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Yes is inclusive, No is divisive

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Free speech, rugby, and religion

By Brian Morris

Free speech can be contentious, with heated comment both for and against hot-button topics.

But there’s often a third dimension that’s never discussed. Such is the case with Israel Folau.

With so much passion surrounding free speech – and quite rightly so – it’s not difficult to see why divisive arguments flare up over highly charged social issues. But on occasions there can be an underlying third factor that gets lost in the maelstrom of pro-and-con debate. One such example is rugby star Israel Folau, and his Instagram comment that “gays will go to hell”.

By late-April the furore has not abated, with Folau doubling down on his view that “Hell” was God’s plan for gay people, “unless they repent of their sins and turn to God.” Rugby All Black, TJ Perenara, is the latest to join a growing list of sports people to condemn Folau’s comment – they include World Cup referee Nigel Owens, Super Rugby player Brad Weber, Wallaby Nic White and Welsh great Gareth Thomas.

Conversely, Treasurer Scott Morrison has come out in support of his evangelical compatriot, praising his anti-gay remarks. While free speech must he held as a foundational principle in a democracy, Folau’s tweet was certainly ugly and provocative. But Morrison is on record as wanting to crusade for religious freedom – but only in defence of Christianity. The Guardian now reports him say, “I think he (Folau) has shown a lot of strength of character in just standing up for what he believes in and I think that’s what this country is all about.”

Apart from these predictable “he’s right” or “he’s wrong” comments, there’s a third dimension to this kind of social fracas which is seldom touched on by the media.

So what is this ‘third element’ that is relevant?

Social controversy that is underpinned by religious belief needs also to be closely scrutinised – on the basis of ‘free speech’ – and particularly on the imperative of evidence and historical truth. A religious declaration of “God’s plan” cannot be stated as “fact” – the Old Testament as verifiable history is palpably wrong. We know from contemporary biblical scholars – and from every branch of science – that Genesis, Exodus and the other Bronze Age stories are allegorical myth, not the word of God.

Even the Israeli Institute of Archaeology has given up finding any evidence of Moses and 600,000 escapees from Egypt wondering around the Sinai Peninsula for 40 years. Like Adam and Eve, Noah, and the burning bush, it just didn’t happen. Since that ancient epoch the world has progressed significantly at every level, through dramatic advances in education, science, technology, and two centuries of social enlightenment.

Obnoxious religious calls to execute gays has no place in modern society – given that it’s a primitive theology from 3,000 years ago. It’s fine; believe in any ‘god’ you wish, but ritual religious prejudice toward other citizens is primitive behaviour. Society has moved beyond slavery, capital punishment, and subjugating women. Fundamentalist Christianity — as with dogmatic Islam — needs to reform and modernise.

‘Freedom of Religion’ is the basis of a current Review by Philip Ruddock, due to report to parliament on 18th May. It is clearly stated, under two international covenants, that limitations exist for “manifesting” one’s religion. It is unacceptable to promote religious beliefs that deliberately harm or threaten other citizens.

So media commentary on the pros and cons of Folau’s assertion is insufficient. We need to question how he knows “God’s plan”. Other than a mythical ancient text, why does he think “gays will go to hell?”. He is euphoric about his devotion to Jesus – but nowhere in the New Testament is the Nazarene ever quoted as condemning homosexuals. All anti-gay references emanate from the legitimately discredited Old Testament.

Religion has added nothing new for three millennia, except global division over conflicting beliefs. Christianity is in decline in all progressive countries, and that trend will continue while fundamentalists persistently deny social and scientific progress – and blindly cling to the Old Testament as the “infallible and inerrant word of God.

Brian Morris is author of ‘Sacred to Secular’. He promotes science, reason and critical thinking through media appearances and commentary on his secular website, Plain Reason.




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  1. Miriam English

    It’s kind of good that people speak out on their retarded religious views against many aspects of modern life. It hastens the decline of religion. The youth of today have largely lost interest in religion, mostly because of its divisiveness and the way it stands for hate while deceitfully pretending love. This is a good thing. It hurts people and it is definitely dangerous, but it is good. Like antiseptic on a wound. It stops the rot.

    Here is a wonderful example of how these people are being called out by the youth of today:

    People like Folau and Morrison are on the wrong side of history. Their time has gone.

    By the way, I love that those idiots think they know the mind of god when it comes to gays, but ask them about the mind of god after a major catastrophe, and they suddenly (and temporarily) believe no human can understand god’s mind. Idiots.

