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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. Chris

    Atheists are just as religious, evangelical and fundamentalist in their beliefs as the worst of the Bible-beaters you could find.

    I wonder if they will talk about that at their Reason Rally?

    March 1, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • Give Me A Break

      Nope, not even close.

      NEXT!!!!!!!!!

      March 1, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      There are infinite things I do not believe in .. and that does not make me a "believer" in the non belief of infinite things! I simply do not believe in them.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • denim

      Well, those are, anyway. They're very strange, to my eye.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • edwardo

      ATheism is no more of a religion, that anarchy is a type of government. I do not believe in your Sky Daddy. I can't prove he doesn't existence, no more than you can prove he does. I can't prove invisible unicorns exist, can you?

      March 1, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • JJ

      1 Timothy 4 (New International Version)

      1 Timothy 4
      1 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2 Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • GodPot

      religious: plural of re·li·gious – Noun: A person bound by monastic vows.

      e·van·gel·i·cal Adjective: Of or according to the teaching of the gospel or the Christian religion. Noun: A member of the evangelical tradition in the Christian Church.

      Fundamentalism is the demand for a strict adherence to specific theological doctrines usually understood as a reaction against Modernist theology, combined with a vigorous attack on outside threats to their religious culture. The term "fundamentalism" was originally coined by its supporters to describe a specific package of theological beliefs that developed into a movement within the Protestant community of the United States in the early part of the 20th century.

      So, wrong, wrong and wrong.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • Mongo

      You know, quoting scripture in an argument with an atheist is ludicrous. The Bible is a very self-serving book. Of COURSE it's going to say that all those that don't believe are fools (referring to another passage from your book). You may as well be reading passages from Harry Potter.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
  2. James

    You can tell that the Devil is at work with trying to lead people away from God.. Yet when you see and read the posts, there are a lot more believers then non-believers... Where do atheists get the money to do this? Why don't they help others in need? At least Christianity teaches to love one another and to help one another.. Atheism seems like a very selfish non religion. I guess we will all see in the end.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • Give Me A Break

      LMAO no you really can't.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • John

      There are lots of secular charitable organizations. Do a little research and you can easily find some.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • Burp

      Sorry, quite wrong. Many who are atheists are very charitable and active in their community. Conversely, there are many Christians who aren't. You can't paint either group with one brush. Gross generalizations indicate a lack of reasoning and logic.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • Rob

      Love one another? Open your eyes, Christianity is behind most of the hate and intolerance in our country.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • edwardo

      Your religion may be charitable for a selfish reason! What.?? .. the he11 you say? They're nice to people they want to recruit. I find most Xtians judgemental, and self-rightous... but certainly not all of them.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
  3. If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

    History has shown countless times that religions (as tangible things) are simply folklore and stories passed down and embellished. Think of the ancient Greeks or Egyptians, how about the Norsk and Myans, we study them but don't believe them to be anything but myths and stories. Future history will view current religions the same way.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  4. Commandrea

    Atheists are just too proud to say: I DON'T KNOW! So instead they give themselves an edgy name and deride others for their beliefs. They should call themselves Maybeists.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • edwardo

      That's right. We don't know all the facts. Neither do you. We don't proclaim to know everything. But we do know... YOU'RE NUTS !!

      March 1, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • truth

      Do you believe in Santa Claus and Jesus? They might even be the same person living in France.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • Lydia

      Commandrea– those are agnostics. Agnostics doubt the belief in God. Atheists do not believe in God.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • Give Me A Break

      LMAO no we are not, we do know, it is you who is afraid to say you know.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • Jen

      edwardo– religious people DO proclaim to KNOW everything. They proclaim everything about their religion is right.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • matt

      Maybeists? as in Agnostics? lol

      March 1, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • Mongo

      I'm an atheist and I'll tell you straight up that I don't know whether or not there is a God, but I don't BELIEVE there is one. Anyone who tells you that it is fact that God doesn't exist is not an atheist, he is a fool.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • coolnerd84

      Atheists aren't afraid to admit God doesn't exist, we acknowledge that fact without fear. If Maybeism were declared as a religion it could start taking money from people and spending it on expensive cars, houses, and ornate worship centers. Maybeist could avoid taxes just like all the other fantastical cults known as religions.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Chris

      Actually, that's the view of Agnostics....not Atheists. Dang words mean things.....

