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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

    Alright we ARE trying to convert people, just give us 1,800 years, the treat of Govt. Force and torture....than we will be even

    March 1, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
  2. YeahOk

    "If you choose not to believe then fine. But leave me and my religion alone. I am not going to try and convert you, if you're atheist, to Christianity since you've obviously chosen your path so why even bother trying to convince me that there is no God when I simply will not believe you?"

    Well, apparently you I don't have to worry about, but there are plenty of others that try to do things that influence my life based on their holy book.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • YeahOk

      Damn, did it again, was suppose to be a reply.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
  3. KEKC

    Imagine there's no heaven
    It's easy if you try
    No hell below us
    Above us only sky
    Imagine all the people living for today

    Imagine there's no countries
    It isn't hard to do
    Nothing to kill or die for
    And no religion too
    Imagine all the people living life in peace...

    March 1, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  4. John

    So essentially this is a forum for atheist trolls to pick arguments that have already been stated and nothing more as far as content. Yadda yadda we don't have to believe in your god. Well, you're right, you don't. Anything else? Oh well it entertained me for a moment.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • momoya

      Maybe their reason is the same as yours: entertainment. Are you suggesting that you can involve yourself for entertainment and others shouldn't?

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

      No, we don't have to believe in god. Yet the religious peoples of the world have the habit of making the non-believers feel somehow inferior. If they can't accept criticism of their beliefs, then they shouldn't dish it out either.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
  5. SickofCNNBumps

    Where's the news that 2 GI's were killed by Afgan troops after Obummer said his apology calmed everything?

    March 1, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • Kingofthenet

      Yup, should have told them to go F themselves, that would have done so much more good.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
  6. Frank Foder

    Yes, god is a myth. But I like myths. A lot of our culture is based on myths. American exceptionalism? A myth. Freedom for all? A myth. A government by the people and for the people? A myth. Everyone love one another? A myth. But they're feel-good myths.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • John

      God doesn't believe in aetheist

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

      80%. Not bad, but you missed the most important one.

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

      Nature has no rules.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • HeroicSlug

      Your god doesn't believe in Atheists?

      Well, since I'm here, I'll take that to be an admission on your part that the words of your god are meaningless.

      Glad you've taken a step in the right direction.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
  7. MizzouJournalism

    There are a lot of people that are ignorant of Atheism and why people are atheists posting here. Discussion level of a fourth grader quite frankly. Religion is the poison of the world that suppresses freedom and open mindedness. It is just a tool used to control the masses and nothing more. If wanting to free the world of such a poison is bad, then I am a horrible person.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • Robert Carlson

      Amen!

      March 1, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • programmergirl

      So all religion does is 'poison' people and its only purpose is to 'control the mobs'? i find that amusing! If you take a look around the world, you will see that some of the most impressive architecture in buildings comes from faith-inspired people. The same can be said of music, paintings, sculptures and the list goes on. My faith does not lead me to commit acts of violence; to the contrary, it encourages me to be a better person. I KNOW God exists and feel sorry for atheists, those poor people who live with no invisible means of support!

      March 1, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • HeroicSlug

      A brainwashed person who creates a beautiful work of art is still brainwashed.

      Religion can be inspiring. But it is a hope built on a foundation of myths. We evolved the god delusion to help us feel significant, protected, and hopeful.

      Now that we all have a basic foundation on knowledge though, we can feel significant and hopeful because of the things we know and the work we do to improve things. Safety comes from civilization.

      The god adaptation is not required to the degree for modern man as it was for primitive man.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
  8. Chach

    I can't speak for all "atheists". I don't really like the label. I just "am". For myself, I can say that what I am could be best described as a "clean slate". Neither dis-belief nor belief. It is the absence of any religious dogmatic, mythologiical doctrine. I don't recognize any religion as truth, because they can't all be right so then all must be wrong. If there was one out of the countless belief systems that was correct, then it MUST be 100% correct and therefore undeniable, provable and accepted by all. Sort of like it is undeniable that all water is 2 hydrogen atoms and one oxygen. That isn't something I have to believe in, it just "is". Or the "theory" of gravity. It just is. There's no point in arguing about whether one believes it or not. So it's better to describe it as knowing or not knowing, than believing or not. I can't know that there is a god called yawweh any more than I can know that there is a god called Zeus. If there is any kind of higher life form and / or consiousness that is responsible for "everything" it seems likely that "it" is either incapable or unwilling to come right out and tell us all which of the many religous belief systems has got it 100% right. "It" also seems to care very little about or unable to do anything about human suffering or cruelty. Science is far more effective than prayer. That is precisely why hospitals are 100 times more effective at healing than churches. I would ask the "faithful": If you break you leg, and you must choose between going to the hospital to get the bone set and casted or going to church and praying to God to make it better. Which would you choose? Or if you get cancer, or heart disease? Can God grow limbs back, or does "he" simply choose not to? I mean, if God can heal the sick, why can't he grow limbs back or regenerate spinal cords? I know things from science that religion can not explain. If we could ALL agree that the best way to get closer to understanding the creator would be to study and better understand the secrets of the creation, imagine how far the human race would be today! Science is the closest we can all come to agreeing on everything. Like I said before, you can't argue whether or not gravity exists, so let's start there and work our way up

