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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. david

    Ever driven to south to florida you will be bombarded by jesus billboards. Big deal they are trying to reach the closet atheists. Whats more important living a lie to please those around you or living to be honest with yourself?

    March 1, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • Kevin D.

      I agree, this is a pointless story. I understand CNN's desire to spread the message of the billboard but in the end, we're talking about billboards on the side of a highway.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  2. justsayit

    Soooooooo athiests decide they are going to settle into an area that believes differently than they do and then decides to insult them via anti-semetism and religious hate? Sure that makes sense to me.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • ATLmatt

      did your imaginary friend, jesus, tell you to say that?

      March 1, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  3. Anomic Office Drone

    Certainty that there is not god is just as preposterous as certainty that there is one. Atheists may not believe in a god, but they definitely seem to have a religion.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
  4. Leucadia Bob

    Organized Religion: that's so gay

    March 1, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
  5. Agnostici

    I've never seen a group of people who claim to have a lack of belief in god and vehemently deny that Atheism is a religion to push their agenda on so many levels.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • Kukulkan

      You seem to have a delusional perception that atheists are the persecutors, wake up fool.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
    • Agnostici

      What is delusional is that Atheists think that they are the ones being persecuted.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • kirshy

      i wouldn't say that atheists are 'persecuted', per se, but just imagine what would happen if any of the presidential nominees were to so much as hint at the possibility that god might not exist. that would be the end of their campaign that second. atheism is absolutely disrespected in this country. the only thing worse is being fat.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  6. Keith

    This just looks like hate spech to me!

    March 1, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Sherri

      NO, I think you do not understand what hate speech is. But, wait until the Muslims start doing death threats to those who put up the boards. That's what THEY do. They do not believe in freedom of speech. That's the difference. They want us to tolerate them, but they do not believe in tolerance for any others. If you believe in freedom of speech, this is not a problem for you – just read the boards and keep going. It is simply trying to make people stop and think about what they believe. Regardless of the religion.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • Justin

      So its ok in your eyes for the religious to spam their message everywhere, but its not ok for Atheists to support each other?

      March 1, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Greyhound37

      And that cross on your church kinda looks like an ancient device used to torture people to death, but but we let you celebrate that. What's your point?

      March 1, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • Keith

      Maybe maybe not but the same people wounld propose that religious people "die"!

      March 1, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  7. Think it over

    I'm not really a believer myself, but I don't really think this has anything to do "showing closet atheists that we are here". The downside of a lot of atheists/agnostics is that most of them believe that this gives them some kind of intellectual superiority over believers. Believers, have a point when they say that agnostics/atheists don't know anything either, but some would rather disbelieve something on the basis that their is no proof rather than believing something on the basis that you can't prove otherwise. The idea of placing so much faith in a book that was told orally for many generations after being based on some similar events before being put into writing by MEN is not enough for some people to kneel and pray in forgiveness for moral missteps or praise and thanks for creation. If these things are enough for you to do so, than worship to your hearts content. We may all be called into account for the things we have done in this world and whether or not we believed. Maybe the tribulation will begin and that will have enough signs to convince disbelievers of the existence of god. Who know? I do know that in the meantime, I couldn't believe if I wanted to. Until I feel the touch of god, hear him, or see him, it's just not going to happen for me.

    By the way, there was an episode on through the wormhole on the subject of whether there is a creator or not. Believer or not, I would suggest watching simply to listen to some opinions and give yourself something to think about.

    Ciao. Good Night and Good Luck.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Peter

      Well said, really.

      For the record, I was raised an educated Catholic. Contrary to a portion of the athiest community that is ignorant to others' beliefs, the Catholic Church does accept a somewhat agnostic approach to our religion, where we understand even in science that there is a lot we still, or ever will, be able to understand. Instead, we use fill those gaps with faith. We do not take every word of Bible literally.

      Tell me the exact chemical ingredients that go into a can of Coca Cola. If you can, you're contemporary education has served you well. Now, try to explain those ingredients and what sodium bicarbonate has to do with Coke, to a class of 2nd grade students who couldn't possibly comprehend it. You would probably say Coke includes water, stuff that makes it bubbly, sweeteners, and coloring.

      Now think about going back in time 5 thousand years and explaining 21st century evolution theories. You'd probably sound a lot like the book of genesis.

      The Bible speaks of things like the end of the world, and a lot about how many nonbelievers will, once they see proof, want to believe and are too late for salvation. Maybe it was talking about ancient Rome, maybe it was predicating the future-I don't know. What I do know is that I put my faith in the abstract, because it can't hurt.

