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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. Sly

    In America we all have the right to free speech, and God knows we've seen a million signs expousing religious beliefs.

    Now we have other opinions. All power to ya – that's the beauty of America.

    Everyone has an opinion about whether there is or is not any God's ... it's a healthy debate, and of course, none of us know.

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

      OK, I think that God is in the shape of a Bong

      March 1, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
  2. Ryan

    When people complain atheists are foisting their belief system on others I have to laugh. I'm fairly certain organized religion cornered that market several thousand years ago.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
  3. Mike

    I am not religious. I might even be called atheist, but I find this to be insulting. Let people alone in their beliefs or non-beliefs. By proselytizing, you become just as bad as the evangelists.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  4. Jason

    Of course it's to inflame people - it would be like posting a sign saying: "It's ok, you know the atheists are going to hell." It's ironic though, that they use the old image of an atom as their sign to describe a scientific approach to the world, because we all know that that symbol itself is a myth. 🙂

    March 1, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  5. Ben

    I don't understand why atheists can't hold this as a personal belief to themselves and why they feel the need to be in everyones face or lurk on CNN boards hoping for any store that involves any religion so they can repeatedly cut and paste their responses...

    March 1, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • Matt

      Because the religious throw their beliefs in our faces all the time. They use scripture to validate their antiquated notions about how life should be and base legislation on it. If the religious would keep it to themselves then I would be more than happy to keep my atheist beliefs to myself.

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

      ben– are you a member of the Flat Earth Society?

      March 1, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  6. vhairo

    Billboards like this need to be everywhere!This country is being ruined by religious fanatics.SuperDave:You are spot on.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  7. Dave

    I would not want to be the guy putting up the billboard in front of a muslim extremist – he won't live long enough to get down from the billboard...

    March 1, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  8. DRock76

    Why do atheists care? Do they want to get together with other atheists and discuss how meaningless life is and there is no higher meaning to our existence? What a miserable conversation that would be.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • Maggie

      Why would that make life meaningless. Would not your love, you joy, your excitement still be? If we wake each morning with the goal to love & respect all and to live a happy life why does religion have to come into the equation? All religion does is scare people into submission, what if we did all that good stuff just because? Not for any reward or fear of punishment, just because.

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

      First of all, if anything I have even more of an appreciation for life and it's simple wonders than most religious people because I understand how transient this world is. Secondly, you are suggesting that people should intentionally delude themselves by believing some mythology in a vain attempt to try and give meaning to something. If religion is the only thing that gives your life meaning then you are missing out big time.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
  9. daisy

    you know there is a hell you will go to it ....

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

      How can hell actually be very bad; surely you get used to anything after an eternity? After the first few centuries, heaven and hell must feel essentially the same

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

      NO HELL NO HEAVEN NO GOD

      March 1, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • Shawn Irwin

      If there were a heaven or hell, all of the interesting people would be in hell. Heaven would be boring as . .. . hell.

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

      Nobody KNOWS anything for certain.....it's all a big guess by mankind, whatever you believe. I have to respect those who are humble and brave enough to admit that they don't know for sure. Nobody should condemn others for having a different theory....but that's what humans have done/will do forever....sad.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
  10. Shawn Irwin

