Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Out Campaign

As part of the Out Campaign initiative sponsored by American Atheists I’ve decided to formally come out (at least as formal as a blog post can be!) as an Atheist.  

I was raised in a conservative Christian family and I came to the (post-Jesus) light as a teenager after questioning the highly illogical teachings I was spoon fed at home & at Jesus Camp.  Since then, I have been joyfully embracing the beauty of living for this life, not some notion of an afterlife.  

I am happy and proud to say that I recently celebrated eleven years as a Free Thinker.  It wasn’t until this year that I stumbled across the secular community of Humanists and have since identified as one.  This does not conflict with my identification as Atheist as the two are not mutually exclusive. A lot of people wonder what the difference between Humanist or Atheist or Agnostic is.  To explain this, I did a little research and did my best to put together some simplistic definitions.  

Etymological Meaning
Agnostic comes from the Greek word Gnosis, which means knowledge, the ‘a’ in front changes it to mean without knowledge.
Atheistic also has its roots in the Greek language. Theism is equated to belief, the ‘a’ in front changes it to mean without belief.

However, there are also common usages of these words which many people identify with.  Where do you fall on this Free Thinker spectrum?  You may surprise yourself!

Free Thinker Spectrum
Spiritual (I identify as a member of an organized religion, but the God I worship does not have the same rules as the traditional God of that religion, ie: I’m a Christian, but I think people in the LGBT community should be able to marry/ I’m Jewish, but I eat pork/I’m Muslim, but I don’t think women should have to cover up) or (I don’t identify with any organized religion, but I believe in a god/higher power). 

Agnostic (I don’t know, but I believe in something) or (No one can know, so why bother about it?)

Agnostic Atheist (I don’t believe in a god but I can’t rule out the possibility that there is one just because I do not have knowledge that it exists.  Basically, I admit that my belief that there is no god is just as baseless as your belief that there is a god)

Atheist (I don’t believe in a god or gods and I don’t need knowledge or proof that there is no god or gods because it is on the believer to prove the existence of a god not on the nonbeliever)

Humanist (I believe that people can be good without a belief in god and am skeptical of  untested claims).  It is also inclusive of all the above categories. 

“…show me what there is, ethically, in any religion that can’t be duplicated by Humanism" -Christopher Hitchens

My recent identification with Humanism has reinvigorated my love for Humanity, albeit we are a rowdy bunch!  This love is what encourages me to speak out about some of the things I believe organized religion got wrong (but continues to do) listed below:

Science Denial
This has led to the stifling of education and research in the sciences.  We depend on the growth and development in our life sciences as a species.  We don’t have claws or fangs, we only have our minds to help us survive.  Science denial, such as refusing to teach evolution in classes or banning stem-cell research, stamps out the growth and development of the life-saving field of the applied sciences.

Faith Healing 
This is the practice that allows parents to let their children die from curable diseases, like tumor growths in their necks that slowly close their windpipes...these innocent children die horrible, and avoidable, deaths because their parents leave it up to God to cure them.  Think Faith Healing doesn’t exist?  Think again.  It is a legally sanctioned practice; in fact, thirty-one states have child-abuse religious exemptions.

               (Do you need any more reason for a separation of church and state?)

Abstinence Only 
Under President George W. Bush, a crusade to eradicate safe sex was waged.  Unfortunately, this led to the dramatic rise of teenage pregnancy and STD incidence rates during Bush’s presidency.  If you are thinking that this just isn’t a good enough reason to teach teens about safe sex, think about the effects of this policy in other parts of the world.  This evangelical “no-condom = ready for sex!” attitude is reiterated by the Pope and various Western proselytizers who have influence in many AIDS ravaged African Nations.  What’s worse than a peak in teenage pregnancy?  Thousands upon thousands of babies born HIV positive.

           Fear and Hate Mongering 
While many of the organized religions that dominate the Western World (Judeo-Christian and Islam) purport to teach to love thy neighbor, these large religious institutions are mutually exclusive.  Put bluntly, this means that, by their own doctrine, these religious followers condemn everyone outside of their religion to Hell when they die (and if they don't condemn everyone else then they fall on the Free Thinker Spectrum).  Like burning forever in a pit of fire, HELL!  How’s that for teaching love?

