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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. rsquared

    Ah, the American Atheists. The same ones who tried to justify atheism by consensus by making the point (on another billboard, I might add) that there were 27 million atheists in the United States.
    And they keep on believing that the entire universe could come out of nothing. (Nothing: literally "NO THING". Nothing can't create something, because there is no thing to do the creating!) What's up with that?

    March 1, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • Kingofthenet

      Yeah, what's up with this God, coming from nothing, that's NOT possible oh wait...

      March 1, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • rsquared

      God is outside of time and space. The universe, on the other hand, is not.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • sybaris

      "God is outside of time and space. The universe, on the other hand, is not."

      Which god?

      Proof please

      March 1, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • YeahOk

      You have a hard time believing that something could have come from nothing, but yet you believe that God created something from nothing. Was God created from nothing?

      March 1, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • Kingofthenet

      Occam's razor to this problem:
      1. I KNOW the Universe exits
      2. I do NOT know if God Exists
      3. One of these two items 'MAY' have come from nothing
      4 ????
      5. The Universe MAY have come from nothing
      6 Profit!

      March 1, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • rsquared

      Evidently, you don't understand the concept of dimensions (time and space). Everything that is inside the dimensions is finite: it has a beginning and an end. We have never seen anything concrete that disproves this. If God created the universe, he can't be inside it before it exists! So, God must be outside of time and space. And therefore doesn't need a cause.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • Kingofthenet

      Well in that case maybe the UNIVERSE was once outside space time, INSTEAD of God.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • rsquared

      Well, the only universe we know is finite. If you're trying to argue the "infinite universe" perspective (basically, if you apply the same logic I did for God), then you should consider that there is not really any evidence for it, and quite a bit against it (the second law of thermodynamics, the expansion of the universe, cosmic background radiation, galaxy seeds, and Einstein's theory of general relativity).

      March 1, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
  2. Kingofthenet

    Just imagine you NEVER heard of Religion and someone tried to explain it to you at 30, what would you think?

    March 1, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • Elliot

      Well if it was 2000 years ago and you just ate some moldy bread, you might believe it..lol.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • Drew

      Depends on who told me about it; with the right messenger it might be very appealing

      March 1, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • rsquared

      It would still make more sense than the universe being created by itself before it existed to do the creating.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • sybaris

      Thus the motivation for Vacation Bible School a.k.a. Vacation Brainwashing School.

      Young minds are so easy to manipulate.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • sybaris

      rsquared illustrates perfectly the christocentric mindset of americans.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • rsquared

      It's funny. Nobody has come up with a good way that something can come out of nothing. And yet they say Christians are irrational.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • Kingofthenet

      You want us to believe your god came from nothing.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
  3. Tony

    I'd be VERY CAREFUL of retaliation. If its an explosion, suspect Islamic extremists. If its "a disappearance", I'd suspect the Mossad. Either way, it makes NO difference.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  4. Jennifer

    I am agnostic. I believe in a highter power, but do not believe the Bible. It's filled with more stories of war and hate than anything else. I do not believe that gay people are wrong, I believe that pedophiles are wrong. The Bible states nothing of child molesters and it's terrible. All these priests raping little boys in the name of God. You have to be kidding me. Religion creates nothing but wars, genocide, judgement, and a feeling of never being good enough. I do not believe in Heaven and Hell. We are energy when we die, so we could not possible feel the pain of burning forever. Religion is just like politics, using scare tactics to get you to believe. I was raised Christian, but when I sat down and read the whole Bible I was dumbfounded to see that so many people think it's real. If God is so great and know all then why is the world so crazy? Oh wait it's because the devil lives among us right. Christians are the first to judge someone are so hypocrytical and fake. LETS ALL JUST LOVE ONE ANOTHER AND HAVE PEACE PLEASE!!!!

    March 1, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • Adam

      Thank you for a friendly reminder to religious liberals and Christian moderates: READ THE BIBLE! (or if you're tight on time, Deuteronomy and Leviticus)

      March 1, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • rsquared

      The reason the world is messed up is because we messed it up.
      It's in the first book of the Bible: the world was perfect, painless, and peaceful. We sinned and messed everything up. God gave us a way out so he could redo it for us, but we don't want to take it.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • Adam

      You mean EVE messed it up. What is this "we" crap?

