Shared from the 8/4/2016 San Antonio Express eEdition

Atheists share their beliefs

Groups offer hugs, dialogue at Alamo

ExpressNews.com

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William Luther / San Antonio Express-News

Zara Souri (right), a Muslim visiting San Antonio for a conference, watches as her sister Zoe takes a moment to “hug an atheist” in Alamo Plaza. Secular groups, including from the University of Texas at San Antonio, held the event to dispel myths about atheism.

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William Luther / San Antonio Express-News

Sean Rivera, president of the Secular Student Alliance president at the University of Texas at San Antonio, hands a brochure about atheism to Phillip Shovel of Arkansas.

As a man read aloud the various ways that someone could end up being damned to hell, a small group seeking understanding held up a sign that read, “Hug an atheist,” just 100 feet away in front of the Shrine of Texas Liberty on Wednesday.

“The main reason for doing this is to normalize atheism,” said 20-year-old Sean Rivera, president of the Secular Student Alliance at the University of Texas at San Antonio. “Some people will learn what atheism is through someone like this guy preaching on the street, so we want to take away the negative connotation.”

The self-proclaimed preacher, Tom H., refused to disclose his last name for fear of violence or threats being made toward him. Tom said he regularly shares Scripture in front of the Alamo with passers-by.

“I’d be sinning to have a conversation with you,” Tom said toward the group of atheists, who didn’t respond to his remarks.

Despite his beliefs clashing with the group of atheists, Tom said they had a right to be on the street sharing their message just as he was doing because that’s the law.

“I have no common ground to talk to them if they reject Jesus,” Tom said. “That might come off as rude in a society where all things and ideas are supposed to matter.”

The Secular Student Alliance was joined by members of South Texas Atheists for Reason, American Atheists and the Free Thinkers Association of Central Texas. Most people who passed the group had a positive response, either hugging the members or taking pictures with them.

“We’re very active on campus and (set up a) table about three times a week with informational posters and pamphlets,” Rivera said. “We aren’t a very confrontational group and try not to approach anyone unless they express an interest.”

Jake Jacobs, 46, beamed for a photo with the atheists after hugging them before going on to shake hands with Tom.

“I’m a very strong, devout Christian,” Jacobs said. “Most Christians try to harden their faith into truth when it is just a faith. I choose to believe, but can’t prove it. I hugged the atheist because they have a faith, too, and I respect that.”

Rivera said lots of people of Christian or other religious backgrounds are usually respectful and accepting of his group on campus, but the few who aren’t spew borderline hate speech toward the Secular Student Alliance.

After turning away from the Christian faith he was raised to practice, Robert Laurence can relate to being treated differently for identifying as an atheist.

The 22-year-old, who was with the group Wednesday, said his family kicked him out of the house and almost all of his friends stopped associating with him because they were members of the church he no longer believed in.

“Doing things like this are important to help the community grow and normalize atheism so they see it’s not such a bad thing,” Laurence said. “Even though I disagree with some beliefs of my family, I still love them and just wanted to be honest with them (about my beliefs).” kcarlson@express-news.net

“I’d be sinning to have a conversation with you.”
Street preacher Tom H., directing remarks to the groups at the event

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