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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. T

    Ancient man needed something to figure the world out: ENTER RELIGION...We now have the Sciences to use to do this figuring: EXIT RELIGION.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:45 pm |
    • Godless

      AND LET THERE BE LIGHT!!!! Well put!

      December 1, 2010 at 12:48 pm |
    • Weep4America

      Science? You mean that fallible, error-laden system that can't decide if coffee and other foods are good for us or not? The one that decides a medicine is safe and then is taken off the market because they find out it's not? You mean the science where scientists have agendas and fix their findings to support their own views only to have it come out in the news later on? (Remember the "global warming" scam?) Wow, the list could go on and on and on....

      Science is like politicians. Corrupt and out for their own agendas. There's as much science proving something isn't true as there is saying that particular thing IS true.

      Atheists claim it's ridiculous for Christians to have faith in a God we can't see. It's utterly LAUGHABLE that atheists CHOOSE to have faith in what they CAN SEE - especially when that something is NOT PERFECT! Atheists really need to think things through before they go parading around their god of science.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:00 pm |
    • Observer

      Weep4America, get back to reality. If you don't believe in science, prove it by refusing to take any medicines created by scientists.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
  2. B. A.

    No, no, no. It's "drugs are for people who can't handle reality." God is for people who feel inferior. Personally, I don't want to be in charge of anything. So I let my imaginary, but handy, God do it. Maybe for all the people desperate for power and full of fear of the unknown, your imaginary non-god allows you to be THE MAN.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:41 pm |
  3. Jay

    What about all these billboards I see around my town trying to convert me to Christianity? Aren't they really saying that everything you believe is false unless you agree with us? Isn't that indirectly attacking every other belief system other than Christianity? How is that any different from the atheist signs? It's just funny to me that everyone is so up in arms over this. I don't have a problem with any of these signs; this is America, and we have a freedom of speech, expression, and religion here.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:40 pm |
  4. Casey

    Is anyone else appalled by the almost $40k spent on these billboards? Instead of publicly stirring up trouble regarding differing beliefs, why not donate the $40k to a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter during the winter season in the name of your belief... What a waste of time and money.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:39 pm |
  5. Russ

    Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."
    – Steven Weinberg

    December 1, 2010 at 12:38 pm |
  6. vbscript2

    "Religion is faith based. Atheism is science based. Science relies on evidence."

    Wrong. Science is science-based. Atheism has nothing to do with science and is actually itself faith-based. To be science-based, there must be a hypothesis that is testable with experiments that can be reproduced by others. There is no test to show whether or not God exists, therefore atheism cannot possibly be science-based. Atheism is the belief that there is no God, which is equally untestable (and unprovable) as the belief that there is a God. Agnosticism is the lack of knowing one way or the other, which gives no hypothesis at all, much less a testable one, and, therefore, is also not science-based.

    Oh, and please spare me the "x is scientifically proven" nonsense. I am an engineer/scientist (the former professionally, the latter academically) and, as such, I can assure you that science (which is based on inductive reasoning) is not capable of proving anything. Deductive reasoning is necessary for actual proofs. Inductive reasoning seeks to generalize based on incomplete evidence (which is very useful, but incapable of proof.) Deductive reasoning combines existing premises to prove that, given those premises, some statement must be true.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:38 pm |
    • cbozey

      Zeitgeist

      December 1, 2010 at 2:26 pm |
  7. Sheryl

    WOW! Is this a great country or what? Where else could you have this discussion? Where else could you have the right to choose which way to believe (or not believe)? Atheists have as much right as Christians to speak their believes. They say that Christians are ALWAYS trying to tell people about Christ. So they want equal time. No problem. But as a Christian, and one who sees reason in it, we will always continue to speak of Christ because we have been directed to. Mark 16:15.."And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." So we do. Nothing that's said on this board is going to change that. We will continue to do our best to bring people to the Lord, because that's our main goal. To save as many souls as we can. But, you may continue to exercise your free will and see what happens when you come upon your judgement day. John 14:6..."Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." We will continue to pray for all the atheists, rather they like it or not. What a wonderful country.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:37 pm |
    • JT

      "We will continue to pray for all the atheists". And we'll continue to think for you.

      December 1, 2010 at 12:44 pm |
  8. JT

    Christians have millions and millions of billboards and stupid Church signs touting their invisible, imaginary friend and we all just go about our business but when atheists put up just one sign pleading for reason it's all the sudden "you atheists just need to shut up and stop trying to push your beliefs on everyone!". "Oh look how we poor Christians are being persecuted...just like Jeeeeezus said we would!".

