A national organization calling itself American Atheists is planning to unveil its anti-religious billboards Monday in heavily Muslim Paterson, NJ and in heavily Jewish Williamsburg, Brooklyn, according to CNN.
“You know it’s a myth … and you have a choice,” the billboards declare, in Patterson in English and Arabic, and in Brooklyn in English and Hebrew. Next to the text on the Arabic billboard is the word Allah, and on the Hebrew sign is the Hebrew word for the Tetragrammaton, which Jews are not permitted to pronounce.
Including the “Shem ham’forash” in the Hebrew billboard is particularly provocative, since it is sacred and so may not be erased in print, presenting protesters with a dilemma.
According to Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists, the motive behind the signs is purely humanitarian, as they are intended to reach atheists in the Muslim and Jewish communities 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.”
The effort to discourage faith in these two devoted, monotheistic communities, receives a special meaning because it is being launched on the week of Purim, a celebration of the Jewish victory over Amalek. In Jewish sources, the function of Amalek in Jewish history is to encourage doubt in the heart of faithful Jews.
The late Christopher Hitchens depicted well the despair that has been driving atheist activists in the face of threats to their lack of faith (Atheists and agnostics make up only between 3% and 4% of the U.S. population): “Our theocratic enemy is in plain view. Protean in form, it extends from the overt menace of nuclear-armed mullahs to the insidious campaigns to have stultifying pseudo-science taught in American schools.”
But while Christian and, to a lesser extent, Muslims have been entangled in a conflict over the separation of Church and State in America, Jewish institutions have largely been staying out of those battles, and the Hasidic Jews of Williamsburg have certainly not been involved in pushing a national agenda of any kind. Posting an intrusive and insulting billboard in the midst of their neighborhood is nothing short of an unprovoked attack.
And knowing the mettle of the Hasidim of Williamsburg, they are sure to come up with a proper response.
Silverman told CNN the signs advertise the American Atheists’ upcoming convention and an atheist rally, called the Reason Rally, in Washington next month.