  2. peterws999

    Free speech allows Folau to say something objectionable, it doesn’t exclude people expressing their objections. Brian Morris’ piece expresses the secular response very clearly and convincingly.

  3. John O'Callaghan

    Wonderful piece of writing Brian.. thank you

  4. Matters Not

    While I (largely) agree with the above, I also recognise that I, as an atheist, am very much in the minority.

    Israel Folau, as a Christian, believes there’s only one, true God and that belief affects and effects how he lives his life. His belief has profound, personal consequences – both now and in the future. And he knows and believes it. Apparently, he is prepared to sacrifice future wealth (and perhaps happiness) on the basis of his chosen beliefs. And he does so despite any number of pressures to do otherwise. Seems he wants to be judged by God, in such a way, that the outcome will either be heaven or hell.

    Living close to me is Kalpana, a Hindu woman who believes that there’s a whole range of Gods (almost one for every occasion, it seems) and that belief also profoundly affects and effects her daily life. She chooses to believe that she has an atman (read soul) and it transmigrates to a new life or attains release (moksha) from the bonds of existence upon her death. This belief (for her it’s truth) guides her everyday life.

    Seems to me that (just) the two examples (many more available) support the view that people construct their own reality. And while I might not like (and indeed disagree – or perhaps laugh) at their constructions, fact is that people construct their own reality. Further they cling to such constructions even when (apparently) mugged by same.

    But I recognise and admit, how I see things, is simply my construction. Absolute truth is not part of my thinking. And hopefully, never will.

  5. silkworm

    Homosexual activity is condemned in three places in the New Testament: Romans 1:26–27, 1 Corinthians 6:9–10, and 1 Timothy 1:9–10.

    Matters Not – Religious beliefs are not chosen; they are indoctrinated, mostly as children, when they have no choice in the matter.

  6. Miriam English

    Matters Not, not your silly “we construct our own reality” stuff again. Look, most of what you say I agree with — people have different beliefs and they act as if those beliefs were real whether they are delusions or not. Saying they construct their own reality obfuscates, instead of clarifying, what’s happening. It adds a layer of mystical fantasy that isn’t borne out in genuine examination. There is one reality that most of us try to align ourselves with, but some of us let confabulation or dogma muddle our minds so that we skew our perception of reality to a greater or lesser degree. Nobody has a private reality; there is one reality. To say there are multiple realities opens the door to Deepak Chopra’s nonsense. If you’re talking about people’s beliefs then why not simply use that term? Saying we “construct realities” misinforms and misleads.

    silkworm, in Romans 1:26–27, Paul of Tarsus (the sex-obsessed nut who wrote most of the New Testament) talks about god punishing people by making them become sexually obsessed, even making them do gay stuff. It’s one of the weirder passages in the Bible. It doesn’t actually condemn gay folks. The Christian fundamentalists think it does, but they’re crazy.

    1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (that loon Paul again) lists people who won’t get into heaven. He mentions “abusers of themselves with mankind”, which some construe as meaning gay men, but to be honest, it isn’t really clear, and considering Paul’s obsessive disgust for sex and women, it most likely means people who have sex, but honestly, it isn’t really clear what he means. If Paul meant men who have sex with men, why didn’t he just say so? The Old Testament didn’t beat around the bush.

    In 1 Timothy 1:9-10, the line “them that defile themselves with mankind” is interpreted by the Christian fundies as being about gays, but it really isn’t clear. For example it could mean having dealings with people who are impure such as those who worship other gods. The most likely meaning though is that people shouldn’t have sex at all. Many times in the Bible, Paul implored people not to get married or have any sex at all, specifically saying that men shouldn’t have sex with, or even touch, women — the Christian homophobes skip right over that. Paul was terribly sexually repressed and he really screwed things up for Christianity. Although 1 Timothy presents itself as being written by him, most scholars now agree it’s a forgery, written after Paul’s death by some other nut.

  7. Ken

    Once again Brian you have pointed out how wrong religious comments can be. Well done.

  8. Vineesh

    MT is closest to the truth. We each create our own reality or more correctly, we each are operating within a reality that could be said to be our own version of reality. How else can it be explained that one person has an irrational fear of flying and another person has a fear of cats?
    To those who say there is one reality, really??