      This isn't the basis of our religion, and isn't a fullon defense to shut the book on our debate. I just hope to join you in showing both atheists and theists can have subjective opinions.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • Keith

      I am unaware of the bible being passed on by oral tradition. The bible came into existence to specifically refute the consept of the universe existing out of "nothing." It predates science and is subsequently not a science book nor was it intended to be! Just like a science book is not intended to be religious as many seem to be making it. Many of the stories in the bible clearly are symbolic/figurative (not literal) and much of the text has been misrepresented by "believers" I really do not understand the "hatred" of religious groups atheists seem to have.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Think it over

      And that is a reasonable position. I can look at the bible and see a number of stories that contain good moral lessons that are applicable even today, just like any parable. I also see a lot of the appearances (not sight specifically) as a guess at explanation or a story that was told through the family for several generations before being put into writing.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  8. Geoff

    God couldn’t have created the universe as time it self started with the universe, time did not exist before, so there was no time for a GOD to exist in

    March 1, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • Stern

      Some of the dumbest sht I have ever read.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Geoff

      Then you must be the dumist, as this is what the top brains think myself included Phd and a professer

      March 1, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • GuerillaToro

      So is that stuff you're smoking any good?

      March 1, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • TROLOLOLOL

      Actually, there are theories out there that suggest we are part of a multiverse. That would mean universes and time have always existed, and always will. It also means that anything that can happen, will happen.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Aaron

      And what was before the universe and before time?

      March 1, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Aaron

      Your not a PhD, you misspelled dumbest and you didn't abbreviate the degree correctly.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • ATLmatt

      why are some people (christians) so conceited that they think that they were created by some all powerful being? I have bad news for you guys: you are just hairless apes brought about by evolution.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • Geoff

      And what was before the universe and before time? Simple nothing, if you observe sub atomic particels they come and go at random, thats whats happend to the universe, we will go sometime at random

      March 1, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • Stonesrule

      Ahhhh. but what started the universe? Better re-read your post.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • Agnostici

      Yes, these are the type of people who represents Atheism who by the way, pride themselves on being intellectually superior and knowing more science than most religious folks.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
  9. Reality

    go research the following: Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park
    research it well and then ask HOW? I've seen this with my own eyes.
    Even scientists can't give you a clear explanation

    March 1, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • Mars

      How? How can you come to the conclusion that the beauty of nature was created by an invisible man up in the sky? And if everything needs a creator, who created the creator? So many questions... "I don't know" is an acceptable answer, even if it is unsatisfying.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • lvdr

      Religion is the price humans have had to pay for being intelligent self-aware creatures. We require explanations for the unexplained to form a foundation from which to preserve our sense of self and purpose. Our powers of reason have allowed us to provided better and better explanations for the mysteries of the universe, however, as long as some mystery remains, people will inherently feel destabilized by it and fill the gaps with religious dogma. Atheists believe the mysteries can be revealed by reason while religious people use their religious dogma. There is no Right or Wrong about this because our nature requires it. Trying to covert others or raise children to follow your beliefs improve your own sense of stability and purpose. The trick is doing this in a way that is true to the basic religious tenets without anxiety, ie, if this can be done with humility and without constant fear of persecution, maybe we can truly learn how to COEXIST (my favorite bumper sticker these days!). All religions preach humility and true love of others at its core. It is the evil power-hungry ones who commit heresy by twisting this dogma to their own purposes, be it war or pedophilia or amassing wealth. If there is a HELL, they will pay the price

      March 1, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • Proof?

      Thank you for exemplifying why so many still cling to religious faith... to provide explanation for things that have yet to be explained. What happens to your faith when there becomes a logical conclusion to this fossil formation? I get the appeal of religion – it's a LOT easier to believe that a higher power is in control than to take responsibility for your own life and actions.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
  10. phillybear

    Can anyone prove the atheists wrong? I mean real proof.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • Ted

      Every atheist, every individual knows within his own heart, that God exist.

      Read Romans chapter one.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Rob

      Can you prove that god doesn't exist?

      March 1, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Aaron

      can you prove them right?

      March 1, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  11. Annoyednoverit

    Atheist believe when they die, there bodies go into the earth and that they will be reborn as a bird, a horse, or maybe a tree. How Lovely! Until someone comes and cuts that tree down, makes paper out of it and prints the Bible or the Koran on it! So please stop trying to force your beliefs or lack of on those of us who choice to believe in something greater than just us. Everything is a myth, even your blant lack of ackowledgement for god. You dont know, just as we dont, But I pray for you, because if judgment day comes the rule is this " Deny me in front of your peers, I will deny you in front of my Father-Jesus" So that wonderful eternal life that us believers will be enjoying, you want see, or even be given the chance, you'll be burning in the Depths of bedlam. But by all means please continue to by Billlboards, at least you're boosting the economy!

    March 1, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • ATLmatt

      Aethists do not believe in reincarnation.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • ATLmatt

      But if Aethists did believe in reincarnation, then the lowest form of life that one could come back as is an hypocritical christian.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • Leucadia Bob

      yes we do – I'm gonna come back as a termite!

      March 1, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • Geoff

      Bull

      March 1, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Ben

      This is wildly inaccurate in every possible way.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • Meowser

      Most do, however, believe in grammar.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • Reason

      Not true. I believe when I die I cease to exist forever. There is no fairytale afterlife.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • MagFlare

      You... took this from a Dane Cook sketch.

