home
RSS
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.”

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

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. JM

    God bless 'em. =>

    March 1, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
  2. elgatoblanco

    Personally I think god is a total fairy tale. But I also think that these types of atheists are annoying too. Anyone who goes around saying "I'm right and you're wrong" is just another pompous windbag trying to tell people what to believe. Apparently they've made the mistake of thinking that it's somehow less obnoxious when they do it.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • kirshy

      so, elgatoblanco, you think you're right and they're wrong? doesn't that make you, by your own definition, a pompous windbag?

      March 1, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • Sitnalta

      Practice what'cha preach, buddy. If you had actually read the article you would've found that the guy is trying to reach atheists that are already in that community, not trying to convert or belittle anybody.

      And even if he was the strawman you mentioned, so what? A proselytizer that encourages freedom of thought can't be that bad.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  3. amengeo amengeo

    Religion is fighting a desperate rearguard action. The numbers of people who are discovering the flaws and contradictions in the 'established mythology' is growing. As we advance in knowledge we discover that the world was not created 6,000 years ago on a Thursday afternoon, angels cannot dance on pins and lightning is not Odin throwing a thunderbolt. Is it not time we stop inculcating ignorance and intolerance in our children with these ridiculous beliefs in Christmas and Santa Claus and the Great Insecure Neurotic God` who fears our free will and demands that we `have no other god before him? Time for childhood's end..

    March 1, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • Matt

      absolutely correct.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • Shawn Irwin

      Those who advocate christianity must support one of the following arguements:
      1. The universe is less than 6,000 years old.
      > Easily disproved by stratification of layers of earth, laid down yearly, with far more than 5000 layers, radiometric dating, Pangeae, and the speed of light through the vast distances of space, a galaxy (ours) that is about 100,000 light years in diameter.
      2. The dinosaurs never existed.
      > Totally laughable. A visit to a Natrural History museum can quickly dispell this notion.
      3. Noah lead Tyrannosaurus Rex onto the ark.
      > Even more laughable. Tyrannosaurus Rex would eat Noah and half of the animals on the ark.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • ok

      @Shawn Irwin

      Maybe you should get your information about religion from people who understand it instead of your atheist circlejerk blogs. Very few people actually believe the earth is <6000 years old or that dinosaurs didn't exist.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • Primewonk

      ok castigated Shawn, writing, "Maybe you should get your information about religion from people who understand it instead of your atheist circlejerk blogs. Very few people actually believe the earth is <6000 years old or that dinosaurs didn't exist."

      Shawn was just a bit off on the years. Gallup and Pew polls from the past couple years both show that 40% of the public are YEC's – Young Earth Creationists who think the earth and universe are less than 10,000 years old and that humans co-existed with dinosaurs.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
  4. jordan

    Good for this !!! I am Jewish and there is NO GOD.
    And if there really was a GOD he would of struck down the Nazis and saved not only us Jews but Millions of Non-Jews from the fate that ended up their reality.
    80% of my Father's Side gassed on Arrival at Aushcwitz-Birkenau.
    Sure there is a GOD.............

    March 1, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • elgatoblanco

      Amen to that!

      March 1, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • JM

      However, if there is a God, they went from hell to heaven. And their persecutors went from one form of hell to the real one.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • Matt

      I hear you!

      March 1, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • Steve Thomas

      Jordan,

      A terrible tragedy for your family. However, your words are well received.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  5. Daniel

    Why can't people accept that others have a different view on religion than they do? And if someone has a different than they do, why do they have to force others to change?

    March 1, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • ok

      No, see, because atheists, as atheists, become experts on all religions, and therefore know better than anyone else that they are right, so they have the privilege of smuggly saying everyone else is an idiot except for them.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • Primewonk

      ok wrote, "because atheists, as atheists, become experts on all religions, and therefore know better than anyone else that they are right, so they have the privilege of smuggly saying everyone else is an idiot except for them."

      Pretty close. The folks at the PEW Research group (a pretty religious bunch overall) did a poll in 2010 look at religious knowledge. The poll had 32 questions covering various Christian sects, Jewish, Muslim, and other world religions.

      Christians averaged 15.7 correct responses, with only 45% getting 17 or more questions right. Us evil vile heathen liberal atheists, on the other hand, averaged 20.1 correct responses with 82% of us getting at least 17 questions right.

      When we atheists tell you fundiots that we know more about your religion (and bible) than you do, we are not making this up.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
  6. BeakerTheGreat

    Atheism is illogical.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • Matt

      Not believing in unicorns is illogical.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • Matt

      not believing in fairies is illogical.....

      last time I saw the evidence for gods and fairies....they have the same amount....zero.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • BeakerTheGreat

      Atheism eliminates right and wrong. Since everything is subjective, there is no standard to follow.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • Primewonk

      "Atheism eliminates right and wrong. Since everything is subjective, there is no standard to follow."

      Really? And your religion isn't subjective?

      Was slavery right or wrong? Why did the SBC form in 1845? Why did they formally apologize in the 1990's?

      We can move on to other subjective aspects of your religion after you answer this one.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  7. Ken

    I don't know the exact %age of athiestes in the world, but even if they are lets say 5% of the world population, what more than 6.5 billion people believe in is not a myth!

    March 1, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • chubby rain

      The earth is flat.
      –99% of the people before 1492.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • Grayson

      Hey. It's like back in the 1492 when most people thought the world is flat, or when humans thought that the earth is the center of the universe. It's a logical fallacy to say that. Example: 20 kids in a math class think 2+2=5 but 1 kid thinks it's 2+2=4. Now because most of the kids think 2+2=5, does that make it right?

