Atheist group defends holiday billboard calling Christ a 'myth'

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," December 20, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

SEAN HANNITY, HOST: A group called American Atheists are not exactly getting into the holiday spirit. Now, here's why. Just in time for Christmas, they put this billboard up in the heart of Times Square in New York. It reads, "Keep the MERRY! Dump the MYTH!"

Our very own Ainsley Earhardt hit the streets of New York City to see what people thought of this advertisement. Take a look.


AINSLEY EARHARDT, FOX CORRESPONDENT: Ladies, could I ask your reaction about this billboard? Do you see this? It says, "Keep the merry" in Christmas -- keep Santa -- "but dump the myth." And it's a picture of Jesus. What do you think?


EARHARDT: Why not?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, why is it easier to believe in a man in a fuzzy red suit than it is about that --Christ that lived and was born 2,000 years ago?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jesus is the reason for the season.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's really crazy. I mean, wasn't Santa the myth?


EARHARDT: Why don't you like it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because I think Christmas is Christ.

EARHARDT: Does it upset you to see that?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ridiculous. Because that's what it's all about. It's about Jesus.

EARHARDT: This billboard says, "Keep the merry," meaning keep Santa, "but dump the myth." They're calling Christ a myth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that's wrong. I think Christmas is about Christ. It's the main -- that's where it all started. Santa Claus came after Christ.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, no, no! Not good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We serve a living God. That's his son. He walked this Earth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, Christmas, the whole holiday season is because of Christ.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Putting up a billboard is -- unfortunately, as inflammatory as that one is, doesn't really do much to educate people.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I had not even noticed that. Horrible.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's disgusting!

EARHARDT: If Christ were here today, what do you think he would say about that billboard?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He would be disappointed, I think.

EARHARDT: Are you surprised to see that in New York?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE : No, I'm not surprised to see anything in New York.

EARHARDT: What's your message for the people who put that up?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you really believe that, there's no reason to, you know, try to impose your viewpoint on everyone else.

EARHARDT: So they're saying they should keep you and dump Christ.


EARHARDT: If they had to dump one, which one would you pick?


HANNITY: Wow. Joining me on the show, Dave Silverman. He is the president of American Atheists, the group that put up that billboard. You didn't even have your own money, had to get it from somebody else, a donor?

DAVID SILVERMAN, AMERICAN ATHEISTS PRESIDENT: Well, we have lots of donors at American Atheists.

HANNITY: All right. I don't really care what your views are. I get it. You don't believe in God. That's fine. You're free to believe whatever you believe. Is it just Christians you're picking on, by the way? In other words, have you ever done a billboard campaign against people that are Jewish or Muslims?

SILVERMAN: Yes, we have.

HANNITY: And what have you done against the Muslims?

SILVERMAN: We put up a billboard in Elizabeth, New Jersey, that said, "You know it's a myth" in Arabic, and we put up a billboard in Brooklyn that said, "You know it's a myth" in Hebrew.

HANNITY: What was the reaction?

SILVERMAN: Actually, the Islamic billboard, the Islamic people were actually all about, well, this is a free country and you can say what you want. And some people agreed, and some people disagreed.

HANNITY: Look at the reaction to the Danish cartoons or look at the reaction to this YouTube video or Salmon Rushdie and "The Satanic Verses"...


HANNITY: ... some very...

SILVERMAN: But you know what is? That's actually a form of terrorism. That's actually a form of them getting us to obey their religious beliefs without imposing the rule of law on it. They scare us into obeying their religious beliefs. It's against their religion --


HANNITY: I don't really care what you believe. I get it. You're an atheist. I'm not going to sit here and convince you. You believe nothing can come out of nothing, which is what I believe atheists, in the end, have to believe. But that's -- that's not the argument.

You want to insult people. You want to attack them. You want to, you know, stick it in the ribs on their holiday. And you just want to be rude and narcissistic and mean. Why?

SILVERMAN: Sean, we have never put up a billboard criticizing people. We criticize religion, and religion is perfectly open market --

HANNITY: But people believe in religion! I'm a Christian. I look at a -- I look at a picture of Jesus, and you wanted to -- you just want to rub salt in a wound!


