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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. Rich B

    This kind of billboard is similar to the anti-choice billboards in the central valley in California. Nobody gets upset enough about them to write a news article. There are screamers on both sides of the "god question". Neither of them contribute to a real dialogue, if one is possible. I think there is a double standard at work here. In the U.S., when evangelicals trumpet their wacko views, they are courted by politicians. Since atheists are a smaller group, they are treated like an uppity minority group. As others have said, I believe that most atheists don't want to be associated with some wacko billboard posting group. We're individuals whose lives don't revolve around promoting myths like christianity. We try to respect others' opinions and hope that non-atheists would do the same.

    March 1, 2012 at 11:59 am |
  2. Arm

    No wonder why those atheists cannot run for presidency..... UNEDUCATED AND EVIL!

    March 1, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • BasedInReality

      If you dare do a bit of research you will find that most atheists are far more educated, tolerant and compassionate than the religious. There are no groups of people we must exclude or hate unlike religions. Do you really think people like Brad Pitt who continually goes down to New Orleans with his tool belt strapped on and helps people rebuild in the poorest areas is evil? Or, Bill Gates who has given millions and millions to help alleviate suffering – he is evil? There is far more involvement of the secular segment of society that contributes than you are aware – they just don't waive it around and demand public notice.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
  3. v

    And Atheism rears its true head... a religion being forced in everyone's faces, saying "its stupid to believe anything, so believe in nothing like the rest of us!".. "but we still think we are better than religions, even though we are now doing the exact same thing!" Really intelligent... you atheists are no better than religious hypocrites, and are bigots in the same way..

    March 1, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • momoya

      Oh please. Atheists are tiny percent of the population, and very few of those are outspoken. These billboards are an encouragement to those atheists who feel they must remain in the closet for fear of being mistreated or relegated to second-class status in their community. Put up with it, and do it with a smile, believers. Heck, have a good belly-laugh over it at our expense. You would to our faces...

      March 1, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
  4. ah292801

    Did they just call the holocaust a myth?

    March 1, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • Rob

      No they did not. They called god a myth. most Atheists are critical thinkers and don't doubt historical fact. The point of the billboards is to give support to those who may be struggling with their lack of faith, and can see that there is support outside of their religion.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
  5. Julie L

    I was born and raised as an Atheist and converted to Christianity in 2005. Christianity makes me happy and loved..... prayer changes believe me!

    Atheism is a religion, however they won't admit it. It's a belief of lack of any God. They seek people to leave their religion... that's what billboards are for. No wonder why I left my Atheism faith THANK GOD.

    March 1, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • hippypoet

      you are a moron if you believe being an atheist is being part of a religion – perhaps you are just a moron and thats the real reason why you became a christian – you felt the need to be with others of your intellect. Tell me besides an easement to your mind of "what happens after death" or "why life is" why you became a christian? And how EXACTLY does prayer change anything? its the way you think and therefore its just you changing things and not prayer – its called placebo affect! When you believe something stronge enough no matter the evidence to the contrary is when you have entered a delusion – let us know please.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • Ryan

      Great point. There is no physical evidence for or against the existence of God, so to explicitly and outrightly deny his existence is to take a leap of faith. Here's a comparison: by definition, I can explicitly state that there is no such thing as a five-sided triangle because the definition of a triangle is a polygon with three sides. There is no such argument for or against the existence of God as a supernatural being because nothing supernatural can be confirmed or denied by scientific reason and investigation. Either position is faith-based.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • v

      @hippypoet You are forcing your views on other people, and are a bigot just like your "religious enemies". Get a grip, grow up and get out of the 70's, your hippy poetry isn't contributing to society in anyway, and you are acting no different than the people you hate... you might want to seek counseling

      March 1, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • BasedInReality

      I was raised a christian and in 1987 I questioned the truth of it and researched its origins and history and realized it was total mythological nonsense. I was elated beyond words and have never ever felt happier in my life. I could never ever buy into that delusion or any other religious delusion again. My life has more meaning and is far more precious to me now than it ever was as a christian.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
  6. Danman

    Jesus did not like religion, suprise right? The churches were corrupt and have never changed, they are run by men, not by God.
    Religion is between you and whatever you believe.
    Where there is breath he is there, turn over a rock and he is there, smell a flower and he is there.....
    The world is infinitely more beautifull than the inside of any church or the mind of it's priests....

