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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. Grant

    I most certainly don't believe in religion, but I do believe in "a" God. It is frustrating for people like me that there seems to be no place for non-practicing believers. It has become a black and white argument where one side says you have to do "this" to be cherished by X-God and the other side says no such thing exists. Why can't people's relationship with God, or lack thereof, be kept private. It isn't like God is a trophy to be carried about and shown-off. The whole thing makes me sick.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • theological noncognitivist

      As an ignostic (not to be confused with "agnostic") I am forever open to the potential existence of "god", but I am unwilling to accept the common model as defined by the religionist or "spiritualist". It is simply either too sensationalistic and/or too simplistic to garner an incontrovertible stamp of approval. And therein lies the problem. On the one hand, if all life is nothing more than the product of chance, then our lives are quite meaningless, and we are, for all intents and purposes already dead. However, the magnificent complexity of life and the incomprehensible odds against its existence is mind-numbingly difficult to grasp, and for science to explain away without generating an equally unsettling level of controversy. Perhaps the question should not be "is there life after death?", but rather "is the death after life?"

      March 1, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  2. probulus

    Getting Atheist out of the closet is really not the solution to the problem. Better to invest in education. Helping those without faith live a productive, hopeful life in a country where faith predominates. Educating those with faith how a secular approach is good for everyone: Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu and Pagan.

    NonTheist: Choose more Love, more personal Responsibility, more morality, more empathy, more betterment of society and more tolerance.

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

      Unfortunately, there's no hope in a godless world where we are here without reason but by chance alone. There is purpose or point to anything. "Productive" lives are meaningless. We are here for a short time then we die. There certainly is no objective moral foundation without God. It's all relative, so you do whatever you do and I do whatever I do. Not that it matters since our lives are infinitely short. Death is the only certainty.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • Mick

      **no** purpose or point

      March 1, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • Cara

      Mick, although I know that it's very difficult for you to believe that those of us who don't believe somehow find meaning and hope in our lives, but we do. We raise children with hope for making the world a better place without any expectation that we're going to be around in any form to enjoy it. Our hope and direction in life comes from this selfless desire, rather than from the desire of the religious to not be punished. We even find non-relative bases for morality (read Sam Harris' "The Moral Landscape").

      March 1, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
  3. From Chicago

    Seriously, can we just follow our religions and atheist follow whatever they believe in or not believe in? Is it so difficult to just mind your own business?

    Why would you advertise become christian or muslim or even atheist? I hate it when people knock on my door to tell me about their religion like I am going to convert just because you came to my door. just follow your religion and let me follow mine. i dont want you to convert and neither should you expect me to convert.

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

      agreed

      March 1, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  4. Jim Detweiler

    Uh Oh! It's ok to tell Christians and Jews there is no God, however, some muslims will cut off your head if you say their God does not exist. And there's a muslim judge in Pennsylvania who will find that muslim innocent.

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

    As an Atheist I have to say, I don't get it. I honestly don't care if people believe in god as long as I don't have to be a part of it or have it shoved down my throat. I feel this group is being no better than the extreme religious groups and that isn't helping anything!

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

      Google "Gnu Atheist".

      March 1, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • Bob N

      Drinker, I am not pushing here, but how is it you wake up each day, do your thing, for a lifetime, then say its over? To me that takes a greater faith than all Christians put together. Even agnostic scientists say it would take one in a bazillion chance for just one DNA cell to come together, yet here we are..Billions of us.....Is there not more to your life and eternity than what you have?

      March 1, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • Drinker

      My personal philosophy would be a little hard to get into on here.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • Aaron

      I agree. The phrase "You know it's a myth..." is pretty divisive. That's the stigma surrounding the Atheist debate, though, that Atheist make themselves out to be more intelligent than others. Even believers at times entertain the idea there isn't a God.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
  6. The REAL Truth

    Why all the fuss? We get so caught up with intolerance, it's laughable. I don't care if you are gay, christian, muslim, a jew or a purple people-eater from Mars! Just don't expect me to treat you differently because of it.
    We have become forced to be politically correct in everything we do. We ban prayer in school because of some atheists perceived 1st amendment right? If you don't like it, don't listen! Folks are bashing gays because of their desire to be treated like couples ( I will not voice my opinions on that here). We are penalized as a group for the behavior of the lowest common denominator. No discipline in schools, metal detectors, no personal responsibility for anything any more.
    It's about TOLERANCE for others that are different. We need to lighten up and ignore these billboards if we are not interested.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
  7. Rick

    Its funny how the people that don't believe in God are the ones who talk about him the most.

