Reader Bias

As an internet-savvy fella I often find myself reading blogs, and having my opinions formed by them.

As I was reading through this article on the recent spat of religious/secularist rhetoric in the UK, I noticed that I had already formed a preconceived opinion. As a hopeful scientist, this wasn’t good. Not good at all. I found that whenever I read about Baroness Warsi, a voice in my head was going “boo, hiss”, and taking an intense dislike to the woman.

The article itself, written by Doug Saunders – which reminds me of Winnie the Pooh, incidentally –  is a relatively neutral article. He neatly describes the recent clash as that

In truth, no one is calling for a religious state or attacking faith. Rather, we are witnessing a showdown, across the West, between two competing definitions of “freedom of religion.” In one definition, the public sphere is a wide-open space: Citizens are free to try to impose religion, to invoke their gods in legislation, to wear whatever symbols they like. It’s a marketplace of beliefs, and may the strongest prevail.

In the other definition, that sphere is a neutral space: Religion is private and public places are unencumbered by competitions for divine supremacy. This definition recognizes that freedom of religion depends on a strongly defended freedom from religion. And freedom from religion is just as important for non-believers, who don’t want public life to be corrupted with spiritualism, as it is for devout believers, who don’t want their sacred beliefs to be sullied by the vicissitudes of politics.

It was a definition I’d never thought of before, especially given that secularists want the wall between church and state to remain standing (here in the UK and around the world, to paraphrase Nicholas Parsons); and the religious want their own religion to hold the greatest legislative sway. I may be generalizing a lot here, but I was still surprised. The “marketplace of religions” is reminiscent of the religions of America – where churches are businesses, and indeed is part of the reason why such an ostensibly secular country is so church-happy.

It’s my firm hope that the secularist idea wins out in this particular war for hearts & minds. It is rational and not discriminatory, but that’s a just part of why I hope this, and perhaps I will bore you in another blog to come about this.

Back to the original point – has anyone ever found themselves biased before even reading through an opinion piece? Is there an official term for it?

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