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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. Reasonable

    Funny thing is, the more 'gaps' we remove for God to hide in, the more we prove that He exists. The more mysteries we solve, the more it points to a supreme being who invented DNA, who invented the natural laws that scientists have only scratched the surface of.
    So yes, this season, celebrate reason.

    December 1, 2010 at 8:05 pm |
  2. AshB

    Why can't we all tolerate each other and let people believe what they want to believe. Jesus died for our sins, the Jewish needed a candle lit, etc. We all believe in something, even if we are atheists, for we believe in nothing. We should be able to come together as people of this world and celebrate what we want to celebrate together. I celebrate Christmas, but I don't celebrate the birth of anyone, I celebrate having my family and just living in peace for one day out of the whole year. People have been killed because of beliefs, and if this is what we're arguing about, this is absolutely stupid. Why don't we grow up, rather than follow the past and fight over this trivial stuff? We have to respect each other's opinions, not say that we're Christian and say that everyone that thinks different is going to hell, or if your Catholic and say the same thing, or Jewish, or Muslim. If that was the case, then all of us would be going to hell, because we all think differently. Religious holidays mean different things to everyone; religious scriptures mean different to everyone. Don't you see that no one is right.
    We're people, not animals. How old are all of you one here? Most are adults, I would say, and it's disgusting how you throw religion into someone's face and shout BELIEVE IT BECAUSE YOU'LL GO TO HELL IF YOU DON'T! It's stupid. You should all be ashamed of yourselves.

    December 1, 2010 at 8:05 pm |
  3. Historically Speaking

    I knew the Hitler card would be played eventually…on to The Inquisition!

    "There is no such thing as a plea of innocence in my court. A plea of innocence is guilty of wasting my time. Guilty!"

    Inquisitor Lord Fyodor Karamazov

    December 1, 2010 at 8:04 pm |
  4. Yes1fan

    Saying God does not exist is the same as saying Existence, purpose, and meaning does not exist. If 90+% of the universe is empty space, then what caused the 10% of matter & energy to spring into being? Why / What / Who pushed the Big Bang Button? Why do galaxies rotate and fly away from a central point, rather than veer around chaotically? Why do stars cluster into galaxies, and planets around stars? The fact is, the Big Bang DID occur, either by magic or by God, something WAS created out of nothing, AND, in it behaves an orderly fashion. I choose the Intelligent Creator as the only plausible explanation. If you choose magic, your belief system has less basis than mine, and even THAT belief implies a force guiding the "magic" – you simply refuse to call it "God".

    December 1, 2010 at 8:04 pm |
  5. Josh

    In a court of law if I said that the unicorn’s existed would it be on me to prove its existence or others to disprove the unicorn’s existence? How about Santa? How about the tooth fairy? How about the Easter bunny? How about God? Please display some reason and have a Merry Christmyth all.

    December 1, 2010 at 7:49 pm |
  6. Plato101

    "The best thing is to let Christianity die a natural death.... When understanding of the universe has become widespread... Christian doctrine will be convicted of absurdity.... Christianity has reached the peak of absurdity.... And that's why someday its structure will collapse.... ...the only way to get rid of Christianity is to allow it to die little by little.... Christianity the liar.... We'll see to it that the Churches cannot spread abroad teachings in conflict with the interests of the State."
    Adolph Hitler – 14th October, 1941

    December 1, 2010 at 7:48 pm |
  7. Ruth Norris

    WHAT A GREAT MYTH! IT'S GREAT THAT MILLIONS OF PEOPLE BELIEVE. IT'S ALSO GREAT FOR THE ECONOMY, WHICH ATHEISTS WILL BENEFIT FROM. IT IS ALSO GREAT FOR UPLIFTING THE SPIRIT OF GIVING THROUGHTOUT THE WORLD. PERHHAPS THIS IS WHY THE ATHEISTS CALL CHRISTMAS A MYTH – BECAUSE THEY DON'T BELIEVE IN ANYTHING THEY HAVE NOTHING TO GIVE. MERRY CHRISTMAS AND MAY THE "MYTH' LIVE IN THE HEARTS OF MILLIONS FOREVER, AND EVER. AMEN

    December 1, 2010 at 7:47 pm |
  8. Billy

    lol...religion.

    There is a big sign where I live off the interstate that says "Go to Church or Burn in Hell." No one seems to have a problem with it. But a atheist billboard is a big NO NO.

    December 1, 2010 at 7:44 pm |
  9. BLJ

    Well all I can say is that I'd rather live my life as if there is a God then die and find out there is not, then to live my life as if there is NO God and die and find out there IS.

