't believe. In the end, it does not matter. What's the point in trying. It's a circular argument.

      December 1, 2010 at 6:57 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.