Last week, a billboard went up outside the New Jersey entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel. The billboard shows a nativity scene in silhouette, with three men riding camels toward a manger. That's a familiar image. What's unexpected is the text accompanying the image: "You KNOW it's a Myth. This Season, Celebrate REASON!"
The ad was purchased by the group American Atheists, whose president, David Silverman, told The New York Times that he expects the billboard to stay up until the winter solstice on December 21, and possibly through Christmas. As might be predicted, the billboard is provoking a range of reactions, from ire to annoyance to amusement--though not all of it comes from directions you might expect.
- Silverman: Here's That War on Christmas You Ordered The Times reports that "Mr. Silverman said the billboard served two purposes. The first was to get the many people who do not actually believe in God but practice religious rituals to 'come out,' in his words ... The billboard also stands up to what Mr. Silverman described as a reactionary assault on atheists driven mainly by the religious right. 'Every year, atheists get blamed for having a war on Christmas, even if we don't do anything,' he said. 'This year, we decided to give the religious right a taste of what war on Christmas looks like.'"
- This Could Be a Bit More Provocative, smirks the blogger Daled Amos. "To declare war on Christianity in the 21st century is hardly as daring as Silverman would like to think. Now, if he would like to try his hand at this sort of thing next year during Ramadan--now that would be a declaration of war that would be worthy of the name."
- I Can See This Backfiring, writes Kathryn Jean Lopez at National Review. "Ironically, in his desire to out Christians who are just going through seasonal retail motions, [Silverman's] billboard may serve to remind believing Christians of the real reason for the season."
- Well, This Is Obnoxious, writes Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon. "It's that snotty, oh-just-face-it-you-idiots attitude, that utter certainty, that's just as belligerent coming from an atheist as it from an evangelical ... In a season of love and generosity, it's good to remember that a 'We're right and you're wrong' bah humbug message to the bridge and tunnel crowd doesn't exactly sound like tolerance."
- Does More Harm Than Good, agrees Morning Gloria at Jezebel. "Ridiculing a belief system that, for many people, is the basis for their entire life philosophy is not a way to win friends or influence people; it's a way to act like a stereotype ... I've found that confrontational atheism isn't productive, just as aggressive proselytizing on the part of religious groups isn't a good way to endear the religion to the populace in the modern era. Many of the holidays that are celebrated around this time of the year are religious in nature, and part of existing as a decent person in this world is letting people go about their daily lives in peace."
- We Need More Ads Like This, declares Paul Myers at ScienceBlogs. "Tell me, what about that sign interferes with common decency?" Myers asks. "Are people who see that sign subsequently unable to go to church? Does it silence preachers all across the land? No. Does that sign incite hatred, does it deprive people of their civil rights, does it oppress a minority? No ... Might it stir a little resentment, maybe even sting Christians a little bit because it reminds them that atheists exist and freakin' disagree with them? YES! And that is a good thing that does them no harm, and even does them considerable good. We're here, we're just as much a part of this society as they are, and we're not going to sit silently any more."
- Does It Have to Be So Confrontational? wonders Fox anchor Megyn Kelly. In a mostly amiable interview with Silverman, Kelly asks, "Why impose your belief on a big billboard when the little kids drive by? It's in a place that gets a ton of visibility." Silverman replies, "We're allowed to express our views, just like all the churches are allowed to express their views on billboards." [Hat tip to Mediaite for the video.]