There’s nothing left to be said about the Israel Folau affair, but I’m going to say it anyway.
■ The outrage is confected. People had the choice to either take notice of Folau or ignore him. They chose the former, presumably because it gives them an excuse to display their fury. This is the zeitgeist; the spirit of the times. By taking notice of Folau, and by parading their virtuous indignation in countless social media posts and commentaries in mainstream media, they are giving his beliefs far wider circulation than they would otherwise have had. They are therefore complicit in spreading the harm that they claim to be concerned about. This was perfectly illustrated by a commentator over the weekend who wrote that we should ignore Folau, but then contradicted his own sensible observation by devoting an entire column to him. It makes no sense.
■ If what Folau said in his Instagram post is preposterous, as all his critics say, why dignify it by taking him seriously? That makes no sense either.
■ Folau is said to be quoting the Old Testament prophet Leviticus. His views can thus easily be ridiculed as primitive biblical fundamentalism – the sort of thing that the loving, forgiving Christ of the New Testament would never have endorsed, and therefore not to be taken seriously. But Folau’s post was based on a letter from Paul to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 6-9). In other words it’s entirely in line with mainstream Christian belief – or at least mainstream Christian belief as it was generally understood until relatively recently (and still is, in many Pasifika communities). In other words, what Folau is saying is consistent with beliefs that formed the basis of Western civilisation. Seen in that context, it’s not quite the crazy, extremist fringe opinion that it’s characterised as.
■ What’s more, being a committed Christian, Folau presumably believes it’s his God-given obligation to do whatever he can to save other souls by spreading the gospel message. It might not make sense to the rest of us in an overwhelmingly secular society, but that doesn’t free him from what he would see as his duty.
■ As is obvious from all the uproar, Folau’s position is a deeply unpopular one. But since when was it forbidden to express unpopular opinions? The barrage of opprobrium that Folau has brought down on himself sends a clear signal that while we theoretically enjoy the right of free speech, fear of the baying mob will deter all but the most determined from expressing unfashionable thoughts. It’s an ominous pointer to where the pending review of so-called hate speech might lead us.
■ None of the above should be taken as suggesting that Rugby Australia has no legal right to terminate Folau’s contract. I’m not a lawyer, but it seems to me that if he undertook to refrain from making such statements, then he has to live with the consequences. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be worried about the climate of censoriousness that now prevails in the sporting and corporate worlds or about the enforcement of secular orthodoxy, which is no less threatening than the religious kind.