Let me be very clear from the start that I do not agree with Israel Folau when he says homosexuals will go to hell. I don’t agree with him for two reasons. Firstly, as an atheist, I believe in neither God nor hell. Someone cannot go to a place that does not exists.
Such a comment will get me in trouble with Folau. Folau didn’t just tweet about homosexuals. He took a swipe at a whole bunch of people including atheists like me. His full social media post read:
“Warning – Drunks, Homosexuals, Adulterers, Liars, Fornicators, Thieves, Atheists, Idolaters. HELL AWAITS YOU. REPENT! ONLY JESUS SAVES”.
Well, if Folau is right and I am wrong then I don’t have to worry about woollen jumpers for eternity as I am guilty of five of his eight sins.
Secondly, I have no moral issue with homosexuality. I have no problem, in a tolerant society, with people’s sexuality, heterosexual, bisexual, sapiosexual or whatever. What consenting adults do in the privacy of their own bedrooms is their business not mine. It is why I was part of the 60% of Australians who voted for Gay Marriage.
But unlike some I do not condemn the 40% who did not support gay marriage. They have a right to hold and express their opinions. It is why I also defended Margaret Court on these pages.
I also have no problem with freedom of expression, so long as it does not incite violence or promote paedophilia. I support freedom of religion, so long as my tolerance of people’s religion is matched by their tolerance of my atheism.
Tolerance is a funny thing though. Tolerance is not loudly proclaiming views with which one already agrees. Tolerance is measured by how well people support the expression of views with which they disagree. If you consider yourself a tolerant person, ask yourself this: How often have you vocally supported the expression of a view with which you disagree?
Like Margaret Court before him, Folau is being condemned because he genuinely holds a Christian view. Not only Folau, now it seems the AFL has ‘spoken’ to both Gelong’s Gary Ablett and Carlton’s Matthew Kennedy for merely ‘liking’ Folau’s mainstream religious post.
Over half, 52.2% of Australians claim to be Christian according to the last census. A further 2.6% were Muslim and 0.4% Jewish making a grand total of 55.2% for the Abrahamic religions. That is pretty mainstream.
The old testament and its teachings are part of broader holly scriptures of the three Abrahamic religions, Islam, Judaism and Christianity. The scriptures are clear in the teachings which are totally consistent with Folau’s posting.
Yet I am very glad that we don’t follow the bible literally (either Old or New Testament) as I don’t agree with selling your daughter into slavery (Exodus 21:7-8), I don’t think slaves should follow masters (1 Peter 2:18), I don’t think marrying a divorced person is adultery (Luke 16:18) and I have real problems with daughters getting their father so drunk that they can rape him and bare his children (Genesis 19:31-36).
But I also have real problems with firing someone from their job just because he holds and expresses genuine religious views.
I posted on my Facebook page that I was quite glad that Folau is taking this to court. Again, I specifically reject his view, but I do believe he has the right to express his view. This is particularly so in a society tolerant of religions and particularly given that his religion is followed by over 50% of Australians.
For me this is an issue where we have Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Expression (enshrined in limited for in Australian law by the Political Ad Bans case in 1992 see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_Capital_Television_Pty_Ltd_v_Commonwealth) on one hand, against Freedom from Offence on the other.
Having a court rule on that conflict is quite sensible in my view.
Unsurprisingly for Facebook, some comments on my view have been quite heated.
One person let’s call her ‘Katherine’, who I’d previously thought of as quite a tolerant person, not only condemned Folau, but even rejected the notion of a court having a look at the issue. According to her not only is Folau wrong, but Christianity is wrong, and the bible should change!
Katherine said that we need to remember the mental health issues related to vilification of homosexuals, including the number of suicides that tragically result. She is right that we should take this into account.
But what about the huge number of deaths from religious vilification, including suicide?
So, what if Katherine is right? What are we really saying?
If we agree with Katherine, we are saying that we have no problem with Folau’s sacking just because he expressed a genuinely held religious view. We are saying that a court should not even review the decision of sacking someone just because of their religious view.
Is this what we really want? Firing people for their religion with no review? That sounds more totalitarian than tolerant to me.
Surely, we are a strong enough country to not just tolerate but encourage the views of people with whom we disagree. An active and vibrant democracy requires debate and disagreement. Tolerance is not defending views that you like. Tolerance is defending views with which you disagree.
Folau may not be tolerant, but nor are those who are calling for his career to be destroyed.
This article was first published in The New Daily on April 20, 2019, here.