Press Column

Itís not often that you get a double-page spread on the sports pages devoted to a perfectly orthodox Christian, but something quite like this happened in Mondayís Guardian where a giant interview with Evander Holyfield, the boxer who lent Mike Tyson an ear, took his religious beliefs extremely seriously. There was a quote from his wife about retirement: "boxing is what Evander does. And he has to do it until the Lord releases him to do something else. I get less worried as time goes on. Sure, people say he looks a much better fighter now, but whatís happening is that God is anointing him."

Training sessions start with a prayer, and he beats his sparring partners to the tune of "Jesus I am Thirsty". It is quite clear that the writer, Donald McRea, believes him when he ascribes his victories to his faith and the scarcely credible courage this gives him. He has fought Tyson three times as well as every other top heavyweight. Holyfield is three stone lighter than his British opponent on Saturday, Lennox Lewis, who is also younger and taller. But heís not afraid. "Lewis donít have my faith. He donít have my experience. He donít have my wisdom Ö it took me years to reach that point, to love the moment of stepping into a dangerous place. To fight every round and enjoy it. To praise the Lord at the end but also to say ĎHey, I got that sucker! Did you see me hit him? Whap!í I got that attitude against Lewis."

All this was reported with affection and awe rather than mockery. It is part of the paradox of boxing that many of the people who love and admire it do so because of the way their heroes get hurt, rather than because of the way they injure others. It was only in a sidebar that Lennox Lewisí counter campaign was mentioned: he calls Holyfield a hypocrite because he confessed before his last title defence that he had fathered two illegitimate children since marrying Janice. "People got to understand that Iím a human being. I make mistakes," said Holyfield; and if thatís all he said, it is even more impressive. No smarmy nonsense about how it had brought him closer to God, as most Americans in that position would have responded.

A rather less attractive American had been in the Guardianís second section earlier: Pat Robertson, has followed his seat on the board of Laura Ashley with a joint venture with the Bank of Scotland to use his selling skills and their momney to launch a telephone bank in the American midwest. The chief executive of the Bank, Peter Burt, told the paper that "I donít see why business and religion donít mix. We try to manage the Bank of Scotland with very high ethical standards." There was also a quote from one of Robertsonís fund-raising letters. "God does not want us to turn America over to radical feminists, drug dealers, militant homosexuals, profligate spenders, humanists or world communists."

Robertson offers such a huge target that it was refreshing of the Guardian writers to find a new angle. "Like many US evangelists he thinks that once all the worldís Jews have regrouped in Israel, Jesus will return, ushering in the End of Time. "Itíll take place when the nations of the world come up against Israel and try to take Jerusalem away. The whole thought is that when Jerusalem is under attack, Jesus will come back. 1967 began what I would call the generation of the end of the Gentiles, That terminates in 2007. That is an important 40 years in the history of the world, as far as Iím concerned." It will be interesting to see what kind of pensions these people are selling. For the moment, though, Iíd stick to short term bonds.

The other notable fact was that if he gets even a tenth of his regular listeners to sign up for the new bank, he will have as many depositors as the Midland Bank has now.

Clare Garner, in the Independent on Sunday, had interesting statistic in a piece on women bishops. Women already account for a tenth of the paid priests in the Church of England ó and a third of the unpaid ones.

The Daily Telegraph is the last of the major broadsheets whose editor supposes that there might actually be true r false religious statements and to take the true ones seriously when editing the paper. I know that the Times gives religion a good showing, but this is more because they regard it as an important interest of the readers, like cookery or fashion. So it was interesting to see the whole of the top of the features page in the Telegraph given over to a discussion of Feng Shui by Bel Mooney. "I donít read horoscopes but will tell people Iím a typical Libran. I skulk in and out of crystal shops and light candles in Catholic churches. Ten years ago in Sydney I had the tarot cards read and was astonished by the truths the stranger uttered."

The practitioner agreed with everything in her house except the colour of the front door, which could not be changed, because it is "painted with Farrow and Ballís subtle Green Smoke, with toning Pigeon on all the other woodwork. It blends softly with the limestone and the landscape. I wouldnít paint it white", she explains indignantly. Her study is another matter. "Gail drew a plan of my room, with two crosses marking the Ďmost auspiciousí place for me to write ó facing the entrance of course, but at centre-back, about four metres from the expensive custom-built work surface where I usually perch.

Feng Shui practitioners do not have to think about where the telephone and plugs for computers need to be, or worry about the danger of trailing wires. Even so, the message was ĎYouíll be even more creative if you shiftí."

Bravely, she rearranged it all, and guess what, she was. For those of you who canít afford a full-scale Feng Shui practitioner, may I pass on one tip I have found helpful. Your creativity will become almost unendurable if you only arrange your work surface so it is about three feet from a recent and prominently displayed credit card statement.

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