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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. Nate

    Religious folks like to claim they "don't go around denigrating the beliefs of others", and I'm sure a good portion don't, but every time I'm stopped by one on the street, or see a sermon on TV or the radio, it's the same thing: "believe my unverifiable interpretation of (insert man-made book here) or you will be punished for all eternity!" When you tell someone that your God is going to send them to hell for not believing like you do, or that Allah has commanded you to kill or convert them, you are denigrating their beliefs by definition.

    I don't really care what you want to believe and preach in the walls of your own home, but when you start pushing it as public policy then I have a serious problem with it.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:12 pm |
  2. Mayor McCheese

    To be an atheist is to practice a belief.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:11 pm |
    • Nate

      The argument of "oh, if there is a God, then I go to hell for not believing" is a bogus, fear-based argument. If your whole reason for believing is fear, then what kind of life is that? The sad thing is that even if you believe, there is a good chance you are still wrong.

      Take just the top 5 religions: Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism. Say those are the only 5 that could possibly be right. 100/5 = 20. So, if you have to choose between just those 5, you have only a 20% chance of believing the right faith. Expand to include just the top 10 religions. Now you have only a 10% chance of being right. Continue this out to include the total number of religions that exist now or existed in the past and you quickly realize that your chances of being correct are less than 1%.

      I ask then, what are you afriad of and why is it necessary to "bet" in essence on something that has a fraction of a percent chance of being true?

      December 1, 2010 at 1:29 pm |
  3. Andrea M

    Evangelizing atheism is just as annoying as evangelizing any other religion as I frequently remind my evangelical atheist boyfriend. I can understand trying to counter nativity scenes on government property, I agree those shouldn't be there. However, annoying evangelical billboards just for evangelism sake are annoying on both sides. Personally, I'll continue believing comfortably in my invisible magic man and my boyfriend can keep believing in his lack thereof.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:11 pm |
  4. design guy

    I drove by this last week and didn't even realize it was for an atheist group. We're bombarded with so much Christmas imagery this time of year it sort of becomes invisible. All I saw was nice type and a Christmas image - for a billboard audience not very compelling or effective design, IMO.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
  5. Nanners2686

    It's such a shame that people can't just get along and act better than animals. I believe you have a right to whatever you want to believe and not been pressured either way. As a christian I have the obligation to say I believe in God and present it to someone if they are willing to listen; but not force it on someone. I also would lke to just say that for anyone saying there is not proof of God they are wrong; as even some scientist are now saying it's more likely that there is a God as the numbers show it's less likely we all just happened from a Big Bang. Don't have to believe me research it yourself. I only know that I'd rather have my Faith in God and hope as to live a life without any hope.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
  6. jane doe

    Torah and Talmud is the loan shark's manuel. this season, celebrate anti-zionism!

    December 1, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
    • Christmas Carol

      jane doe – Shame on you for perpetuating anti-semitic stereotypes!

      December 1, 2010 at 2:01 pm |
  7. Dennis K

    When there are similar billboards aimed at Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, and any other of the myriad faiths in the world, then these Athiests can actually show that they truly do not believe. This is merely an attack at an 'easy target', Christians. It is 'hip' to demean Christianity. If they really don't belive, put up a billboard showing Muhammad and some demeaning words. It would be interesting to see how well that is received.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
    • keith

      I have never been approached by someone practicing Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, or Hinduism to convert to their religion. But I have been harassed at great lengths by people practicing Christianity to try to get me to enter their little cult. That's why Atheists go after Christians. They are the only one as a collective group actively recruiting new members.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:31 pm |
  8. avemedea

    not seeing something doesn't mean it doesn't exist, but what's more important here is the actions of all of the idiots spending thousands on billboards that will not change anyone's mind about anything.

    the real facts:

    religious people should be respectful enough not try to force non-believers to believe.

    atheists should be respectful enough not to try to take away something so important to people.

    and scientists should be smart enough to look at history and realize that we don't know everything. remember, it was once 'modern science' that proved the world was flat and the sun revolved around it. someday scientists will look back at what we consider truth and laugh at us, the ignorant people of the past.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:09 pm |
    • keith

      No it was not modern science which thought that the world was flat. It was the catholic church who pushed that idea, and they put scientists, like Galileo, on trial for saying otherwise.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:22 pm |
  9. Greg

    Atheists need to focus more on the separation of church and state than converting people. They're guilty of doing exactly what they complain about theists of doing.
    Work towards progress, not mindless banter.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:09 pm |
    • Mr. Blues

      The reason why the billboard is there so that people who do not really believe in any religion can finally STOP pretending they do. Promoting Atheism allows people to label themselves properly and feel good about the label.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:37 pm |
    • Frank

      @Greg:

      I agree with you. I'm agnostic but I don't go around trying to convert people. Most of the loud atheists are intellectual losers that feel like they need to band together and cause a ruckus because they haven't got the stones to do anything constructive as you suggested.

      December 1, 2010 at 7:52 pm |
  10. tamade

    So what if Christmas was a myth? Why are these Atheist crying so much? All I care is (and I'm sure a lot of other people) to have my present ready under the Christmas tree. That's it!

    December 1, 2010 at 1:09 pm |
  11. PassingThru

    And the reason for doing this is? Really, they want to make people negative? Who cares they are believe in something that others believe isn't real. Get over it.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:08 pm |
  12. Fred

    Huh.

    50,000,000 atheists who believe in science and the world is yet better for it. that's a lot of wasted scientists, don't you think? I wonder what these "scientists" did to help cure AIDS, Cancer and other diseases that plague us by posting inflammatory posts on a message board?