      March 1, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • John

      Gnostic Atheist = Says there is no god
      Agnostic Atheist = Or weak Atheism. Makes no authoritative claim but rejects the claim of god
      Gnostic Theist = Says there is a god
      Agnostic Theist = Makes no authoritative claim but accepts the claim of god

      March 1, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • Mongo

      No Chris, agnostics won't commit either way. Ahteists don't believe in God, but nobody on this planet can say with any certainty that he doesn't exist. It's one thing to believe it, it's quite another to prove it.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • TR6

      Yep, I agree. I am an atheist and I do not know (with 100% certainty) that a god does not exist. I also do not know ( with 100% certainty) that vampires, UFOs, big foot, ghosts and fairies do not exist. They all have the same amount of physical evidence (0%), they all have eye witness accounts as to their existence and they are all just as likely to exits

      March 1, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
  5. Nii Croffie

    The world is not enough for the 1% pure atheists. They want all their 1.1 non-religious to stand up n be counted. The Rabbis, Imams and Ministers must stop preventing people joining their ranks.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
  6. Robert

    Atheists know they haven't looked under every rock in every corner of the whole wide universe...
    and they have a choice.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • TruthPrevails

      Nor have believers looked under every rock, yet they claim they have all the answers!

      March 1, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • JJ

      1 Timothy 4 (New International Version)

      1 Timothy 4
      1 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2 Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Rob

      Believers have looked under every rock on our earth, and choose to ignore what they find.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
  7. TheRationale

    Something tells me this particular slogan is not going to be effective. There seem like better ways to tell people about it.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • Lydia

      I agree. I am an atheist. Why do some atheists have to be so offensive? It's like they want to beat people over the head with their arrogance? Isn't this precisely what they accuse religious people of doing? That's exactly what I don't like about certain religious people, and then I see atheists forming a religion of their own. Offensive.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  8. Anonymous

    Chazbo, the deity you are thinking of is either Venus (Roman), Aphrodite (greek), or Freyja (Norse). Also, I don't believe David Silverman when his says that the billboards aren't meant to inflame. It wouldn't be the first time American Athiests did something just for the publicity (see American Athiests target cross at ground zero".) I'm not religious myself but I have to agree with Mohamed Elfilali when he says that we should be building bridges instead of burning them.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
  9. Believer

    Some day you'll see. You'll try to repent but it would be too late!

    March 1, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • momoya

      Atheists usually aren't motivated by terrorism.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • edwardo

      That's ok... I choose not to spend eternity with a god who sends his "children" to hell, for the victimless crime of "not believing". Enjoy your kool-aid !!!

      March 1, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • Commenter

      Too late?... as in, after one's brain cells quit working there is nothing to say about it ? How do you know that? Please don't use a book of stories from Middle Eastern Hebrews or 1st century evangelists as proof.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • made-from-monkees

      HA !

      March 1, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  10. Darwin

    Back in the "good old days", the sponsors of the billboard would be hauled down into the bishop's dungeon and whipped until they repented their lack of faith. It's only through the brave efforts of millions of skeptics & non-believers over centuries that we no longer have to fear religious authorities.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • edwardo

      Very well said !!! That's what makes the expense of those billboards, all worth it. Xtians need to live under Taliban rule. I personally, do not want to live in a Theocracy. No thanks!

      March 1, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
  11. edwardo

    A world without religion. What a happy thought. If it takes a god to make something from nothing, wouldn't it take a god to create a god. Xtian logic is circular.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Tom bishop

      Say what you want but the church will still be here feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, comforting the elderly long after you've turned to dust.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • Robert

      WHEN and WHERE does it EVER say in the scriptures that God created things out of NOTHING??? This is a lie and a myth that has been perpetuated for centuries.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • GodPot

      "feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, comforting the elderly" Is that what they spent that $600,000,000 of contributed funds on? Oh, wait, no, that would be how much they have paid out to the thousands of victims of abuse who's children were taken advantage of by the servants of the God they supposedly trust so much. I'll bet there are more than a few parents of abused children now riding the atheist bus, so in a way, you can say the Church is helping fund atheism conversions, so I guess its not all bad...

      March 1, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
  12. Tom bishop

    Too afraid to put up those billboards in the middle east? Cowards.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • edwardo

      I'm sure, with people like you here, it will be dangerous to do it in the U.S. too. People like you, really scare me. Your god doesn't.. he can't.. he suffers from non-existence.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • TJ

      Uh, or maybe it's just too expensive. It's Jews, Christians and Muslims who are cowards, hiding behind an imaginary father figure.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • Tom bishop

      I was just commenting on doing something all the way or not at all. You were the ones who ASSumed I was a Christian.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • made-from-monkees

      no ... they just ASSumed you are an a h o l e

      March 1, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • GodPot

      So Tom, where are the Christian signs in Iran? What was that about doing something all the way or not at all? Or does the Christian method of conversion for Iran entail balistic missles with their messages of love and peace written on the tips?