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

      exactly. hit the nail on the head

      March 1, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
    • A Candid Look

      In your world there is no faith.... things just are. That is a very dry world to live in... as far as theory is concerned it is as enigmatic as religous beliefs... Example 2 hydrogen and on oxygen make water ... it is proven fact. Gravity is theoretical therefor un prove ... SO it does not fit your example of "it just is". For that matter (no punintended here) E=MC2 is not proven either.... nor is the light speed time dialation effect.... You can't have this both ways ... if you believe in fact only then the only thing you can believe in is the composition of water.... (based on your statement)

      March 1, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • Chach

      @Candid. Oh I have a lot of faith. I have faith in humanity's intellectual potential to do great things motivated purely by their own will, instead of being motivated by fear of hellfire or retribution from an angry cloud dweller. Fear is terrible motivator. So you don't believe in gravity? But you do believe everything in the bible? Great argument. Gravity exists. The only theory is how it works. There is far more evidence that suggests that E=MC2 is correct than there is proof that any one of the many Christian belief systems is true, or Muslim or Judaism or or or or or. At least Science encourages and adapts to greater understanding. Religion demands acceptance under threat of punishment.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • HeroicSlug

      Time dilation is experimentally proven.

      Mass/energy equivalence is experimentally proven.

      The facts, straightened they must be.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
  9. Jack Pearl

    Considering what happened with South park and Theo Van Gogh, there is no way this can end well. A small part of me admires their courage, if not their sensitivity or their common sense.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
  10. Adam

    Why is this article the main headliner on CNN? As if there is nothing more important in the world than these billboards.

    This is pure propaganda disguised as journalism. For shame.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • A Candid Look

      Perhaps you missed what happened when an atheist dressed up as mohammed? An act of physical violence occorred. This will cetainly foment more of these incidents... If enough of them happen... what then?

      March 1, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  11. Joshua

    God will stablish His kingdom.

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

      Seems like a rational, sensible statement... no need to tell me what side you are on here. lol...
      Hey, if you can't win the next argument, just threaten with Hell maybe?

      March 1, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • A Candid Look

      You viewed that as a threat???? Are you that insecure???

      March 1, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
  12. JVN

    People have always used religion to judge or kill people. I don't see why people truly believe THEIR religion is the right one and all others are wrong. It's causing some serious hatred in this country and across the world. People assume me and my family are christians, but i am just worried to speak my mind knowing how they will judge me and see me as less of a friend, neighbor. This happened to me many of times before when i tell them how I feel about religion. I am tired of feeling pressured to think like them and talk about their morals and values.... UGH... It seems the less educated areas in the US i visit, the more religious they are. I sometimes wonder if the simple mind are just less critical of what they are told and easier to manipulate.

    Let me ask you this, if you were born in a muslim country and ALL the people around you were muslim and you were taught this faith from birth... do you truly think you would be a christian today? You are simply a product of your culture and upbringing. Religion was created to control people in a time when they were starving, poor and desperate. It just baffles me that people in this day and age don't question it more and learn about the true history of their faith...

    March 1, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • A Candid Look

      So ois the religion to blame ... or the people that twist it? People tell us all the time that the Islamic religion is one of peace.... So, for that matter, is Christianity.

      Is it the people or the religion???

      Seems to be the people... 😉

      March 1, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
  13. t-bone

    These billboards do nothing but put the Atheists on par with the very people they belittle.
    This is nothing more than forcing their "non-religion" on the world.

    Way to lower yourself to the level of those you pretend to be better than.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • YeahOk

      So atheists should just shut up and let religions take over the world?

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

      Exactly! Why is noone ever sensitive to the Athiests? we always have to bend over and take it because the Christians like to push it down our throats..

      March 1, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
    • ProudHumanist - Look it Up

      You should probably look up "force" in the dictionary.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
    • me

      I don't think you get it, its not so much saying they think your wrong, as to saying I have science to prove you are wrong. It's more a statement of fact as opposed to opinion, which is masqueraded as faith and somehow justified.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
  14. Arthur Paliden

    Que the world wide riots by Muslims in 3 , 2, 1 ...

    March 1, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  15. t-bone

    These billboards do nothing but put the Atheists on par with the very people they belittle.
    This is nothing more than forcing their "non-religion" on the world.

    W

    March 1, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  16. Abbot

    He dared talk about alllalalah?? He is prob dead man walking. Obama will soon apologize for this.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
  17. Spiffy

    This is an appeal to closest atheists. It is not trying to convert people. Most people wouldn't lose their faith over a billboard. I have heard too many stories about atheists thinking they are alone in their doubt, and this is an attempt to make others know that there are others out there who share their way of thinking.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
  18. shadi

    they need to learn how to translate correctly. Their Hebrew translation is wrong and out of sequnce. please excuss my poor English.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • A Candid Look

      Your englishis fine.... Thanks for posting this, I am sure our intellectual elite (aka atheists) will enjoy it... They will probably deny that it is incorrect....

