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Israel Folau's confusion proves good intentions are no match for bad ideas

Will Israel Folau continue with the Waratahs? (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Expert
18th April, 2018
575
8501 Reads

Israel Folau is confused.

Not evil nor malicious. Confused. And by no small margin.

Just as the furore over his recent comments appeared to be fading, he reignited the issue through a piece titled ‘I’m a sinner too’.

In the article, Folau outlines the religious underpinnings of his beliefs, takes the ARU to task for misrepresenting him and restates his unwavering commitment to his faith.

While Folau’s column is an impressive testament to the shallowness of his thinking, it also serves to remind us that good intentions are often no match for bad ideas.

I finished reading his column convinced of two things. Firstly, that his devotion to his faith is driven by a desire to be a good man. And secondly, that many of the ideas rattling around in his head are entirely antithetical to human flourishing. The idea that the bible is an immaculate blueprint upon which we should organise our lives is intellectually toxic and morally disastrous.

How might one explain the good book’s take on slavery? Let us turn our attention to Exodus 21:20-21.

“And if a man beats his male or female servant with a rod, so that he dies under his hand, he shall surely be punished. Notwithstanding, if he remains alive a day or two, he shall not be punished; for he is his property.”

By even the most charitable reading this is unequivocal support for the ownership and torture of human slaves. But while in the West ideas like slavery, beating children with rods and murdering adulterous women have largely escaped the religious support they receive, confusion about what to do with homosexuality persists. And while it should be noted that religious views about homosexuality have evolved, Folau’s comments reveal how much work remains undone.

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This is not to suggest a silver lining cannot be harvested from this mess. The extent to which Folau’s freedom of speech has been preserved is enormously encouraging – at no point has he been muzzled by his employers. Indeed, free speech is the commodity which preserves our ability to protect and evolve anything we do or could value. By granting Folau the liberty to speak his mind we’ve all been invited to make our stand for the ideas we value.

However, freedom of speech must never be conflated with freedom from consequences. Until recently, Folau has been a sponsor’s dream. Freakishly talented footballers free of controversy are rare, and few Australian athletes have capitalised on their marketability to the extent Folau has.

This is likely to change. Indeed it should change. Qantas have publicly voiced their concerns and we can be sure Folau’s personal sponsors are keeping a close eye on their star.

Israel Folau

(Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

What happens next may well define Folau’s legacy. He may double down and persist in condemning all manner of ‘sinners’ to fiery deaths on his Instagram page. Attempting to martyrise himself is neither an intelligent career move nor a way to win the respect of thinking people.

However, for Folau the door remains well and truly open to an unusually captivating comeback story. I know Israel isn’t about to take advice from a heathen like me, but there are ways for him to adopt more nuanced interpretations of his faith. Interpretations that square his religiosity with the modernity in which he now finds himself.

Folau completed his piece with the following:

“At times, you can feel alone and down. But Jesus told us that when you stand up for Him in this world, you can expect backlash. I find peace in that.”

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One day Israel Folau may father a gay son or daughter – how much peace they find in the world will be decided by their father’s ability to change his mind.