  9. Miriam English

    Vineesh, we either approach reality or turn away from it. You can’t seriously think someone who genuinely thinks they can fly, unaided like superman has a genuine, self-created reality that has independent truth? No. Their delusions can cost them their life.

    As for “one person has an irrational fear of flying and another person has a fear of cats”, the word irrational is the key. You said it yourself.

    Humans create beliefs, myths, and dogmas, and too often believe the bullshit, but that has nothing to do with reality.

    What’s with this creepy desire to introduce mysticism?

    There is clearly one reality, otherwise science wouldn’t work.

  10. Kevin McDonald

    Why is there so much hatred and bigotry in extremely religious people like Folau? Religion deludes, divides and controls people.

  11. Vineesh

    Miriam, science and reality are not of the same. Science is a kind of knowledge that can be proven by repeating an experiment. Reality is subjective as it includes thoughts and the ‘knowing’ of one individual will be different to others and is the result of experience. What I see is my reality, including all thoughts that I believe and not believe. I am not afraid of cats or flying (in an airplane), but some people are and rightly so. You write “Humans create beliefs, myths, and dogmas, and too often believe the bullshit” – I agree, and that is a reality. Reality includes delusions. How many wars have been started because of deluded leaders. Or are you saying that delusions do not exist?
    Hard science and reality are worlds apart.

  12. Miriam English

    Vineesh, redefining reality messes with language. It doesn’t help anyone.

    Science is a reliable way to understand reality. Our senses are very good conveying reality too, unfortunately our senses have flaws, which have been elucidated by science, helping us to correct for them. We are also prone to mistakenly prejudging reality based on beliefs and mythologies and other erroneous ways of thinking. Science helps correct these too, with techniques like randomised double-blind experiments.

    If you want to talk about people believing crazy things, then I have no problem with that, but don’t dignify those beliefs by calling them realities. It just confuses conversations and encourages the mystics like Deepak Chopra, who con people out of money by claiming reality can be created.

    Playing with definitions to confuse the issue is not a good idea. Of course people’s delusions are a part of reality. Reality naturally includes poor deluded idiots handling snakes to prove their faith in their god, and it includes the fairly common occurrence of those morons being bitten and dying, because that’s what happens when their delusions come up against reality — poisonous snakes often bite people who handle them, and there is no god to protect them.

    Can I write “2+2=5”? of course I can. The text is real, but the idea it represents is wrong and does not match what really happens when I add 2+2.

    Your confusion can easily be avoided by speaking of multiple beliefs, not multiple realities. There is obviously one reality. This is why experiments by different people can confirm or disprove something. If there were any number of constructed realities science would be impossible. However, science works. Mysticism doesn’t and never has.

    It amazes me that people can use a computer — a machine containing billions of switches cascading in precise, astonishingly complex, yet carefully determined ways — but somehow persuade themselves that reality is somehow flexible and can be “constructed” at whim.

  13. diannaart

    Author, Brian Morris, nailed his topic with his closing statement:

    Religion has added nothing new for three millennia, except global division over conflicting beliefs. Christianity is in decline in all progressive countries, and that trend will continue while fundamentalists persistently deny social and scientific progress — and blindly cling to the Old Testament as the “infallible and inerrant word of God.”

    … and then onto to the “create your own reality” argument. To which I will add, if a reality can be created according to an individual’s perception/need, then surely god/s exist, unicorns and dragons populated rainbow land and taking the reality creation myth to a destination (not the final one, of course, because in creating reality there is no final destination), the proponents of “reality is created”, surely must be adherents to:


    Or do Matters Not and his ilk subscribe to selective reality in a way not dissimilar to selective reading of mythological/religious texts?

  14. Miriam English

    Thankfully religion is declining, but it is still a major problem.

    US religion is worth $1.2T/year, more than America’s 10 biggest tech companies, combined

    Imagine if USA spent all that money on fixing their society instead. Poverty would be quickly ended. Imagine if they gave up their other big addictions: weaponry, alcohol, and tobacco. Now THAT would make USA great again.

  15. Miriam English

    diannaart, good find! That’s exactly the sort of thing I worry about with new age mysticism. Like organised religion, it fleeces gullible people.

    I think Matters Not and Vineesh actually mean “beliefs” when they talk about multiple realities, but they’re too stubborn to acknowledge it. They’d prefer to pollute language.

  16. Zathras

    Firstly, the popular notion of “hell” does not exist in the Bible – it’s a relatively modern strung together narrative the make various bits fit – like Santa having a workshop filled with elves to explain where all the toys come from.

