MUNGO MacCALLUM. Israel Folau and the problem with fundamentalist religion.

The Israel Folau saga is finally moving to the tribunals – first to the Fair Work Commission, and if that does not produce a result, on the Federal Court and perhaps beyond.  

It was inevitable of course – a high profile case and. more crucially, one involving millions of dollars. No lawyer worth his silk was going to bypass that sort of opportunity of a heap of free publicity and a shitload of money.

Ostensibly it is a dispute over a contract between Folau and the Rugby Australia, but it has been conflated into a major battle over religion and free speech: should an employer have the right to sack an employee who defies a ruling not to proselytise his belief that homosexuals are sinners who will go to hell if they did not turn to God. It is up to the various judges to sort this out, but in the meantime it is worth unpacking just what he said and its implications. The full list of those Folau warned were hell-bound was: drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, atheists and idolaters. But he offered a get out clause – they could escape their fate if they repented. Well, perhaps most of them could – all but one of those alleged sins are matter of choice so repentance may be an option. But homosexuality is not a choice – it is matter of birth, what we now call genetics. Demanding repentance for what cannot change is both cruel and pointless – as silly as telling Folau to repent for being Polynesian. This is where the offence lies: young Christians trying to deal with their inherent sexuality are to be condemned to damnation. And because they are who they are, there can be no escape. It is a recipe for rejection, trauma and despair.

Some apologists have tried to play this down: one of the more absurd said that all Folau was saying was that they would have to sit in the naughty chair. But that is not what his faith states: it declares unequivocally that they will be cast into a flaming pit to be tormented for all eternity, a bit more severe than ten minutes in the sin bin. As a devout Episcopalian, Folau must follow his scripture.

However, his fellow Pentecostal , Scott Morrison, disagrees: after some prodding, he said he did not believe homosexuals would go to hell because God loves everyone. But hang on: Folau’s key defence is that he is simply quoting St Paul, the bible, the word of God. So which part of the bible does Morrison reject?

Apparently which ever bits do not suit him. For instance, he is clearly not interested in Jesus’s ideas about the Good Samaritan approach when it comes to to asylum seekers.

And when it involves money, his aspirational agenda is not that Christians should forsake all their wealth and give it to the poor, they should accumulate as much as possible and then hang on to it rather than pay taxes to Caesar. None of this goody goody stuff about camels and needle’s eyes: in the gospel according to ScoMo, St Peter will roll out the red carpet to welcome the super rich into heaven. Folau himself is asking for $10 million in damages, and that may be just for starters.

Which is the problem with fundamentalist religion: you can’t just cherry pick the bits that suit your agenda – it is all or nothing. And that is why Australia is a secular democracy, and it is tempting to say, thank God for that.

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Mungo MacCallum is a veteran political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy.

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