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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. Michael

    What the hell aren't Christians getting here? American Atheists aren't surrounded by delusional Muslims hence why it is directed at Christians.

    Atheists don't need to disprove a God, they aren't the ones with the preconceived notion that an invisible man created the world. Atheists rely on scientists, which rely on this little thing called EVIDENCE, Christians find evidence to be somehow immoral, idiotic.

    December 1, 2010 at 10:51 pm |
  2. JoeTheSchlubber

    Of course Christians dont have to prove God or Jesus exists, but I if I said I was Jesus reborn....they would want proof.....LOL

    December 1, 2010 at 10:47 pm |
  3. JoeTheSchlubber

    I just know that if Jesus ever did come come back Christians would want "proof" it was really him......

    December 1, 2010 at 10:41 pm |
  4. Queenan

    1. A direct mockery of Christmas is probably in bad taste.
    2. Atheists do not have the responsibility to prove that God doesn't exist. You prove something DOES exist, not the other way around. Taking something on faith isn't necessarily bad, but let's not make that synonymous with proof.
    3. Religious folks: why do you care if atheists don't believe in God (barring condescending billboards)? They've heard of God, and they're not interested. Leave 'em alone.
    4. Clearly, I'm biased. But what say we all take a moment from biting each others' heads off to cool down and appreciate that we live in a society that lets us say things like this (referring to both the billboard and this discussion) without fear of severe punishment? Mmmmm....aaahh. Nice, right?

    December 1, 2010 at 10:34 pm |
  5. Enoch

    These atheist-guys are becoming more and more desperate and primitive. Who were the last desperate soldiers who tried to fight GOD with such an enthusiasm? Yea, the Bolsheviks in Russia, some hundred years ago. Where are they now? Perhaps under the Lenin Mausoleum. Poor guys!

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

    I wonder if the park owner would let me put one of these on top of my trailer?

    December 1, 2010 at 10:22 pm |
  7. MK Ultra

    It's pretty that, of all the religionists that could have come forward to defend their invisibly daddy, it was to be the Catholics. Ha ha ha! As if they didn't have enough problems defending their pedopheliac priests already. Maybe they should put up another billboard with a pic of the old dude in the dress and the pointy hat with a sign that says "yes, he is real and you better not stand in front of him in line"

    December 1, 2010 at 10:18 pm |
  8. Miller

    that a boys! Im so proud of my home state, the atheists are finally fighting back with the big guns. the religions, mainly Christians, have attacked us for so long. about time we fought back.

    December 1, 2010 at 10:10 pm |
  9. Adrian

    Ok after some thought I decided to get into this debate.

    First things first;
    1. Proof that God does exists; Do you see a sky full of stars? a sun, moon, planets and billions of it? Do you see and understand that nature has a perfect design? Intelligent design is very obvious to me and to say that all that smart design was done by pure and mere luck you would also have to admit that a pink unicorn could possibly exists somewhere in the universe just like luck was able to create intelligent design and being by mere luck, then you also have to admit that God also may exists somewhere in the infinite see of probabilities that is our universe.
    2. When was the last time you witness an unintelligent thing creating an intelligent one? To says that the universe was created by nothing is absurd cuz how come I dont see nothing creating more stuff all the time? Since when nothing can create anything? If nothing did create everything there is then nothing would be God.
    God = the creator which always was (intelligent source of everything)
    By the way God is probably not a person, it could be a feeling, an emotion etc.. the possibilities are endless and quantum mechanics is here to show that they are truly endless. Santa and unicorns along with easter bunny could possibly exists somewhere in one of our universes 🙂

    December 1, 2010 at 9:35 pm |
  10. Deist

    How come Christmas is always used as an argument for "reason." Why not Channukah, too? Why don't they use the same line of reasoning and say, "Oh there's no rationality to a day's worth of oil burning for eight." How about Islam, Hinduism, Jehovah's Witnesses or Scientology? If you aren't intending to be mean-spirited then incorporating other religions' examples into your billboard. I'm sure no one would get mad over a billboard posted the month of Ramadan that reads "You are starving yourself for no good reason. Be reasonable and have a sandwich." The point is, every year there is some billboard like this that only uses Christian examples. It's biased and an easy target and isn't making this American Atheists organization any more objective. Also, those who are atheists, don't celebrate or take days off or demand holiday gifts if you are going to poo-poo the underlying concept. Don't complain about the recipe and then expect the first slice of the cake.