    December 1, 2010 at 12:36 pm |
  9. EWW

    @david johnson,
    I feel for your lost soul. Not sure why you feel the need to vent all your anger on the world (supposed free thinking) and make sick jokes of others beliefs. You are probably the type that gives your children (god willing you had any) no hope or dreams, no gifts, no joy, and likely, no love. I praise the fact we live in a free country and an Atheist group can voice their opinion publicly as thousands of church's across the country do. But to use your tones and crazy babble is simply embarrassing to all free thinkers. I to have questions about life, the beginning, and what will ultimately happen in the end. But for some, including myself, faith and the support you find in organized religion can make a positive difference in every day we have. And, for goodness sake, quit knocking SANTA (and stop relating this fun story to the creation of man)....did he leave you a bag of coal when you were a kid?

    December 1, 2010 at 12:36 pm |
  10. Rob

    David Johnson,

    Your Science fact argument is flawed. Science has theory before it is science fact. So at some point, it is a belief or faith that a certain outcome will result. Until that point, it is faith based. For example: People thought he Earth was flat, until someone believed the Earth was round and proved it by sailing the oceans.
    In terms of the comment on the virgin birth and knowing how babies are made. You can't be serious. Doctors today can perform a virgin birth with artificial insemination, why would it be unrealistic that a creator could do the same?

    Anyhow, the hole billboard thing is just stupid. I am doing it because so and so does it and that makes it right. It sounds like a bunch of 1st graders arguing.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:35 pm |
    • JT

      Are you only eight years old? I hope that's your excuse.

      December 1, 2010 at 12:38 pm |
    • Science

      "Rob
      David Johnson,
      Your Science fact argument is flawed. Science has theory before it is science fact. So at some point, it is a belief or faith that a certain outcome will result. Until that point, it is faith based. For example: People thought he Earth was flat, until someone believed the Earth was round and proved it by sailing the oceans."

      Rob.
      Science has a hypothesys before it might become a fact, not a theory. Hypothesys is not totally based on faith, it is based on a group of observations that through logic connections becomes the possible most reasonable outcome. Then that hypothesys is put to test.

      When some pleople challenged that the Earth was flat, it was not based on a belief. It was based on observations of stars and planets movements and the how the Earth horizon moved as the day progressed. That became the hypothsys to be proven right or wrong.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:25 pm |
  11. herp derp

    No one can be argued into insight.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:34 pm |
  12. Disgusted New Yorker

    Mr. Silverman's Reason For The Season Is HATE. Bashing Christians only Displays Hate. By the way Mr. Silverman where's the Sign for Hanukkah it is celebrated in the same season; Oh that's right seems your organization only publically bashes Christians.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:33 pm |
  13. sumday

    Well at least the atheist sign got one thing right- Christmas being associated with Christ is a myth! Christmas is a white washed pagan holiday and is not found any were in the bible. In fact the bible says to remember Christ’s death, but now where does it ever say anything about worshiping or celebrating a birth. If would be great if Christians’ actually followed their bible that they preach from- why do you worship on Sunday when the bible says to do it on Saturday? Easter, Halloween, Christmas- none of those are in the bible and all of them were pagan holidays so why do those who call themselves Christians’ follow such practices or become offended when this is pointed out? You want to be an effective Christian than do what is found in the book you preach from without adding any days/holidays/ceremonies to it!

    December 1, 2010 at 12:33 pm |
    • Steve the real one

      I partly agree. We corporately worship on Sunday because Jesus rose on the first day of the week (not neccessarily Sunday). Some do realize the calender has changed several times since then! Main point is we should be worshippers EVERYDAY! In addition, the sabbath is Jewish and not Christian.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:11 pm |
  14. stevarreno

    This only works as long as the extremists on both sides of the aisle rise to the other side's bait.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:32 pm |
  15. Mike D

    The proof of existence is the same proof for non-existence. You can't prove it one way or the other so it is just a matter of faith. Athiests have a common belief in no-god as much as any organized religion that beieves in a god. Now that you're paying for ads and preaching non-exstence you are as religious as any other religion. Your faith is in your belief that god doesn't exist. OK, if that's what you need to believe in to wake up every day I'm fine with that. Worship at your own altar, whatever form that takes but also allow the rest of us to worship what we will at our altar without your holier than thou judgement.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:31 pm |
  16. Karen

    I'm an atheist, and I really dislike American Atheists. Just because you don't believe in a god doesn't mean you have to be a dick about it. They make the rest of us look bad.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:30 pm |
  17. Alex

