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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. Kingofthenet

    Here is the problem with following God, IF you take the stories LITERALLY like Fundies do, you are left with an INSANE God on a Kill Crazy Rampage, IF you take the the fact that they were embellished, than you have to wonder about it's supernatural at all.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
    • Reading critically is difficult for some.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • Fr33th1nk3r

      If you accept that they are embellished, it calls the rest of the book into question too– because believers have yet to establish any kind of baseline by which to compare fact from fiction in the Bible.

      So you are left with either believing in ALL of it, or not at all– if you are being intellectually honest with yourself.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
  2. John-117

    Atheist organizations=contraction.

    A group of people unite with the same beliefs, outreach to the community to convert others to atheism, and debate with other religions on why they are right...Sounds like a religion to me.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • mike

      If we call atheism a religion then we need another word for organized belief in God. Since we already call that religion seems easier to just call atheism atheism.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
    • Norman

      I'm kind of coming over to your point of view. Someone pointed out that religion doesn't require belief in a god, so what elements are important?

      March 1, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • Fr33th1nk3r

      Contractions? As in giving birth?

      March 1, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • TRH

      That's a typical response from someone who didn't comprehend the article. No conversion is intended....it's to reach out to atheists and/or agnostics who feel isolated amidst a sea of delusional believers. That's it. Deal with it.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • Moon

      Google "Gnu Atheists". I think they concentrate here on this blog.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • Crad

      Religion by definition does not have to revolve around a deity. Athiests are always saying theyre not religious, but they behave this way.. And this behavior is religious. There are many definitions of religion. Athiests are number two

      March 1, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
    • Crad

      Trh, you have got to be kidding me. You think this billboard is for atheists? Talk about delusional

      March 1, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • Double You Tee Eff

      Agreed. Atheism contradicts itself becuase it believes there is no God. Belief in non-belief? Come on guys at least name yourselves something fun like "I don't believe in anything except believeing there should be people that shouldn't believe in God".

      March 1, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • sybaris

      and "so what" if you call atheism a religion? Is that the latest pseudo-clever method to argue with atheists making the email circuit?

      Regardless, whatever you call it, the position still opposes belief in a god.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • Fr33th1nk3r

      Atheism is a religion now? Really?
      I don't see atheists waging wars all throughout history over whose version of God is more righteous. I don't see atheists trying to take away anybody's civil rights over their belief system. I don't see atheists flying planes into buildings, or going on shooting rampages (I think James Brunn in 2009 was one of the first in a very, very long time). I don't see atheists committing ethnic cleansings. I don't see any atheist churches either.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
  3. Blessed Geek

    For invoking/defacing the ineffable Name, you have made me turn against you.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  4. LAborn

    If they don't believe in anything, why would they advertise to try and recruit? Weird.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • KEKC

      They are trying to help you.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • MizzouJournalism

      You really need to think a little before you post. The real point is to eradicate the world of religion so people have one less reason to fight and hate. Since religion is the primary reason for closed minded ness and hate, it's the best target to bring down if you want feedom and peace.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
    • Crad

      Mizzo. I got news for you. God doesnt cause wars, people do. And athiesm is just another human invention. Ive heard two athiests going at each others throats, one for believing in the concept of good, and the other claiming theres no such thing as good. So even in athiesm there is always a heirarchy and denomination. Theyr are just as religious as anyone else

      March 1, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  5. khanjee

    You know Atheists are sick and they always have a right to see a shrink.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • Robert

      Believers are the ones that are delusional.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • MizzouJournalism

      Right...the ones that DON'T believe the myth need help. How is that Santa Claus belief working for you since its just as believable as a god.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • Crad

      Mizzo. There is a general consensus and acknowledgment that santa claus and other fairy tales are made up. There has NEVER been a question. God on the other hand has been talked about and in peoples minds since as far back as history. Its not at all the same. In fact, this whole "santa claus" thing athiests always mock with, is really not a valid point at all. Logically speaking. And why you so angry about everything?

      March 1, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
    • sybaris

      khanjee, so by your logic all babies are sick and should see a shrink.

      You are born an atheist. Atheism is the default position.

      If you claim otherwise you are dishonest.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • sybaris

      Crad, so what you are saying is that any god that predates the christian god is the valid one.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
    • Fr33th1nk3r

      So...what you are trying to say, CRAD, is that Christianity is accurate...because it is more popular? At least Santa Claus was based on a real, living, breathing person whose existence we can verify.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
  6. Double You Tee Eff

    The symbol for atheism is an atom? Do I get extra IQ points for joining? Rather I'll join the anti-atheists! Atheism exists only because theism exists. Atheism also contradicts itself becuase it believes there is no God. Belief in non-belief? Come on guys at least name yourselves something fun like "I don't believe in anything except believeing there should be people that shouldn't believe in God".

    March 1, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  7. Joe

    Dear fellow athiests: Please stop acting like crazy religous zealots. You have become just as annoying as they are.

