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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. Susank

    I actually read a good part of these comments... It is interesting that atheists assume that believers are ignorant, small minded, devoid of reason or intellect and incredibly weak, so much so they need a "crutch". They paint others with a broad brush yet bristle at anything that even hints at their moral character and foundation. Time and again I have seen believers reduced to stick figures that easily fit into the atheists argument against God. I know many atheists who are fine people and I know many believers who are imminently reasonable and intelligent. I have a broad, solid background in science and this does not conflict with my deep faith in God... basically because there is no conflict. Science actually played a part in my conversion to Christianity. I had an insight a while back that encapsulates this whole argument. I enjoy astrophysics... have since I was young... One day I was reading an article about black holes in a scientific journal. They were discussing some new theories about event horizons, annihilation of matter, if black holes "leak"... and suddenly I realized that believing in the science of black holes requires faith. Black holes cannot be observed, no one can look into one... no one can visit one and return (assuming we had the technology to get there). The only reason to believe they exist is based on mathematical theories and observation the effects these objects have on the visible matter surrounding them... none of this "proves" the existence of black holes... it "proves" the existence of something that according to our best understanding of mathematics and astronomy would likely be what we call a black hole. This is faith... not proof. It is something that is also very debatable. Google "do black holes exist". Read a good cross section of articles from reliable sources (universities, scientific journals) and you will see not only is there a wide spectrum of speculation but you will find language that could be used in discussing whether or not God exists. Will we ever prove inconclusively that black holes exist or exactly how they behave... I don't know... Can we prove God exists... I can with the same certainty that scientists believe in their mathematical theories... using intellect and reason (the first steps to believing) I can "see" the effects of God in the matter around me and in the behavior of those around me... just as a person without the understanding of and belief in scientific theories will never see a black hole or believe they exist... a person without understanding of God and belief in His existence will never see Him or believe He exists. Think about it... I did and that took courage...not weakness.

    December 3, 2010 at 10:42 am |
  2. otter3440

    "Belief is a wager. Granted that faith cannot be proved, what harm will come to you if you gamble on its truth and it proves false? If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager then without hesitation that God exists"

    Blaise Pascal

    December 3, 2010 at 7:07 am |
  3. Shannon

    Of course no body knows if God exists because we can;t see him in the flesh. What is wrong with people? The only way we'll ever find out if he'smreal is if our time is up on earth. Just because you can't see God doesn't mean he don't exist. It's pitiful how some Atheist act like they have the FULL proof to brainwash people with their views. Why not believe, even if it's too late?

    December 2, 2010 at 7:33 pm |
  4. Lets see you do it

    Lets see you do it

    The American Atheist Organization likes to bash the Christmas and Christians with their public sign. But considering that there are over 3 billion Muslims around the world, I have never seen a reporter come across a public sign that says that the Muslim religion, The God Allah, and the prophet Mohammed are myths too. How come there isn't a public sign denouncing that religion is a myth too? Is it maybe -that the American Atheist organization is scared to put a sign up like that because if they do a jihad will be placed on their heads and headquarters?? They probably know that bashing Christians is a safe thing to do-but keep your hands off the Muslims because they will take revenge on you, no matter who or what you are. This reminds me of a CNN article in the summer where Roland Emmerich was asked why no Muslims or Islamic holy structures were destroyed in his movie, 2012. In that movie, the Vatican got crushed, the Pope dies, the Rio de Janeiro statute of Jesus destroyed, the Great Wall of China got destroyed, but no pictures about the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem got destroyed. Roland said that he had shown that Islam was pillared, he would have been dead within a month. Such hypocrites. The American Atheist organization is hyprocritical too. If you want to bash Christians, don't forget to bash Islam and Buddhists(like myself) too. Be fair to everybody. Don't forget the Buddists are not an easy going group of people too.

    December 2, 2010 at 7:20 pm |
    • \m/ HAIL SATAN \m/

      Jesus is an Islamic prophet too you zombie worshipping knucklehead

      December 3, 2010 at 2:38 pm |
  5. \m/ HAIL SATAN \m/

    Screeeeeeeew Jeeesus and the idiot rednecks that worship his zombie aaaaarssssssssssse

    December 2, 2010 at 5:50 pm |
  6. \m/ HAIL SATAN \m/

    The only lives Jesus ever improved is that of the worms that fed on his fetid corpse.