      March 1, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • Brandon

      No, it IS translated correctly. Hebrew is read from right to left, without vowels in it's day when Yud-Heh-Vahv-Heh (yahweh) was conceived. That is, of course, you know more than those excavating the sites are Jerusalem and the caves at Qumran.

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

      thanks bro...its nice to read good positive responce from people like your self

      March 1, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
    • shadi

      brandon, trust me man, its wrong...i am from israel, and i read and write hebrew....its out of sequence and was translated poorly..

      March 1, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • A Candid Look

      Sorry Shadi, we have now seen the intellectual elite in ACTION, unfortunately, as I predicted.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  19. Thomas Armstrong

    what's absolutely hilarious about this is that there is literally no point to becoming an Atheist in terms of benefit, what has Atheism ever contributed, maybe you can say the same about religions but i just don't believe your going to "convert" people to Atheism there is no reward, no promise , and no hope, its basically like yea we are all in trouble lets all believe it together, people already know that Atheism doesn't need to tell them, stop destroyed people's hope

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

      Yeah, what have atheists ever contributed. Other then 93% of the National Academy of Science.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • A Candid Look

      Oh ... so that is why our scientists pronounce with certainty the end of the world as we know it....

      March 1, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • JVN

      Well for starters, we never killed people to become an athiest or used it as a way to scare and control people. I'd say that's kinda big!

      March 1, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • Snap

      Your perception of what atheists are doing or trying to achieve is your own, and that is why they seem crazy to you. But the truth is far different and varied.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • ProudHumanist - Look it Up

      Atheism is not the lack of hope. It is believing that our goodness come from ourselves, not the mythical belief in a sky-god.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • Free Thinker

      So you don't think that the removal of organized religion from the world would have a countless number of benefits? OK, but the next time someone in your family can't get stem cell treatment here in America (the greatest nation in the world!) for a serious illness you can explain your beliefs to them and see what they think. If that opportunity never presents itself (and I hope it doesn't) you could always go visit some female burn victims in the Middle East and talk about the violence suffered at the hands of their husbands, all justified by their religious beliefs. The range of examples between those two extremes are far too numerous to count. Don't kid yourself into thinking that organized religion is not one of the most destructive and divisive and utterly terrible forces in the world.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • A Candid Look

      I did not kill anyone either... SO?

      March 1, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
  20. Mike

    If you choose not to believe then fine. But leave me and my religion alone. I am not going to try and convert you, if you're atheist, to Christianity since you've obviously chosen your path so why even bother trying to convince me that there is no God when I simply will not believe you?
    Don't you have better things to do? Why not spend that energy and money on helping the homeless or starving children? Then at least I could respect you for doing something positive.
    These billboards are meant to do one thing only, despite was the organization claims, and that is to preach hate and intollerance. That is in complete conflict with what the group "claims" they stand for.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • Mike's friend

      Totally agree with you Mike!

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

      We'll leave you and your religion alone... As soon as you remove "god" from schools. As soon as you remove "in god we trust" from currency (implemented in the 1860's and 1950's) and remove "under god" from the pledge...and stop adversing JESUS on a big green board across the nation. As soon as you stop protesting funerals. As soon as the muslims stop killing others for their beliefs.

      Then we'll leave you alone.

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

      Because not all believers are as sensible as you. Why doesn't the church do more for the poor and starving? Why the mega churches built with very expensive precious resources?

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

      Funny, i agree but almost always this pressure is put on us by the Christians..... Doesn't feel good eh? when the shoe is on the other foot??

      March 1, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • Mark

      You're telling atheists not to try to convert others to their way of thinking (which again, is not the point of these billboards)? Why should it be acceptable for christians, jews, muslims or others to convert people to their religion, but once a group of atheists speaks up it is frowned upon? Sounds like a serious double standard to me.

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

      And as a gay man as well as an Atheist, will your religion leave me alone along with the rest of the gay people in the country and allow us to marry?

      If no, then your entire comment is invalid.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • A Candid Look

      Frankly I don'tgive a rosy red rats r*ec*tuM what you believe. My religion is just that, MINE! It is not my job to Judge, or attempt any conversion. There are avenues available for you IF you decide to investigate. I will talk about my beliefs when asked and I will not approach you otherwise except in a purely secular manner. SO why do you intrude on me in this manner? It is like you are trying to take God out of my life... In reverse it is exactly what you accuse me of doing.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • Joeseph J

      Mythology is a necessary part of every culture. People need something to believe in if they can't believe in themselves. It also brings people together. Mike, I don't see any attempt at trying to convert anyone. But everyone has their own interpretation, and they'll see what they want regardless. That includes the author of the message.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • Snap

      You're a typical Christian hypocrite Mike. You say in the first breath not to try to convert someone, then in your second breath you make it abundantly clear that to be on the other side from yourself is to side with hate and evil. I don't give real Christians a hard time at all, but you sir are clearly a Satanist. You believe in Satan, and you behave like him.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
    • Free Thinker

      Please answer QS's reply to your post. If you cannot, perhaps you should do some soul searching. Attending mass every Sunday does not make you a good person. Being a good person makes you a good person. We don't care what your book says. Some things are common sense.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:38 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.