    December 1, 2010 at 1:07 pm |
    • happybunny

      I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that these "scientists" have probably done more to help cure the ills of the world than your holy men have. Last time I checked, the pope wasn't in a lab looking for the cure to cancer (probably because he was too busy relocating pedophile priests). And what exactly is your god doing about all of this? Because cancer, AIDS, war, hunger, etc. are things that effect the faithful and unfaithful alike. So, really, what's your point?

      December 1, 2010 at 5:44 pm |
  13. JC

    It is a myth, a legend, a dream, a hope.....all of which man could use a lot more of not only during the holiday season but everyday. I believe atheists are just Faithful little kids who didn't get their way and are pouting and stalked off to stomp there feet until they get that cute pony for Christmas, that job they are praying for or a miracle cure for the illness of a loved one. At least most of the ones I have met come across that way.

    Sorry kids, afraid He doesn't work that way. He is in everything, good and bad....

    December 1, 2010 at 1:07 pm |
  14. Blue

    Religion is for people afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for people who have already been there.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:06 pm |
    • JC

      And Faith is for those who have experienced the latter and are looking forward to the former

      December 1, 2010 at 1:08 pm |
  15. Steve T

    Let's see, Christians are responsible for the deaths of over 700 million people in the last two thousand years; yep those Atheists are really dangerous.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:04 pm |
    • Bryant

      20 MILLION KILLED BY STALIN... HE WAS AN ATHEIST... SERIOUSLLY PEOPLE.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
    • Josh

      I'm a Christian and I've never killed anyone.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
    • Fred

      @ mrruss, God has never been defined as "an invisible man in the sky". that is a label an atheist group put together and had others mindly regurgitate.

      @ Ron H. Do you have any scientific backing to justify your baseless claims and generalizations? Or should I take your word for it because I can't prove you wrong? Rationale, indeed.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:23 pm |
    • happybunny

      I think you're missing his point. Stalin killed people, but not in the name of atheism. Many people died IN THE NAME of religion. To progress religion. Because their holy book told them to. Etc. Big difference. Just like the OK City bomber was a christian, but he did not set off the bomb in the name of christianity. But Hitler, on the other hand, was quoted as saying: "Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord." Hopefully you can see the difference.

      Seriously Bryant. 😉

      December 1, 2010 at 5:35 pm |
  16. Jimbo

    Faith has no connection to science?

    So, science can not explain or yet realize a cure for Cancer. Does that mean we'll never see one? Should I have no faith that one will eventually come about? If it weren't for faith, what would drive us to do better until something is realized?

    science can only explain what we can wrap our heads around. It also boggles me how atheists continue to take literal theists and turn that against the idea of theism and the meta physical.

    How ironic that atheism defends itself for not having done anything out of hate and yet millions of sheep condemn people's choices and ways of living with a set of beliefs.

    Atheists, use reason and basic philosophy to point to evidence of the meta physical. Demeaning literal theists does not make your arguments valid. You have a weak argument to begin with

    December 1, 2010 at 1:04 pm |
  17. keith

    It is completely ironic to me that Atheists consistently cite that their "intellectual reasoning" is the sole statute upon which their viewpoint is based, and that any person of a decent intellect would secede to atheism. This is flatly wrong, in that probably at least 95% of the great thinkers of the last 500 years have held to some form of theism or deism...Atheism is not simply a cognitive decision, but entails something much deeper...emotionalism.

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

      Truth.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:08 pm |
    • Eric G

      @Keith: Sorry Keith, but I need to throw a "logic penalty flag". Your post stated "This is flatly wrong, in that probably at least 95% of the great thinkers of the last 500 years have held to some form of theism or deism". You are claiming an absolute with "flatly" and then use "probably at least" which is speculation. These two phrases are mutually exclusive. As a great thinker, I am sure you agree. 15 yards from the spot of the foul, repeat first down.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:18 pm |
    • keith

      @Eric Completely correct, my foul. Yet I hope my point still stands in that to deem atheism as the intellectually superior belief is not accurate. M. Scott Peck once used levels of enlightenment. The first, being unchallenged belief or blind acceptance. The second being a rejection of un-challenged beliefs or secularism. And the third supersedes the rest as being a state of almost mysticism in that one has analyzed both sides and can see truth in both the supernatural, and the skeptical.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
  18. Weep4America

    Reading through the comments, how can anyone miss the fact that all the atheists are rude, insulting, inflammatory, bigoted and hypocrites who flaunt their god of science (which is imperfect and has it's own agenda) and themselves? You have to feel sorry for atheists, really. They don't know any better.

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

      Oh, yes, W4A – and reading through these comments I don't see how anyone can miss the fact that you have just been the poster-child for polite, kind, tolerant and non-hypocritical behavior. (*written in sarcasm font*) Pot.... meet kettle.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:24 pm |
  19. I'm Don'y Get It

    How come the atheist billboard says, "God is PROBABLY not real." Seems like something you want to be sure of.

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

      Ummmmmm... what billboard are you seeing? Because the one at the top of this post does not have the word "probably" in it. ???

      December 1, 2010 at 4:47 pm |
  20. Eric

    This is so awesome! I'm happy to finally see the aetheist position posted in public. Thank you! I don't care what religion you belong to.....I think they're all right on some basic level. But, I get sooo tired of all the christian symbols that dominate the landscape. I hope other religions start to begin displaying their sides of things as well. Here's to Universalism and one common truth!

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

      Smartest post on here! I agree. Everywhere you go, at every turn, there's some christian religious symbol or rhetoric thrown in your face. Can't get away from it. But the second an opposing view rears it's lovely little head, all of the crazy "christians" go bonkers. Chill out people. There are MUCH bigger things in the world to worry about right now. In the oddly wise words of Rodney King: Can't we all just get along. :o)

      December 1, 2010 at 4:24 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.