      March 1, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • rsquared

      Adam and Eve both knew it was wrong, both were tempted, and both gave in. By we, I mean mankind as a whole.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  5. Jim

    Well, at least they're being more consistent and "equal opportunity" vs just attacking Christianity. But, for consistency they should also take out signs referring to Buddhism, Paganism, etc.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • Jennifer

      Buddhism is a belief not a religion.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
  6. Ray

    While most religions do provide some positive benefit to society, the goodness is far overcome by the badness inherent in religion. That is religion has a net negative effect on mankind. In the words of Christopher Hitchens, "religion poisons everything". Working to bring about the end of religion through the application of reason is a noble cause.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • Drew

      I just am not entirely sure that people wouldn't ruin the world in some other way if we got rid of religion

      March 1, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • Jim

      You have, and COULD NOT have, any data to back up your claim of relative good vs relative negative effect. You're just spouting opinions, regardless of who else also stated similar.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • Ray

      Of course it is my opinion. It is also me opinion that people shoudl car about whether or not their beleifs are true. Faith simply means the are going to beleive no matter what the evidence says.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
  7. Bryan

    It is amazing to me that the United States can rank behind Pakistan and Iran in how much people practice their faith. We all have vehicles and personal digital assistants, but we cant take ten minutes and pray or read the Bible? If we don't get busy choosing and practicing our own faith, we will end up having to practice someone elses against our will. A man that does not have faith is not really a man.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • Drew

      I think you are a little confused about the role faith plays in geopolitics

      March 1, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • Sly

      Yeah .... like a few years ago when all the white boys were saying that 'a man with black skin is not really a man'.

      Yeah ... hey, those white boys were all quite god-fearing Christians if I recall.

      Gotta love that religion...

      March 1, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • GTA

      So, if we don't practice any faith, will we end up having to practice yours?

      March 1, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  8. lkj

    the only thing we are born with are the genes... everything else is a choice we can make, place to live, language, education, job, person we marry, etc.. etc... and what to believe and what not to believe...
    nobody is born in any Religion, faith or belief system... we are all free to choose.. but before we choose .. one must question and think...

    March 1, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
  9. cc

    The point is that some people (atheist) have evolved mentally and have unburned themselves from the shackles of religions. Our point is religions is stupid because it's made up.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
  10. John

    If religion didn't try to seperate and control through fear maybe people would listen. Religion is the most devisive force on earth.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
  11. John

    When people organize because they commonly believe in something, it is a religion. When people organize because they don't believe in something, it is a hate organization. (Nazi's KKK, etc.) For example, if people don't believe in Santa Claus, there is no reason to organize, If you don't believe he exists, there is nothing to rally around.

    If an Atheist doesn't believe God exists, there is nothing to rally around. The only reason Atheists would create an organization, would be to voice their hatred of those who do believe in God. Hate is their only common denominator. American Atheists is a hate organization, much like Nazis and the KKK.

    Christians, Muslims, and Jews are their focus of hate.

    The individual Atheist may not be filled with hate, just the group of Atheists who organize.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Andrew

      No, there's a reason to rally around... politics.

      Consider that there's this belief in some guy named Voldemort cause he was published in some book. Now, he's fictional, but not everyone believes that. In fact, not only do people believe in Voldemort, but they start passing legislation to attempt to replace evolution teaching with "Voldemort cast a magic spell to create life"? Or what about "Voldemort does not like bloods mixing, thus we must make some marriages illegal if there is pure blood mixing with impure blood"? What about if this cult of voldemort became so big that you were treated as an outsider and have an almost impossible time getting into office if you didn't believe in Voldemort?

      Suddenly, you have public policy being impacted by belief in a fictional character. Would non-believers then be wrong to stand up and say "Your beliefs are based on nothing, quit trying to impose them legislatively on others"?

      Cause correct me if I'm wrong, there was that 'If anyone has ANY religious obligation, you can object to providing health care... Christian Scientist employers hence hit the goldmine" bill that just got shot down, but was pushed forth? How many times has evolution needed to be defended in classrooms from religious encroachments? Why is gay marriage actually illegal? Why can churches collect billions of dollars entirely tax free, even if, like the Mormons, they pour in millions into political campaigns, like prop 8?

      If religion had less impact on policy, there'd be less of a reason to organize.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • derrick

      By that logic MADD and each civil rights group formed, is a member of a hate organization. Maybe thinking openly for you leads to anger. Try harder next time

      March 1, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  12. Dubai Robb

    Awesome, awesome, awesome!!!! Finally!!!!!!! Free thinking on the rise and I love it!!! As a westerner living and working in the Middle East I see more & more of open and appreciative thinking. UAE is an amazing place to see change so radically evolving. Religion is the creator of war, creator of separatism, race, and total conformity of cultural degradation. The faster we rid ourselves of this medieval separatism thinking the faster we can enjoy ourselves as one race… wishful thinking I suppose but it’s nice to see a change!