    December 2, 2010 at 5:47 pm |
  7. John

    T'is the season! To make Jewish bankers and atheistic Communists filthy rich by running up your credit cards while buying loads of cheap Chinese crap!!!

    December 2, 2010 at 5:32 pm |
  8. Muhia

    The reason that Atheists are putting up signs is because we really do feel sorry for the religious people....Only my fellow Atheists would understand where I am coming from with that statement..

    December 2, 2010 at 4:32 pm |
  9. Nothing more than the truth

    Funny how people rather believe we were created out of coincidence then to believe there is a creator behind this all. Everything comes from something, unless you're God 🙂

    Honestly, do you really buy that all that you see was formed coincidentally from all the right "particles" for a lack of a better word? We talk, build, and even dream. None of this is by mistake, it's clearly designed.

    December 2, 2010 at 12:11 pm |
  10. Jeremy

    Of course a Jew would say its a hoax. They've been saying that for over 2000yrs, since they had Jesus crucified. But guess what.... God forgives you

    December 2, 2010 at 12:00 pm |
  11. SN

    Really??? Myth or no myth, it's the one time of the year when people come together as a community and think about the needs of other people. Only the Grinch would want to destroy that.

    December 2, 2010 at 11:59 am |
  12. BELIEVE

    There will always be disagreement about religion. Especially the ones who have never felt or those who do not know Jesus Christ as their savor. I have to admit I had doubt. But I have and now know God. I didn't find God until I was at my rock bottom. I hope and pray for those who don't know God and who has never felt the presences of the lord when you need him the most. There are several things that can't be explained in the world, theres even things that can't be explained medically. ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE TO THOSE WHO BEILEVE. I am a first hand witness to a lot of these things. This is an area that we all know that people will not agree on. I think the non- believers will be sorry when the ones who believe and know JESUS as their Savor are taken from this earth and the rest are left here to suffer through hell on earth until their judgement day. BUT I ASK, what is wrong with believing in God, the spirit, if it would make people love more, be more caring of others and living by good morals? Is it wrong to believe in something that you can't have physical evidence for or believing that there is a better place waiting for us after we die and leave this earth? I am glad I know and believe God is my savor and that their is a better place waiting for me when we die. I pray for those who don't, I would hate for you to miss out. All religions including Atheistism are trying to spread the truth, but there is only one right answer, I know mine is right, but for you non-believers you will just have to wait and see.

    GOD BLESS YOU ALL, after all we are all Gods children even if you don't know believe...

    December 2, 2010 at 11:54 am |
  13. Jeremy

    Of course a Jew is going to say its a myth when they're responsible for his crucifixion. DUH!

    December 2, 2010 at 11:47 am |
  14. James

    Let us pray,
    I believe in one God. The Father Almighty. Creator of Heaven and Earth. Amen

    December 2, 2010 at 11:11 am |
  15. sounding

    Cherokee Legend Do you know the legend of the Cherokee Indian youths' rite of Passage?

    His father takes him into the forest, blindfolds him an leaves him alone.
    He is required to sit on a stump the whole night and not remove the blindfold
    Until the rays of the morning sun shine through it. He cannot cry out for help to anyone.

    Once he survives the night, he is a MAN.

    He cannot tell the other boys of this experience, because each lad must come into manhood on his own.

    The boy is naturally terrified. He can hear all kinds of noises. Wild beasts must surely be all around him . Maybe even some human might do him harm.

    The wind blew the grass and earth, and shook his stump, but he sat stoically, never removing the blindfold. It would be the only way he could become a man!

    Finally, after a horrific night the sun appeared and he removed his blindfold.

    It was then that he discovered his father sitting on the stump next to him.

    He had been at watch the entire night, protecting his son from harm.

    We, too, are never alone. Even when we don't know it,
    God is watching over us, sitting on the stump beside us.

    When trouble comes, all we have to do is reach out to Him.