    On the bright side of this, we might have finally found a way to bring Jews and Muslims together.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
  8. Jeremy

    To push your beliefs (or non/anti beliefs as it were), is no different than a religious group pushing their beliefs about the existence of a god. Both are unsolicited and only rile people up of all flavors and colors. Why incite controversy? What can one gain from this?

    Truly, a freedom of religion/non-religion is about people responding on their own volition without the help of some 'organization', marketers, billboards (lol). Its sad really.

    Spending 15K for a big sign is just dumb and makes no sense at all if the intent is lure 'isolated' people out of the woodwork. 15K could buy tons of hotdogs and beer...you might get many more non-believers that way.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • U.S.Army-OverLord

      Someone should make you the president of that group LOL 😉

      March 1, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  9. Dooder

    Horus. Google him. Free your mind.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • Ty

      Youre thinking of Osiris.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  10. Ben

    I think religion is poison. Period. The people who practice religion are generally good, but I hope to abolish religion because the mere practice of it is what allows religion extremism to exist in ANY fashion. Yes, you Christmas and Easter Catholics are part of the problem.

    We treat our fellow humans with respect not because a god put us here to test our mettle, but because we all share this earth. Each and every one of us has a responsibility to improve the world for our fellow humans. We only have each other, and that is such a beautiful approach to living life with purpose.

    Forget god, live life for your families, your neighbors, your enemies, and those yet to come.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
  11. John

    My Agnostic Poem

    I believe, but in what I just don't know. My mind races with possibilities, but there is no one here to listen. My heart screams for understanding and I wait for the one who will hear me. Maybe today is the day, or maybe I'll have to wait another. In my life I've learned patience the hard way because patience is all I really have. Patience that maybe one day all of my prayers will be heard, and my questions answered. I'll poke and prod under every page looking for the elusive key, and just maybe in my diligence the mighty one will reward my persistence. At the end of this rainbow I pray that the secrets I unlock are all wrapped in a loving embrace.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • Free Thinker

      Typical. Poems are beautiful and inspiring to their creator, and to everyone else they are just silly and annoying. Stop kidding yourself into thinking you have some kind of talent, or message.

      March 3, 2012 at 1:27 am |
  12. David

    god, jesus, abraham, etc are all myths created by man

    March 1, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • U.S.Army-OverLord

      And Atheist is the biggest myth of all.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • Robert

      US Army Overlord – This forum is in English. Please master the language first.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • TRH

      U.S.Army-OverLord:

      No...it's simply choosing NOT to believe in a deity. What problem could you have with that? Choosing NOT TO BELIEVE is not a myth, therefore your statement is juvenile quite frankly.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • Crad

      You have an ahistorical view on jesus huh? You do realize that most historians say that jesus existed, its whether he was god or a crazy person thats the question. The fact that you are denying history just because you hate god is actually a little more scary than religion.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • U.S.Army-OverLord

      So let me guess you are a moderator now? Clearly if you don't like typos then don't read it. You fake athierst kill me with your false superior intellect. (how does that grab you)

      March 1, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  13. Don

    I don't get it. If you don't believe, then don't believe, live and die. What's the point? Sounds like this person is just lonely, but I won't waste a prayer on him. LOL.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • Phil

      Don, you sound like Mick from a couple of hours ago. "life is pointless without god".

      No it isn't. Quit acting like it is. Life is what you make it...not what some book of fiction written and conceived by man, thousands of years ago, wants you to be.

      We atheists are not depressed, sad, lifeless, hopeless, suicidal people. Why can't you jug heads understand that?

      March 1, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • veritas

      I have been an atheist for the last 30 years of my life.....andI I am feeling pretty good...no ghost, gods or goblins in my life. I do good when ever I can. .....the other day I stopped to help an old lady with a flat tire. And as I was fixing it I wondered how many xians went by...? When I was done she offered me 50 bucks....and I didn't take it...I tiold her I was there to help...not get paid snd left...

      March 1, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
  14. Noodles

    God did not come to create religion. Religion is a lie. Jesus is real and he will be back with his army of angels
    (the belivers). Sadly Non believers will not realize until they die that God/Jesus is one God and real. Man has twisted the bible and created religion! How do you so called Atheists know there is no God? How do you know what happens to your spirit when you have past? Why take a chance. Follow jesus not man! Rebellious ppl.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • Norman

      Where is AdvBerg these days?

      March 1, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • David

      without religion there would be no bible. it is a collection of texts from various myths and religions. so without religion how do you kow Jesus is coing back?

      March 1, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • U.S.Army-OverLord

      The Holy Spirit for one Dave, it's the reason that the Bible and the teachings of Christ will endure forever. But good luck with the God-Less pitch though. 😉

      March 1, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  15. Flex

    Great....apparently the atheists know how to "shoot themselves in the foot", this would cause the alliance front of Christians and Muslims, so here they come atheists, your so called "myth" will turn into harsh reality.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  16. Ed

    I am an atheist, but I have no desire to bring anyone over to my side. It took me a lot of thought and reflection to come to atheism.

