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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. Gunny

    At some point, atheist assemble together and share what they have in common. Oh... I'm sorry. That's the same thing that Christians do. Christians go out and witness to people, while atheist go out and inform people. Sounds the same to me. Now if they can only stop hating on each other and respecting each others opinion, I believe we will all fill a lot better.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • Tim

      The difference is that religion is based on fear, ignorance and fantasy.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • ken

      Tim..that is a sadly ignorant viewpoint.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
    • Gunny

      Religion is a body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs. If you are an atheist, that is your religion. So imagine how weird it sounds when an group of atheist shout that they hate religion and don't believe in it. (knowledge is power).

      March 1, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • GodPot

      "The difference is that religion is based on fear, ignorance and fantasy." Tim

      "Tim..that is a sadly ignorant viewpoint." Ken

      Let's see... believe in our God or you will be tortured for eternity...
      Believe in our God even if science and the fossil record refute our conclusions...
      Believe in our God who can do anything, it doesn't matter what you come up with, he can do it and don't you dare call it magic or fantasy...but don't test him either, he's not a performing monkey who does tricks to convince us he's real, we just have to have faith, but he could do anything if chose to...

      I think Tim hit the nail on the head really.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • MsMello

      Thank you. My thoughts exactly. Why can't we all have our own beliefs without condeming each other? Is it not much more important that we are all part of humanity?

      March 1, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
  2. stockmarketusa

    So they trying to push their belief system into people forcefully. A belief system of nothingness and hopelessness

    March 1, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • ken

      For many..atheism is just religion by another definition. Like Scientology.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Usually I do my acerbic bitch thing, but I'll be upfront with you. We don't feel hopelessness. We look to our families and friends for love and reach out to all humanity in every way we can.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • Mike

      It is only when you stop thinking you have the answer in blood sacrifice and fairy tales that your mind will search for the truth.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
  3. Ben

    I am an agnostic. I still do not know the answer to these questions: why does the universe exist and why am I here? But I haven't heard any plausible explanations from religious believers either.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • Ray

      Ben, How you've decribed your position is the definition used by most atheists. You recognize that "I don't know" is better than a fictional diety. Welcome to the team.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • SconnieGuz

      you are here because your mom and dad did the horizontal mambo. That's all you need to know. The universe is nothing but nothing. Always has, always will be.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
  4. Jason

    Alright people, no need to complain here. I think it's cool that they care about something to the point that they want to tell other people about it. I honestly don't agree with them, I'm a christian, but I think it's sad if you're offended by someone trying to help you. If you care about people and believe you have something with which to help them, you will tell them. If you simply leave them alone, you don't care about them. I enjoy talking with people about beliefs, it doesn't have to be full of anger. Their wording may be a little sharp, outright calling religion a myth, but it's a good thing to talk about.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  5. Danny

    Why would anyone read a billboard and then reconsider their position? That makes no sense. It is a waste of money to do that
    and it is arrogant.

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

      Does anyone even read the articles before commenting anymore? It's not to convert religious people, it's aimed at people who are ALREADY Atheists, but are afraid to come out due to fear.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
    • SSampson

      People do it all the time – If billboards didn't sell product (regardless of the product), then ad agencies wouldn't populate them.... People are conned into buying all sorts of stuff via advertisin....

      Now – I don't expect people to renounce their religion because of it.,... but it wouldn't suprise me if some fence sitters didn't get inspired to make their own minds up about their beliefs....

      Personally – I don't care what people believe in – I am too tired of all the crazies to wase even a second dicussing my personal beliefs in an effort to convert them – If they can't see the basic silliness in religion – not my problem

      March 1, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • Gunny

      I've never made a decision based on a billboard sign. The sign may work for somebody but it does not work for me.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
  6. imran esma

    if you don't believe in religion then don't believe in history. and if you don't believe in history then where do you think you from? you enjoy the present technology because of its development through history by history...