    There are 7,770,000 species on the earth. If there are 90% insects, and we consider them to be all very small, (which we know they are not), we could say that each pair, in order to fit on the "ARK" would need 4 square inches for two of them, plus their food for 40 days. (Even when it supposably rained for 40 days, the "ark" was floating for more time than that, but here we are giving the bible thumpers an extra chance.)
    Since 12 inches squared = 144 cubic inches, 144 cubic inches / 4 cubic inches = 36 per square foot. We know that, the insect population is about 80 – 90% of the entire 7,770,000 species, so making a conservative estimate, we will say it is 90%. 7,770,000 * 90% = 6,993,000 insects. 6,993,000 insects / 36 insect per square foot = 174,250 square foot needed to house all of these insects, and their food. Now the animals. 7,770,000 – 6,993,000 = 777,000 animals. We will again be conservative, and say that each animal requires only 3 cubic feet living space and three cubic foot for 40 days supply of food. 9 cubic feet total for each pair of species. They say the average size is actually that of a sheep, which would be more like 9 cubic feet for the two sheep alone. So, 777,000 animals x 9 cubic feet = 6993000 cubic feet required to house them. Now we will take the total needed for the insects and the total for the animals and add them together. 6,993,000 square foot + 174,250 square foot = 7,167,250 square feet needed on the whole "ARK". (We will not even count the space needed for the humans, breathing space for all of the animals, or for the internal structure of the "Ark" itself.) Now the dimensions of the "ARK" are well known. The length of the ark – 300 cubits, its breadth 50 cubits, and its height 30 cubits". This is equivalent to a length of 450 feet, a breadth of 75 feet and a height of 44 feet (assuming an 18" cubit); or 500 Feet, 83 feet and 49 feet (if it was the Egpytian 20" cubit). (We will use the larger size, just to give the bible thumpers a better chance) 500 x 83 x 49 gives 2,033,500 cubic feet. But wait, we needed 7,167,250 cubic feet! That is 3.5 times more space needed than the "ARK" provided! And, we did not calculate for breathing space or the internal structure of the "Ark" itself. So, bible thumpers, please tell me, what did god do, shrink the animals? What new ridiculus explanation will you need to explain this inconsistancy?

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

      Big boat.

      Likely a Cruise Ship.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • Matt

      you forgot about the dinosaurs!!! how will they fit..especially those big plant eaters!!! LOL

      and you wonder why we laugh!

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

      well-put however any thinking person should arrive at the same conclusion without all the numbers; the Bible is a fictional
      tale

      March 1, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • Glenn From CT

      A simple word my Friend.... Faith.... and the simple understanding that unless you know everything, you know nohing.

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

      That was way too long and uninteresting for me to read.

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

      If the ark was a DNA bank of some sort then it's entirely plausible to be able to hold 2 of every animal known to man back in those days.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • sybaris

      The kicker is that the alleged Jesus spoke of Noah and the "flood" in Matthew.

      An omniscient being would know it never happened.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • just sayin

      You cannot always measure the past by what we have today.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • tdomas

      Oh so clever? Looks like you stumped all the believers out there. A simple explanation would be that the story of the flood in Genesis is allegory and that literal interpretation was never intended. However, there are other parts of the bible that are literal, having historicity that are worth more investigation.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Free Thinker

      Glen from CT, can I be your financial advisor? I will send the power of attorney docs to you asap. Just sign and return in the postage-paid envelope. Have faith, you will be rich! And when you start to question my motives as your account balance dwindles, just remember that unless you know everything about finance and investment you know nothing. (You would buy that pitch in real life? If not, then why are you buying into it for the afterlife? Stop...and Think.)

      March 3, 2012 at 2:14 am |
  11. Hasa Diga Eebowai

    You have no such thing as a ghost/soul/spirit.
    All you are is in your brain right now, when that goes so do you. For most, that makes the god proto-hypothesis moot.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • wisdom4u2

      You have died yet.....or had a NDE. When you do then and only then can you say that.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • Hasa Diga Eebowai

      Not a shred of evidence for a soul. BTW currently they are showing how NDE work, our minds are tricked very easily.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • wisdom4u2

      Ah....Duhhh! "they" don't know and neither do YOU! Hopefully, you'll have a NDE ....and then you can comment on what's up.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
  12. wisdom4u2

    I shudder to think what my life would be like without my crutch, Jesus.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • Hasa Diga Eebowai

      If you need it keep it (to yourself and out of my government)

      March 1, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • wisdom4u2

      your government? ha

      March 1, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • Hasa Diga Eebowai

      Well the US government does not belong to ANY religion

      March 1, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • wisdom4u2

      @Hasa Diga Eebowai

      W T ....? Who said it did? You're pretty dense...huh?