    People kill for god, and I have no desire to become a "martyr"

    Apparently god is a touchy subject!

    March 1, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • U.S.Army-OverLord

      People kill for any or no reason at all. Don't blame God for that.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • khanjee

      Hundred of thousands got killed for oil too.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "Don't blame God for that"

      You must have not read the OT. By the way over 480 million people have been killed because of religion.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • U.S.Army-OverLord

      So if you read the OT you know that the world deserved what it got during the flood. People die everyday, so now I should turn my back on my God (who has shown me he is real by the way) because people killed for power and lust under the lie of religion ?

      March 1, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • Mike

      " I am an atheist, but I have no desire to bring anyone over to my side. It took me a lot of thought and reflection to come to atheism. "

      I couldn't agree more.

      And do you ever wonder:

      why women will never have equality? Doesn't the bible refer to the man as the ruler?

      why the vast majority of wars start?

      Hmmm...maybe religion has something to do with it!

      Just a thought !!

      March 1, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • Fr33th1nk3r

      Why would you NOT blame God if they are killing in his name?

      March 1, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
    • Crad

      People are evil. Theu took the word of god and weaponized it. Thats not gods fault. We also discovered atomic energy and created a bomb. Is just how people are. But why athiests look at this behavior and reverse it by saying its gods desire for them to go out and kill millions of people is bizarre. Some mom drove her car with her kids into a river, i dont think all moms are evil.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
    • Crad

      Fre33. Seriously? I mean come on, just because someone kills in someones name doesnt mean thats what god wants. It just means those people are perverted. They flew planes into a building on 9-11 in the name of god but i seriously doubted thats what god wanted. And yes, its all the same god.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "So if you read the OT you know that the world deserved what it got during the flood. "

      So you don't know your bible do you, your god ordered killings. DUH!

      March 1, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
  17. U.S.Army-OverLord

    The problem with this group is they are just like a church now. You got billboards, You are trying to get non believers to come out of the closet?!? I believe another group owns that phrase now. 😉 But where are the hard core non believers at? Let me see you go overseas to Iraq and preach your gospel. I bet you guys are passing an offering plate as well if you can afford all this money for billboards. 😉

    March 1, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "The problem with this group is they are just like a church now. "

      Oh please your just spewing crap our of your azz, with no facts to back it up.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • Free Thinker

      Why would anyone go to Iraq? You would have to be as retarded as Sara Palin's kid. (Not the one with Down's Syndrome, the one who volunteered to go fight a pointless and shameful war on behalf of big oil companies and other major corporate interests.) Do you actually have puppet string attached to your back so your corporate overlords can dance you off to war whenever and wherever they choose?

      March 3, 2012 at 1:33 am |
  18. Duke

    Look... This is silly. Why must Atheists try to convert religious people? Likewise, why must religious people attempt to convert atheists? There's no validness in such action, as most of the time it only sparks religious warfare. Perhaps the only truly free haven left in the world is your mind... You can use it to believe in whatever you want to. Why insult Christianity? Or Judaism? Or Islam? "Flying Spaghetti Monsters" and "Dr. Pepper Addicts" are what we've come down to... Completely immature (although I laughed my butt off at that one South Park episode xD).

    March 1, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • Jessica Whitney

      It may be clear to you that it is a choice to participate in a religion, but it is only a choice if you are aware of the other options. There are those who are not aware that it is a choice. This movement is to reach out to those. NOT to convert people who choose religion.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
  19. Rudolfo

    I'm an atheist and I believe it's a mistake to do exactly what we accuse "believers" of doing – proselytizing. We should try to educate people about the dangers of religion or at least discuss, in the public square, the benefits of critical thinking.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • DarthWoo

      They try, and they just get accused of exactly the same thing.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • Chikkipop

      I'm an atheist and I think it is fine to proselytize.

      Your two sentences are contradictory. I agree with the second.

      March 1, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
  20. FF

    Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ had it right, when he said, "When I return, will I find faith?", based on the above to billboards, the answer is probably not. My God of mercy on the US.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • Phil

      There are planets around nearly every star in our galaxy. There are billions of stars in our galaxy alone. There are billions of galaxies. You do the math...

      How many planets out of the trillions out there could support life? A few hundred million? Do you think we have some privileged place in the universe? Do you think that the god you pray to favors us over other life that might be out there? I can wrap my head around the idea of a god...it's simple. Create an imaginary being who is all powerful. Now create an adversary so things can stay in balance... One cannot exist without the other...otherwise what's the point? Convince others that these beings are watching over them all the time - and they must do good......or else.

      That sounds a bit threatening to me. Religion always has been a crock.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:11 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.