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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. Mike Knight

    Actually agnosticism is the only SENSIBLE position! Atheists no more KNOW the truth than those who have a religious faith. And the even better news is that agnostics don't feel the need to evangelize!

    March 1, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • hilikus00

      ...most atheists are actually agnostic atheists. Atheist is just shorter to say.

      It does give me a bit of a chuckle to see and agnostic posting in such definite language 😛 (just teasing)

      March 1, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • Mike Knight

      LOL

      March 1, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • Patrick

      Agnosticism is a position of knowledge, not belief. Everyone is either agnostic or self-deluded, regardless of their religious affiliation or lack thereof.

      "gnosis" from the Greek

      March 1, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  2. AR

    Jews in New York are not going to pay attention to this. Wrong market.

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

    This points out what I like about Jews. Many of them are atheists, but being a jew isn't about believing in God, it's about being part of a culture and tradition.You can be a good Jew and an atheist and it isn't a problem. Many atheists celebrate Christmas because it is a fun tradition. Most atheists are not militant about it, they are pretty apathetic about religion vs. non religion. After all, if people didn't have religion as an reason for doing good or doing evil they'd easily come up with other reasons for helping those who share their views and discriminating against those who don't.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
  4. MormonChristian

    There have been more people killed by atheist ideologies (Communism, Fascism, etc.) than in all the religious wars combined. The best solution is to have both Faith and Reason.

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

      Your so wrong you have no knowledge of history at all.

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

      oh look yet another idiot!

      do some research first, then you may wish to reword your post...as it is now, its a complete lie!

      March 1, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • Mike Knight

      That's simply not true. Religious wars (and the slaughter they produce) pre-date communism by many centuries.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • Dan, TX

      I challenge you to come up with numbers on that. But that isn't really the point, is it? Atheists are heavily discriminated against in our country and so there are some atheists who are screaming about it. You never hear anything about most atheists, and frankly, there are a lot of us. I'm a Catholic atheist. I don't believe in God, but going to Church is a good thing for my social circle.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • NickZadick

      Would be nice....but it's not true!.... Mormons hahaha more 1nsane than the scientologists! Disney Land in the sky awaits you!!!!! lol complete BS!

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

      Who told you Communism and Facism were atheist regimes or ideas? That is ludicrous! Stalin wanted to create a new Russian Orthodox, the biggest facists have been Catholic.

      ???

      March 1, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  5. Atheist mom

    I am Atheist and I am sick and tired of David Silverman. He makes us look bad and even more hated. He is a dbag!

    March 1, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • Dan, TX

      Yes, there are many more atheists than people think, but mostly, we just keep quiet. On the other hand, if everyone I met knew I was an atheist, I think it might color their view of me. So, I'm a little bit OK with people hearing about the idea that being an atheist is not a bad thing. I just wish it could be done in a way that didn't upset other people by implying that people are foolish for believing in God. I don't agree with their theme – it's a choice. It may not be a choice. Some people have to believe in God of some kind in order to be happy. Telling them they should choose to be unhappy makes no sense – it is not reasonable.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  6. hippypoet

    all you religious nuts are so upset at something someone else – now is that humble? is that following the teachings of your savior? – whoever your savior may be – ....NO! you have all just sinned and are showing pride – enjoy the fall! MUHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA – HERE IS A LIST OF SINS SO YOU MAY KNOW WHY YOU ARE IN HELL 🙂

    http://www.amazingbible.org/Doc.uments/Bible_Studies/Sin_list_part_6.htm

    March 1, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • Atheist mom

      Very Atheist of you.

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

      It's all about showing some respect, which, judging from your first few words, is something you know nothing about.

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

      but mom, i'm only trying to help! 🙂

      March 1, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • cor

      Actually, I'm not upset at all. Quite the contrary, I'm a bit relieved that the atheists are finally picking on other religions for once. If you're gonna be an atheist why target just one religion against which to persecute?

      March 1, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • Dan, TX

      the vast majority of atheists would never be rude to someone based on their belief, just as most believers would never be rude to other believers or atheists. But of course, just as with political discussions, the most outrageous comments of a few individulas are often used to brand an entire group. About 20% of Americans are atheists, they just don't really care to describe themselves that way.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  7. Ken

    This is a sign of the times. People will choose sides in the times of the end. Polarization is just creating groups with boundaries, this is nothing new, this is nothing modern. Hatred and strife are not driving these people to kill each other physically, they are trying to destroy each other morally, mentally, psychologically on the plains of desperation. False religion has enslaved man for centuries and this Atheistic godless element has reared its head in opposition. Evolutionists and the like keep mounting "evidence" to convince themselves but they too are doing the same thing Christendom did for centuries, enslave believers. Ironically, Atheists are from the same mold as false religion, they promise the freedom of a more liberating way of life but it itself is a religion. To believe in Evolution is a religion all onto itself. They are like the black man calling foul because he was disqualified for a job, not realizing he needs more skillsets. They are like muslims crying for "fair" treatment so they can receive special religious exceptions. Evolution took over schools much the same way, then kicked out prayer time and pushed Evolution down our throats like false religion scared hellfire into the hearts of men. Jesus will separate the sheep from the goats. I feel bad that many will not make it into the new world. We are all brothers, we should search for the true God while he yet may be found.

