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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. William

    A number of posters have said they find the billboards offensive, because they declare God to be a myth instead of just reaching out to other Atheists. Well, look at it this way; Atheists believe their is no God. It is the core of their philosphy. Why then are they to be judged for professing that belief? If an Atheist has to read how great God is on every Church, Mosque and Synagogue billboard (with such statements being anathema to an Atheist's beliefs) then why shouldn't they espouse the core of their philosophy?

    March 1, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • Anon

      That is ridiculous and you know it. Switch the word religion with any other and see if you feel the same... I am not a mason, Knights of Columbus, etc, but what do I care if other people are? It has nothing to do with me. That is the problem as I see it. Some people just have a need to make EVERYTHING about themselves... MYOB!

      March 1, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • sam

      Anon feels so strongly about his whininess that he/she has to go under the name 'anon'. LOL STFU, tool.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • Anon

      Really sam? Maybe I will set up a billiboard!!!

      March 1, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • sam

      Go ahead; it's a free country. Don't forget to add !!!! a bunch of exclamation points!!! for no reason!!!!

      March 1, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Because of the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

      Once a single person declares a "collective lie" as being a blatant falsehood, another might do the same, because in truth, far less believe than you might suspect.

      That is why theists may hate believers from different cults but they FEAR those who accentuate the collective absurdities of faith because it encourages rebellion and rejection

      You see, even if all non-believers were killed, Atheism would be reborn generation after generation, but if any specific faith is destroyed, it stays dead.

      The Greeks had non-believers and believers just as today, but today’s believers worship DIFFERENT Gods. Even the most devout would believe it silly to still worship Apollo!

      In time we shall also retire Jeebus and Allah and his bombers! Oh, we might name a moon or a space ship or even an SUV after them, but no one will continue to believe. It is just a matter of time.

      It is the logic of history.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • Anon

      Sam, you are not an intellectual just because you are an atheist. You are just a petty little bitc h!!!!!

      March 1, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  2. Anon

    This is the result when you encourage everyone to behave like a whiny little girl. Billboards to shout a lack of belief... What a joke you people are!

    March 1, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • sam

      You seem to be the one whining from post to post in some effort to get your point across...get a life.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • Anon

      Yes, because anon (ymous) is such a distinctive name. One of those brilliant atheists I see...

      March 1, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • sam

      You replied to the wrong post, genius. And an additional 10 idiot points to you for assuming I'm an athiest; logic fail achieved. You must be so proud.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  3. Rainy

    If you believe in love can you prove it is?

    March 1, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • Dana

      "You just have to believe" is not proof.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  4. MormonChristian

    The burden is on us as believers to really behave how we say we believe: love our enemies, forgive, help others, take care of the poor, etc. If all religious people did that, most of the world's ills would disappear.

    What I don't understand is the lie being spread that somehow you can't be a person of faith and an intellectual. Many of us have advanced degrees and still believe there is a Creator.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • momoya

      It's the belief that's amazingly stupid, not the person. Atheists admit that a person can be very intelligent with advanced degrees and yet have one part of their cognition trapped in delusion. There's no disagreement on that point.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
  5. TheButcher

    If you even think you even have the slightest clue about the origins of the universe, life, and beyond. You're an idiot. You might "think" you know. You even may claim to have it all figured out. But you don't. Science is simply the reverse engineering of what already exist and we haven’t even fully defined the science involving our own planet. We are SO far away from "understand" anything about the root of our existence, it's comical anyone speaks about it with any confidence at all. Yet, people argue about it as if they did the research, or they did the math, or they talked to God.... etc. So yea, I believe in the spaghetti monster in the sky. Why? Because it's pretty much the best explanation I have heard so far.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • Frank.Carr

      it's not even about that. There are tons of sciene that could argue with religion. Then again there are tons of science that side with religion. Either way why would you want to live your life with nothing to believe in? Any athiest I ever met was never that happy compared to others that have faith, guidance, and still believe. I would hate to go through life thinking im smarter then everybody else (when im not) and being negative. Once religion dies so does mankind. Without a god why do you feel the need to be good? why would you care about your life here and not go kill, rob, or who knows what? when religion is gone so is morality and goodbye mankind!