      March 1, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • ChrisAH

      Argumentum ad populum.
      Logical fallacy.
      Try again.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • Matt

      worst case for a god...everybody believes. they used to believe rain was from god, earthquakes, diseases, eclipse, wind, sunshine and everything else. you also care to forget they all these people believe in different gods who aren't compatible...so who's correct?.....Fail.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • brothaa

      I understand your comment is probably a sarcastic joke but you do know

      that only a few hundred years ago, only 1 man believed the earth was round, and the entire planet believed it was flat.

      All those what ever billion people all believe in totally different bs, and all of them equally claim what they say is true. I guess they are all right then. There are many different gods, prophets, angels, gods of war, gods of peace, one god, two gods.

      god its just a joke.

      i guess stick with those who believe the earth is flat

      March 1, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  8. steven

    America is the most religiously repressive Christian nation. We censor things here that no other Christian nation would even think of censoring. Ths US loves to advocate freedom of speech but religion seems to be the only thing that will limit that freedom.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • ChrisAH

      "The United States is not a Christian nation any more than it is a Jewish or a Mohammedan nation."
      - Treaty of Tripoli (1797), carried unanimously by the Senate and signed into law by John Adams

      You betray your ignorance of history with such a statement.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
  9. Tex

    You don't want me telling you what to believe, so don't go telling me what to believe either.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • Patriarchae

      This is an atheist billboard targeted towards atheists (read the article instead of commenting on the picture alone like an idiot). How is that telling you what to believe?

      March 1, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  10. Flex

    Ha,ha,haaaaaaa..........desperation on display folks.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • Hasa Diga Eebowai

      Im sure people said the same thing about Paul of Tarsus

      March 1, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • edge

      Why pass laws that coerce other people to follow your values? "This world is not my home. I'm just'a passin' through." If your eternal reward is beyond this world, why are you ruining the one life we atheists get to enjoy?

      March 1, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  11. Shawn Irwin

    It funny how the christo-nazis will claim that without god people would do evil things without bounds, but given that all of the athiests and agnostics are not mass murderers, I must assume that it is just the christo-nazis admitting their own inner desires to do bad things.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • ok

      I don't understand your sweeping generalizations. They don't convince anyone.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • Pauli

      What a juvenile moron you are. Time to come out of your occupy tent and fix the alumninum on your helmut.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  12. scott

    Why do atheists assume that a belief in god means that you are a moron. I don't believe in god myself however I am not that arrogant to think that because someone goes to church or temple that they are an idiot. America is about religious freedom and freedom from religion. You can choose to go to church or not, you are free to make up your mind.

    Atheists need to get over themselves and leave people alone.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • Hasa Diga Eebowai

      There is a strong correlation between faith and stupidity. That does not mean there are not outliers.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • ok

      @Hasa Diga Eebowai

      [citation needed]

      March 1, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • chubby rain

      The more intelligent and well educated religious folk are generally more tolerant and less likely to legislate their beliefs. My problem is with the less intelligent members.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • fleagle

      Hasa Diga Eebowai states that there is a correlation between faith and stupidity...but conveniently forgets his or her own faith in what they believe. You ARE showing a belief in something, and therein lies your faith. Deal with it already.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
  13. Moxie

    If we're secure in our own beliefs, who cares about a billboard?

    March 1, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • Hasa Diga Eebowai

      Children will see it and it will undo some of the brainwashing.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • Matt

      hahah Hasa you a correct there!!!

      March 1, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
  14. auggdoug

    if there is 2 jews in a room and you have three opinions? ok there is mongolian joke something similar to it if there is one mongol in a room it's so quite and peacefull and if you have 2 mongols in room they chat really loudly and they sing and laugh so hard , finally if there 3 mongols in a room a fight about to be broken anytime

    March 1, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  15. cpc65

    The atheists might succeed in actually uniting the Arab and Jewish peoples. Against them!

    March 1, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  16. Rob

    Good for the Atheists. It's not as if other religions don't spread their BS. Now all we need are Atheist "Missionaries" that convert the ignorant...Oh wait we have that already when someone opens up a school in a 3rd world country...

    March 1, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • ok

      This is good because being an atheist automatically makes one an expert on all religions, didn't you know?

      March 1, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  17. ok

    Atheists complain that religious people spend money on shiny churches instead of the poor. So they buy billboards.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • Patriarchae

      The last time I checked, billboards aren't nearly as monetarily wasteful as churches.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • Sitnalta

      I'm sure they help a ton of poor people at the Vatican. There must be a soup kitchen in the back somewhere.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • ok

      Do you have any idea how many churches run soup kitchens? In the town i live they get together and pretty much make sure they've got lunch and dinner covered any day of the month.

      If you don't think religious organizations do a lot of good, then you are either ignorant or so blinded by your religionhate that you refuse to see good in decent people even if you don't like everything about them.

      Until the guy who paid for these billboards grabs a laddle or gets himself in the kitchen heating a pot, I frankly don't care what he thinks about my religion.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • Gordon

      And I bet the government doesn't recognize any atheist "church" such that donations are tax deductible.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
  18. SammyJ

    An evangelical atheist movement....sounds pretty religious

    March 1, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  19. Moxie

    Who cares?

    March 1, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  20. Drew

    Most people believe that there is good and evil in the world; why is it necessary for us to argue about its source?

    March 1, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • Hasa Diga Eebowai

      Its source is us.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • Drew

      It makes no difference whether someone believes that it comes from us or from a higher power; people just need to live good lives

      March 1, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70
Advertisement
About this blog

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.