Blind Faith
And perhaps worst of all, religion teaches people to be satisfied with the nonexplanation of things.  It is only because people fostered a healthy sense of skepticism that humanity has managed to accomplish so many things, including the development of a vaccine for polio,  the civil rights and women’s liberation movements, outlawing slavery and walking on the moon.  It is my deepest wish that people never succumb to a faith that denies them the right to ask why,  instead, let them foster a love for knowledge and when they are told not to question, to always respond by asking “why not?”

On this note, I ask you, reader, to consider honestly your theological beliefs this season.  Do you believe in all the tenets of the religion you subscribe to (including the bit about the World being just a little over 6 thousand years old) or do you pick and choose which parts to believe in?  It is my hope that Free Thinkers of all kinds will come forward, come out to your friends and families and start living an authentic life.  You have one life to live and I urge you not to be satisfied on your spiritual journey until you find things out for your self.

PS. Many Atheists celebrate some version of Christmas (which was originally a Pagan holiday to celebrate the solstice!).  There is nothing wrong with gifts, trees, singing and (most of all) family togetherness.  None of this requires the pretense of a belief in a God.  I believe the holiday season should include honesty -- with oneself and loved ones.

 I wish you an abundance of peace this holiday season and in the new year. 

John Lennon's "Happy X-Mas (War is Over)"

Friday, December 23, 2011


Have you ever wanted to fly?  I remember dreaming of flying like a bird night after night as a kid.  I remember thinking to myself that when I grew up, I wanted to fly.  The closest I have come to fulfilling this childhood dream is AntiGravity Yoga…it gives you wings (and not the Red Bull kind).

Doesn’t sound familiar?  If you just shook your head and thought “what is AntiGravity Yoga all about?”  Then you can count yourself as being a part of the majority of people who have yet to experience AGY.  It is an art form that is in its infancy.  It is so new, in fact, that it doesn’t even have its own Wikipedia page yet (!)  Not only is AGY a new art form, but its development has created a new genre of exercise, known as “suspension fitness” and involves the use of Hammocks which are securely suspended from the ceiling and function to allow people to hold challenging poses longer, build cardiovascular and muscular strength, and decompress the vertebrae of the spine without strain. 

I am fortunate enough to intern at OMFactory, one of the very few yoga studios in NYC that offers AntiGravity classes.  If you are lucky enough to take an AGY class there with AGY certified instructor, Josie Say, she will probably give you a brief history of the practice.   Last Thursday, she informed our class that AGY was dreamed up only about 20 years ago by Christopher Harrison, the founder of AntiGravity, Inc, an acrobatic entertainment group based in New York City.  She explained that AntiGravity Yoga is a hybrid practice combining traditional yoga poses with aerial arts, Pilates, and dance.  I can attest that elements from all of these arts were a part of the 75 minute class. 

The class moved at a steady pace, with enough time in each pose to really feel the muscles activating.  If you are familiar with yoga, you will recognize that AGY classes move through the familiar poses, but the extra element of swinging in a hammock adds an entirely new dimension to the yoga practice.  Everyone began in a seated position in which the soft silkiness of the AGY Hammock envelopes your body.  This is called, “Womb” and is considered a levitating meditation or, in Sanskrit, Badda Konasana.  That was followed up with a zero compression inversion.  Josie very carefully guided us in and out through a series of simple progressions, while rhythmic music hummed softly in the background.  My second favorite pose was “Monkey” (my first being the “Screaming Cannonball” … it’s nicer than it sounds).  “Monkey” is one of the simpler inversions in which our legs carry the weight of our body as our bodies swing weightlessly upside down. 

The remainder of the class was dedicated to hydrating joints through mobility exercises, elongating and strengthening the muscles, decompressing the spine and fine-tuning proprioceptors for better agility through swinging exercises. At times, people needed a little extra-boost of confidence to make it into a pose & Josie seemed to have a sixth sense at these times and was able to say exactly what we needed to hear to move us forward in our AGY journey.  She and her assistant did a tremendous job of providing moral support to each of us, even giving hands on assistance when needed.  Believe or not, everyone was successful every time.  We finished with a “Floating Savasana” meditation where one seals in the positive effects of their practice.

Before I left the class, Josie and her assistant were nice enough to humor my questions about AGY and were even willing to help me into a few advanced poses.  This is our version of “Double Lotus”. 

You can see that I am enjoying my new relationship to gravity!  I can’t wait to do it all again next week.  As to whether or not you will take the leap and try AGY is totally up to you but I will leave you with a quote from AGY instructors to help you make up your mind: "The class emphasis is to have fun while learning new skills and experiencing a total body workout." -OMFactory