For the second year in a row, Austin Atheists Helping the Homeless (ATXAHH) was invited to speak with students enrolled in a Perspectives on Atheism class taught by Dr. Innes Mitchell at St. Edward's University. Although St. Edward’s is a private, Catholic University, not all its students hold religious beliefs. Some of the students in attendance said they identify as religious, some were agnostic and a student mentioned he’s always been an atheist but enrolled in the course to learn more about the history of Atheism.
This year, ATXAHH volunteer Angelique Lugo was joined by Rev. Jim Rigby of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, a progressive Presbyterian church known for its inclusiveness and social activism. Each winter, St. Andrew’s opens its doors to people who are homeless when the City activates Cold Weather Alerts (when temperatures drop below freezing). This past winter, ATXAHH volunteers were present to prepare and serve meals as well as stay overnight at each of the ten CWS events.
The afternoon’s topic was "Secular Humanism as an ethical philosophy." We were asked to tell our stories about our mission/calling to help others, one from a humanist perspective and one from a faith perspective. We spoke about each organization’s work as well as our personal perspectives. Questions included:
What are the differences and similarities in motivation and action when you hold one position or another?
In terms of helping the most vulnerable in society does one's ethical perspective matter?
When does belief/doctrine matter in helping others? and my favorite question toward the end of our time together,
“You both share such similar worldviews. What’s keeping you (Angelique) from becoming a member of Jim’s church and what’s keeping you (Jim) from becoming an atheist?”
It was the perfect opportunity to showcase our tandem efforts to serve people who are homeless in Austin as well as highlight FBB’s Challenge the Gap. Our time together inspired several students to participate in ATXAHH’s recent giveaway so they could see first-hand how religious beliefs are not a prerequisite for acts of service and compassion.