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

      Funny because you're delusional? The only reason we talk about your gods is because you fools are constantly cramming your idiotic fairy tales down everyone's throat. We want to get on with our lives, free to live without being persecuted for not being a willfully ignorant fool. Sadly, that's impossible. In short, we've had enough of the stupidity and we're calling you all out on it. Why don't you follow the example of the Amish and keep your idiotic beliefs about an afterlife to yourself?

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

      The ones who are vocal about it tend to be the ones who are casualties of religion or, like me, who live in highly religious areas like the bible belt where religion and intolerance are both EVERYWHERE in ample supply. It's hard to escape it and it's often forced upon me in unpleasant ways – yet I feel compelled to hide my views on a daily basis out of fear of offending/annoying THEM.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • Aaron

      Kukulkan, you are incredibly disrespectful and it's hard to consider the integrity in anything you say because of that.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
  8. jimmerz

    II do not believe in any god, but I am no atheist either. Just like religious idiots, I do not rub my nonbeliefs on others. Just be happy with your life man!

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

      If you do not believe in any god, then by definition, you are an atheist. From latin, one who is not of theism.

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

      Again, you've entirely missed the point. The day someone looks me in the face and claims Christians (or other believers for that matter) are being persecuted by atheists is the day I smack you back into reality. Don't be such an asinine fool.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
  9. Gregory Faith

    I guess there are more than recorded as most are piping in on this subject!!!

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

      O, the Aethists are great trolls. lol just messing...

      March 1, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  10. Peter Q Wolfe

    It might even come about a new Rennisance of Enlightenment Age pt II globally speaking to challenge preconcieved beliefs. Tradition makes complacencency inevediable for if you do't question your beliefs they are invalid. Get out of your shell question your parents, preachers/priests/rhabis/etc on what you supposedly believe. The more you get to know the less you really know and the more fact becomes opinion! Devote agnostic here former christian and pagan without a care in the World!

    March 1, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  11. mike

    it will cause the Jews to riot...oh yeah, Jews don't do that, but guess who does?

    No, it's not the Presbyterians. Nope, not Mormons either. Muslims?

    Diing! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!

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

      And Xtians try to push their insular belief system on every single facet of American life the same way the Taliban push Islam on their own people. You think you're different just because you act like nazis less violently? Screw you and your totalitarian sheepish obedience.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  12. Kingofthenet

    Can a Religious person explain to me why FAITH, as used by Religion became a virtue? I thought it the realm of ignoramuses.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • Faith gives you access to things that are not demonstrable.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
  13. wileysee

    The best thing about this story is that it has given all the atheists a place to post, something to do for the rest of the day and ultimately keep them out of everyone's hair for a couple of hours....and that's my freedom of speech at work.

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

      Right, because all you see in America is atheism everywhere you look. Wake up from your Mickey Mouse delusions you pompous pinhead.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
  14. Robert

    You don't KNOW it's a myth until you have looked under EVERY rock in EVERY corner of the whole wide UNIVERSE. It's the height of arrogancy to just ASSUME you know until you have ABSOLUTE empirical evidence. Christians don't know. Atheists don't know. We're all AGNOSTICS. That's the best we can do.

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

      I hope you mean God and an Afterlife not Religion.

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

      I'm currently working on my wormhole unicycle so I can reach the edges of the universe just to make sure that whole Santa thing isn't real, because I'm not quite convinced it's not true.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
  15. James

    Agnostics please get your head out of your azz Religion is Fake.

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

      Guys, the world is a beautiful and mysterious place; are we actually going to waste our time arguing about what is "true" or isn't?

      March 1, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • Bob N

      and as James stands before his maker someday, will he still be saying its fake? I laugh at those who think Christians are crazy for our faith, yet to believe that we came from nothing and will go back to nothing takes greater faith. LOL

      March 1, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  16. Superspygaru

    Its sad because the Athiests are now officially no different than religious flolks...attempting to force their beliefs on others....the cycle of stupidity continues!

    Why cant people just believe what they belive and move on? I believe in god but I dont go around saying so nor do i care if the person next to me does......resonable people..seem to be hard to find these days.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • Hasa Diga Eebowai

      When did not having a belief become a belief

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

      Since athiests decided to tell everyone....