    March 1, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  7. Naija

    ”I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”-Stephen Roberts

    March 1, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • Nii Croffie

      Wow u have read that quote! I have read Aristotle, Plato, the Bible, Quran, The DIDACHE, Think and Grow Rich, etc. Seems they talked too much of God in there. Send more quotes.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
  8. Nii Croffie

    DISCRIMINATION HERE! I AM USING A FON WITH NO ABUSE BUTTON! WAAAAH

    March 1, 2012 at 11:56 am |
  9. Matt

    Between the Islamist and the JDL...they're going to get a rude awakening. I don't consider myself an Atheist just because I don't believe in Abrahamic theologies, but Christians don't kick like those heat stroked desert dwellers. Just because Christians will put up with your crap doesn't mean those other two clown conventions won't flat out kill you.

    March 1, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • funny

      atheist is just another organized way of life (religion) by man

      March 1, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • Bobs your uncle

      LOL @ clown conventions.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
  10. Patrick

    I asked an atheist; who made this table he answered: The carpenter, I asked him again; who made your car; he answered: The factory, I asked him again; who made your shoes; he answered: The shoe factory, then I asked him, who made/created you atheists; his answer was: complete silence!!!!!!!!!!

    March 1, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • fototherapist

      His parents made him.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • Flying Spaghetti Monster

      His parents?

      March 1, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • starbucjo

      My parents!!!

      March 1, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • momoya

      I asked god who made him, and he said, "Nobody made me! I'm the one thing that doesn't need a maker!"

      I asked, "So you're an atheist, then?" And he replied that he was, since no higher being existed. So I asked him why he allowed people to have so many different views of him and what he wants, and yet all those people agree on what the rules of chemistry and math were, and he just sort of faded away into mist- I mean- myth.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • jth

      It's not like we've never heard that silly argument before....

      March 1, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • Rich B

      The atheist replied, who made the person who made me?
      To which the non-atheist replied, "Who made the person who made the person who made you?"
      To which the atheist replied, "Who made the person who ....."
      etc.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • BasedInReality

      I do know that even a new born baby is made of molecules that are at least 13.5 billion years old because there are no molecules that were not formed in the furnaces of the first stars that exploded and spewed out those molecules in the forms of the common elements of iron (in your blood cells), calcium (in your bones), etc. In fact the molecules that make up your body probably came from several different stars and eventually will be recyled into new life. Before biology there was chemistry and before chemistry there was physics and before physics there was quantum physics and before that there was nothing and nothing, we now know, is higly unstable and will naturally lead to something.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
  11. Jacob Johnson

    I'm a little confused by this statement:

    "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."

    Judaism is a religion. You cannot be Jewish if you are an agnostic or atheist. Would it make sense to say that 53% of Christians "identified" as nonreligious? I imagine that the intention was to say that 53% of the people whose parents were Jewish had left Judaism. (Please–I hope the intention is spread the old mistake that Judaism is a "race." You can change from being a Christian to being a Jew, or leave Judasim to become a Christian or an atheist.)

    March 1, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • Jacob Johnson

      Sorry–I meant to say that "I hope the intention is not to spread the old mistake..."

      March 1, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • Gene

      Actually, one only needs to have a Jewish mother to be considered Jewish, at least in mainstream Judaism (some groups like the Karaites go by patrilineal heritage). This applies to religious Jews, agnostics & atheists, or those who convert to another faith. So the statement about 53% being nonreligious isn't a contradiction of any sorts.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • Rob

      Jacob, jews share both a religion and a culture. Until a hundred years ago, jews did not marry outside of their religion; hence a bloodline. Thats why jews get tested for certain diseases when they get pregnant, as those diseases are mostly exclusive to jews, such as krohns disease and taysachs. The very same as someone of african descent has a higher chance of sickle cell – it is a specific 'nationality' for lack of a better word within the human race.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  12. ah292801

    Why can't atheists just respect people who believe differently? They continually say Christians shouldn't be allowed to discuss their religion. . .but yet they keep talking about their atheistic religion. Theism is not necessarily required for religion. Read the definition in any dictionary.

    March 1, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • jth

      How is this pushing ANYTHING on religious people? To the contrary, religions are constantly trying to push their agenda onto others.

      This message is for the people who feel afraid to come out because of fear of what their families or communities would say. If religion were not so socially oppressive, these signs would not be needed.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
  13. Jeff

    This group is proselytizing. Get a grip. If people believe in what you believe in, they will find you. Put up a billboard that says who you are if you want - include your email address or website. But do you have to go and insult others to make your point. You can stay where you are but just don't shove your beliefs in my face. No better than religious activists/politicians who proselytize and/or try to force their religious beliefs on others.

    March 1, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  14. Dave

    I'm an atheist, and I hate these billboards. I would never tell anyone, unsolicited, that their beliefs are wrong.

