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January 3, 2000
From Queries About Dinosaur Deaths To God
R S Shankar
Tunku Varadarajan wonders why the Hindus across America, outraged at the booklets produced by Southern Baptists denouncing their religion, did not take ads in newspapers defending their faith or enlist congressional leaders to join the protest.
Varadarajan, whose op-ed pieces have appeared in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, writes a monthly column for beliefnet (www.beliefnet.com), a multifaith publication, which the Southern Baptists, you may think, will never visit.
But beliefnet does indeed have a Southern Baptist columnist. The contributors of the just-launched web site also include a lama, a rabbi, an Episcopalian bishop, a Harvard theologian, and a Wicca priestess representing earth religions. Among the writers whose work is excerpted or reproduced is the distinguished author Shashi Tharoor (India: From Midnight to Millennium) and the Times's correspondent, Barbara Crosette.
In a way the web site started with a chat about dinosaurs. Co-founder and editor-in-chief Steven Waldman recalls posing the question, 'Why did God kill the dinosaurs?'
"Because He did not want humans to be scared," his five-year-old son Joe answered. On another occasion, Joe, who was barely four then, defined God: "God is like a sticky wind. When you feel Him on your skin, you know He is there."
Waldman wishes beliefnet.com offers answers to some of the stickiest religious and spiritual questions. If nothing else, he hopes that the publication brings together people of diverse faiths and religions who will share their beliefs, doubts, bafflement, and concern about religion.
He said in an interview that the project began to shape when he became disillusioned with journalism. Waldman, who is 37, was the national editor for US News & World Report, and, before that, national correspondent for Newsweek. He was senior advisor to the CEO of the Corporation for National Service and author of a book about the founding of AmeriCorps, called The Bill.
"Traditional media are generally not good at covering what's most important in people's lives," he said. "Does God exist? Where do we go after we die? It's not news, but it's really, really important to people."
Cofounder Rosen Nylen was the founder of The New England Monthly and Associate Publisher of the Texas Monthly. As a magazine consultant, his clients ranged from the magazines Fast Company to Parenting to the Harvard Divinity School.
"We are not a church," the founders Waldman and Nylen note "We are not a religious movement. We get no money from particular religious institutions or leaders. We are not pushing a particular spiritual agenda. We are multifaith and independent."
With religion being one of the most popular topics on-line, it might have been difficult for Nylen and Waldman to raise the reported $ 15 million first-year expenses, from religious institutions in America.
But given the independent and embracing nature of their project, they decided to go after secular investors such as Highland Capital Partners, who have helped create such businesses as eToys, Lycos, Mapquest, and Ask Jeeves.
The cofounders of beliefnet certainly do not believe in serving bland articles. The first edition, naturally, had stories on such thought-provoking subjects as teenage grief when a sibling dies, and a new look at the Arabian Nights.
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