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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. GoFigure

    "You know it's a myth."

    Lol.....another group of clowns trying to tell other people what they're thinking.

    March 1, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • Fn0rdz

      Some folks DO know it's a myth. What's wrong with that?

      March 1, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • Peter F

      Some KNOW it's a myth. Others KNOW it's not a myth. "I'm right!" "No, I'm right!"

      March 1, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • GoFigure

      It appears you mistake your opinion for fact. Have a great day. 🙂

      March 1, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • Gunny

      Christians reach out to people and tell them what they believe about Christ and offer them a chance to fellowship together. Atheists reach out to people and tell them about what they believe about Christ and offer them a chance to fellowship together. This is called an outreach ministry (belief). I don't see a problem and respect both methods. It would be so much easier for people to make a choice if we focused on respectfully disagreeing with each other.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • Mick

      Everything is a myth in the godless world. The only truth is death.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
  2. fefe

    Are there higher dimensions than our own? 4-D, 5-D etc....
    Living in 3rd dimension or 3D world, we are limited to what we can see, feel and hear in our 3D world.
    Dont limit God to just our 3D world......

    March 1, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
  3. Nasir Hussain

    Atheism finally has clergy. Thank-you o Allah, for beginning the end of atheism. Nasir(a muslim)

    March 1, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • TruthPrevails

      You can't end a disbelief you dolt!! We can however hope to end the fallacies you people keep trying to push on her children as truth!

      March 1, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • HeroicSlug

      The end of the Lizard-King nears!

      ..what? There is no Lizard-King? Oh. Nevermind.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
  4. WrshipWarior

    How is it that atheists show up here in the Belief Blog? I thought they did not believe...

    March 1, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • Fn0rdz

      Atheists, as a general rule, know more about religion than their religious counterparts. "Know your enemy" 😉

      March 1, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • jayleigh

      these articles show up on CNN's front page.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      Where's the atheist blog?

      March 1, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
  5. momoya

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-j8ZMMuu7MU&w=640&h=360]

    March 1, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • HeroicSlug

      That was pretty excellent.

      Lol @ *comment awaiting approval*

      March 1, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
  6. JoJo

    Yarah asks "Where did the energy come from to cause the big bang?"
    Bits of matter and anti-matter continually diverge from NOTHING even in a vacuum. Then annihilate each other back to nothing. Nothingness is unstable. See Laurence Krauss "A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something rather than Nothing"
    http://www.amazon.com/Universe-Nothing-There-Something-Rather/dp/145162445X

    March 1, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • Fn0rdz

      Also, WHEN they annihilate each other, energy is created.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • HeroicSlug

      This is true. Those particles spontaneously come into being – for mere femtoseconds – and are then gone again.

      Amazing stuff. There is some much awesome in the real world, it's hard to see why so many cling to fairy tales.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
  7. Rob

    This will be interesting! There are a lot of Arabs that are atheists but (out of fear and social pressure) lead a double life. Many more Muslims never really objectively thought about their religion. *crossing fingers to a successful campaign.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  8. VinceBklyn

    This is great, but I assumed this was directed at the Muslims and Jews to stop killing each other over a myth. I suspect that's the real message, rather than it being "intended to reach atheists in the Muslim and Jewish enclaves who may feel isolated because they are surrounded by believers". That's certainly the stronger message.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  9. seekthetruth

    To athiests, Kindly WATCH "hamza tzortzis" debates on youutbe.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • seekthetruth

      youtube, sorry

      March 1, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  10. Sy2502

    I love it how the ad is described as "awful, inappropriate billboards". How about the "Jesus will save you" billboards, are they awful and inappropriate too?

    March 1, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  11. jayleigh

    To the dude that keeps asking about the big bang energy.

    1. At one time people though the world was flat, then they thought that the Sun went around the earth because the bible said so. What you think you know now is up to debate.

    2. As an agnostic, I can ask you what the Big Bang theory has to do with Jesus or Muhammad. Let's say that there are forces and things at work that are unexplained. or we could kill each other to get 40 virgins? Or we could judge people because they don't subscribe to the same narrow line of faith.