    March 1, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • momoya

      So you wouldn't tell a person with a disgusting belief (say Hitler) that he is wrong? O.o Wow!

      March 1, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • Dave

      That was a useless, straw man reply. Move along.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • toxictown

      Dave, me too. Uneccessary.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • FSM

      I agree with you Dave. I am an Atheist as well, but I don't judge people based upon their beliefs. In my opinion, the billboards are rude.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  15. tellthetruth1

    It's a shame if the Christians "don't really care" with what's said about them. That's as sad a sign of these times as anything. The disciples/apostles cared about Christ's teachings to make sure people heard about Him at their own risk! Shouldn't we at least be the same?

    March 1, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  16. Mitch

    Here is what I know. Atheists have the highest suicide rate and the lowest charity rate of any religion or non religion. I think that clears everything up.

    March 1, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • Flying Spaghetti Monster

      here is what I know, I can make up statistics on the fly...

      March 1, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • Dan

      References please. Don't go spouting statistics if you can't provide the references.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
  17. :)

    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.

    pretty much what i did.. /lol spending 15,000$ on a sign... you have a better chance of getting your word out on the internet...

    who spends 15,000$ to put words on sign.. i can spam it for free... idiots.

    March 1, 2012 at 11:54 am |
  18. Frogman

    I can't help but wonder how many people muslims will kill over these billboards.

    March 1, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • :)

      would anyone miss them? 🙂

      March 1, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • GodPot

      I can tell from these boards the "Christlike" loving and caring Christians who aren't supposed to pass judgement on others won't miss us, though their Christ might have if he really did exist. Rather a shame they choose to abandon their own teachers teachings in favor of self righteous murder.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  19. JMG

    I just don't get it...why is someone's belief or lackthereof subject to being promotional? I really, TRULY believe that is what is wrong with this Country. Here we have X group who thinks, believes, acts a certain way, and they feel EVERYONE has to know about it. It's basically their own principles encased in narcissism, but faith is supposed to be about YOU, not everyone else. I also find the whole atheist movement to be extremely ironic, where in order for you to exist, you have to attack the beliefs of the people who believe in what you claim is not real. So to me, why not just live your life as an atheist and stop worrying about people who do not? No one forces them to think a certain way, so why is a personal choice everyone else's concern or burden to bare? That to me is what the idea even LESS credible. Where everything done appears to be out of rebellion instead of principle. I am a Christian, but I do not concern myself with what Muslims, Catholics, Agnostics, etc. do or DO NOT believe. My faith is personal and I am not sure when it became protocol for people to rage wars with those who think otherwise. That is not faith at that point....

    March 1, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • Frogman

      It's great when faith, or the lack thereof is a personal. Faith only becomes a problem when the faithful want to make their faith public policy. Like the republican presidential candidates are doing now.

      March 1, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  20. alateos

    Atheists have the fairy tale thing right. Though, they don't exactly present an alternative to deal with this meaningless existence. Keep trying...

    March 1, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • JMG

      Excellent point! They don't present an alternative, so how can it be considered a "myth". I can sit here and say S. America is a myth because I choose not to believe it, but someone can prove me wrong by taking me there. What a lot of these people do not realize that people who practice faith and live by the concept of a spiritual connection of people, there is a great deal of EXPERIENCE they have that cannot be disputed, and sometimes explained. So until someone can tell me how things occur in this World that no person, study, etc. can answer, then how are we calling people's faith myths?

      March 1, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      alateos .. sometimes there is no alternative, things just are as they are, it's called reality. If you need an alternative to a meaningless existence you may just want to try another philosophy to come to grips with a reality you may not like. But you've hit the nail on the head as to "why" people choose to believe .. it makes them feel secure having an alternate reality.

      March 1, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • IslandAtheist

      Do you believe Mithra to be a myth?

      March 1, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • Rodney

      The burden of proof is on the ones that claim it in the first place. There are no Atheist without Theists.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      JMG .. your argument does nothing more than make God simply the anthropomorphised definition of "I don't know the answer". Not knowing an answer is NOT evidence of a God(s). HISTORY has shown religions to be myths .. do you believe in the Gods of ancient Greece or the Myans or the philosophies if Buddhism or Hinduism? Tell me about the cargo cults of the Pacific Islands .. not myths?! The challenge is yours to explain otherwise.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • toxictown

      Well, the alternative is just science and observation. Existance is neither meaningless nor meaningful – it just is.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • alateos

      Just saying... we all know we exist and that there is something bigger we know nothing about. I would subscribe to the school of atheism only if it had a scientific and observable path to some sort of meaning. I personally believe a life is best lived with meaning.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:08 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.