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

      Such a dumb statement. Religion is real. People question if there is a god, not religion.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • i hate religious people!!!!!!!!!!!!

      they annoy the sh!t out of me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      March 1, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  7. DCE

    Did you know that religious people killed Jesus, the son of God? Religion is not what God looks for. He is looking for your heart! Whoever is behind this, I liken to Paul of the Bible. He too, wanted to squash all notions of Jesus being God. Until, one day Jesus knocked him from his horse, blinded him for three days and made it clear to him who he is. Paul then became one of the most outstanding disciples of all time. He even called himself the chief sinner for having killed and persecuted Christians. Look it up!

    March 1, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • Preach It Bro

      amen bro

      March 1, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • EnjaySea

      If you believe in even one single word that Paul wrote.

      He raised a lot of money during his ministry. Are we sure that he was more pure than today's televangelists? Maybe he was, maybe he wasn't. But I actually don't give him the benefit of the doubt, and that's only because he was human.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  8. shannon

    I think it's funny people find this offensive. Believers have been forcing their religious views through media FOREVER. I'm happy there are finally some militant Atheists. This is awesome, help building the community of Atheists. Many people are afraid to admit they don't believe in a God because they are physically, mentally, and socially attacked when they come out about it. Theists get crappy with me all of the time. I'm glad someone is taking the initiative to hold their hand out to other like minded people. Don't be afraid to stand up for your convictions! Being an Atheist is perfectly normal. There are plenty of us living normal lives without the hate and fear that comes with organized religion.

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

      I never once met an atheist that was abused in any way. I think that you just made that up.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • Flavius Claudius Julianus Augustus

      When atheists begin a debate with a religious person, it's because the atheists are bullies who have no respect for the beliefs of others. When the religious begin a debate with an atheist, it's because the religious are good people trying encouraging "open-mindedness" and "free exchange of ideas".

      By the way, take a trip down South; EVERY OTHER billboard is either a direct quote from the Bible or an advertisement for a local church (that last one sure is ironic, isn't it?).

      Nice too see the exchanges of ideas that are taking place through these billboards aren't just "popular" ones.

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

      I'm sorry to hear how different believers have treated you in the past. I don't think it's good to have hatred and anger towards someone, but I do think it's good to discuss beliefs with people. I personally am a follower of Christ and think its important to talk to others about my belief in God, as it has had profound positive impacts on my life. I do my best to never mistreat anyone because of their beliefs, but I do enjoy talking about Christ, as I believe he can have a great and positive impact on others. I don't think negatively of other people who think differently, I know they have their reasons, and I'm no less a sinner than anyone else.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
  9. mike from iowa

    Religion is not a choice, it is a mental disease.

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

      Oh, the arrogance.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • T F Rhoden

      I would like to do one in Hindi as well (but then again a campaign against monotheism is probably more cost effective than the poly- option)

      March 1, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
  10. tillzen

    Bravo to those who say that my fellow atheists are as pushy as true believers. Who is right and who is wrong will be decided beyond the grave and for me, whatever gets us to treating each other better while we are alive is the truest religion. I believe in love. Love is all there is.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  11. Kingofthenet

    Next time one of you Religious People 'Talk' to God, could you let him know my Communications Gear is NOT working, and to try an alternate system.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  12. Bob N

    The faith it takes to not believe in something beyond a earthly existence is the greatest faith of all. Do people still believe in the "chance" theory...Good Grief...Thought that was found to be ridiculous years ago. Yes, a one a bazillion chance one DNA cell comes together, just one, and yet billions of us live on earth. Wow....Think I will roll the dice on an eternity than dust.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • Bob M

      You obviously don't understand the 'theory' if you think it's based on chance.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • Jason

      Actually it is very much based on chance. Those that believe in the origin of life in that way just believe that after such a long time the chance actually happened. Say something happens once in a million tries, and a million tries happen over a thousand years, then it should happen about once every thousand years on average. So yes it's very based on chance. Honestly that's a side point though, the big question is where did anything come from, not just life specifically.

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

    Atheists say that just because you sincerely believe it, and feel it with your whole soul, doesn't make it so. How come they don't tell gays the same thing????

