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Religious belief and ‘bias’

What have you in common with Michael Jackson's jury and Ruth Kelly? People may believe you're biased because you're a Christian.

Jackson's trial in California started this week with jury selection. “… selecting an impartial jury will be hard,” (Daily Telegraph). “Whittling … down to 20 jurors and reserves will take up to a month … 4,000 prospects [have] been summoned … 750 … will complete a questionnaire investigating their attitudes to … child abuse, race, celebrity, plastic surgery and Jackson himself. … Those who pass … will be questioned further. ...

“[Lawyer] Paul Lisnek, said: ‘The prosecution will be looking for Republican, conservative, religious folks, probably Bush voters. The defence will be looking for somebody who is more sceptical on religion, an agnostic or an atheist. … People talk about who you want on the jury, but it's really more a question of who you don't want.’” Fair enough if there are wannabes after media attention, lucrative deals, or to ‘get Jackson’. But the process may be a sacrifice to post-modernism - rights and wrongs are only what I can persuade others to agree with.

Enter Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State for Education and Skills. Matthew Parris (The Times) headlines “Why Ruth Kelly's faith and her politics cannot be separated”. She is under scrutiny because she belongs to Opus Dei, villains of the piece in the hugely popular Da Vinci Code. Never mind that the book is fiction and deceptively inaccurate (LICC for a critique).

Kelly is quoted: “I have a private spiritual life and I have a faith. It is a private spiritual life and I don't think it is relevant to my job.” Who knows what she said, or how it was nuanced, but Parris’ retort in the circumstances is a rather fair: “What?” He continues “… if there is a single belief which breathes clearly through all Opus Dei's short history it is that God, faith, work and the world are all one.”  Amen to that!

How, then, do you and I handle decisions where faith impacts at work, at home, in the neighbourhood or the community? My magpie mind remembers an intelligent and direct YWAM seminar c1980: “1. Everyone has presuppositions.  2. The Christian's are (a) that God exists and (b) the Bible is his word.”  Parris argues that MPs should declare any religious affiliation that touches the topic of a debate.  I disagree, unless all MPs make similar declarations of their presuppositions, ‘religious’ or not.

If Christian presuppositions (unprovable assumptions) are as plausible as others, let's stand up for the credibility of what we believe, firmly based as it is on history and experience.  But you may be in trouble if you try to argue a business case from the Bible. Instead, consider the values of the organisation for which you work, a much more promising avenue of appeal (CCL's ... Being a Christian at Work for more).  Corollary: check the corporate values of a prospective employer before accepting a job.

Yours in Christ

Peter Nicholls

Check Opus Dei and its vision of seeking holiness ‘in the middle of secular society’.  If it interests you, Called to be Holy starts next week, exploring exactly the same theme.

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