New Atheist Billboards Are in Arabic and Hebrew

American Atheists is now taking their billboard messages directly to the communities that need to hear them the most. Specifically, they’re advertising the Reason Rally and their national convention both in Hebrew (to people in Brooklyn, NY) and in Arabic (to people in Patterson NJ).

Both billboards say, “You know it’s a myth… and you have a choice.” The big words on the left read Yahweh and Allah, respectively. (Not sure about the color combination in that first billboard, but hopefully the Hebrew is easier to read.)

Why those languages? Why those places? A CNN piece explains:

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.”

“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.

Silverman says he expects to put up more billboards in additional languages soon — he also plans to have “extra security” in place for when these billboards go up… you know, just in case.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

    The Hebrew seems odd to me. It is in modern Hebrew, but many (most?) Orthodox Jews in the US read aren’t very fluent in Modern Hebrew and often when they do read Hebrew read it with vowelization (as it is presented in prayer books). Moreover, among the ultra-Orthodox (charedim), some deliberately don’t speak modern Hebrew as a theological point. 

    • http://politicsandpucks.blogspot.com Mike Brownstein

       Actually Israelis read Hebrew without vowels…

      • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

        Yes, but these advertisements are going in Brooklyn, NY. Last I checked that’s not in Israel. 

        • http://politicsandpucks.blogspot.com Mike Brownstein

          Even then, modern Hebrew is read without vowels unless its poetic or prayer

          • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

            Still missing the point. Most of the Orthodox population doesn’t read modern Hebrew to any substantial extent. 

            • Nate

               Sorry, but this is just not correct. I am (formerly) from the targeted population, and they will most likely have no trouble reading the Hebrew on the sign. But I do agree with you that the most offensive feature will probably be the ‘desecration’ of god’s name, since Orthodox Jews do not write that name without hyphenating it or otherwise changing it.

              • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

                Were you MO or were you charedi before defruming?  My impression is that the MO have a lot more understanding of Hebrew.

                • Nate

                  I was on the chareidi side, but kinda gradually shifted over time…You’re right that MO have a much stronger emphasis on teaching modern conversational Hebrew than chareidim do, but the Hebrew in that sign is really basic stuff that just about any Orthodox Jew would understand. Keep in mind, chareidim may not spend lots of time on modern ‘Israeli’ Hebrew (though my school did prepare us for the NY State regents exam), but learning the Torah in Hebrew is pretty universal, and they have a lot of similarities.

    • Gus Snarp

      So this is a serious question, can they read English and can they read the word Yahweh as written here in modern Hebrew?

      • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

        Yes, the four letter Name is common enough prayers and the like that they’ll recognize it instantly. Actually, in both the Arabic and Hebrew ones, the direct writing of God in a holy tongue in a disrespectful fashion may be far more offensive than the message itself. I’m not completely sure it was a good idea. Even some fairly secular Jews who grew up in Orthodox settings will be made uncomfortable by that. I’m really not at all convinced that this message was well thought out. 

  • Anonymous

    I’m sorry, but the communities that need to hear this most? Orthodox Jews & Muslims make up a tiny portion of the religious communities in this country. Most BY FAR are some brand of Christianity – Catholics, evangelicals, Baptists, you name it. Also, it seems weird to me to focus on any one religious group when all religion is the issue. Plus agree with Joshua. The Hassidim don’t speak Hebrew, they speak Yiddish. All you’re reaching with Hebrew is ex-pat Israelis who are mainly secular … I think this is a strange focus meant to get press.

    • Gus Snarp

      It’s not like they don’t have English as well. There have also been plenty of other billboards aimed at the Christian majority before. They’re just reaching out to new groups. I don’t see that as a problem. And correct me if I’m wrong, but surely the target community will recognize the word Yahweh in Hebrew.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=591058715 Thomas Farrell

    I approve of the concept, but on the hebrew billboard design, there is inadequate contrast on the right side of the design, especially around the “my” of “myth” and the “ch” of “choice”. The background shading should be redesigned or the lettering should be shaded to maintain contrast for readability. You want people to look at the sign and think “Yes, that’s wonderful, I have a choice!”, not “What does that say? I can’t read it.”

