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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. Andrew

    Tell me athiests. What is the real truth about life? Im waiting...

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

      Need there be one "truth" about life?

      March 1, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • Kingofthenet

      you are going to die...Other than that I am not sure.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • Kukulkan

      Newsflash numbnuts, if you're already dumb enough to swallow whatever religion you happen to have been indoctrinated into (purely because you happened to be born in country X btw) is there really any logic we can use to make you wake up and realize that's not what we're saying?

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

      Kulkan – Newsflash numby. You must not have been born into any kind of society, or you were indoctrinated into a society which claims to know that nothing created the universe. I find this latter notion absurd. In the first case, you simply believe in nothing because you believe in what you taught yourself. It just so happens that since you had no one telling you to do stuff that you had to come up with your own explanations for things. In the latter case, you yourself a re victim of societies ignorance.

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

      (x/y)*(z^2+g)/pr2-14yxp[45xt]+1*(145v/2u*3z^6) = 19080978808

      Give me the absolute value of x, and if you can't I get to insert my answer of God.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • wisdom4u2

      They can't tell you.....they're not living life. Jesus said “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
      Without Him....they're already DEAD.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • archer

      I think he meant what's the goal of life. How about being happy, having fun, generating knowledge and wisdom, contributing to humanity, and when time comes, leave a good name behind. To me that's the best form of life after death.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • sybaris

      Your question is obviously biased towards there being more than 3 basic events in a human life; birth, life, death. Regardless you have no empirical evidence for anything else occurring other than the events within that span.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • Andrew

      Look I'm not going to get into this math. You atheists are little more than radical empiricists. If you want to follow empirical reasoning to its logical conclusion, than as far as I am concerned all of you are mere constructs built by my mind to provide me with a world of enjoyment. You aren't necessarily real because I can no way empirically prove that I created the world I live in. It could all be a dream. I might have even used to read word up magazine!

      And before you judge me as some kind of religious creationist nut, I believe that God created things like evolution. The bible is right in a sense. He created the world in 7 days. But there's a joke: A man exclaims to God, "God I heard that a million years to you was but a mere second, and a million dollars to you was but a mere penny." God says, "yes indeed it is true." So that man asks "can I have a million dollars?" God replies, "sure, just a second."

      The point is, 7 days to god might actually be 14 billion years to us. To me the world has been predetermined ever since the beginning of time with programs such as evolution and expansion set up just right, as a perfectly aligned series of dominoes, so that humans could come to exist.

      So you don't have to prove to me that god does or does not exist in order for me to except every empirical claim that may be made. But don't tell me you know there is no god, or that I am wrong, yee of little faith.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
  2. steve

    i think maybe the hebrew is screwed up as to order of sentences??

    March 1, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
  3. Kingofthenet

    The default answer to ANY question is NO, otherwise you are just making stuff up. It can change with Evidence and Proof thou...

    March 1, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
  4. A Reasoner

    Well, yes we can't prove the absence of "god" nor can we prove the universe isn't controlled by a totally undectectable toaster living behind the sun, but after 2,000 years of absent evidence the odds are against it. We can also be pretty sure all the mutually exclusive gods can't all be true, and it's a fairly safe bet they're all false. In either case, there's no evidence to support wasting one's only life as if one or more of the god fables is true, much less running a nation or world as if it were. Everyone's someone's infidel - what a waste.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • Freeman Lowell

      Amen....snicker. 😉

      March 1, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  5. michele

    One interesting thing I read in past is that people think atheists have no morals as if morals ONLY come from being affiliated with a religion....I also have read where there were tests given regarding the bible and who were the ones that got the absolute highest scores....it happened to be the atheists....gave me something to think about.

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

      Didn't you know, prisons are filled with 99% atheists. The rest are Catholic priests. 😉

      March 1, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  6. just sayin

    With the persecutions the Jews have suffered throughout history, you are not going to sway them from faith with a cheap bill board. They are more likely to look at atheists with cautious indifference. Muslims on the other hand tend to go militant when their beliefs are challenged. Achmed vs. the atheists big BANG theory. No great loss.

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

      You really are an intolerant jacka** aren't you.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • JAG

      Darwin always wins!!!

      March 1, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
  7. sybaris

    If the faithful are so confident in their faith why do they delete posts that oppose their belief?

