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Atheist group targets Muslims, Jews with ‘myth’ billboards in Arabic and Hebrew
The American Atheists' president acknowledges that the pair of new billboards will likely cause a stir.
March 1st, 2012
05:00 AM ET

Atheist group targets Muslims, Jews with ‘myth’ billboards in Arabic and Hebrew

By Dan Merica, CNN

(CNN) – The billboard wars between atheists and believers have raged for years now, especially around New York City, and a national atheist group is poised to take the battle a step further with billboards in Muslim and Jewish enclaves bearing messages in Arabic and Hebrew.

American Atheists, a national organization, will unveil the billboards Monday on Broadway in heavily Muslim Paterson, New Jersey and in a heavily Jewish Brooklyn neighborhood, immediately after the Williamsburg Bridge.

“You know it’s a myth … and you have a choice,” the billboards say. The Patterson version is in English and Arabic, and the Brooklyn one in English and Hebrew. To the right of the text on the Arabic sign is the word for God, Allah. To the right of the text on the Hebrew sign is the word for God, Yahweh.

Dave Silverman, the president of American Atheists, said the signs are intended to reach atheists in the Muslim and Jewish enclaves who may feel isolated because they are surrounded by believers.

“Those communities are designed to keep atheists in the ranks,” he says. “If there are atheists in those communities, we are reaching out to them. We are letting them know that we see them, we acknowledge them and they don't have to live that way if they don’t want to.”

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Silverman says the signs advertise the American Atheists’ upcoming convention and an atheist rally, called the Reason Rally, in Washington next month.

Atheists have long pointed to surveys that suggest atheists and agnostics make up between 3% and 4% of the U.S. population. That number increases when Americans unaffiliated with any religion are included. The Pew Center’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey found that 16% are unaffiliated, though only a fraction of those are avowed atheists and agnostics.

Silverman acknowledges that the pair of new billboards will likely cause a stir.

“People are going to be upset,” he says. “That is not our concern.”

“We are not trying to inflame anything,” he continued. “We are trying to advertise our existence to atheist in those communities. The objective is not to inflame but rather to advertise the atheist movement in the Muslim and Jewish community.”

The billboards will be up for one month and cost American Atheists, based in New Jersey, less than $15,000 each, according to Silverman.

Mohamed Elfilali, executive director of the Islamic Center of Passaic County, laughed when he learned the Arabic billboard would go up in the same town as his office. He says he’s surprised that someone is spending money on such a sign.

“It is not the first and won’t be the last time people have said things about God or religion,” Elfilali says. “I respect people’s opinion about God; obviously they are entitled to it. I don’t think God is a myth, but that doesn’t exclude people to have a different opinion.”

But Elfilali bemoaned the billboards as another example of a hyper-polarized world.

“Sadly, there is a need to polarize society as opposed to build bridges,” he says. “That is the century that we live in. It is very polarized, very politicized.”

The Brooklyn billboard is likely to raise eyebrows among Jews, in part because Orthodox Jews don't write out the name of God, as the billboard does.

“It is an emotional word, there will be an emotional response," said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, dean of Yeshiva University's Center for the Jewish Future. "People will look at it in a bizarre way. People won’t understand why someone needed to write that out.”

To get around the prohibition, Jews usually use only one Hebrew letter in place of the word. In the Torah scroll, though, the word is found and it is pronounced Adonai, which means “my master.”

Rabbi Serge Lippe of the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue was more dismissive than outraged about the billboards.

“The great thing about America is we are marketplace for ideas,” he says. “People put up awful, inappropriate billboards expressing their ideas and that is embraced.”

But Lippe acknowledged that there are a lot of agnostic and atheist Jews. A recent Gallup survey found 53% of Jews identified as nonreligious. Among American Jews, 17% identified as very religious and 30% identified as moderately religious.

“When you have two Jews in the room, you have three opinions,” joked Lippe.

American Atheists have used the word “myth” to describe religion and God on billboards before. Last November, the organization went up with a billboard immediately before the New Jersey entrance to the Lincoln tunnel that showed the three wise men heading to Bethlehem and stated “You KNOW it’s a Myth. This Season, Celebrate Reason.”

At the time, the American Atheists said the billboard was to encourage Atheists to come out of the closet with their beliefs and to dispel the myth that Christianity owns the solstice season.

The Christmas billboard led to a “counter punch” by the Catholic League, a New York-based Catholic advocacy group. The Catholic League put up a competing billboard that said, “You Know It's Real: This Season Celebrate Jesus."

Silverman says his group’s billboard campaigns will continue long into the future.

“There will be more billboards,” Silverman says. “We are not going to be limiting to Muslims and Jews, we are going to be putting up multiple billboards in multiple communities in order to get atheists to come out of the closet.”

