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. BH

    So what atheists are saying is that we are the master? That we are just some lucky accident that happened?Maybe the reason God does not answer all of our prayers because we are praying for the wrong thing, not that he is not there. I always pray for safety, but I don't pray for the winning lottery numbers.

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

      I don't think any part of atheists' arguments have to do with whether or not prayers are answered or not. Whether or not God answers specific prayers or not is irrelevant to whether or not God exists, since we all agree that if there is a God, He certainly doesn't answer every prayer.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • Willowspring

      MKE@ 6:46 pm said that God doesn't answer prayers. Actually He does. It's just that sometimes he says "NO." And He usually has something better in mind for us when He does.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  2. Jayne


    March 1, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  3. Pablo Pena

    "free thinking" lol. Yes atheists are "free thinking". It's funny how we can see the obvious brain washing of dumbed downed religions but we cannot see the obvious brain washing of shallow, vile atheists who value nothing more than the grossest and most rudimentary aspects of life. These animals are quite happy to live base, meaningless lives and want to ensure everyone else does too. They say misery loves company and atheists are proof of that. Perhaps atheists should form their own religion. "We worship the simpleton God where only what you obviously can see, hear, touch or taste must be the truth". Perhaps this Gorilla logic will catch on, it seems to be working. But hey at least they're not blowing up people right?

    March 1, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • Mr. N.

      Not lately. The last time atheist blew up or blew away people en mass was during the Soviet era, or did the massive murders on the Cambodian killing fields happen after that? Or was that before the Chinese occupation of Tibet? Maybe that hasn't happened since North Korean regime way back in ... oh, wait, that is still happening today! My bad!

      March 1, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • Will

      I am pediatrician. I work near everyday to save the lives of children. I do not believe in god, but I do believe in my fellow man. I do not claim to be a saint, but I have worked hard to contribute to my community because I care about the people around me. I do not believe I am a vile person merely because I am an atheist, and I think most would agree with me. I don't typically tout my views on religion, but hate I see on this forum is a bit uncalled for.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
  4. Wpguy

    its funny though because I don't believe in atheist.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  5. TheRealist

    If you're a 'free thinker', you believe things happened by accident, and that all the things needed for life just happened to come together. If you're a scientist, you know molecules interacting in space with a volume the size of the universe even in a vacuum is not only improbable but it goes against every law of thermodynamics. So your 'free thinking' is stupid thinking. You have a better chance of getting struck by lightning on the moon everyday for 1000 years. And do not make this a religious debate. I never brought God into it.

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

      So if you're not bringing God into this, what exactly are you suggesting? If it's not an accident, then what is it, oh wise one?

      March 1, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
  6. Alex

    Awfully condescending billboard isn't it?

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

      Like the billboards that say, "Avoid Hell tomorrow, repent today."

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

      Well how are you supposed to talk to a 50 year old retard who's had all the time in the world, but still believes in fairy tales....?!?

      March 1, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  7. Suszanne

    You know it's the Truth...
    and you better make the right choice.

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

      which religion should i believe? They all present equally convincing arguments

      March 1, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  8. Keksi

    Atheism is myth too.

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

      How so?

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

      "Atheism is a myth too"

      Now THAT is funny!!

      When you were born you did not believe in any god. Atheism is the default position.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • Mr. N.

      Well, in a twisted, unforeseen way, there is a grain of truth in that. Those that preach through those billboards are not true atheists, so I guess in a weird way, THEIR atheism is a myth.

      There's a billboard a couple of blocks from where I'm sitting that reads: "Atheists make better lovers: After all, no one is watching." I propose that the people who are behind that message are not true atheists because they are clearly trying to prosthelytize to others.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  9. Hotdogs

    Good. Atheists need to bash ALL religions, not just Christianity. Busting only Christians' chop is discriminatory. I'm not an atheist, but they needed to do this.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
  10. Binyamin

    I'm jewish, and I have barely any belief in god, but I still find this to be offensive. It's just plain incitement.

    Not to mention, american atheists' isn't getting the point. The torah isn't necessarily ment to be taken literally. It's a highly fantasied history book. For example, do I believe david fought goliath? Yes! But do I believe that goliath was a 10 foot tall giant? No!

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

      The torah seemed like an odd target to me too, as I have found jews to generally interpret their scripture in a way that is conducive to a good life on earth, rather than ranting and raving about the end-times like Christians

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

      Why are you upset? What is your religion – if nobody has any choice, what is their faith worth?