    December 1, 2010 at 7:44 pm |
  10. Plato101

    "Christianity is a rebellion against natural law, a protest against nature. Taken to its logical extreme, Christianity would mean the systematic cultivation of the human failure."
    Adolph Hitler – 10th October, 1941

    December 1, 2010 at 7:37 pm |
  11. Plato101

    ""The best thing is to let Christianity die a natural death.... When understanding of the universe has become widespread... Christian doctrine will be convicted of absurdity.... Christianity has reached the peak of absurdity.... And that's why someday its structure will collapse.... ...the only way to get rid of Christianity is to allow it to die little by little.... Christianity the liar.... We'll see to it that the Churches cannot spread abroad teachings in conflict with the interests of the State."
    Adolph Hitler – 14th October, 1941

    December 1, 2010 at 7:33 pm |
  12. Correction

    We have a free country and we can say or do just about anything we want to do but in the end, and it doesn't matter what your religious belief(s) is/are – we will all answer to GOD.

    December 1, 2010 at 7:30 pm |
  13. Let Us Prey

    The board has sprung at 2,211 responses. No wonder.

    December 1, 2010 at 7:30 pm |
  14. jay

    as the philosophers of the western enlightenment say: why not believe in God? if he exists you would be safe and if not oh well you are still covered (in more or less words).

    December 1, 2010 at 7:25 pm |
  15. J

    Reality is so blatantly simple...nobody wants to believe it.
    1) We're highly evolved primates
    2) We have overactive imaginations
    3) Our greatest evolutionary asset, our large and highly-folded brains, are also responsible for an insatiable curiosity
    4) As a species, and a survival tactic, we make things up to comfort ourselves in difficult times
    5) As a complex societal species, we create commonalities and 'traditions' with others in our clan / tribe / community
    6) These 'traditions' result in security, trust, and strong relationships that make the collective more able to survive than the individual
    7) These common beliefs also act as a means of numbing the brain to questions and concerns without legitimate or tangible answers
    8) Religion is simply a survival mechanism
    9) When we die, we simple 'are not alive' anymore. The same place you were BEFORE you were 'alive' is the same place you'll be when you're NOT 'alive'.

    So, in a nut shell, believe whatever you want if it makes you happy, but know, for sure, you are little more than a highly evolved primate, a product of the biological processes on a chemically complex and ever-changing planet, that will live and die like any other living thing. No magic pixie dust. No eternity. No visiting your long lost pets.

    December 1, 2010 at 7:25 pm |
  16. Jensen

    Jesus is the only way to Heaven, ... Lord forgive them, they don't know what they are doing....

    December 1, 2010 at 7:21 pm |
  17. Positron

    What a lot of people are missing here is that the christian religion is based off the bible. Advocating for the truth of Jesus's birth is a subset of advocating for the truth of the bible. To advocate for the truth of the bible, one must also advocate for slavery, stoning women to death if they commit adultery before marriage, and for the mindset that this world doesn't matter since heaven is the ultimate goal. Christian religion is inherently incompatible with the view of 'live and let live'. If you are a true christian, and if the bible is correct, then all christians should attempt to convert those around them to the fullest of their ability since it is their god-given duty to do so. You are not a true christian unless you make every attempt to 'save the souls' of fellow humans.

    That said, atheists are genuinely concerned about their personal well-being when masses of disillusioned religious people hold the power to shift climate, start wars, and intrude on everyday activities in the name of an arbitrary* deity.

    *Arbitrary because if you lived in ancient greece, you would be praying to Apollo. If you were born in India, you would pray to bhrama, if you were born in ancient Hawaii you would be praying to Pele. If you were born in Finland, you would believe things based on logic and reasoning rather than tradition and vehemently shouted testimonial evidence.

    December 1, 2010 at 7:18 pm |
  18. Chip

    If Jesus is real why can't I send him a letter? What's his phone number?

    December 1, 2010 at 7:11 pm |
  19. Ceri

    the difference between atheists and religious people is that atheists arent trying to take away your right to go to church and live your life - the religious are blowing themselves up, trying as hard as they can to take rights away from gay people and women and anyone of another religion..picketing outside of funerals. Stoning people....religion is just an excuse for people to hate eachother, kill eachother, feel morally superior, etc. Who cares if the atheists put up a billboard making fun of your religion. If you are secure in your beliefs then it wouldnt matter to you. And youd use your 18,500 to do good works instead of putting up another pouty billboard "nuhuh you are!!"

    December 1, 2010 at 7:10 pm |
  20. Joe

    While I do find the billboard quite funny, the fact remains that neither side has it right.

    Currently, we have a system or religion based on the word of "god". This word, typically in the form of a holy text, is clearly written and created by men who are supposedly channeling the will of "god" into written form. The problem is, most religions have a book, and no one has a shred of evidence to support which book is correct.

    Atheists, on the other hand, hold a belief that there is no god. This may be due to a lack of evidence, a firm hold on reason and logic, or simply the view that no sane person could believe in the fairytale-like stories told in these texts. However, just like the religious fanatics, they hold no truth.

    Therefore, anyone with a shred of logic or reason in them needs to realize that there is only one answer to the god question.

    I don't know.

    Agnostics have it right. No one can prove anything. Until then, I choose to believe in what I see, feel, and experience and will shape my life based on morals and ethics which I create for myself and not act like a sheep. On the other hand, if "god" chooses to show himself and prove to me that he has it right – bring it!

    December 1, 2010 at 7:09 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.