    Atheist biggots? Oh the irony.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • Nah

      jay: "At one time people though the world was flat, then they thought that the Sun went around the earth because the bible said so. What you think you know now is up to debate."

      Sorry, but people thought the sun went around the earth because they (like you) have never seen the earth move, but they did see the sun rise and set.

      Their beliefs in the natural motions of objects, the stars, etc. was predicated on Aristotelian physics and ancient science. Not on religion.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • Brad

      Correction, bible described the earth as a sphere suspended by nothing, clergy lied to the people, something they are still doing to this day.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • jayleigh

      Galileo would disagree, the church put him under house arrest for the rest of his life on biblical assessment.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • Nah

      jay: "Galileo would disagree, the church put him under house arrest for the rest of his life on biblical assessment."

      The church (and scientists at the time) opposed Copernicus and Galileo because heliocentrism, etc. destroyed the foundations of science. You have to understand that Aristotelian physics ruled the day, and heliocentrism (without gravity - which didn't come until much later) made no sense.

      Positing the existence of suspended spheres in space that rotated around each other by their own free will made less sense than positing the existence of a universe where things had natural motions: heavy things gravitated to the center of the universe, light things rose up and away. That's why the "earth" was the center, the stars ("fire") were above.

      There's your history lesson for the day. Try to learn from it.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
  12. lookagain

    "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."

    Left! It's left! Come on, CNN, if anyone knows the meaning of the word 'left,' it's you! 🙂

    March 1, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  13. PleaseUseLogic

    Opiate of the masses

    March 1, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • sockpuppet

      aw look, you guys have your little religious catchphrases too

      March 1, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  14. remy730

    Did anyone check out the Reason Revival.. umm I mean Rally site? It looks like it's going to be a blast. There's going to be published guest preachers errr..... speakers as well as a guest choir ummmm band. You can donate on the site so they're probably not passing around the collection plate...... I mean.... Screw it, it is what it is..... *shrug* well, it is a proven business model they're following. Good luck on the shin dig pope err president silverman....

    March 1, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • Brad

      As an aethiest, and I only call myself that because that is what the world has labled me, I totally agree. Aethiesim is just another religion it seems. Why do people feel they need an organization. Just be you, if you believe, great, if not, great, if in the middle, great. It's your choice, your life, your decisions, you shouldn't need help deciding how to live your life, it's YOUR life.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • Gunny

      I like that. That was clever and I get the point.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • remy730

      I'm with you 100% Brad. I just wasn't aware of the NEED people have to belong. I went to a catholic high school because it was the best high school in the area and my parents could afford it ( I love them for it). My Senior year, I had my last school mass. The priest was faculty and by this time I had his class for psychology. Well, I'd be respectful and go there and get a blessing ( because that's what they do) every other time. But for my last mass, he knew me and i knew him. He knew i wasn't with this so.... He gave me a high 5. That was it. He was a great man and a great person. I respect Father Stevens for that.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
  15. Robert

    PLEASE tell me WHERE it says in the Bible that God created the universe (or even ANYTHING) out of nothing. The Atheists keep throwing it in my face, but I want specific chapter and verse on that. I believe it to be a myth propagated by those who want to discredit religion.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • QS

      Religion needs no help from anybody, Atheist or otherwise, to be discredited....it does a fine job on its own.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • Patiat

      Many Christians say that. And even if atheists are wrong in their citation of the bible, that still doesn't account for why any religious person believes what they do.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • Fn0rdz

      Sure, but god supposedly created light before stars too. Are you arguing that if the Bible doesn't EXPLICITLY say something, it can't be assumed? That's a pretty tough argument to carry...

      March 1, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • Really?

      In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1

      Sounds like something out of nothing to me?