      March 1, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  6. NJ

    Atheists are worse than religious people LOL

    March 1, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • us1776

      No. Atheists are tolerant, inclusive, moral, intelligent.

      .

      March 1, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • Dan

      because they can reason?

      March 1, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • Frank.Carr

      us1776: No. Atheists are tolerant, inclusive, moral, intelligent. <~ LOL wow.. apparently athiest are also blind, immoral, ignorant, and stu!pid. if you were smart you would see that you are contradicting yourself. This ad is about athiests buying a billboard to spread their myths about what they believe is a "myth". You can give whatever excuse you want for why its up there but the bottomline is its up there for attention and to make people "think alternatively". Which is also cramming your opinion down everybodys throat thats sitting in traffic and has to look at it. Way to depress ppl on their daily commute. LOL

      March 1, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  7. us1776

    No more "Invisible Beings" !!

    .

    March 1, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • MormonChristian

      Then no more invisible particles either? There is so much in our universe that we can't see. If you limit your input to that, you won't accept most of Science.

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

      right on, us1776

      March 1, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  8. Sir Ivanhoe

    Can read more about religion and current political world environment in novel - king of Bat'ha. The sequel - Tales from the East: Return of Ivanhoe will be out by summer 2012.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
  9. CJ

    The Anunnaki are not a myth. Read Zecharia Sitchin. And also read Carl Jung. Those two have, imo, pretty much figured "things" out.

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

    Amazing how atheists have this drive to publicly attack and ridicule God and those who choose to follow God. Anything more constructive to do; like convince me why anyone would want to be an atheist?

    March 1, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • 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 12:10 pm |
    • TrueBlue42

      Sure. Listen to what we're saying an explore it for yourself. You're welcome.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • fototherapist

      I could say the same thing about "believers." Are you kidding?

      March 1, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • Kelly

      The point is to let people know it's OK to be an Atheist or Agnostic. Because, religious people feel the need to ridicule and persecute anyone that doesn't believe in "their" God.

      This country was founded because of a need for Freedom of Religion. That freedom is also extended to those who choose not to believe. If Mormons can fill the TV airways with commercials and put billboards everywhere, why cant atheists?

      March 1, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • Frank.Carr

      fototherapist <~ what could you say about believers? lol. that there is a tiny percent? I doubt that statistic would be true LOL. God forbid you are honest and say "I dont believe I have an alternative opinion" instead of coming off as ignorant jerks and downing everybody for believing in god.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • EnjaySea

      I'm an atheist, but I'm not one because I want to be an atheist. I'd be thrilled if there was a god. That would be really cool. I'm a non-believer because it's the default stance, at least until some evidence is uncovered to convince me otherwise.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
  11. Jamon

    There are a lot more closeted atheists than you may want to believe. They are not open about it due to social ramifications.

    Religion is very slowly going the way of the dodo (it will take MANY generations, but we will get there eventually!)

    March 1, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • Frank.Carr

      When religion is gone crime rates go up and people start to not care about their actions because they wont be judged when they die... Your logic is so amazing............ as I said human beings will be our own downfall. As religion becomes less favorable because lets face it.. parents these days SUCK and dont know how to be a parent.. the world as we know will go to sh!t. thanks athiests!

      March 1, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • Jamon

      So you view religion as a tool to keep people in check, because if it were gone there will be no morals left. Now THAT logic is amazing, so religion is like those red-light cameras!!

      Believe me, I agree with you that there are horrible parents out there, and religion/lack of religion has nothing to do with them. It has to do with society.

      I honestly can care less about people's belief system, some people need guidance and if they choose to use religion then so be it. What I don't agree with is the belief that atheists are horrible people that are viewed as the lowest class of people walking the Earth. We are some of the brightest minds here (like Neil deGrasse Tyson, Hawkings, m any countless other scientists) and if it weren't for bright minds like those we would not have many of the things people in general take for granted these days.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  12. JCMars

    Gosh, the Atheists are getting pretty desperate if they have to advertise.