    March 1, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • mike from iowa

      When I was a child, I firmly believed in Santa Claus, I felt it with my whole soul. And still he failed to exist.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • Comic Book Guy

      Dumbest statement, ever.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
  14. Lisa

    As a former Atheist who is now a devout Christian, I find these disturbing. When I was an Atheist, I never felt the need to reach out to the world to try and convince them I was right. Likewise, I don't do that now as a Christian. Billboards are not the place for religion, or unreligion. Personally, I think all billboards are ugly stamps on our landscape. These are just uglier than most.

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

      Of course not, because you are clearly an open minded person, unlike many commentators on both sides of this debate

      March 1, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • miguel

      Lisa

      i am not surprised that you dont reach out, and that is fine. The problem is the many, many, many churches that do. Mission trips to Africa, mission trips to asia, rusia, even to the native american reservations and the Navajo nation. in this sense you are but a sheep of the herd helping the shepperd gather more flock, for HIS benefit

      March 1, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • Jason

      Interesting point brought up by Miguel, you make the assumption that people should live for themselves. You so accurately portrayed the basis of christianity and the purpose of life, to live for God. Our culture screams to live for self, but you won't be happy in the end. Without God in our lives we try to fill it with other things that don't help. It's strange to grasp, but by living for God, I actually have more freedom. I'm free from the sins and thoughts and lies that once plagued me.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
  15. Hi

    I think it is damaging to the atheist cause to proclaim that a God does not exist when, in reality, you simply do not know. While you may strongly believe, as an atheist, that there is no evidence for and no reason to believe in such a thing – It is damaging to your own image and espouses unbending religious-like conviction, when stating that 'God Does not Exist'.

    As an atheist and a follower of logic and reason (try likening that to religion) ruling out the possibility with utmost certainty is ignorant. As Richard Dawkins might say – You don't know that there isn't a little blue teacup orbiting Saturn, and while there may be no evidence to support its existence, you still do not know until you conduct the proper observation. Disproving the existence of something for which there is little evidence is not feasible, so I am content in knowing, that given our current understanding of the universe, it is highly unlikely.

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

      most atheist are agnostic. that is we don't know but we reserve judgement and belief till evidence comes forth....it hasn't....

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

      It's true - atheism is just another form of faith.

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

      But we do know that there is not a god. At least not in the sense of the Abrahamic (or any, for that matter) religions. The god of the christians, jews, muslims, etc... has been thoroughly dis-proven.

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

      Finally, some ACTUAL reason. I keep telling people that atheists have it wrong. Just as one cannot know how many grains of sand are in the Sahara desert, one cannot definitely know that God does not exist.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • chrissy333

      You would be considered an agnostic, not an atheist.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • nate

      Atheism is NOT another form of faith! Faith implies a belief in something of which evidence does not exist. True atheists are also NOT agnostic. Agnostics think you cannot prove god's existence OR disprove it so they do whatever it is that they do. That's all fine, except that you CAN prove he doesn't exist because there is ZERO evidence of anything being said about him being true. He is not all knowing, all present, able to answer prayers, appear to us, save lives, speak to us, etc...

      The simplest proof of god being incapable of being "perfect":
      "Can god create a stone that is so heavy, not even he can lift it?" => If the answer is yes, then he cannot lift it and therefore there is something he cannot do. If the answer is no, then he cannot create something and therefore there is something he cannot do. Therefore, it is impossible for a perfect being to exist. The point is sort of that nothing can be all powerful, and nothing can "create" things at will. That is the most basic concept of god from a religious sense, and an important point to make about it.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
    • Maty

      While I'm not sure how I feel about religion, it's just as silly to try to empirically disprove 'God' as it is to try to prove it.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • Maty

      What would that 'experiment' even look like?

      March 1, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
    • Hi

      In Response to comments regarding me as an agnostic I believe you to be incorrect and misusing the term 'Agnostic'. The definition of someone as being an atheist does not mean that they KNOW there it not a god. You do not know that and if you do I dare you to offer the evidence. You can only ever produce a high level of certainty that there is not. Stating that there is no God is more damning than saying that there is a God.

      To anyone who considers themselves an agnostic i STRONGLY consider you watch this video.

