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. Ski2exs

    Wow. . . it's hilarious. Thing is, they have no more of a clue than anyone else. . .Last time I checked science has no explanation for 'nuclear force'. . .or even simpler things like . . hmm. . . electricity. We just know it's there.

    Amazing how many athiests want to base their religion on already complex biomolecular/chemical compositions.

    How quickly they forget the quantum physics.

    Stranger still, most 'classically' educated (YOU know why I put that in quotes. . lol) engineers have a believe in something other than nothing.

    Toodle loo!!

    December 1, 2010 at 1:03 pm |
  2. Christian

    I don't usually post on these things but had to say something in regards to all the posts. As you already know I am a Christian. If you are not a Christian you cannot understand....there is no use in trying to convince believers that God isn't real because we know He is real! I know you don't believe it and can't possibly understand it because until you are a Christian and accept God into your heart you cannot know! Trust me being a believer is not a horrible thing. It doesn't make you worry all the time as some think and it doesn't make you hate! You have this undescriblable joyous feeling in your heart and you know that when you die you are going to a wonderful place! Now does that hurt anyone? Believe what you want and let others do the same. I will continue to pray for all non- believers as well as believers.......even if you don't want me to!

    December 1, 2010 at 1:00 pm |
    • Steve T

      The world doesn't need any more cults. Take your medieval voodoo on down the road Junior.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:03 pm |
    • DecemberAlready

      Oh Steve, leave him alone. Trying to make any believer (me included) have ONE dram of doubt in our heart about our belief is like trying to make a Dallas Cowboys fan think their season isn't gonna turn around! It's not gonna happen : p

      December 1, 2010 at 1:43 pm |
    • Mr. Blues

      Oh Christian I agree American Atheist can cannot convert true believer, but they can convert pretenders.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:48 pm |
  3. Matt Blank

    This is troubling. I'm an agnostic, and I believe all of the religions are pointing us to the same center. It's a shame neither side can get this right. I would love to see mass education on all of the religions so we can all understand, instead of just blind following and hatred towards the world.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:00 pm |
  4. JT

    Ok, for you Christians who always like to make up your own definition as to what atheism means, here's the real definition. Atheism is simply the lack of a belief in a deity. Theism is the belief in a deity. Anything outside these definitions is just your personal additions. I happen to also lack a belief in leprechauns but I don't know what that term would be.

    In your attempts to convert an atheist to Christianity you have a lot of work in front of you. You would first have to provide scientific evidence that a deity does indeed exist therefore converting the atheist to a theist. Once this is accomplished, in order to further convert to Christianity, you are then tasked with providing scientific evidence that your particular cult is true.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:00 pm |
  5. dumb

    Lets be serious. Why dont we all stfu and let each other believe what they want to believe. Stop shoving religion/non-religion down each other's throat. How is somebody elses belief any concern of yours?? Do I think it's appropriate to plaster billboards promoting atheism...not really. I also don't think its appropriate having billboards plastered all over God's green earth about christianity either. It is going to happen. It will always be like this. Get over it. To each their own...suck it.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:58 pm |
  6. Was already written!

    Well, the below verses are from the Bible. The books of Job 6:27 and Isaiah 40:22 are scientifically correct, proving that the Bible also covers science. If we decide not to read it, is not God’s fault…

    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

    Job 26:7

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

    December 1, 2010 at 12:56 pm |
    • displeased

      These verses just prove that the person who wrote the bible had no clue about science, which is no surprise being the bible was written 2000 years ago.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
  7. Bryant

    I think its funny that people blame religion for death. without religion people still kill people... its like the argument against guns. Guns DON'T kill people. People kill people. Same with God... He doesn't kill people... people kill people. without religion people would still be killing each other. how many murders are there a day that religion isn't involved? how many times in ancient history did plunder and war take place just becasue they wanted to overcome and avenge each other??

    December 1, 2010 at 12:56 pm |
    • Steve the real one

      Fully agree. Stalin, Lenin and Hitler killed millions. Don't think I would call any of them religious (in the generic sense).

      December 1, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
  8. Seriously

    Is there another one of these bash the whoever fests going on again? Sigh. Listen people (atheists and Christians combined) there is a simple solution. Christians stop putting up symbols about God everywhere...not everyone believes they way you do. They are not going to Hell because of it. You are being intolerant in thinking everyone should. Also stop with all of the giant Jesus statues...it is wrong and a form of idol worship. To all of the Atheists...who are the Christians hurting by having faith in God? As long as they hold true to the tenants of the religion (you know love your brother as you love yourself) then you have a bunch of people gettign along singing kumbya. They are not hurting you, the world, your kids, or cable TV. Science does not suddenly stop because someone said a Hail Mary. There is no reason to hate religion, there is no reason to hate a belief soley on science. God did not make computers and science did not makes us better humanitarians. Neither party is going to convince the other that one is more correct than the other. I heard it asked what if you are wrong to a Christian, the answer nothing. What if you are wrong to an atheist, answer nothing. As of this moment both Christians (and all other religions) and Atheists are so firmly entrenched in their beliefs (yes atheists you have a belief a faith if you will) there is no reason to even bother discussing (yes color me hypocritical...I believe it is fucia). Am I Christian? Yes. Do I believe that science has answers? You betcha. Do I know that bickering about this God exists/god does not exist is not helping society as a whole. Yep I know that too. So this holiday season (Christmas, Kwanza, Chanaka, discovery of radium, Earth is an orb, etc) lets try to act like brothers to each other rather than enemies who need a fence so that ourkids can grow up in a tolerant society without prejudice. I have a dream that a little Christian boy and an Atheist girl will walk down the street together holding hands.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:56 pm |
  9. Jay

    Could we agree that... whenever you want someone to agree with you, a great way to NOT convince them is to be critical of them, and make snide comments?

