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Steve Gilliard, 1964-2007

It is with tremendous sadness that we must convey the news that Steve Gilliard, editor and publisher of The News Blog, passed away June 2, 2007. He was 42.

To those who have come to trust The News Blog and its insightful, brash and unapologetic editorial tone, we have Steve to thank from the bottom of our hearts. Steve helped lead many discussions that mattered to all of us, and he tackled subjects and interest categories where others feared to tread.

Please keep Steve's friends and family in your thoughts and prayers.

Steve meant so much to us.

We will miss him terribly.

photo by lindsay beyerstein


Jesse "Doc" Wendel: "The Mid West is More Religious than the Middle East"

Tat Tvam Asi

Thanks to Doc Wendel for this great find!

Typically when I post an article up, I take out whole parts of it. Not this time. This is just too rich, too appropriate this week of Easter.

As someone whose own religious practice is profoundly syncretistic, drawing from Zen Buddhism, Advaita Hinduism, and both ancient ritual and new age religious ritual, as well as modern insights into biology, historical practices, and language, I have only a few simple guidelines for myself:

Take care of people -- Leave people with the assessment they've been taken care of.
Safe space -- Safe space is sacrosanct.
Pay attention.
Communicate -- When trust is presenced people can communicate fully, openly, and honestly.
Learn -- Learn to think for your self.

*hugs* -- and a Happy Celebration of Life week and weekend to everyone -- *smiles*


The Mid West is More Religious than the Middle East
by Vikram Keskar - April 5, 2007

I was born, and spent the first 8 years of my life, in India. Next I spent a year in Kenya, a year in Saudi Arabia, 7 years in the UAE and now 3 years in Kirksville Missouri doing my undergrads. In between I have visited, on vacations, somewhere near 23 countries (including Germany and most countries in the Middle east). I don't mean to state all of this as a boast but merely to illustrate that I am not speaking from a limited or narrow experience.

Coming to the US my biggest shock was how seriously people took religion. It was a form of religious intensity that I had never encountered. In Saudi I had endured a totalitarian theocracy (is there another kind?) but I had never seen the man on the street be so wrapped up in their religion. I had never met people who defined themselves, first and foremost, on the basis of their religion. Yeah living in the Middle East I was aware of all the extremist fundamentalists. But they were the fringe. They were like UFOs. You only heard of them, you never actually met them in real life. None of my Muslim friends listed the Koran as their favorite book. They never included any suras as their favorite quotes. Sure there were Muslim mullahs on the TV but no one really actually listened to those programs. Anyhow they were TEACHING the Koran as opposed to PREACHING it.

So when I came to the US I was shocked, absolutely stunned at just how absolutely people believed the Bible. This was the first time in my entire life that I had a religious text cited to me during a scientific debate. When one of my dorm-mates tossed out the "Evolution is an unproven theory whit a lot of holes" line at me I didn't even realize that it was the opening line for a serious debate. For a second I thought it was a throwaway one-liner. He doubted evolution! Not just one odd guy, but dozens upon dozens came at me that night. I actually have met 3 different people since that night who actually doubt that the earth is more than a few thousand years old. I still can't wrap my head around this concept.

Another thing that has shocked me how strongly people feel about converting non christians to Christianity. This driven by the constant overarching belief that all non christians are wrong and are going to go to hell (something I have been told bluntly to my face). There is an inability to conceive of the fact that they might be the ones who are wrong. No one, not one single person in my 8 years in the middle east ever tried to convert me to Islam. Not once did anyone suggest that not being Muslim meant that I was going to suffer.

The problem with the mid west is the sheer homogeneity of it. Growing up in a culture where everyone is of the same religion as you, where everyone shares the same believes as you, i can see how anything different maybe considered strange or unnatural. Growing up I ate at iftar during Ramadan with my friends. They burst firecrackers with me during Diwali. We all went to Christmas parties. There was no awkwardness in celebrating religious festivals of a different religion. it never felt weird. But here in the US I cannot think of celebrating christimas. It somehow feel strange. And I am not the only one to feel so. Thats why Kwanzaa and Hanukkah are sort of celebrated/marketed as the christimas alternatives. Thats why malls are afraid of hanging up signs that say 'Happy Christmas'. Hell malls back home (in in the UAE) had gigantic banners saying merry Christmas, no one thought that was strange or somehow offensive.

Perhaps it come with being the worlds only super-power, but somewhere along the line the people of the US started taking themselves too seriously. Somehow the words 'under God' in a pledge have become so important that the Supreme Court needs to rule on this. I went to an Indian school where we recited the standard muslim prayer every day. Then we sang a prayer that appealed to a single almighty god. At no point did this offend the sensibilities of the mostly Hindu student population. We understood that emphasizing one religion does not necessarily denigrate another. 'Unity through Diversity' after all was the motto for India. Somehow this is a lesson that US has not yet managed to learn.

- posted by Jesse "Doc" Wendel