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxwBtfkv9ns&w=640&h=360]

      To whomever said that atheism is a religion...if you see logic and reason as a religion then you ought to re-examine your thought process. And I also encourage you to view some assenting and dissenting views by those who are professionals and draw the conclusion for yourself. There are many offerings on youtube that present both arguments. Approach it with an open mind.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • Hi

      Nate,

      Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. You cannot disprove something from lack of evidence. Atheists can only ever push religion to the form of deism or pantheism.

      I'm not touching Abraham gods because their existence does seem even more absurd. Most of my references are in terms of a deistic or pantheistic god.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  16. Blake

    As an atheist, I just wish all non-secular and secular advertisements/proselytizing efforts would just go away.

    Stop rubbing people's faces in your beliefs.

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

      You can't be an atheist if you don't know what atheist means. That's our only rule.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • Greg s

      Your rubbing mine in yours, but that doesn't bother you at all!

      March 1, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  17. partysstink

    Everyone has the right to make their own choice without someone else forcing them to or breating thim for the choice they make. Both sides of this argument are guilty of doing these things. Look like congress in here.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  18. Don

    The Founding Fathers of this country, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglas, and Susan B. Anthony would probably be proud. It’s a no brainer that the great Christopher Hitchens would be.

    For the freedom of the human mind! Atheists, fight, fight, fight!

    Religions are not the source of morality! How else do you explain the moral principles accepted by nearly all religious groups and non-religious groups?

    Being generous to gain more points with the tyrant is cowardly submission and does not make you morally superior to people who are not generous due to a leash.

    Religions claim they provide morality and purpose; that is the product they supposedly sell.

    Anything fair criticism against religious groups makes you strident…

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

      I feel the need to point out that the absence of religion does not insure a free mind, nor does it's presence preclude a free mind

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

      Funny..you sound disturbingly like a pontificating religious evangelical.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
  19. Neji

    Do they not travel through the land, so that their hearts (and minds) may thus learn wisdom and their ears may thus learn to hear? Truly it is not their eyes that are blind, but their hearts which are in their breasts.
    Quran, Chapter Al-Hajj |, verse 78

    أَفَلَمْ يَسِيرُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ فَتَكُونَ لَهُمْ قُلُوبٌ يَعْقِلُونَ بِهَا أَوْ آذَانٌ يَسْمَعُونَ بِهَا ۖ فَإِنَّهَا لَا تَعْمَى الْأَبْصَارُ وَلَـٰكِن تَعْمَى الْقُلُوبُ الَّتِي فِي الصُّدُورِ

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

      Hi, my name is Neji and I quote from my own bronze age book of beliefs to prove said beliefs. There is no contradiction in my circular logic whatsoever. WAKE UP, moron.

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

      Allah does not exist, and muhamed was not his profet, Spagetti monster verse 3 salmon 2 quite 3

      There, you are wrong, see, my book wins over yours

      March 1, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
  20. bob

    it's nice to know that there will always be someone trying to tell us what we should believe.
    Atheists trying to sell something to us because they can't figure it out.

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

      Sell something? They are saving delusional people money. Putting money into a collection basket where funds go to pay off families of abused kids.

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

      Figure what out? Don't religious people go to worship houses to be told how to be a good follower?

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

      Anyone with half a brain will realize that all religions are fantasy. Welcome to the real world.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • Greg s

      Name a single Atheist charity, orphanage, Hospital anything Run by Atheists for the benefit of there fellow man.......You love yourselves to much to consider helping those in need, The proof is in the pudding

      Scientists are your Prophets the scientific Journal your bible, But you forget that those scientist do not not for certain how the universe began its just a educated guess.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • DrewNYC

      @Greg If you would have just done a simple google search before posting, you'd see that their are several Atheist charities.

      Why aren't there more? Two reasons come to mind.

      1. Atheists tend to be more independent, so making a unified group is usually rare. This is why we aren't a larger group. So while there aren't as many Atheist charity groups, that in no way means that individual Atheists don't donate. I know PLENTY that do.

      2. Most people still cringe at the sound of the word Atheist. Makes trying to promote yourself very difficult.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:24 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.