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

      If you wish to deny evolution fine, but saying crap is being forced down your throat while doing the same thing is hilarious.

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

      Then laugh it up.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • Mike Knight

      Oh Ken, Ken, Ken. Some fine points in your post are completely ruined by your anti-evolution diatribe. Denying decades of rock-solid science and millions of years of fossil records, is pretty much on the same level as those who believe the earth is flat. You can believe in god without a literal believe in texts that (a) weren't written at the time; (b) have been distorted massively over the years by translations and (c) are a collection of works chosen by MAN to represent the word of god. Have comfort in your faith, by all means, but not beyond all reason (the power-to-reason, if you believe in god, that god gave you!)

      March 1, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Ken

      Mike, if evolution is true then nothing matters. Your opinion, your accomplishments, your life, your post, your children, your mother. They are all just atoms and molecules aligning to what end? For the next life to pickup a better DNA strand? Condescend me all you want, after all, that is what evolutions do. You're a reasoning man are you?

      March 1, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • Dan, TX

      Evolution is a fact. To deny evolution is to deny God if you believe God created nature. The Pope and the Catholic Church accept evolution as the scientific explanation for the origin of man on Earth. That is taught in science class in Catholic schools. If the Pope can accept it, why can't you?

      March 1, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • Mike Knight

      Ken, you can have free will without being anti-evolution. But I don't think holding your belief makes you a bad person 🙂

      March 1, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Patrick

      Fortunately you don't have to believe in evolution. You just need to know the science.

      Praise Xenu!

      March 1, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • Patrick

      Nothing matters if evolution is true? Wow, you need to explain how you connected those two points.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  8. JohnnyGenius

    If a Christian group put up similarly styled billboards in these areas with the words "You know that Jesus is the true savior, why are you wasting your time with this?" people would lose there minds (including athiests).

    How is this ok?

    Don't go trying to force your beliefs on others, that goes for everyone. Athiests included.

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

      Christians do this sort of things all the time. Where have you been living?

      March 1, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • Ken

      Billboards are not only tacky, they are the cowards way out. Just like political mudslinging. I don't respect this group for doing this but then again, who in their right mind spends money and time on an effort like this? Seems like a hate group at the core framed in modern terminologies.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • Mulehead

      Clearly you've never driven through the rural south.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • Dan, TX

      I see billboards exactly like that all the time. What are you talking about?

      March 1, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  9. Guitar Zeroh

    Nice! Guitar Zeroh at youtube says word!

    March 1, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  10. Sean Russell

    Maybe it will open somebody's eyes. Killing each other just because you have different books, is utterly ridiculous.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  11. Happily agnostic

    Why does no one complain about bible-pounders putting up all THEIR billboards? How is an atheist association doing anything different, or any worse, by putting up their message? Free speech, people. It goes both ways. (Or at least it's supposed to.)

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

      So true!

      March 1, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • Nii Croffie

      This is y I love Agnostics. Listen to him people. There is nothing like full contact religious debate. The Romans n Byzantines tried that. It just doesn't end at words. You can love your neighbor as yourself. That is not a religion or myth.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  12. Nii Croffie

    If only Christians cud be more tolerant? We laugh at u all the time. We even laugh with u sometimes. Why the short memory?

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

      ...and I laugh at your spelling

      March 1, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  13. Rich

    ......go back and recieve your GED please...fairy tale believers

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

      Yeah, really, like President Obama...oh wait...

      March 1, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  14. Rainy

    If the billboards are offensive why do you read them?

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

      Atheists are immature children waving their arms around for attention. Believe what you want, as long as it doesn't harm others, and live your life. Quit putting up signs that say "Look at me! Look at me!"

      March 1, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
  15. humanone

    The atheists are basically similar to any group that has a belief. They just believe that a belief in a divine mover is a myth. I could put up a billboard saying what atheists believe in is a myth. Shame shiite different pile.

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

      What would your billboard say?

      March 1, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • Just Say'in

      @humanone
      Belief is not religion genius.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      There are infinite things that we all don't believe in .. that does not make me a believer in the NON belief of infinite things. Athiesm is not a religion, it is simply not believing .. it's really that simple.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • Jesus H. Christ

      It's not the same. An atheist follows scientific reasoning which is falsifiable. Religion is not falsifiable and therefore will never be proven correct.

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

      "A belief is not merely an idea that the mind possesses, it's an idea that possessses the mind." In Atheism, we don't waste our time or energy believing in anything. "Beliefs are a form of sleep."