    It really irks Christians when atheists get all provocative.

    It really irks atheists when Christians get all smug.

    And then people end up saying things that make them sound a little... dumb, for lack of better words. And people don't believe dumb people.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:55 pm |
  10. Christmas Carol

    Bobby Fisher has it right. Believe or don't believe, but stop criticizing others for their beliefs. Oh, and can we all work on our spelling and grammar skills? God bless you all and MERRY CHRISTMAS !

    December 1, 2010 at 12:54 pm |
  11. kd


    Speaking as an atheist, I don't need a billboard to promote who I am, to buck up other atheists (it's not a pro sport team), or to stick it to the folks who want to believe myths to be real.

    Atheists become atheistic through reason. Billboards don't have any effect on that reasoning. It's all just not worth it and the back and forth becomes silly.

    I am always aware of the christian right's constant nasty work at trying to run this country politically but their ideas are generally so ludicrous that I'm not fearful. It hurts in the short run, of course. We have to always be engaged and fight hate, fear, and prejudice with reason and truth.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:53 pm |
  12. EWW

    @ Santa,
    Learn proper grammar before posting. You look and sound ridiculous.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:52 pm |
  13. Weep4America

    How is this NOT considered hate speech? When you use images from a particular religion to voice a negative view of that religion, that's hate speech. Especially when you only speak out against one religion – that's bigotry and hypocrisy.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:52 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Seriously, hate speech?
      They're implying that the Christmas story is a myth. How is that hate? I think the tooth fairy is a myth – is that hate speech against believers? You probably think Mohammed, Joseph Smith, and Buddha were wrong. Is it hate speech for you to say so?
      And you may want to lookup of the word hypocrisy as you may misunderstand what it actually means.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:34 pm |
  14. MicheleG

    CNN moderators....thought my comments were perfectly within bounds. Why is it waiting moderation? (Wan hope you will actually tell me)

    December 1, 2010 at 12:51 pm |
  15. Fred


    December 1, 2010 at 12:49 pm |
    • happybunny

      If that's what you believe then yay for you. Go. Believe. Be happy.
      But believing it does not make it truth. And just because you believe it does not mean everyone else has to.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:21 pm |
  16. Sybaris

    Religion..........the ultimate ponzi scheme.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:49 pm |
    • Steve the real one

      I agree with you but based on the following:

      Religion yes! True relationship with God through Jesus Christ, no!

      December 1, 2010 at 12:55 pm |
    • Sybaris

      I don't agree. Whether it's investing your time and/or money into a religion or make believe beings it has the same pay-off, zero. The divinity of the alleged Jesus man wasn't even decided until 350 years after he supposedly existed. The gospels weren't written by first person observers and even then many decades after the alleged events and influenced greatly by the writings of Philo. Imagine 350 years from now a group of extremists start a movement to recognize Joel Osteen as a divine being. It's the same thing and it's all hokum.

      Engage your brain.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:51 pm |
    • Steve the real one

      I hereby express my disagreement with your disagreement. If you happen to read any of the Gopsels (matthew. mark, luke , and John) you will clearly see Jesus expressing himself as not just the Son of God but God himself in te flesh. The name Immanuel means God is with us! that name was attributed to Jesus! Not 350 years later but as He walked on this Earth! You told me to engage my brain, This is faith, supernatural, not natural! A matter more so of te heart, less of the brain!

      December 1, 2010 at 4:27 pm |
  17. Rudolph

    There's nothing in the Bible about flying reindeers? Say it ain't so, Santa!

    December 1, 2010 at 12:49 pm |
  18. Tobi

    This is ludicrous for both sides.

    I don't understand why atheists are so willing to give themselves this reputation for being offensive and confrontational. They criticize religious fanatics for "shoving religion down their throats", but most of the time atheists are the first to be willing to offend others based solely on their beliefs. And I say this as an atheist myself.

    SECONDLY, I do believe that Christianity is about turning cheek. They should not have even dignified this with a response. This religion is about charity. I'm sure you God would have preferred you donated/spent over $18k on missions trips or starving children.

    December 1, 2010 at 12:49 pm |
  19. Steve T

    The Romans had it right, feed the Christians to the lions.

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

      This is what Christians have to put up with from atheists. This kind of hatred. Such hypocrisy.

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

      Although I strongly disagree with Steve's comment, even in jest, what beliefs or tenets of "atheism" is he being hypocritical of? Oh, that's right, atheism isn't a set of beliefs or tenets, it's a lack of belief in a god or gods.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:25 pm |
  20. Bryant

    I think it is funny when people don't think that people are killed in the name of atheism. I have one word for them... Stalin. People don't really know history very well on this board. Stalin probably killed more people than just about any dictator out there and he clearly didn't believe in God or religion at all. In fact he wanted to stomp it out for the "good" of the country. I don't want to live in any country that is like that.

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

      Which not-god were Stalin's crimes committed in the name of?

      Stalin's action were done in the name of the Communist Party.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:20 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.