      March 1, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  13. Kingofthenet

    Why would a REAL God remain so elusive and mysterious?

    March 1, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • Hasa Diga Eebowai

      So it can trick us atheists so that it can find pleasure in watching us burn in a fire...

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

      I do not find God's love to be elusive and mysterious at all.
      Maybe it all depends on you. Your perspective.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  14. mike

    @Not So SuperDave

    Christians were only defending the Holy Land from invading Muslims, if you're referring to the Crusades. Christians had been in the area for about 600 years when the Muzzies showed up to take over. Muslims fight dirty, so the Chrstians had show appropriate force.

    They live by the sword, they should die by it as well.

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

      You seem to have left out the Inquisition and even the witch trials in the country led by radicalized christian extremists.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  15. Superspygaru

    Telling people what to believe shows ignorance, let them find their own path, it does not have to be yours..and who knows..maybe it will be!

    March 1, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
  16. Cyg

    If GOP can tell Obama to go to hell – then the rest of us can tell the religious right of GOP to bite us. Billboardically speaking, that is.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
  17. joe

    Atheism is a proselyting, often hate mongering religion in and of itself. Little tolerance there, and a lot of self righteousness.

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

      dear joe- remeber the cruscades? the spanish inquisition? rick santorum?? you are a victim of the pope and his choir-boys

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

      *Exactly*

      The sanctimonious fanfare on both religious extremes is nauseating.

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

      first off "atheism' is not a religion. Secondly you talk of "self righteousness", what can be more self righteous than a monethiestic religion claiming that everyone else is going to hell! Please don't post your idiotic comments here. Since you can't prove god, atheists also can't prove god's non-existence, that however does not take their right to express that you might be wrong. Advantages of living in a free country.

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

      Give me a break. Maybe people choose not to believe your mythology because it makes no sense? Doesn't have to be about ego at all.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
  18. Geoff

    I am going to be rich, I am going to print the BIBLE on toilet paper, good place for the fairy tale book down the pan, Look on Ebay for them

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

      Is it toasty in here? Nah, that's just Geoff burning in hell......

      March 1, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  19. Andrew Thall

    They are NOT atheists - they are anti-theists. I am an atheist - I do not believe in a divine spirit or being. I am not against religion - I have seen the comfort that many people have gotten from their faiths. The fact that they are trying to spread their belief is no different from a missionary who knocks on my door.

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

      FINALLY! Another reasonable person...SEE! Athiests can be cool too!

      March 1, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • Ronnie Robles

      Bingo. Nailed it. This group isn't an atheist group. They're flat-out anti-theists. Be who you are, folks. Call yourself what you really are... and that's anti-religion.

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

      I am a theist and I COMPLETELY agree with you.

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

      As a Christian I can respect you, Andrew, and I truly hope that most atheists are more like you. So many atheists, as constantly seen on these boards, have taken intolerance and smug mockery to a new level. A person's faith, in whatever he may believe, is highly personal and often changes with life's experiences. The great thing about freedom of religion is that we can evolve on our own terms, and we should respect that journey for everyone.

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

      Bravo my friend... Well said.... I am not a religious individual but I am not atheist either. However, I believe in your way of thinking.... Thanks for your comment.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  20. Atheists are closet believers..

    it's just that they hate to come out.

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

      Another myth that makes "believers" feel superior, warm and fuzzy. Atheists are NOT closet believers.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • Daniel

      We are not closeted at all. I simply do not believe that a magic sky man made everything and controls my life.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • JP

      You are totally full of $h!tt

      March 1, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • Superspygaru

      So you believe there is no magic sky man? well..sounds like someone has FAITH in something...sad isnt it..

      March 1, 2012 at 5:44 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.