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

      @Drew That's one of the things that separates us from them. Not to mention we don't knock on doors asking people to convert, which ironically the american atheists are doing pretty much...

      March 1, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
  11. joe

    Religion is dead. Has been for 100 years ever since the modern scientific era.

    For the few remaining ignorant and uneducated who deny science and look to their holy book for answers, well, you will never convince them. It's how they get through life.

    So talking about it either way is pretty much beating a dead horse.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • Annas still dead

      atheists are sad people. I pity them.

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

      Few remaining.... actually religion is on the rise worldwide.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • Mr. N.

      Nothing is more ignorant and uneducated than setting up a false dichotomy, like you have. Faith and science are not necessarily opposed to each other, and it is intellectually lazy to assume so.

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

      Most Atheists it seems are no different than any other person espousing religion. They believe fervently in disbelief. Their denial of a higher being is their religion. The fact that they are taking it to the billboards proves it.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • Kukulkan


      Good, send me your money if you pity me. At least you know I'm real.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
  12. victor

    Atheism is a helpless religion of the spiritually weak, unable to achieve spiritual goals. Let them put up childish billboards all over the country and it will be to no avail. A person separated from God is a pathetic loser who voluntarily missed his chance. Belief is work by gradations and nothing earthly is foreign to the believers. No one really needs to pay attanetion to this, as an atheist has only to be channled by life through trepidations and sufferings to wake up and start seeking answers. Atheism is a total lack of spiritual responsibility and human continuity and doesn't need to be condemned, because it is a disability of the spirit, something like blindness or lameness. So, God bless the atheists, because they are like blind children and blind children need blessings as they go about their strictly defined biological needs of being part-timers in God's employment program of which they are not aware.

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

      wow, that pretty much sums it up. So let's all pray. "Praise Allah". Er–wait, you were talking about Allah right?

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

      You know, you might actually know atheists and not even be aware of it?? And ....they might even be *good people*!!! :O

      March 1, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • Jason

      Hmm... that comment was pretty hateful and untrue. I just am thankful God has chosen to do a work in me, you should be the same and never condescend others in the same way. No one is better than anyone else. Jesus didn't come to condemn the world, but to save it.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
  13. Tony

    How about a Billboard: "You'll find out the HARD WAY–THERE **COULD BE** an afterlife. Then YOU have to answer to God."

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

      I would give for that

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

      I guess you've never driven through Kansas, there are billboards like that. They try to scare you into believing just like the murdering crusades.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • MrsFizzy

      Yeah, that's the whole reason to follow a religion, right??

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

      Lol... I like that the argument for belief is that it's possible; it's an agnostic billboard! How about, "You MIGHT have to answer to a God that POSSIBLY exists for what MAY BE SINS, but we can't tell you which spiritual practices you should follow to give you the best chance because WE SIMPLY DON'T KNOW."

      March 1, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
  14. amust

    i agree with

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

    March 1, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
  15. Troy in NYC

    I'm thankful for these billboards... People need to get a clue

    March 1, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
  16. George

    Well I guess I am going to have to stop reading these comments now. The good stuff was in the beginning, now it is all drivel.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
  17. Alex

    Money says that the billboard in muslim area will be defaced before the one in the jewish area.....any bets?? Waste of $15K, could've fed the poor with that money.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • Kinjo Kinzaminni

      They could have "shadows" which check to see if there are vandals – if there are, they get videotaped, the video gets posted to YouTube – Or they could even have agents that capture vandals and force them to do community service for the atheists

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

      So why are you atheists afraid of death?

      March 1, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • Oh Yeah

      You sound like Judas complaining about how nice Jesus' feet smelled.

      March 1, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  18. John

    You can't have a movement without an enemy.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
  19. dean mullen

    It's freedom of speech, It's not as bad as religious terrorism, is it? It's freedom of speech, if people don't like it, don't look at it. It's not like it's going to be place onto people's eyes or anything.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
  20. athiestrconfused

    yes it is a myth,.. just like the big bang.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • dean mullen

      The big bang has evidence and make's sense, it's a fact that the universe is expanding therefore logically it had a point where this expansion begun and the evidence suggests so.

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

      really so u believe that there was nothing and all of a sudden there was a big bang. like newton said every action has an equal and opposite reaction. big bang as the theory says was an explosion that created matter and antimatter. so what was that explosion a reaction to?? hmm

      March 1, 2012 at 6:38 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.