When I was on Sky’s The Front Page programme the other night the topic of Israel Folau and his religious views came up. Yet again.
This story has been around now for over a month with no signs of disappearing. A Daily Telegraph piece on the Folau fiasco, the trampling of his rights to speak freely and the Australian Rugby Union’s cack-handed handling of the whole business hoovered up ten minutes of air time with a federal election just days away.
All over a Tweet. And a retweet at that.
But still it goes on. With Folau’s second-hand “gays will go to hell” exhortation deplorably exploited by Bill Shorten against Scott Morrison on Tuesday, this has gone beyond defending free speech and whether a person can give up their rights to it in return for being paid millions. It’s now seen as an election issue.
On The Front Page I rolled my eyes and said I’m over it, and Folau. Sick of hearing about it, sick of talking about it.
But as I talked it dawned on me just why I’m heartily sick of l’affaire Folau. What’s truly objectionable about Folau’s actions is not his tweet, it’s not his dispute with the ARU, it’s not its deplorable politicisation by Shorten.
It’s his evangelical, self-righteous God-bothering.
In-your-face religion, where one person assumes he has the God-given right to impose his morality on the rest of us, might be the Tongan way he grew up with. But it is not the mainstream Australian way.
Religion for most of us is a personal and private thing. Folau with his simplistic, fundamentalist evangelism simply doesn’t get that. It is the cultural norm in deeply religious Tonga, where absolutely everything closes on Sundays, but it is not the norm here.
I don’t buy Folau’s explanation he was acting out of “love” for his fellow man. He was imposing his self-righteous morality on us as a public figure. He is just as guilty of that as the gay lobby condemning him, let alone the me-too politicians like Shorten and commentators who back them.
In the New Testament Christ condemned the Pharisees, black-letter religionists whose prudish and smug outwards observance of Jewish law and practice gave them pretensions of moral superiority over all others. It strikes me that Folau, however well intentioned he thinks he is, is merely a Pharisee of the keyboard.
Or in Australian language, an intolerant wowser, a pub preacher.
While it upholds Judeo-Christian traditions and values, and freedom of belief and worship are ingrained into our social fabric, Australia essentially is a secular nation. In-your-face God-bothering simply is un-Australian. Folau is naïve and foolish in not understanding that about his adopted country, and in failing to understand that his “you’re all going to hell” message would cause such a furore.
In his naiveté, however, Folau should not be apotheosised. He’s not the Messiah; he’s a very silly boy.
So let’s all get over Folau and stop seeing him as a martyr persecuted by the ARU and its virtue signalling, pseudo-woke sponsors. He’s merely a holier-than-though Twitter wowser and overpaid footballer for heaven’s sake, not bloody Sir Thomas More. We should stop treating him as if he is.
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