    March 1, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
  8. William

    Some Muslim will complain and they will have to take the arabic one down. Just watch. Anything that offends a Muslim is now forbidden in the USA.

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

      Leave the Arabic up. Need to also add Persian. The path to world peace is for the Muslim and Christian to embrace each other and embrace Darwin.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
  9. HispanicMan

    This is what I do not understand about people who do not believe that an intelligent spirit being, God, exists. Just look at the human brain and its complexity. Did that come by chance? What about the heavens and its myriads of stars and planets? Did those just come by chance as well? Some will say that the Big Bang theory will justify the existence of all that exists, but, if that is true, where did the energy to create that Big Bang come from? What about space itself? How did space come into existence? How is it that we are able to procreate and produce males and females? How does an Atheist explain the existence and growth of a simple blade of grass? These all came about by a grand architect and creator of all things just as much as a beautiful home is created and not just comes about by chance.

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

      Where did God come from? Was he/she/it/they formed by chance?

      The answer to all of your questions is: We think so, but we are still investigating it.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • HispanicMan

      @doughnuts... God never had a beginning nor will He ever have an end. Its hard for us humans to understand that because everything that we see and know has had a beginning. Thats where true faith in God and his Soverignty comes into play. God is the Creator of all things, heaven and earth.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
  10. ObamaJoe

    Atheists cannot make a better world,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

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

      why not? The theists sure have screwed things up enough.

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

      Delusional religious freaks (all cCtholics, jew, muslims, etc) can do degrade our world.

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

      But clearly religion has.....

      March 1, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
  11. Senor Coggs

    Ah another group smarter than everyone else enlightening us on how to think. I liked people better before they became annoying cliches of themselves.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
  12. callmeg

    Only in America......

    March 1, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
  13. King

    Read many of the posts. Good stuff here (mostly). Now I get to post and I'm gonna post about what a TRUE Christian is...

    A TRUE Christian is one who helps others even when it means extreme sacrifice of self.
    A TRUE Christian doesn't force his beliefs on others.
    A TRUE Christian knows that actions speak louder than words- as a result, the actions of a Christian proves that they are a Christian. When done correctly, others will wonder why we can stand when the world tries to knock us down. Others will wonder why everything we touch is successful, why we have joy in the midst of pain, why we accept others the way they are. This wonder makes non-believers ask "why". Then, and only then, do we share our source of power.

    A TRUE Christian doesn't judge others and their opinions as to what is right and wrong- judgement is reserved for the Lord.
    A TRUE Christian makes mistakes (sins), but realizes them for what they are and tries very hard to not make them again.
    A TRUE Christian knows that when he makes a mistake, all he has to do is ask for forgiveness and the slate is now clean.
    A TRUE Christian knows that most people who claim to be Christians are, in fact, not.

    A TRUE Christian doesn't have to say anything about their religion. They ARE their religion. Accepting, caring, loving, sharing, slow to anger, quick to help, slow to criticize.

    The path to becoming a TRUE Christian begins with a profession of faith. This profession is only the beginning. Becoming a TRUE Christian is a life long process. Even at the end of life, we all fall short of the asymptotic line that Crist has shown us. but it's the "process" of becoming that God loves. Call it a process of "brainwashing" if you like, but it is one in which few TRUE Christians ever regret.

    Many times throughout the process, we Christians also experience doubt- we're only human. I personally have a bachelors in Electrical Engineering and a double minor (mathematics and philosophy). While not brilliant, I can say that I AM fairly well versed in both science and theology at the same time. I'm 43 yrs old and have spent 1/2 my life as a non-believer and can tell you that there is NO logical explanation to religion. It's pointless to debat except for the sole purpose being the joy of debating. The only argument I've found is by seeing the life of a TRUE Christian in action. Unfortunately, most people do not see this and therefore cannot understand. But there are those of you out there reading this that have seen it. It is to you that this message is written. Do not move by people's words and words alone. there have been many throughout history who have argued against Christianity their entire life and shifted later once they realize truth. Einstein is one of these people. So to those who say religion is for idiots and the weak minded, I disagree. It takes MUCH more strength to believe in something than to believe in nothing at all.

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

      Einstein held no belief in a personal god.

