This is a rugby league column. I’ve been putting off writing this particular installment for a couple of months now because it’s about many things but only tangentially about rugby league.
In my procrastination, I hoped someone else would write it. I haven’t seen anyone do so. I then hoped the issue would quietly die a death so that what I had to say would be irrelevant. That hasn’t happened.
What I have to say is about Israel Folau and it won’t take long. It’s very simple.
As I understand it, Folau said that – among other groups – homosexuals will go to Hell.
My immediately thought upon reading this was perhaps different to yours: I thought, “How ridiculous, there is no such place as Hell!”
There is – of course, right? – no God. No more than there’s a tooth fairy.
What he said was akin to “If you’re gay, the Boogie Man will get you.” Or if you’re a drunk, Wile E Coyote will chase you down and eat you.
Preposterous. Too silly for words.
But I do have a slightly bigger point to make here than ‘I want to infuriate our Christian readers’. I recognise and accept that Folau’s comments could have a harmful impact on young people struggling with their identities.
I agree the Rugby AU were within their rights to terminate his employment. We live in a world where a sports governing body, the NRL, campaigned aggressively in favour of the legalisation of gay marriage.
Folau’s comments have the capacity for real harm but they are also what is known in the corporate world as ‘bad optics’. Very bad.
So would a sports governing body sack me based on the opening few paragraphs here? Well, I haven’t vilified anyone, I haven’t called Christians stupid or deluded. I’ve just expressed something I regard as a blatant fact.
So I hope they wouldn’t. But maybe they would, because my truth has the capacity to offend a lot of potential customers. So it’s commercially harmful.
How big a part in these decisions is commercial harm, and how big a fraction of that part is conscious or unconscious on the part of those doing the deciding?
My still-wider observation is that we have spent millennia reshaping our understanding of ancient superstition to suit our current societal norms, conveniently ignoring uncomfortable truths. There has to be a breaking point.
To me, the most interesting aspect of this whole imbroglio has nothing to do with sport. Folau seems to represent, if not a breaking point, a signpost marking where the breaking point might be.
Among some of the teachings in the Bible, according to multiple interpretations, are that a master has the right to mistreat slaves in a perverse way, selling your daughter is cool, cannibalism and incest are normal in some circumstances, disabled people are banned from church, eating and killing kids is also justifiable and many, many other BC-based horrors.
Because we seem to think we need religion for something or other, we turn a blind eye to these savage teachings.
Folau has reminded us they are there. Instead of facing up to the contradictions he has highlighted, we have chosen to continue deluding ourselves that imagined sorcery from 2000 years ago and a modern, inclusive and progressive society are compatible.
They are not. As a species, we will one day have chose between them. I’d like to think the countdown to that day ticked down a second or two in recent months in regard to this trivial little sports controversy.