You may have heard about (or even seen) the billboards erected by various atheist coalitions, determined to bring believers into the fold (that is, when they aren’t evangelizing in the streets). But one of these groups, American Atheists, have decided to take the fight a step further: they’re placing billboards in a heavily Muslim neighborhood in New Jersey and a heavily Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn, with messages in Arabic and Hebrew. “You know itís a myth Ö and you have a choice,” the billboards proclaim. In larger text on the respective billboards are the Arabic and Hebrew words for God: “Allah” and “Yahweh.”
The president of American Atheists admitted that the campaign was likely to be controversial, but said that his group intended to reach out to non-believers in tightly-knit Jewish and Muslim enclaves and make them feel less isolated. “Those communities are designed to keep atheists in the ranks,” he told CNN’s Dan Merica. “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 donít want to.”
Meanwhile, Jewish and Muslim leaders are surprised by the billboards, but don’t seem particularly perturbed. This is despite the fact that a billboard with the Hebrew word for God’s name written on it could be very offensive to observant Jews, especially if the text can be easily dirtied, or will eventually be thrown away.
Past campaigns by American Atheists have been countered by Christian organizations, but it’s unclear how Jews and Muslims will react when the billboards are unveiled next week. Last November, the organization used a similar concept to attack Christmas, posting billboards above the Lincoln Tunnel that read: “You KNOW itís a Myth. This Season, Celebrate Reason.” The Catholic League, a New York-based Catholic advocacy organization, responded with a competing billboard, which read: “You Know It’s Real: This Season Celebrate Jesus.”
The billboard campaigns don’t exactly encourage doubters to come forward. After all, if anyone from these relatively insular Jewish or Muslim communities does have doubts about their religion, it seems unlikely that they will be swayed by such belligerent ads. Even though the communities have yet to comment, the billboards have yet to be unveiled, so who knows how everyone will react. If these ads continue to be ineffective, though, maybe American Atheists will try a more tolerant approach in spreading their message.