Call it the fight at the ends of the tunnel: The most aggressive marketing campaign by the largest atheist organization in the U.S. has sparked a “counterpunch” from the Catholic League, with dueling billboards on either side of the Hudson River. A Christmas war is raging.
After American Atheists posted its billboard, “You KNOW it’s a Myth. This Season, Celebrate REASON,” on Route 495 and Kennedy Boulevard in North Bergen, the Catholic League countered on Dyer Avenue and 31st Street, directly outside the Lincoln Tunnel, with: “You Know it’s Real. This Season Celebrate Jesus.”
American Atheists — which has lobbied the public for absolute separation of government and religion — was the first group of its kind ever to go the billboard route.
This time, however, “we’re giving it a little bit more of an edge,” said its president, David Silverman. “It does go farther than we have in the past.”
In fact, he said, the Hudson County billboard signals a change in the group‘s philosophy: “We’re not going underground again.”
“The target here are the 99 percent of atheists in this country who are not affiliated,” Silverman said. “It will get them out of the closet, I hope, and it will also spur discussion.”
A lot of Christians “go along to get along” and “go through the motions of celebrating the holiday” and “pretending they are Christians,” even though they don’t believe in the Christmas story, he said.
“Closeted atheists hurt themselves and others like them by remaining silent about what they know to be true,” he said.
Christmas — the only religious and federal holiday in the U.S. — was celebrated by pagans long before Christians appropriated it, Silverman noted.
“Christmas didn’t start with Jesus. It predates Christianity by thousands of years,” he said.
“We’re not going out and trying to insult [anyone],” Silverman added. “We’re not going out and saying ‘Your religion is stupid, your God is stupid.’ We want to get people to start talking about it.”
They got more than that.
A spokesman for the Catholic League said its billboard arose after a league member saw the atheists’ ad. Directors of the league took the Jersey billboard as “a shot at Christians during a holy time of the year” and decided to fire back, said the spokesman, Jeff Field.
And yes, he called the Catholic billboard “the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Catholic League President Bill Donohue was more combative, calling his group‘s ad a “counterpunch.”
“Our approach is positive, and services the common good,” Donohue said. “Theirs is negative, and is designed to sow division. It’s what they do.”
One mother expressed concern that the atheists’ billboard is next to Franklin Elementary School in North Bergen.
However, Madelin Espinosa of Union City called it “just another subject as a parent you need to discuss and keep it moving with your own beliefs.”
Indeed, it seems members of both organizations are taking it much more seriously than the countless number of motorists on both sides of the Hudson who pass them every day. Their bells don’t seem jingled.
“To each his own,” said Union City’s Jorge Tamajon.
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