      Reflect on that for a moment. Not only do you listen to the comedic stylings of Dane Cook, you're using his stand-up act to inform your understanding of others' beliefs. This represents an as-yet unexplored level of sad.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  12. BVN

    BAWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAAHAHAHA!
    Humanity sure makes for spectacular comedy!

    March 1, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • SocietyReady

      Reminds me of that South Park Episode where space producers were going to blow up earth due to bad ratings. There must be a God, humans are too funny to be true...

      March 1, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  13. wisdom4u2

    I have only 1 word for those who aren't seeking God....'Duhhhh'.

    March 1, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • Leucadia Bob

      seek away you fool -some of us are content and secure with ourselves and do not require a diety to enjoy our lives

      March 1, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • Bob

      moron -learn to write intelligently

      March 1, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • Jimmy

      Which God you fool???

      March 1, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • wisdom4u2

      LOL!!! I BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth: And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

      "The evil one has said in his heart, “There is no God”. They are corrupted and they are defiled in their schemes and there is none who does good." Psalm 14:1

      March 1, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • Grandma

      wisdom4u2,

      Ah, another one who "considers himself to be wise".... tsk, tsk.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • Leucadia Bob

      oh I'm sooooo scared. Now excuse me while I get back to enjoying the life that was provided to us randomly by a freak accident.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  14. Leucadia Bob

    There is only ONE TRUE GOD – it's this guy:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5inORZCvSnE

    March 1, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
  15. lvdr

    Religion is the price humans have had to pay for being intelligent self-aware creatures. We require explanations for the unexplained to form a foundation from which to preserve our sense of self and purpose. Our powers of reason have allowed us to provided better and better explanations for the mysteries of the universe, however, as long as some mystery remains, people will inherently feel destabilized by it and fill the gaps with religious dogma. Atheists believe the mysteries can be revealed by reason while religious people use their religious dogma. There is no Right or Wrong about this because our nature requires it. Trying to covert others or raise children to follow your beliefs improve your own sense of stability and purpose. The trick is doing this in a way that is true to the basic religious tenets without anxiety, ie, if this can be done with humility and without constant fear of persecution, maybe we can truly learn how to COEXIST (my favorite bumper sticker these days!). All religions preach humility and true love of others at its core. It is the evil power-hungry ones who commit heresy by twisting this dogma to their own purposes, be it war or pedophilia or amassing wealth. If there is a HELL, they will pay the price.

    March 1, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
  16. Geoff

    I think the old Roman Empire had it right when they used to throw Christians to the lions

    March 1, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • ATLmatt

      Too bad for the lions... they must have had horrible acid reflux.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • Annoyednoverit

      You do realize (all of you) that the romans were chistians correct? I only ask cause your answers were comical, please dont say anything until you get your facts straight! Besides they through everyone to the lions and usually they were dirty street dwellers and it was just for show, and of course the occasional prisoner....a prisoner could even be one, just for the reason that they didnt believe it what the roman empire did! So there were a lot of dying athiest then I'm sure. O but no there wouldnt be, most of you hide from society, not for fear that you will be judged, but just that simple fact, that you got about as much proof nothing exist beyond this place, as I do that there is! You are just mad that we have groups, and you barely have people admitting they dont believe! Paaaaaaaleeeeeaaassseeee!!!

      March 1, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • ATLmatt

      Annoyednoverit – Pick up a history book. The Roman Empire was not "Christian" until constantine. Long live Jupiter, king of the gods.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
  17. ATLmatt

    Help control the zealot population. Please have your devout spade or neutered.

    March 1, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • SocietyReady

      Let's start with all First Time Felons, see how the herd thins out, and go from there.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  18. DWillNH

    As I read these responses I can see why more people died in the name of religion than any other cause in human history. As soon as someone suggests that a magical spirit in the sky is not something they can believe in they are belittled and berated. What of tolerance, what of compassion for your fellow man.

    Its just like the republicans who claim to be "christian" while dismantling the programs that help the least fortunate of our society. Didn't jesus preach that the poor and disenfranchised are to be helped not cut off to fare for their own? Its disgusting to see people like that being fawned over by other "righteous" people.

    March 1, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
  19. TheFlatulantOne

    And lo and lo again. There came a bellowing from my bowels that made me wake up . There before me was a cloud of smoke.
    It spoke to me. It said get up and go. Go to the furthest reaches of the world and expel your innards for the people to know you are one of me. Any of those who do not listen to you smite them with your flatulence and they will yield to you and yours. Believe in my power, even though you only smell me and not see me. For those who smell and see not are true believers.

    March 1, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
  20. BC

    As an atheist, I approve of these messages. Now, excuse me while I go kill some kittens and eat some babies while learning about science.

    March 1, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • Alpa Chino

      LOL

      March 1, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • Hunter's ghost

      I take offense to that...kittens are overrated, and babies are delicious.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • wisdom4u2

      See what I mean about being stupid? Don't think for one second the authorities won't be checking you out....after getting your MAC address....DUH.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Red

      wisdom4u2,

      Ah, so you are being Clem Kadiddlehopper today, huh?

      March 1, 2012 at 5:21 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.