    • http://www.facebook.com/BUCore Core Curriculum

      What now

    • Anonymous

        Speaking

      with some knowledge about this, I can say that the images above look
      the way they do because of the conversion from CMYK to RGB. The
      billboards as printed don’t have these contrast problems. If you look at
      the sames images at http://atheists.org/atheism/billboards2011, you’ll
      see that this problem isn’t apparent.

  • http://politicsandpucks.blogspot.com Mike Brownstein

    The part Dave misses is that Jewish atheists will not leave because of the huge stigma that comes with leaving. Some lose a lot of family and friends over this issue.

    • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

       “Those communities are designed to keep atheists in the ranks,” he saysYup, sounds like he’s totally missed that.

      • http://politicsandpucks.blogspot.com Mike Brownstein

        I guess what I’m trying to say is what’s the benefit to these individuals who will lose most of their social network to actually come out? Just because its right, doesn’t make it very easy to do…

        • Nate

           Mike – believe it or not, there are actually many Orthodox Jews that DO manage to break free. I’ve been in the process for quite some time myself, and I know others who have. But it is true that there is definitely a significant difference between the ‘standard’ ultra-orthodox and the hasidic ultra-orthodox. And it is certainly true that the hasidic jews have a much harder time leaving, due in large part to the fact that they have almost no familiarity with the outside, secular world. Luckily, there is an organization that helps with this ( Footstepsorg.org ). Either way, I can assure you that this sign will definitely give courage to those who do not believe, but are still trapped in the community.

        • Michael Appleman

          I think his point is that those aren’t problems that only Jewish atheist face. Most atheists face those problems to one degree or another.

        • Anonymous

           The point of the billboard is to assure these folks that they will have support if they decide to make the decision to break from their faith.  That reassurance is precisely what your comment is about–people who are staying in the faith solely because of cultural pressures.

  • http://twitter.com/silo_mowbray Silo Mowbray

    Whoever designed those ads must have recently discovered the wonders of the gradient tool in Photoshop.

    Seriously, just get rid of the gradient and keep the solid colours.  The ads are perfectly adequate then.

    • Anonymous

      Reposting from above. Speaking

      with some knowledge about this campaign, I can say that the images above look the way they do because of the conversion from CMYK to RGB. The billboards as printed don’t have these contrast problems. If you look at the sames images at http://atheists.org/atheism/billboards2011, you’ll see that this problem isn’t apparent.

  • Anonymous

    I still have the same problem with these billboards.  Billboards are NOT narrowly targeted advertisements–they address the entire community.  Dave’s being disingenuous, at the least, when he says they aren’t designed to inflame the faithful.

    Also, the use of “know” not only excludes the faithful, but also doesn’t really bring in the borderline folks.  These ads are solely for those who are already hard-core atheists.  Which is fine, I guess, except for the above point about it deliberately goading the faithful, and probably offending the fence-straddlers.

    Better wording:  “If you think it just might be a myth… There is a choice.”  An appeal to the doubters and those who feel trapped by community pressure.

  • http://terminalmage.net/ Erik

     “We are not trying to inflame anything”Bullshit. That is precisely the point, to stir the pot and get more publicity. This is why I will (likely) never support American Atheists. If you’re going to do things like this, at least own up to your intentions. Don’t lie so blatantly. It’s insulting.And for the love of FSM, hire a competent graphic designer.

    • http://www.facebook.com/BUCore Core Curriculum

      Speaking with some knowledge about this, I can say that the images above look the way they do because of the conversion from CMYK to RGB. The billboards as printed don’t have these contrast problems.

  • Nathan Palo

    I think a better message would be “if you know it’s a myth, you have a choice”.