      March 1, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/barnes-noble-leatherbound-classics-the-holy-bible-gustave-dore/1106658795?ean=9781435125391&itm=16&usri=bible

      Open the cover and start turning pages for yourself. Do not be a Christian that relies on Pastors, Deacons, or others to TELL you their interpretation of what the text says. We are way past the Reformation dude.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • Maya

      That doesn't any sense. Genesis says God created the heavens and the earth. It doesn't say what he created them from. The Christian theological assumption has always been that the universe was created ex nihilo. To say otherwise wouldn't make any theological sense. If God created the universe from some matter, how did the matter get there? If God created the matter that created the universe, then the distinction is meaningless because he still would have had to create that matter out of (if that matter was created out of something, then that previous matter would have had to have been created of out something, ad infinitum). If God didn't create that matter, and the the matter just was, that discredits the entire idea that there has to be a Creator. If that matter could JUST exist, why couldn't the universe JUST exist?

      March 1, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • Mike

      Job 26:7

      March 1, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • Beinw

      Genesis 1:1 says, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." Some translations render "heavens" as "heaven". The Bible doesn't say that God created that from nothing or that He created it from something. It just says He created it.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
  16. V

    Ok, so a poor and troubled teenager sees this billboard and decides he'll check out this American Athiests group to seek guidance and solace...he says "I don't care if there's a higher-power or not, I just need food and someone to talk to!"

    Athiest: Sorry, we only handle destruction of ideals...but there's a great restaurant down the street and here's the phone number to my shrink, but he charges $300/hr.

    Pastor: Let's get you down to the St. Mary's soup kitchen and what's troubling you my friend?

    March 1, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • QS

      What a tiny, little religious worldview you have.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • PleaseUseLogic

      In my experience, the real world situation is the reverse of your setup. The atheists I know do a lot to enrich and uplift their communities while the various religious crowds do a good job of castigating, offering hand outs with strings attached, and generally preventing learning and development.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • VinceBklyn

      Edit: Priest: "come to the back, my young son and take off your clothes." Give me a break. More evil has been done in the world in the name of religion and a non-existent deity, so this presumption that atheists would some how not help the world or leave each other to starve is just stupid.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • JoJo

      What does the pastor do next to the troubled teenager to make him/her feel better?

      March 1, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • bff

      So if your scenerio actually happened, what's the point? This time a priest helped someone so there must be a god? And the next time when the priest doesn't help but the athiest does, then there is no god?
      What if neither, or both help?
      What's your point?

      March 1, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • Nah

      vince: "Give me a break. More evil has been done in the world in the name of religion and a non-existent deity, so this presumption that atheists would some how not help the world or leave each other to starve is just stupid."

      Nah. More evil has been done in the world out of greed, desire for power and land, and politics than anything else.

      You only need to flip through the pages of one history book in order to see that.

      Your ad hoc justification for your religious bigotry is duly noted, though.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • V

      This was my attempt to make a completely irrational statement that resembles an Athiest's. Such as "All Priests are child molestors" or "All Christians wage wars on abortionists and gays"...So, I just threw out "All Athiests are self-absorbed and ignorant of the actual inner-workings of a church."

      March 1, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  17. Mick

    Without God, life has no meaning. So there is no reason to care if anyone believes anything. We just walk around on this floating rock for a miniscule amount of time. Who cares what you or I do or anything or believe anything? What's the point? It's all theater of the absurd.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • Atheose

      If anything, life is more important for an atheist since we don't believe in an afterlife. Only when you realize that this life is all you have to live do you truly live life to its fullest.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • QS

      Well said Atheose!

      March 1, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • Mick

      Why live to the fullest? There's no more meaning or purpose to "living life to the fullest" than some hermit that spends his days in a drunken stupor. A "full" life has no meaning. We are simply worm food in a meaningless, pointless universe.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • IslandAtheist

      So you make up an invisible friend and that makes it better?

      March 1, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • Mick

      Who cares if anyone has invisible friends? There is no right or wrong in the godless world. There is no point or meaning to anything. There is no reason to care about anything, anyone, or what anyone believes. "Important" lives? Our lives could not be less important. You are nothing but the faintest flicker in infinitely, dark, cold graveyard.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • Fn0rdz

      WE give life meaning. It doesn't come from outside.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • Fn0rdz

      Mick: You're being absurd. Are you saying that if you were atheist, you'd stop caring about anyone or anything, wandering aimlessly in a "woe is me" stupor like some kind of zombie? I don't know any atheists like that, and all of us have no belief in a world with god(s).