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

      And the Catholic church isn't? Have you seen those commercials?

      March 1, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • Cali girl

      Catholic Church put few billboards because they are attacked by those atheists all the time.
      At least there are over 1 billion Atheists worldwide and they have the money to do anything.... they also help the poor and homeless and sick people, unlike atheists group who don't do nothing but causing problems

      March 1, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • Frank.Carr

      yeah, VERY pathetic. They are worse then religion. "hey believe us! we are just folks with no faith! you should be depressed & out of touch in life too! so were going to buy a billboard to cram our opinion down your throat. Heck we criticize Christians and religion but we do the exact same thing by cramming our beliefs down your throat!". Its so contradictive its hilarious.

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

    I'm an atheist and I respect the fact that people want to believe in a higher power/God. I don't necessarily respect their beliefs, but I'm not going to put up a billboard deriding them either. I think as time moves on more and more people will come to realize their own truth. I just don't like the dogma and arcane ideas that so many "believers" tout as fact or truth for everybody else. You don't have to respect my beliefs, but you better respect me for having them.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • Cali girl

      We don't respect your beliefs either

      March 1, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
  14. Agnostic

    I hate Religion, including Atheism.

    Atheists are becoming worse and worse than fundamentalist Muslims, Orthodox Jews and Evangelicals.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • fototherapist

      How?

      March 1, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • Happily agnostic

      Atheism isn't a religion, you moron. It's the polar opposite.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
  15. Rod

    “People are going to be upset,” he says. “That is not our concern.”

    If they are not upset, why bother spending $$$$$ that they were just loaned by the Creator! On whom does their money, talent, life, etc. etc. etc. came from when God said EVERYTHING is mine, the gold, the silver, the cattle on a thousand hills, even the number of hairs in your head, the number of years thet we live, the stars, the universe, etc. etc. etc, the are ALL mine, saith the Lord of Hosts!

    And so they are accountable with EVERYTHING that they have before the Author and Giver of Life!

    March 1, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • hippypoet

      so your saying that your god is a materialist? sounds petty!
      than again, your god supposedly concerns itself with us, the low creature when compared to god and that is also petty!

      March 1, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • Dan

      Are these the myths that keep you going back every Sunday with your money?

      March 1, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • Joe

      You are nutz.

      I suppose you think the world is only 6,000 years old too despite all the proof showing otherwise.

      Creator my butt. No magical man in the sky created anything. Get your head out of your A$$ and join reality

      March 1, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  16. Dan

    Well they are right. It is a myth.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • Robert

      I can not BELIEVE how stupid you people are!!!! Do you really think that something as complicated as the human body just happen to make itself? Come on, open your eyes!

      March 1, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
  17. Grandma

    SANTORUM 2012

    I hope he wipes out all Atheists or impose religion in their face

    March 1, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • Dana

      That is very holy of you.

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

      Either you are a sad, bitter old 'bleached bone' or you are a trolling child cutting class. I hope it's the latter.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • Gawd

      Santorum 1812!

      March 1, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • us1776

      Yes, he'll hold the first Salem Witch Trials in 400 years.

      .

      March 1, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • Dan

      Here here! Long live the American ideal of FREEDOM!!! Oh, wait. That's not what you're proposing at all...

      March 1, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • EnjaySea

      Luckily Grandma, the founding fathers cleverly amended the constitution specifically to protect us from people like you.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
  18. Hypatia

    They are becoming as strident and obnoxious as the evangelicals.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
  19. .

    David SILVERMAN = Jew

    LOL he's gay còck sucker who had terrible life

    March 1, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • hippypoet

      hate much?

      March 1, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • MormonChristian

      Got Hate?

      March 1, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
  20. deal_with_it

    If the people who call themselves atheists were cool I would shake their hands. If your Tao was blazing chronic, playing video games and leaving other people alone you would be cool. But instead they act like a bunch of nasty little ho mose xuals who have their panties in a bunch about Sodom and Gomorrah and they are like the Grinch who is trying to steal Christmas...

    March 1, 2012 at 12:05 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.