      March 1, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • Mike D

      Well, that's getting into the muddy waters between "hard" atheism and agnostic atheism. The thing is, if you are not a theist you are by definition an atheist, even if you identify as agnostic. Basically, either you possess a belief in divinity or you do not, but you do not have to actively disbelieve to be an atheist.

      In any event, the American Atheists have a valid point, and one that needs to be made.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • Josh

      Except that believers of religion are asked to take everything on faith.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • ThinkPLEASE

      uhh...Atheism is not a "belief", it is a lack of belief, i.e. "A-theist", or non-theist. Do you have a word for a non-believer in the tooth fairy?

      The burden of proof rests with those who make extraordinary claims of gods, virgin births, miracles, etc. We don't need to make claims about the universe witout evidence, we are a more advanced species than that.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  16. If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

    Cargo cults rule .. all hail the return of John Frum!!

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

      I think you meant to say the "ghost dance cult" and "Jack Wilson." I forgive you. 🙂

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

      I think you meant to say the "ghost dance cult" and "Jack Wilson." I forgive you.. 🙂

      March 1, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      Another fine example momoya! More proof that religion is NOT a myth 😉

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

      I would worship a horse god,that way you know they wouldnt eat you.
      We could call him Saint Ed,and dont forget his faithful disciple Wilbur.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  17. Rich

    As the right wing says .....just listen to your money grubbing preacher,don't worry about school and believe in fairy tales
    and our base will get wider......

    March 1, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
  18. Nii Croffie

    Judaism isnt pure like Orthodox Jews want us 2 believe. It has 3 main modern branches- Christianity, Rabbinic Judaism and Khazarite. All 3 can validly claim de heritage. Israel restricts de definition 4 cultural n ethnic purposes. Besides atheists, agnostics, ignostics n Deists have been a part 2o.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
  19. Richard

    I love the responses from Elfilali and Lippe. If only Christians could be so tolerant.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • Cali girl

      That's only one Jew and one Muslim. Ask other millions of religious Jews and billions of other Muslims and you will see their reaction. Don't be ignorant!

      March 1, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  20. T

    In my opinion, American atheists are the biggest dbags in the US. Nobody cares if you don't believe in God or some other religious diety – good for you! Why do you (atheists) need to antagonize people that do believe? Why do you feel that you have to proclaim – I'm an atheist and proud of it? I don't care if you do believe or not. I do believe and when I die, if you are right and there is no heaven or hell, so what, I am dead feeding the earth or my ashes have been spread somewhere, it won't matter to me. If there is a heaven and hell, you will be the one surprised, but by that time, you will be dead too.

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

      I see that you could not resist being the Christian Dbag. Congrats.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      LOL .. just returning the favor T 😉

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

      The atheists are basically similar to any group that has a belief. They just believe that a belief in a divine mover is a myth. I could put up a billboard saying what atheists believe in is a myth. Shame shiite different pile.
      You may call it antagonism... I call it giving those whose faith is being challenged... an opportunity to reflect on why they believe in what they do. It's PR for religion – gets everyone thinking about belief or non belief. It's all relative. Either the glass is half full or half empty depending on how one looks at it. In the end it's a glass holding something.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • That's What's Up

      I thought cremation was a no-no too. Rule 2,643 in the big book of bull

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

      In my opinion, American christians are the biggest dbags in the US. Nobody cares if you believe in God or some other religious diety – good for you! Why do you (christians) need to antagonize people that don't believe? Why do you feel that you have to proclaim – I'm a christian and proud of it? I don't care if you do believe or not.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • Just Say'in

      You heard it here folks. You are only allowed to give your opinion and state your beliefs if it involved fairies and pixie dust.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • Just Say'in

      @ humanone
      As stated above, belief is not religion. Atheists are not theists. I know it must hurt but at least try to sound intelligent.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • Patrick

      If there is a heaven and a hell, will it be the one you applied for? Or will it be one of the thousands of others?

      Pascal's Wager: the philosophical and logical proposition that the potential worst-case scenario drives us all to be Muslim.

      So you know, atheists speak out for solidarity (as we are few and pronouncement of that identification can bring hatred of others). Also, many are rabidly against religions or belief in god because of the abuse they suffered at the hands of a theist, typically a parent or two. Indoctrination is also something to combat, as it prevents individuals from being able to make a choice on their paradigm.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • ME

      "Nobody cares if you believe" - this is demonstrably false. In fact, proclamation of disbelief is often grounds for harrassment or worse.

      March 1, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • Freethinker Seeking Reason

      Succinctly, religious literalism in America is what is fueling the Republican war on science and the dangerous anti-intellectual climate that is retarding social progress. If it wasn't for this insanity, just imagine how much more advanced the human race might be. Other modern industrialized democracies have largely moved on, but the U.S. in its usual geocentric bubble has stubbornly held on to its mythology and directly harmed scientific advancement as a result.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:57 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.