      March 1, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • Dave98

      Yep, and advertising Doritos is "forcing" snack food on people.

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

      Because belief matters. If you really care about people, you will realize that how they perceive the world has an effect on how they live. If you really care, you will do something about it. To do nothing is just complacency, it says you could care less about the people around you.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • Living in IL

      OK…We are all crazy! Nobody wants to go to Hell, but we all do want to go to Heaven. Every religion on this earth, and the people who believe in it, cannot be right. However, every religion and its followings can all be wrong! This is just something to think about.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  17. Proud Muslim

    Atheists claim they follow no religion but they follow the religion of the great $. How can someone with even a pea -sized brain reject God. Where did we come from? Where did this whole universe come from? And for the atheists, where did the first cell come from which all life sprang according to you? Did it create itself? Atheists cannot answer that question and those who believe in reglion cannot answer where God came from. So we are both in the same boat. The place where we differ is the complexity of the universe and the human body. These are not just accidents. If a cell can create itself than God can create itself also.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • Former muslim-Proud Atheist

      You clearly are just spouting rhetoric that has been told to you for years, science has explained the origin of life and the universe in complete terms that are measurable, unlike religions.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • Hasa Diga Eebowai

      Why is there a need for a god besides the human ego and fear. Its just as possible a unemotional binary machine from another dimension set the laws for this universe (and perhaps 1,000s of others). BTW its a moot point as you have no ghost/spirit/soul so who cares.

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

      The big bang, matter created itself, evolution, surviaval or the fittest.....on on and on

      March 1, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • Tommy

      Dear Proud Muslim: How about if God can create himself, so can a cell?

      March 1, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • theological noncognitivist

      The problem is in your conceptualization of "god", as some ethereal, loosely definable metaphysical force responsible for our origins. Atheism is in and of itself a kind of religion, as it posits the non-existence of something which has yet to be dis-proven with any measure of incontrovertible evidence. Cells are magnificently complex structures, as is a DNA strand, and I can offer no plausible explanation for who or what may be the progenitor of such complex, self-replicating materials. However, as an ignostic, I am not prepared just yet to abandon myself to the idea that there must necessarily exist some metaphysical originating force or essence, though I am open to possibility...

      March 1, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • JM

      Well said.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • Kukulkan

      @Proud Muslim, you're proud to be a member of a religion that finds it perfectly acceptable to burn a woman's face with ACID because she cheats on her abusive husband, then turn around and KILL people for burning your idiotic "holy" book. Congratulations on being proud of being an willfully ignorant fool.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • YeahOk

      I believe that the Almighty Byzernapo created God. Prove me wrong, and if you can't, I'm right.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • Aaron

      Former Muslim, you're reying on scientific theory as much as Proud Muslim relies on faith. Theory is Theory. You can't prove a 'big bang', that's merely symantics to explain that 'something happened but we don't know exactly what'. You clearly are only spouting school boy's rhetoric.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • Proud Muslim

      @kukul.. Your nic fits you. You are a kookoo.. Your ignorance does not bother me.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  18. CB

    I have no problem with the exchange of ideas, but I think that there is probably a less divisive way to go about this. This is the 21st century; we don't have to agree on everything, but I wish that both sides would at least try to move towards finding some common ground.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
  19. Bob

    I suppose those poor long suffering non-believers will be happy to have the fine organization of American Atheists remove all symbols of religion and faith from their communities to avoid making the 2 or 3 non-believers feel so isolated.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • Fast Fred

      I think most non believers are hiding in believers clothing. My problem is believers want to control everything from what on printed on money , what's said in the Pledge of Allegiance and what our morals should be.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  20. SuperDave

    Since religion is the backbone of almost all killing in the world for the last 3000 years (and Christians led the charge by slaughtering Muslims) then it seems appropriate that those who do not believe in any diety shall have their say. All religion is contrived and ridiculous.

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

      Atheist rulers have killed far more people than religious ones. And they surpassed them in under a century.

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

      Well said SuperDave.

      @Beaker, name them you moron. Stop regurgitating what your pastor told you, shortly before he passed around the collection plate and you donated a portion of your hard-earned money to his next Cadillac payment.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • Fast Fred

      Yes Atheist rulers have killed people....but most were in sheep's clothing.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • Aaron

      Superdave, there were wars before Christianty. Religion is not the cause of war. You have to put it in context, the non religious fight as well.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
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