    March 1, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
  13. Reasonably

    All religions are cults by definition – just marketed differently.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
  14. Jimbo

    Even if you don't agree with the billboards you have to admit that it is a great thing that we live in a country where billboards like this can be put on display. Who doesn't agree with me?

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

      Yes! Land of the Free!

      March 1, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • GTA

      If these billboards were put up somewhere in the Bible Belt, I wonder how long it would be until there was a 'sudden localized tornado' (at night of course) resulting in complete destruction of said billboards....

      March 1, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  15. Sly

    Everyone knows Barry Bonds is God.

    If you don't know that, watch some tapes.

    And guess what – not ONE of you can prove I'm wrong. That's the beauty of opinions ... now, I'm sure we'll hear some opinions about Barry ... (and somehow they'll sound different than opinions about Braun ... since he got away with it).

    March 1, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  16. wilypagan

    Free speech for atheists, just not in Judge Martin's courtroom.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
  17. Chad

    Atheists believe that there is no God, that they are merely products of a spontaneously generated initial life form and millions of years of random genetic mutations.

    In the atheist view, all there is is this life. There is nothing else.

    Given that, why do atheists spend so much of that life screaming and yelling at people who believe in God? Why are they so obsessed with other beliefs systems? What is it that they find so threatening, that they expend such massive amounts of energy on?

    If all you have is this time, why spend so much of it in that manner?

    March 1, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • ken

      In that way...atheism is their own religion, and like many religious, they feel a desperate need to propagate.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • Jimbo

      Becuase your kids bball game might get canelled on the sabbath if you are playing a jew team.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • Drew

      Well, they feel that religion has made life on this earth less pleasant for everyone, and since they believe that this is all we have they would like to at least like everyone to live in peace for that time

      March 1, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Reasonably

      Our cult is better than your cult – just ask us!

      March 1, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Elliot

      Maybe becuase there are people like Rick Santorum that want to teach creationism in public schools and so on and so on and so on.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • John

      If an Atheist doesn't believe God exists, there is nothing to rally around. The only reason Atheists would create an organization, would be to voice their hatred of those who do believe in God. Hate is their only common denominator. American Atheists is a hate organization, much like Nazis and the KKK.

      Christians, Muslims, and Jews are their focus of hate.

      The individual Atheist may not be filled with hate, just the group of Atheists who organize.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • Hey Zeus

      Because of the crapload of evil that organized religion has perpetuated on civilization for the past several millennia. For starters.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • ThatOneDude

      If you crazed theists weren't busy screwing up the rest of the world and trying to inflict your childish dogma on everyone else, we would be quite content to let you play with your invisible friend all you want. That is not the case. You fly planes into buildings. You drive kids to suicide. You pass laws to enforce your retrograde little brands of theological ethics.

      If theists weren't doing all these things, I would certainly leave you to your fancy little delusional parties. That is not the case, however. And if you refuse to back off and leave well enough alone, we'll just keep getting in your face until your religions are completely politically neutered. Have a nice, god-free day!

      March 1, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • Elliot

      John, you are funny and very wrong. Nothing is wrong with letting people know that it's ok to believe what you want and there are others out there that support your beliefs. It's people like you who want to shut them down and make them feel guilty so they shut up and just fake believe their whole lifes to make people like you happy.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • John

      Elliot. It's a fact. The only reason they would organize is through their hatred of those that do believe. They aren't rallying against God, because they don't "believe" he exists.

      It's similar to the propaganda of other hate organizations.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • Ray

      A vast majority of atheists are not vocal. In fact most of us are down right apathetic. Howver, there are those that choose to be more vocal. I thank the flying spaghetti monster that I live in a place where I can be vocal.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
  18. Norman

    Finally! Something that will make religious extremists like America more!

    March 1, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
  19. Kingofthenet

    Obama is a Marxist Atheist, He learned it from sitting all those years listening to Rev .Wright, and his Muslim School teachers 😉

    March 1, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • Sly

      Wierd ... so religious Muslims taught him, but he's an athiest?

      To most of us, Muslims sound just as opinionated about their God as Christians sound about theirs, and y'all pretty much all sound the same to me.

      Besides, I know that Barry Bonds is God, so I'll die knowing I'll go to a good place with millions of cute 18 year old virgins, no laws, and lots of baseball. YeeHaw.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
  20. Hj

    How come there is nothing about christianity !

    March 1, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • ThatOneDude

      There is.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • Kingofthenet

      Lost Cause, google Banana guy.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:27 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.