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. JJG345

    The problem is atheism is non-belief so they have nothing to promote. All they can do is criticize other beliefs.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:27 pm |
  2. therealhawman

    The one thing I know for a fact.......There ain't no atheists in foxholes. And I can attest to that since I have been in foxholes when the crap hit the fan and the avowed atheists in my squad were all to a damned one crying and whining and spouting "Oh God, Oh God, let me live through this." Very interesting indeed.
    Don't really care if you believe or not. What I do care about is that I have the right to believe and you have the right to not believe. And if you want to really irritate me, throw your believe in my face. See how quickly you find whatever or whomever you wish to call for help.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:26 pm |
    • werd

      pat tillman was a professed atheist......oops

      December 1, 2010 at 12:42 pm |
    • USN Atheist

      "And if you want to really irritate me, throw your believe in my face. See how quickly you find whatever or whomever you wish to call for help."
      As you are doing on this blog right now? Throwing your belief at me? Yes I am on this blog of my own free will as are you. Your silly point/threat is?

      December 1, 2010 at 12:54 pm |
    • Observer

      You might want to check any dictionary for the definition of the word "fact".

      December 1, 2010 at 1:31 pm |
    • John

      werd – unless you were there at the end - how do you know what he was saying then ....? oops ...

      December 1, 2010 at 1:37 pm |
    • NP

      I've said "oh god please let so and so be alright" or "oh god let me get through this". There are atheists in foxholes and saying oh god doesn't make you believe in any higher power.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:55 pm |
  3. NP

    Give Christmas back to the pagans! They celebrated Yule in the winter ages before the Church took over the holiday to promote Jesus... All pagan festivals and holidays were given Christian meaning because the Church wanted to brainwash the masses and make assimilation easier!

    December 1, 2010 at 12:26 pm |
  4. bob

    Atheists are just as stupid and close-minded as the most religious fanatic.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:26 pm |
    • Karen

      No, we're not. I don't lump all Christians together and you shouldn't lump all atheists together. We all have our fringe groups that take things to the extreme.

      December 1, 2010 at 12:34 pm |
    • feline779

      That's entirely wrong. Atheists are very-open minded if presented with facts and science. It's Christians who refuse facts and insist on believe in a book of fantasies and are often anti-science.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:26 pm |
  5. sumday

    @ let us pray just like to say it is great that you rely only on science (and assume you have a "higher" intelligence as such) but I'd just like to point out that science has no answers or purpose. Science is the explaining of how something happened and is very very limited to what a 3.5lb brain can comprehend. 3.5lb is extremely small compared to the universe, so do you really believe that 3.5lb is capable of reasoning everything that has existed or will exist? If you admit that 3.5lb isn't capable of understanding everything then with all your atheism what do you do with the stuff you can't understand- say it doesn’t exist or it is just a myth? Religion gives meaning and REASON while science is only a narrative that describes how the event happened. If I set up a row of domino's for my enjoyment of watching them fall then the religion would be my enjoyment of watching them while science would be describing how each domino fell causing the other one to fall and so on, but would deny there was any enjoyment or reason as to why the dominos were set in place the way they were and caused to fall. Science is a description of how and event happened while religion is the meaning to why that event happened. I often find it ironic that atheist often embrace evolution and the idea of aliens, yet deny there could be an advanced/evolved "God/alien" that created everything. Most atheist just need to reassure themselves that they have no meaning or importance in the universe to justify any and every thought/action they have.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:25 pm |
  6. sanjosemike

    I'm less oncerned that the religious people have taken over our media and advertising, than I am concerned that I PAY more taxes because religious organizations don't pay their fair share. sanjosemike

    December 1, 2010 at 12:24 pm |
    • Steve the real one

      Really sanjosemike? So you are telling me that you are in no way concerned that 50% of Americans pay no taxes? Not concerned corporations are not paying taxes, either? Just churches, huh?

      December 1, 2010 at 12:31 pm |
    • sumday

      oh cry me a river- if you truly want to look at it, churches and such are doing you a favor. Considering that most churches or religious circles are the ones that go out and feed and clothe the poor and homeless, so imagine if the churches started paying taxes and stopped their social services what would happen huh? More people would get on gov run programs and handouts which would in turn drive up your taxes to pay for those services that the churches once provided. Or do you expect the churches to pay taxes and continue to provide for the needy? Feeding and clothing the poor and homeless will either be done by Religion or by government and well I just don't trust or believe my gov does a good job or a financially responsible job at that. I see more being helped at "churches" then ANY government tax supported run program.

      December 1, 2010 at 12:46 pm |
  7. Alex

    I'm a lifelong godless heathen and I love it, but I don't think this kind of confrontational atheism is the right approach. Has it honestly ever changed anyone's mind? Lead by example, not by belittling.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:24 pm |
    • Karen

      Well put.