      March 1, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • Mick

      So you "give" meaning to a meaningless world? That's a laugh. You are nothing but a sneeze in a random pointless world. You have no meaning. You have no point. No matter how many lies you tell yourself. There's no meaning whatsoever to having a pulse for an infinitely short amount of time before keeling over. Who.cares? There's no reason for anyone to care.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • Mick

      Fn0rdz: I'm saying there's no difference in the "woe is me" guy than the "i give life meaning" guy. Both are equally meaningless and pointless. There's no right or wrong. There is no good and bad. There is no nothing. You are here, you take a few breaths, then you rot. That's it.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • HeroicSlug

      Let's make crap up to make ourselves feel significant!

      Self-delusion has proven to be one of man's most well-practices abilities.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • Mick

      Delusions are nothing but a few random neurons in the brain. Trying to give meaning to your own life is absurd as an ant giving meaning to his own existence.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  18. rch

    They say "We are not trying to inflame anything.." is kind of ridiculous. When any phrase starts with "You know..", its going to be offensive. Some examples: "You know you love me.", "You know God loves you", "You know Romney is going to win."... The phrase "you know" is itself offensive, because it presumes to speak for everyone, including you.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
  19. Atheose

    I love how people are saying this makes Atheists just as bad as the religious.

    Christians: bomb abortion clinics, deny equal rights to gays, take away female reproductive rights
    Muslims: death for apostates, attempted murder of cartoonists, terrorism, etc.
    Atheists: raise awareness via billboards

    March 1, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • Nah

      atheose: "Christians: bomb abortion clinics, deny equal rights to gays, take away female reproductive rights
      Muslims: death for apostates, attempted murder of cartoonists, terrorism, etc.
      Atheists: raise awareness via billboards"

      Brilliant strawmen.

      Does this count as deep thought for you?

      March 1, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • Atheose

      How is it a strawman to say that religion literally tells its followers to discriminate against non-believers and women?

      March 1, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • QS

      I love how religious people get so defensive when anybody questions their own beliefs....doesn't illustrate a very strong faith if you ask me.

      But that's kinda the point isn't it? For those who may not truly be all that into their own religion and only identify with that religion because they were forced into it by their parents/family, these billboards are reaching out to them as well.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • V

      You're right, when I go to church we just sit there and plot bombings and violence against gays. Don't attribute anything to the human-psyche, that of which the Athiests believe is the highest power. Do Christian-based charities and soup kitchens account for anything or are you just completly one-sided?

      March 1, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • Nah

      athe: "How is it a strawman to say that religion literally tells its followers to discriminate against non-believers and women?"

      Not a deep thinker, are you?

      It's a strawman to pose an overgeneralized negative of religion to an overgeneralized nicety about "atheism".

      Much less, religion qua religion doesn't dictate the oppression of women or minorities. In fact, Christianity often tells its followers to do the opposite.

      If you had an ounce of intellectual honesty, you'd realize that.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • Liberal Christian

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_atheism

      March 1, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • Fn0rdz

      Nah: Uhhh... no it's not. A strawman is when you misrepresent someone else's argument or position. If you're going to point out logical fallacies, get them correct.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
  20. humtake

    In this context, athiests are part of a religion. They are spending resources to try to convert people to their way of thinking. Athiesm is a religion.

    It is actually a little funny that they are spending money to try to get people to think about nothing.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • sockpuppet

      I know, right? Just let it go already. Stop trying to convert people to your religion. That nonsense about trying to get that message to atheists is nonsense–they are clearly aiming it AT other religions

      March 1, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • Pete

      Actually, just trying to convert people to thinking.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • sunpacific

      It depends on how you define a religion. That atheism would be considered a religion would give most deity-believing folks apoplectic fits. The point here is to educate the masses- atheists don't believe in god for the same reason adults don't believe in santa claus: he doesn't exist.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • boomerdude

      Does it really matter what we call ourselves? Think about it.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:14 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.