      March 1, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
  13. TampaMel

    I have no problem with arguments against organized religion and the counter productive dogma they preach (like the Catholic Church not caring about the spread of HIV/AIDS by telling people not to use prophylactics during intercourse); but the argument for or against the existence of God is such a waste of time. The view for or against is a BELIEF and is not based on any reproducible scientific method. As a belief it falls into the area of opinion. Beliefs, like opinions, cannot be right or wrong as these things are personal, as in, "that painting is beautiful and that other painting is ugly". People need to stop this debate. There are more important and provable things we can discuss.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • TJ

      I can prove to you God exists. His name is Chuck Norris.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • Except

      Look into history and you'll find the brunt of the responsibility lies within the religious sect. Coupled with scare tactics of eternal dam-nation, and a system set up to ostracize non-believers, not to mention a history of torture, executions and war, it's been difficult for Atheists to even exist openly in a society, let alone reach out to other Atheists.

      I agree with you, it really does need to stop, we need to respect each other's beliefs and non-beliefs, but I feel what the Atheists are doing these days (though I see them just as fanatical as the religious side) has a great deal of positive effects.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • GodPot

      "The view for or against is a BELIEF and is not based on any reproducible scientific method."

      Lets say you find yourself in the middle of a large room that as far as you can see is completely void of any object other than yourself. Some might say "This room is empty" and leave it at that, coming to a quick conclusion based on currently available evidence. Others might say "This room appears empty, but without further method's to test it we cannot be sure". And still others, those who have a phobia about being alone in an empty room, might begin comforting themselves by talking out loud and having a two way conversation about what they would like in the room with their own echo, "how about golden walls, clouds, harps, and oh yeah, eternal happiness", because when faced the choice to accept that they do not know or to invent a comfortable known future in their minds, they will always choose to invent as a coping mechanism.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
  14. Matt

    I don't see how you can't say atheism is its own religion. How are these billboards not proselytizing? At least with most Christian proselytizing strategies (can't speak for other religions) these days it's more of a softer and invitational approach. This billboard is basically dictating and telling you what they think you believe. That's as offensive to me as someone coming up to me and yelling at me to get right with God or burn in hell.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  15. Awesome

    Atheism...... You know it's a myth, and you have a choice.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • JB

      Amen! 🙂

      March 1, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • Rick

      Santa, you know its a myth. You have a choice to believe.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • matt

      Awesome!

      March 1, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  16. Jonathan

    To the left is NOT the word for God – it's the name of God. Need to get the facts straight.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  17. Commandrea

    God or no God- to spend money on something like this when babies are still dying from famines is WRONG. Give something back. Quick take-take-taking. All of our luxuries are burdens to someone else unless we learn to give as willingly as we receive.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • Mongo

      So, I assume you've sold all your luxuries, like your TV, smartphone, etc., to help the dying babies, right?

      March 1, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • David

      The churches and religions collect and spend billions on 'themselves' and only seek to spread their dogma. Organized religion are the hypocrites

      March 1, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      That's very Buddhist of you , congratulations!

      March 1, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • DaveO

      Don't worry about all the dying babies in the world, I'm sure your God will take care of them... right?!?!

      March 1, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  18. PeteH

    "It" is not a myth. The choice, however, is indeed yours. Choose as you wish. "But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

    Joshua 24:15

    March 1, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • edwardo

      As for me and my household, we will choose reality.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • whatever

      it is a myth there is no scientific data to prove otherwise .Logic dictates that if there is no proof than it is not real.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • Just Say'in

      Everyone! Everyone! PeteH has proof!

      Finally an end to all these!...

      We are waiting.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • Just Say'in

      This*

      Thank you auto correct.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
  19. omg

    Mao, Pol Pot and Stalin had same view as Silverman and his community......
    + Hitler denied his faith later too and became an Atheist.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • Awesome

      Like humanism.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • TJ

      That's true, Mao, Pol Pot, Stalin and Hitler were nonreligious. They killed millions of people.
      Now let's do the tally of the religious:
      The Christian church responsible for the crusades
      Muhammed slaughtering everything that stood against him
      Protestant pilgrims descrating the Native Americans
      etc.

      Religion's killed a lot LOT more.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • Reverend Strategy Pony

      You're confused. Those dictators had a political idealogy to cram down their people's throats. BTW, Hitler was Xtian.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • Anon

      "The Christian church responsible for the crusades" No, the Catholic church. Call it what it is.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • Anon

      Pony, Hitler was not a Christian. Read a book ever smart atheist!

      March 1, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • GodPot

      Hitler was an atheist like Obama must be a secret Muslim. They do everything like a Christian, they profess their faith, go to Church, have their followers swear allegience to God on the bible, but since Christians don't want to accept them, they must be muslim or atheist. I guess Christians just aren't as accepting as their God claims to be.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • TR6

      Hitler, Stalen and Mao were atheists but they didn’t kill people in the name of not-god. They killed in the name of Nazism and communism, which are other types of dogmatic faiths just like religion

      March 1, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  20. Abba-Dabba-Du

    Like every other do gooder, these @sshats just need to STFU and mind their own damn business.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • TruthPrevails

      Pot meet kettle! We'll shut up when you do!

      March 1, 2012 at 12:33 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.