    If you liked this story, pass it on.
    If not, you took off your blindfold before dawn.

    Moral of the story:
    Just because you can't see God, doesn't mean He is not there.

    "For we walk by faith, not by sight."

    December 2, 2010 at 10:57 am |
  16. Peter

    Well, I'm not quite sure about the motivation regarding the "holiday" billboards but upon reflecting I find it very difficult in not believing in something greater than myself no matter what you may call it. If I'm my own god... I very pathetic god i would be.

    Either way, I can't help thinking that many atheists may be persons who at some time just became angry, disappointed, or disillusioned with a god they thought they knew and hence spend all their time trying hurt the "thing" they don't believe in. It seems if you really didn't believe in God you would just go on your merry way and live your life. Instead you spend it fighting the very "thing" you don't believe in.

    As far as proof of God? Hmmm.. Did you wake up this morning? Did you see the sun rise? Can you smell, feel and experience life? Is the wonder of the universe not enough? When you see a bird fly or a child smile? Is it all an illusion? Every day you see His handiwork. His brush has painted a beautiful masterpiece and yet you question whether the Artist exists? Does a painting just paint itself? Do the colors just fall magically in the right places? Was it all chance? I find it more difficult to believe that this incredible vision before us that we call life is just a "happy coincidence" a mere mistake. I find that it takes more faith to believe that all of this is a joke, an accident a mere "domino effect". Atheist?? I think its impossible to be an atheist. You are fooling yourself and spending more energy in believing such incredible nonsense.

    The opposite of Love isn't hate its apathy. If you really didn't care about God u should just move on instead being so compelled to convince everyone He doesn't exist. Seems like a waste of time.

    At least maybe cover ur bases because if the God-loving people are wrong we won't know any difference when we're dead ( we'll be dead) but you?? Seems like u have evrything to loose because if ur wrong... You will know the difference.

    Good luck in ur search for truth because in 1 million years no one will remember your name and people will still be calling on His.

    God Bless,

    December 2, 2010 at 9:42 am |
  17. Truly of the Yard

    What's all this nonsense about the Earth revolving around the sun? Everyone knows that the Earth is the center of the universe, and the sun, moon and stars revolve around us. The Bible says so, and it's obvious: just look up! And what crackpot came up with the idea of 100+ elements in the so-called periodic table? For thousands of years, we've known that the four basic elements are sky, earth, fire and water. You think I should trust some scientist to tell me nonsense about hydrogen and atomic weight and quarks?

    Also, did you know it was an ARAB who got us to believe the nonsense that ZERO is a NUMBER! You see! You see!! It's those terriers who want us to abandon what Jaysus and Glenn Beck tell us is absolute, indisputable Truth.

    December 2, 2010 at 9:13 am |
  18. TY

    Okay, here is what needs to stop on these comments.
    1 : Our country has freedom of religion. Let people choose what they want.
    2 : Stop insulting other religions, because it is offensive
    3 : I agree it is stupid to see why people would use another persons
    religious picture to broadcast and tell them its not real. That is in a way; stealing.

    4: And I agree that they could use another way to spend money. If you want to insult a christian. Go somewhere else. And If I am correct, You are not a christian if you insult an atheist.

    Atheist: Hey I'm an atheist.
    Dude: Really? You are an atheist..?
    Dude: I don't believe you.
    Atheist: I swear to God I am.
    Dude: O_o thats why.

    December 2, 2010 at 8:56 am |
  19. Linda

    Before you tell me I should not tell my children there is no God, how can I porve it to them? They will want bonafide proof of this...do you have any?
    How do I tell them they came frm 2 rocks that slammed together, and created a prefect set of living conditions? What do I tell them when they ask who lit the match that created the explosion?

    If I tell them Jesus didn't exist, they will say the bible said he did...how do I tell them it is wrong? Where is the proof?

    How do I tell them there is no Santa Claus, when there was a St. Nicholas, who Santa Claus derived from?

    Answer these, I have more.

    December 2, 2010 at 8:02 am |
  20. Gene Scarborough

    Either billboard requires faith!

    I'll take my chances with God attached!

    December 2, 2010 at 6:20 am |
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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.