    This has two benefits, first it clarifies that it isn’t meant to be attacking the people that do believe while maintaining the same message to those that don’t but keep practicing the religion to keep up appearances; second, it indicates to the believer that learning the truth gives them freedom, which I think would be a very encouraging message.

    • http://twitter.com/WCLPeter Rob U

      “if you know it’s a myth, you have a choice”

      Despite their public location billboards are actually singular messages to the reader. When you read the original “You know its a myth… and you have a choice.” line what its really saying is:

      “Hey you, yah you.  The guy on the corner over there looking up at me waiting for the light to change, I don’t think its any shock to you that this whole religion thing is a myth.  Well I’m here to tell you that you have a choice, there are other people out there who think like you do.  Seriously, I’m not lying, it says so right on me!”

      When you put an “if” in front of that it becomes very offensive:

      “Hey you, yah you.  The guy on the corner over there looking up at me waiting for the light to change, if you were smart enough to figure out that this whole religion thing was a myth I’m here to tell you there’s other people like you out there!  But only if you figured it out, because then this sign isn’t for you…  because you haven’t figured it out yet.”

      One talks to a person who already knows while the other directly insults someone who hasn’t figured out yet.  But it doesn’t really matter because both ways would be considered offensive to theists because it voices the doubts most of them have about their religions and, if history is any guide, people really hate it when you start poking holes in the fairytales and myths that give them false comfort.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    And they now have an extra “and” so I’m not sure how well that will go over.

    Omar Hesham HEY!!! STOP!!! dont put it up YET!! there is a grammar mistake!!!

    i speak arabic and this sentence has an extra word….

    it should be:
    … .تعرفون انها خرافة… ولكم الحرية The way it was phrased at first is, “You know it’s a myth and AND you have a choice.”The responce…American Atheists, Inc. (Official) Thanks Omar, I did have it checked, and it is already printed. So we have an extra and. 
     
    HEY!!! STOP!!! dont put it up YET!! there is a grammar mistake!!! i speak arabic and this sentence has an extra word…. it should be: … .تعرفون انها خرافة… ولكم الحرية The way it was phrased at first is, “You know it’s a myth and AND you have a choice.”

    The responce…

    American Atheists, Inc. (Official) Thanks Omar, I did have it checked, and it is already printed. So we have an extra and.

     
     

  • JDEisenberg

    It strikes me as odd that the second sentence in English is written first in the Hebrew version. I imagine there will be a massive uproar from both religions about desecration of a holy name.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=714214638 Barry Taylor

    The funny part is that they won’t be able to deface the billboards, because to do so would be to deface the name of their god ;o)

  • Anonymous

    This is a great improvement over previous billboards from AA – fantastic! I’m glad issues of messaging are now being considered more thoroughly:

    http://harvardhumanist.org/2012/01/31/the-freethinkers-political-textbook-know-the-audience/ 

    http://harvardhumanist.org/2012/01/24/anatomy-of-a-successful-humanist-ad-campaign/ 

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    The objective is not to inflame but rather to advertise the atheist movement in the Muslim and Jewish community.

    Uh, I think the word “inflame” is particularly fitting here. Despite the disclaimer that that is not the objective, that is exactly and literally what these ads are going to do. I don’t think that the presence of the names of their gods will stop people from throwing Molotov cocktails at these billboards.

  • estevancarlos

    Powerful.

  • Fern

    I disagree with the choice part. I was trying very hard to stay a Christian when I realized I was an atheist. It wasn’t a choice, it was a realization.

  • They’reAllTheSame

    I live in Manhattan and this was mentioned on the local news last night. The typical intro of “some new ads going up in Jewish/ Muslim  neighborhoods that might cause some controversy …………we’ll tell you who’s behind it after this…. *cue dramatic music*

    So i waited to see how they would approach it ……they explained the ads, showed them on screen and explained what each said, told you the company that is running the ad then just moved on to the next segment.

    …I was kind of hoping for more lol


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