    Secondly, the Bible doesn’t say gays will go to “hell” – it explicitly commands that they be killed. If Folau is so devout, why not make that suggestion?

    According to the same Biblical sources, Folau plays football on the Sabbath and his tattoos (also an abomination) suggest he will be spending time in “hell” himself. I hope he’s not also left-handed or he may be in real trouble.

    Like other hypocritical Christians, he’s not using the Bible as a reason for his personal prejudice but as a convenient excuse.
    He cherry-picks some bits and ignores the rest.

    Stephen Hawking once described religion as “fairy tales for people afraid of the dark” but history has revealed it to be much more dangerous than that.

  17. jimhaz

    Half the problem is the non-questioning of the common memes of the group(s) one most closely associates with. If they question there would a loss of status or fear of losing status – so they don’t go there. We have a great fear of being ostracised.

    I would love to see cult like entities taken full on by the government – any entity that makes it hard to leave for fear of group based social outcasting risks heavy fines and potential loss of their religion status. I’m not talking about PC stuff – attack the organisation, not the adherent. Hypothetically speaking, why the hell do so few govs around the world make scientology illegal for instance – but the problem of duress can equally apply to the evangelicals and muslims.

    Ruddock is likely to come out with a tonne of absolute over the top rubbish – but it will be somewhat buried by trickery. He is sneaky like Howard.

  18. Miriam English

    Zathras, good point about the tattoos and working on the Sabbath. He also cuts his hair (forbidden), shaves his beard (forbidden), judges others (forbidden), and touches the football which is made of pigskin (forbidden). I wonder if his clothes are cotton-polyester (also forbidden), and being Maori I bet he eats kutai, which are mussels (shellfish are forbidden). He certainly doesn’t treat gays with love. I’d say he’s way more deserving of hellfire than the average meek gay guy who just wants to get along.

    jimhaz, fantastic idea having the government hitting cult-like groups with heavy fines. I wonder if we can make a future government do this. As for Scientology, those lunatics spend a lot of effort in intimidating people who might threaten their batshit insane “religion”. As most politicians seem to be congenital cowards, it’s easy to see why there’s not much pushback against them.

    A while ago I posted a hilarious short video by Hank Green, of the Top 5 Ridiculous Conspiracy Theories. Well, here is another list, by him of the Top 5 Actual Conspiracies. The first one in his list is Operation Snow White, a massive conspiracy by the Church of Scientology to infiltrate the US government and destroy everything that might portray them as weird, controlling, paranoid nutjobs. The operation included at least 5,000 people and infiltrated 136 government agencies, wiretapped people, hacked computers, destroying and altering vast numbers of documents. Scientology loons are crazy weird.

  19. Jay Buoy

    how come dum-dum Izzy doesn’t blame god for all his missed tackles but actually thinks god assists him to score a try.. it’s mind boggling and I am sure most gay persons couldn’t give two f*cks for the addled idiots opinion..

  20. Brian Alexander

    There’s another angle to this story which isn‘t getting the attention it deserves. Last year Folau became a shareholder and founding contributor in PlayersVoice, an online mag which publishes articles by sports people. It’s backed by Fox Sports. The mag started late last year and hasn’t got much of a profile yet. He attracts publicity with what he knows (or, at least the marketing people at PlayersVoice know) is a controversial comment and then doesn’t talk to other media but publishes his response exclusively in PlayersVoice. It’s all about the money.

  21. jimhaz

    @ Miriam

    The last Hank Green conspiracy “Business Plot” sounds familiar in relation to Trump. I can just imagine him at Mar-a-Lago getting his grovve on about such consversations.

    Hadn’t heard about Op Snow White, but not surprised.

  22. Pingback: Free speech, rugby, and religion: 22.4.18 | Plain Reason

  23. wam

    If it is true that the god of the jews, christians and muslims is the one god. What is the chance that the boys get together to straighten out the rules?
    Why were women inferior to men and is that premise still valid?
    pork and cockles killed jews before toxins were understood. Is that valid today?
    What is the point of bonking in heaven?
    If men who kill women and children are accepted into heaven and forgiven by god why would anyone think god would not accept homosexuals?
    Sorry but folau is an indoctrinated simpleton who should be exposed as such.

    ps spot on jay. Think of the earthquake in which god kills thousands but a child is found alive in the rubble and the crowd bray god is good or kind or merciful to spare the child. Crazy logic???

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