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Atheism • Islam • Judaism • New York • United States

soundoff (5,946 Responses)
  1. Yosef

    Woopty doo. Someone knows the word "myth". They've proved absolutely, positively nothing.

    Yod – He – Waw – He
    Yod (י) – Arm, Hand, Work, Throw, worship
    Waw (ו) – tent peg, hook, add, secure, nail, establish, connect
    He (ה) – Behold, Look, Reveal, Breath
    י-ה-ו-ה

    Hand Behold Nail Behold
    or "Behold the hand that was nailed [to the cross]"

    is.gd/NewChazak

    May 29, 2013 at 11:58 am |
  2. ElDorado501

    Atheist attempt to hijack science with the symbol of atom makes me laugh! Atheism is belief in nothing, including science LOL

    March 3, 2013 at 8:59 pm |
  3. Deb

    "You know it's a myth...and you have a choice" Yeah, you have the choice to go to hell or not. I choose not, thank you.

    August 13, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • Atheist in Texas

      Hey Deb, if you are so religious, you must have read Lamentations 3:31-32

      December 12, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  4. Mark

    forcing achild into ANY RELIGION IS CHILD ABUSE

    July 14, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
  5. Mike

    I do not think that we have to fight about the extistence of God.We have so many issue to take care of.I personaly believe in God who asks us to be good and love all humans.If we,humains had been good with straight conduct,we would not have needed prophets nor religions.The humans themselves altered everythings by politizing religions to serve their own interests and get more power.All three monotheist religions are the same but humans rewrote the Books in a way to make them become conflicting and different.

    June 13, 2012 at 10:31 am |
    • rob

      I agree with you Mike man has made God into his own IMAGE!

      June 13, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
  6. Gabe

    Ha, it's good to see the Catholics have a sense of humour! But yeah, I'm atheist, but I don't go around bashing other people. If you believe in something, more power to you. But what I can't stand is when people push their belief on others, regardless of what it is. The American Atheists just bring the rest of us a bad name.

    June 13, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • rob

      Yes they do Gabe they turning into DOGMATIC FUNDEMENTALIST just like the religious people they oppose

      June 13, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
  7. zeus_z

    eulogy1337- how do you claim God doesnt exist? No one can disprove Jesus, the prophesies before him about him- and everything he did.

    People were killed and torutiured after his ascension spreading the word as he told them. His ressurection was the foundation of Christianity.

    Again this all comes down to you, and many like you think you know better than God. I am someone who believes, and I know I will be judged harshly for being a sinner.

    June 13, 2012 at 9:30 am |
  8. Matt

    Well that's rather combative and unnecessary

    June 12, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
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    You understand therefore considerably relating to this topic, made me personally believe it from numerous varied angles. Its like men and women don't seem to be interested unless it's something to do with Girl gaga! Your personal stuffs nice. At all times maintain it up!

    May 15, 2012 at 5:43 am |
  10. Jack

    Atheists are the most disrespectful and arrogant people ever !

    April 28, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • eulogy1337

      It's because we don't see anything worthy of being respected. What is respect-worthy of believing in something that has no good evidence? And I do mean religion, not people who happen to be religious.

      Religion, minus people, is disgusting. It attempts to enforce a closed system of thought, that must reject conflicting claims regardless of which is the more logical conclusion – if it simply accepted evidence when it was due, it would lose all credibility, because the "word of God" cannot be considered fallible. This is prime irrationality, and irrationality coupled with voluntary ignorance is the root of most evil. You perpetuate the idea that faith is a virtue, which provides justification for extremists. You tell people that God can talk to you, when there isn't really any god that is talking to them. Stress can cause invasive thought, and since it is so out of the blue, could it be mistaken for God's voice, in the mind of the convinced?

      Dogmatic belief, that is, a system of ideas that demand to not be challenged – how can you not see the harm in that? If I had absolute PROOF that your God didn't exist, you'd completely ignore it! How can this be regarded as a good thing, that you disregard new information on emotional grounds rather than logical? How can we continue to progress if conflicting evidence can't be accepted simply because it is conflicting with your beliefs?

      What is the difference between a religion, and a cult? Nothing, except for in some definitions of 'cults', they simply have less mind-slaves.

      I'm sorry if I come off as arrogant, but if you were an atheist you'd understand. When 99% of the people around you are delusional, and you understand why they are delusional, it can be really depressing. Sometimes, I feel like the only sober person in a car full of drunks, that refuse to let me drive.

      June 13, 2012 at 2:47 am |
    • rob

      I believe in God but your statement is not true The FUNDEMENTALIST INTOLLARANT Christians are just as BAD!

      June 13, 2012 at 2:11 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.