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Should our beliefs be held against us?

Journalist condemned for revealing that she's a Creationist. But how does that affect her work?
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Gord Woodward, July 19, 2013 2:14:26 PM

If your kid’s high school science teacher didn’t believe in climate change, would you feel Junior was being short-changed in class?

If your doctor was in favour of euthanasia, would you ditch her?

And if a journalist said publicly that she believed in Creationism, would you trust her less? (Gotcha – that’s a trick question. Journalists don’t have any of our trust, as we all know. We saw it on the Internet).

Weighty questions for a Friday in summer, we agree. And especially since we all have far more important issues to occupy our brains, such as the impending arrival of the royal baby. But hey, we’ve got to do something to fill the time while we wait on Kate, so we might as well ponder for a moment whether the personal beliefs of people who have public influence – the politicians, educators, scientists, journalists etc. of our world – should matter.

Let’s focus on the case of journalist Virginia Heffernan, a U.S. reporter whose career from here on will always be associated with a piece she just wrote, entitled “Why I’m a Creationist.”

In outing herself she leaves no doubt about where she stands. But she does it with some irreverence, rather than with the spittle and bulging eyes often associated with her fellow believers. “I guess I don’t ‘believe’ that the world was created in a few days, but what do I know?” she wrote. “Seems as plausible (to me) as theoretical astrophysics, and it’s certainly a livelier tale.”

Her confession is not as dramatic as the ones we used to torture out of heretics in the good ol’ days, but for our philosophical meanderings, it’ll do. Heffernan’s words, you see, have stirred an Internet debate (a term meaning “mindless insults in an intellectual vacuum”) about whether “the Big Bang” was the sound of her journalistic credibility exploding.

Critics contend that she can no longer be taken seriously, and that her decision to share her inner thoughts will be a career killer.

Uh huh. And Stephen Harper should never have won an election, given what goes on in the deep, dark recesses of his mind. (Now there’s a setting for a scary movie! Pay attention, director of the inevitable The Conjuring II.)

The judgment we render shouldn’t be based upon what people believe, but what they do. Hell, when MacKenzie King was prime minister he talked to his dog and to spirits of the dead (and no, we’re not referring to members of the Canadian senate) – but he held the big chair for longer than anyone else and introduced many of the social policies that are now seen as part of the soul of our country.

Similarly, Heffernan’s journalistic abilities are not compromised because of her views on the origins of the species; they would be if her bias shows in her writing. Nor are educators any less adept at their work solely because of their beliefs (teachers are just less adept at working, that’s all). And physicians can still reset broken bones even if they side with those who advocate euthanasia.

We don’t need to agree with their beliefs, but we shouldn’t accuse them of automatic incompetence just because we disagree. To do so would short-change us all.

Image credit: Thinkstock

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Gord Woodward

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