HANNITY: Why are you doing it, then?

SILVERMAN: Because this is the time of year when so many atheists who call themselves Christians drag themselves to church against their own will because they think the church...

HANNITY: Atheists who call themselves Christians? You don't know...

SILVERMAN: Atheists who call themselves Christians.

HANNITY: You said that -- you said...


SILVERMAN: Well, let me explain what I'm saying here, OK? They drag themselves to church because they think the church is an integral part of Christmas. And it's not. We're saying, for those people, you can keep the merry, you can have a party, you don't have to go to a church in which you don't believe. You don't have to pray to a God in which you don't believe.

HANNITY: Excuse me!

SILVERMAN: And you don't have to or donate money.

HANNITY: Excuse me! Nobody's telling -- nobody's forcing to you go to a Christian church, a Catholic church, a synagogue or a mosque.

SILVERMAN: Oh, I disagree.

HANNITY: Wait a minute! Nobody -- well, if that's -- if they're allowing people to force them to go, that's their problem.

SILVERMAN: Well, and we're telling them not to.


HANNITY: That's their problem.

SILVERMAN: Don't allow people to force to you go to church...


HANNITY: ... you said, we know that a large population of Christians are actually atheists...


HANNITY: Who -- if they are really atheists and they don't have the courage of their convictions -- I mean, you're an atheist. You come on this program and say you're an atheist.


HANNITY: All right, what am I -- so?

SILVERMAN: There's a lot of familial and social pressure that keeps atheists in the closet. And we at American Atheists are trying to relieve that pressure.

HANNITY: Nobody's -- no -- you are too full of yourself to believe that people care!

SILVERMAN: No, they care very much.

HANNITY: I don't really care.

SILVERMAN: I know you don't care, Sean, but a lot of people do care, and they care very much because they think they're alone. And we're here to tell the atheists of this country that they are not alone.

HANNITY: So they're that weak that they can have their families pressure them and force them into stating they're believers when they're not.

SILVERMAN: I wouldn't say the word is weak. I would say the word is forced by their family and...


HANNITY: Nobody's forced! They're too weak to stand up for their convictions.

SILVERMAN: I don't want to use the word weak, but do I want to use the word misguided. And we think that it is misguided for an atheist to call him a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim...

HANNITY: All right...

SILVERMAN: ... when they should come out of the closet...

HANNITY: You know what the biggest problem...

SILVERMAN: ... and give their gift -- give the gift of honesty this year to their family. It's the greatest gift you can give.

HANNITY: So what happens when you die? What do you think happens?

SILVERMAN: You die. Just like everything else in the universe.

HANNITY: You're dead.


HANNITY: That's it. There's nothing out there.

SILVERMAN: It's not a pretty picture.

HANNITY: This is it.

SILVERMAN: This is it. There's no fantasy here. The reality is that every living thing dies.

HANNITY: Let me ask you this. Do you believe in the big bang theory? Do you believe in evolution?

SILVERMAN: Yes, of course I believe in evolution!


HANNITY: My next question is, so where did all -- all of those molecules and energy come together to collide to create universes within universes, the sun, the moon, the stars, the planets, human life, animal life and plant? That happened randomly by accident?

SILVERMAN: The fact is...

HANNITY: So nothing came out of nothing.

SILVERMAN: The opposite is, God did it, and where did God come from? He came from nothing? Did he have parents? Did he have a creator?


HANNITY: ... because you're looking at this from a very narrow, egotistical vantage point...

SILVERMAN: It's not about ego.

HANNITY: No, no, no!

SILVERMAN: It's about science, Sean.

HANNITY: You can't believe there's something greater than you.

SILVERMAN: No, that's not it at all. The fact is that in the absence of knowledge, if we don't know something -- that's not evidence for an invisible magic man in the sky. That's evidence for the fact that we need to learn more. That's what it means.

HANNITY: All right. Good to see you.

SILVERMAN: Hey, thanks for having me on the show!

HANNITY: Merry Christmas.

SILVERMAN: Happy holidays, Sean.

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