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

      You need to read up on the True Scotsman fallacy

      March 1, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • just sayin

      lolwut
      Knew Einstein well did you?

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

      "The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this."-Albert Einstein in a letter to philosopher Eric Gutkind, January 3, 1954.

      Take from that what you will.

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

      "It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it."Albert Einstein, letter to an atheist (1954)

      Oh, that one too.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • lolwut

      Just sayin, I suppose...

      March 1, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • imran esma

      you can say that religion is pointless because you have not yet found the truth, the true religion of true god. try other religion without relying on what people say and who they are. try Islam, just read its book the Qur'an with its english translations.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
  14. kd

    Not sure why this is news. It's a free country.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
  15. BubbasWorld

    *** OR - you could just leave people alone to believe whatever they want. Enough with the athiest brainwashing already.

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

      In what strange Universe do you live, where a single line of text on a billboard equals "brainwashing"?

      March 1, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
  16. seattle_libtard

    Atheism is in itself a religion.

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

      yeah, keep telling yourself that. I'm sure it 'soothes' you just as your belief system does. Doesn't make either of them true, but it's what makes you feel safe and important that counts.

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

      seattle_libtard, Websters Dictionary, use it.

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

      @sybaris: nice try.

      Religion: Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values.

      Atheism: Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities.

      A "religion" does not have to focus on a god/deity. So, using simple logic that I assume you would be able to perform (since you feel you are superior), atheism can be defined as a religion, in that it is a belief system and worldview (i.e: a religion).

      You're welcome.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  17. mike from iowa

    Religious people want to indoctrinate your children. That is why we need to defend against them. The religious aren't willing to let people make up their own minds, they seek to inject religion into elementary textbook and schools, to reach into your childrens' minds and brainwash them. It is not enough for them to raise their own children religiously, they are after YOUR CHILDREN.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  18. lolwut

    As an atheist, I sort of see this as "in your face" as those stupid "YOU'RE GOING TO HELL" billboards. But let's also not forget how in the past, many religious groups have "targeted" those of different or non-belief with very different means of persuasion. They have just as much of a right to put this up as any religious group has to express their beliefs.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  19. ObamaJoe

    deep down you don't know the truth,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    you WANT to know,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,you BELIEVE you know,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    you know you don't really know,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    Do you know :

    The Jews are descendants of Abraham’s son Isaac. The Arabs are descendants of Abraham’s son Ishmael. With Ishmael being the son of a slave woman (Genesis 16:1-16) and Isaac being the promised son who would inherit the blessings of Abraham (Genesis 21:1-3), obviously there would be some animosity between the two sons. As a result of Ishmael’s mocking Isaac (Genesis 21:9), Sarah talked Abraham into sending Hagar and Ishmael away (Genesis 21:11-21). Likely, this caused even more contempt in Ishmael’s heart towards Isaac. An angel prophesied to Hagar that Ishmael would “live in hostility toward all his brothers” (Genesis 16:11-12).,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    March 1, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • mike from iowa

      Right. And then, Abraham got mad at the Jews for the final time, and sent Mohammed to the Arab people with the message that God now loves them and hates the Jews, and that they should kill the jews whenever possible. So God, wants some of his children to kill his other children.

      See, it all makes sense! Who couldn't believe!?!?!?

      March 1, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
    • Fritz Hohenheim

      And did you know that according to Mitt Romney's belief, black people are former white people who were punished by god for some sin and turned black? Which brings me to my point: Why would any intelligent person take tales from the bronze age (or read out of a hat for that matter) for real?

      March 1, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • ObamaJoe

      That's the problem of human kind,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,when they are given choice,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

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

      @Mike, that was the grays, they came down in a UFO.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • Stuart

      Did you know, there is NO PROOF that what you are saying is true. NONE!!! And you will hide behind a shield of "faith" so you dont have to face the fact that something that has no proof at all is false until there is proof given. People like you doubt that the earth was created billions of years ago despite the fact that there is so much proof that it was. And you say the theory of evolution is false because there is, and i quote "not enough proof".

      March 1, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
  20. Sherri

    Who Cares? so you don't believe....big woop.

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

      There was this thing about 10 years ago where a bunch of people flew jets into buildings because they hated the people in those buildings who didn't believe in an invisible sky daddy like they do. Maybe you missed it.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:06 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.