    I think the problem is that people believe what they want to believe. For one, some of the posts here make claims that scientists are now "finding proof of god" or that "more and more scientists are beginning to believe in god". I am unclear as how you come to that "conclusion". Granted, I have not read EVERY scientific paper in existence today; Granted, there are scientists that also believe in god, which I don' t think is a bad thing in itself; however, I have yet to come across a paper or a scientist that makes the claim that they are getting closer to finding god. If you are referring to the CERN complex and the experiments they are doing right now, they are not claiming to have proof of god; they are simply attempting to find out more amout the beginning of the universe, among other things. For any scientist to say "I believe I found god" is against the way a research project is to be conducted, meaning, you cannot jump to conclusions, as that is unscientific.
    It appears that religions, now having to realize that they are loosing believers en masse, are attempting to change their course in the hopes that if they can usurp science, they will have more believers.
    I do not believe in religion for a very simple reason; you are hampering my ability to think and feel freely. I do not need you or any one else telling me what god wants me to do. Your inability to keep your beliefs to yourself is, at best, annoying.
    I will celebrate the day all organized religion is gone and human beings will be free at last.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:30 pm |
    • Shane

      Alex,

      I never reply to things like this, but I wanted to try an clarify something, and I certainly am not coming on the attack. I am a believer in creation and in Christ. You are correct that it is not an accurate statement to say that Scientists have proven or are closer to proving the existence of God. A true believer knows that God can never be proven in the sense that you can say, "see, theres God standing over there". (unless of course,he chose to stand over there) The problem that exists is that too many people have grown up believing that science has somehow already disproved God. They have believed in a process that by its very nature is designed to rule out God from the outset. What is, and has been, going on in the scientific community for quite some time is a movement led by about 150(initially) scientists, all of whom are well renowned in their respective fields, where they are making very strong, and yes...scientifically sound arguments that at the very least state you can't rule out God from creation. At the boldest peak of their findings, it shows the many holes in current theories (darwinian evolution included) and uncovers some of the smoke and mirrors used by scientists to support these theories. ie.. falsyfying fossils to bridge the fossil record and explain away the Cambrian Explosion

      My conclusion is that it takes just as much, if not more, faith to be an atheist than it does a Christian. In fact, the burden of proof is not actually on the believer at all. However you choose to celebrate (or not celebrate) the holidays, i hope all is well. As far as the billboard is concerned, I suppose that is pretty good marketing. Kudos to the CEO of the atheist marketing division.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:46 pm |
  18. Tonya

    I think that when it all boils down to it, no one likes being told that their fundamental beliefs are wrong whether they are atheist, agnostic, spiritual, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, etc. This billboard is an attack on Christianity. It doesn't matter who is wrong or right as to the existance of God. Have their been some heinous acts committed on the part of Christians and other faith based communities? Absolutely! But... to say that all people who claim to be Christians are responsible for the actions of extremist hate filled nuts is just as wrong as saying the entire Muslim community is responsible for al-Qaeda's actions. Its just plain foolish. We can't scientifically prove God's existance but I also believe in a God that created the world and therefore created the scientific laws that govern it therefore God is not at the mercy of science. I believe that science exists and i don't believe that to have faith in God, you need to forget science. I guess what I'm getting at is that freedom of speech is a protected right of American citizens and so this guy has a right to say whatever he wants but please don't try and dress it up in some pretty bow and claim that it isn't an attack or an attempt to prove Christians wrong. Frankly, i don't care if you think i'm wrong because it is my faith and my relationship with God and just because i can't give you scientific proof of his existence doesn't mean that you can also give me scientific proof that he doesn't exist.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:29 pm |
  19. Godless

    GOD = The excuse for people that cant cope with life.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:28 pm |
    • kjcube

      @Godless

      Except... by that logic everyone should believe in God because everyone fails at life... It's called death.

      December 1, 2010 at 12:32 pm |
    • Steve the real one

      Godless, have you ever stepped foot outside this country? I have and I have seen people with very little by way of material goods. What they have is God and loving families. Funny how they are not jumping out of windows when a stock market crashes nor are their kids committing suicide because they cannot get a new playstation! What keeps them happy inspite of hardship? The strong presence of God in their lives! Why is that? That's pretty much all they have! That was in Central America. Wanna chat about Africa? How about Asia?

      December 1, 2010 at 12:41 pm |
  20. JohnnyJett and The Dirty Socks

    Christians can be Christian and Atheists can be Atheist this is a free country. Atheist should not be calling Christianity a myth and Christians should not be saying Merry Christmas like it's a four letter word. Enjoy the holidays whatever religion you follow or not. This is a time to reflect on the year and enjoy life and your family. Try to be good. 🙂

    December 1, 2010 at 12:27 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.