    To anyone who celebrates a religion and enjoys it without hurting anyone, keep going and enjoy the ride!

    December 1, 2010 at 9:33 pm |
    • Deist

      Based on my odd grammar and odd punctuation, I think my keyboard is atheist, too! Bah, no egg nog for you, KB!

      December 1, 2010 at 9:37 pm |
  11. Mitch

    Here's one for all the christians out there. Prove Jesus and Santa are not black... I see that everywhere to and the only people who gripe about it are christians.

    December 1, 2010 at 9:31 pm |
  12. TOM SAWYER

    Believing doesn't make it true. Having many people believe doesn't make it true.

    December 1, 2010 at 9:29 pm |
  13. Forsaken

    I left Christianity after 40 years because of the lies being perpetrated.. Jesus WAS absolutely NOT born on Dec 25 and Easter is a lie from the pit of hell – there are no Easter bunnies or easter eggs in the Bible. ALL lies!!! I agree with the atheists on this one – Jesus is NOT the reason for the season!!

    December 1, 2010 at 9:29 pm |
  14. Chris

    People are over analyzing this. Whether or not you believe in god isn’t why people celebrate Christmas as a whole. Yes there is that part of Christmas that celebrates Jesus and for that part and the people who celebrate it, good for them. For everyone else it is about caring, sharing, and being with the people who are important to you. Instead of just going out of your way to belittle everyone just enjoy the season for what it is now and what it was then.

    On a side note, no one can be 100% certainty that there is or isn’t a god, or gods. Everyone who believes in something can have 100% FAITH that there is or isn’t a god, or gods. Everyone finds out the truth when they meet the end of their life.

    December 1, 2010 at 9:01 pm |
  15. Eric G.

    I see the problem as one of obsolescence. When the other religions throughout human history fadded away due to lack of relevence, there was always another ready to take it's place. Now, the major religions of the world are joining the ranks of the irrelevant and our understanding of our world will not allow the evolution of another set of myths to explain what we do not yet understand. I think that many believers are so hostile about atheists because the believers lack the capacity to understand the theories that disprove their myths and it makes them feel inferior. Of course, i could be wrong.

    December 1, 2010 at 8:46 pm |
  16. Eric S.

    People need to stop getting offended by such trivial nonsense. If you're offended that someone expresses the fact that they have a different opinion than you, you need to get a life.

    This atheist will be celebrating Reason and Christmas this holiday season.

    December 1, 2010 at 8:33 pm |
  17. HeIsGod

    Okay, this too funny. How are Atheist going to manage to convinced billions of people that there is no GOD? Now, since they are whining, complaining, and crying like rotten spoil babies, the burden of PROOF is now in their hands. So, show us that there is NO GOD with evidence so we can allow Atheism to lead us into ALL "truth", which in this case.....THEY DON'T HAVE IT.

    December 1, 2010 at 8:32 pm |
  18. HeIsGod

    Okay, this too funny. How are Atheist going to manage to convinced billions of people that there is no GOD? Now, since they are whining, complaining, and crying like rotten babies, the burden of PROOF is now in their hands. So, show us that there is NO GOD

    December 1, 2010 at 8:30 pm |
  19. AJOSS

    What's the point of the billboard? I'm not religious but I see know point in waisting $20,000 to annoy others.

    December 1, 2010 at 8:16 pm |
  20. Jeff S

    Who cares. I don't believe in Religion. I think its is a ideology of fear used to try and exert control over people. After all, control equals power and what human or group doesn't want more of it. But I sure as hell am not going to attack someone for chosen to practice religion. As long as it helps improve your life I could care less what you believe as long as you can accept we don't all have to believe the same, and you do not try and take away my right to believe as I wish.
    I don't understand why everyone gets all worked up about people's beliefs. Who freaking cares.

    Besides, lets for a moment say there is a heaven, and I believe I am the only one that knows how to get there. I'm sure as hell not going to go around and share that secret with everyone else on the planet. There are already too many of you here, and I'm willing to bet that even though I don't know all of you, I not going to like at least 50% of you. So why do I want to ruin heaven filling it with people I don't know and probably wont like?

    December 1, 2010 at 8:09 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.