      December 1, 2010 at 12:35 pm |
  8. Steve the real one

    I look at this very simply. Christians (I am one) are placing our souls on the line that God exists and is very real. On the other hand atheists are placing their very souls on the line that God is not real and does not exist! One of us is dead wrong!
    Very clearly the Bible defines faith+ The substance of things hoped for, the EVIDENCE of things not seen! What evidence you may ask? Every sunrise, every sunset, every baby, every full moon, every star! In short, everything! Atheists have the right to believe or not believe just as well all do! If I live like God exists and die finding out there is no God, I have Iost notihng. If you live like there is no God and find out later that He exists, you have lost everything!

    December 1, 2010 at 12:23 pm |
    • Alex

      Yeah, but I get to sleep in on Sundays.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:49 pm |
    • Alex

      Look up Pascal's wager. Do any theist ever read another book other than the bible? All these arguments are so old, and really really stupid.

      December 2, 2010 at 8:57 am |
  9. Mayor McCheese

    When an atheist dies, comes back and can give us their definitive proof there is no God, then they can act as intellectually superior as they want. Until then....SHUT UP AND LET PEOPLE BELIEVE WHAT THEY WANT!!

    December 1, 2010 at 12:23 pm |
  10. B Gibbs

    Why didn't Jesus tell the world while he was preaching the gospel, "oh by the way, the world is not flat". Surely, (and don't call him shirley) he had to be aware of that fact, coming from the heavens.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:22 pm |
    • Steve the real one

      There is a verse in the book of Job, that describes the earth as a circle and hanging on nothing. Flat earth came from folks who did not know any better. The horizon gives the appearance that there is an edge to the earth! Again it is about FAITH!

      December 1, 2010 at 12:27 pm |
    • B Gibbs

      Hmmmm, well in what century was that part of the bible actually translated and re-written?

      December 1, 2010 at 12:32 pm |
    • B Gibbs

      You are right though, the flat world did come for folks who did not know any better, including priest, prophets and religious leaders. It was finaly proved wrong by science and rationale thinking.

      December 1, 2010 at 12:36 pm |
    • Steve the real one

      As well as other scientists! And atheists! and the list goes on and on!

      December 1, 2010 at 12:44 pm |
    • Was already written!

      Well, Jesus didn't need to because was already written in the book of Isaiah 40:22

      There is One who is dwelling above the circle of the earth, the dwellers in which are as grasshoppers, the One who is stretching out the heavens just as a fine gauze, who spreads them out like a tent in which to dwell

      December 1, 2010 at 12:47 pm |
    • Was already written!

      and Job verse mentioned by one of the folks above was: Job 26:7

      He is stretching out the north over the empty place,Hanging the earth upon nothing;

      My Christian friends it's imperative that you learn and memorize Bible verses to be able to defend your faith.

      December 1, 2010 at 12:50 pm |
    • Nonimus

      I'm confused.
      Isn't a circle flat?

      December 1, 2010 at 2:04 pm |
  11. Patrick

    It's not a question of belief or disbelief. It's a question of tolerance and cultural respect.

    If any other faith's holiday was used to attack the faith, we'd label the people attacking them as bigots. Militant atheists suck.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:22 pm |
  12. Faith

    What separates Christians from Athiest is having faith. We believe in what we cannot see ... how is that all that different from you "not" believing in what you "cannot" see???

    December 1, 2010 at 12:21 pm |
  13. Rainy day

    Really.... Lets just go to war! Its the only good thing religious people can do.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:20 pm |
  14. Todd Zmina

    @ Ben: I think you make one of the most rational and decent points here. Thank you for your perspective

    December 1, 2010 at 12:20 pm |
  15. Rev. Jokei

    Live and let live. Believe and let others not believe. Get along folks!

    December 1, 2010 at 12:20 pm |
  16. Michelle

    All this bickering is exact thing that wars are started over.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:20 pm |
  17. R


    December 1, 2010 at 12:19 pm |
  18. Adele

    I see virtually no difference between fundamentalists and the kind of atheists who put up these billboards. Either you respect other people's right to decide what they believe, or you don't. "Live and let live" is for everybody.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:19 pm |
    • Elle

      Amen to that.

      December 1, 2010 at 12:21 pm |
    • Freeman3000


      December 1, 2010 at 3:43 pm |
  19. Saint Ringo

    hate the hipocracy

    December 1, 2010 at 12:19 pm |
  20. deek5

    For those who believe, no proff is necessary. For those who don't believe, no proof is possible.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:19 pm |
    • Maybe

      If "God" is all-knowing, as is claimed, it would know *exactly* what would serve as proof for each and every one of us. If it is all-loving, as is claimed, it would gladly provide that proof.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:26 pm |
    • Dave

      I disagree. Proof is possible, for me, a least. However, the proof needed cannot be provided by man. If god comes before me and shows him/her/it-self, then I will believe.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:31 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.