BATTERING RAM FAITH AND UNFAITH
It is an irony in its own right that the bible cited by sports star Israel Folau sacked for “homophobia”, doesn’t employ a precise equivalent of the “homosexual” word as used and understood today any more than it includes the word “atheist” Folau seems to think belongs in scripture. But the ironies (and confusion) don’t end there, they only begin.
Criticized and now penalized Wallabies Rugby star, Israel Folau, who has declared gays are bound for hell (along with other classes of people) if they don’t repent, has something in common with atheist crusader, Richard Dawkins. In the realm of faith and unbelief respectively, both are uncompromising fundamentalist literalists.
Something neither they nor their fans would even recognize, is that both were also born under the (battering) ram sign of Aries which has a remarkable history and function in the sphere of beliefs. Neo-atheism is almost the province of Ariens – Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, A. C. Grayling. Evangelicalism like that of General Booth of the Salvation Army derived from a fiery Arien, while it was the missionary saint, St Francis Xavier, whose unmitigated homophobic fervour would prove a major reason Christianity failed to take root in Japan. The level of insult and abuse directed upon gay courtiers (“worse than pigs and dogs”) was considered barbarian brattishness beyond the pale. Coming up to date, Folau’s chief Australian defender of his abrasiveness as free speech justified, is the Arien broadcaster, Alan Jones.
Although it is undeniably controversial for free speech anywhere to penalize Folau with termination of contract for his outspoken beliefs, there is an exasperating, tactless insensitivity and confusion in them all the same, especially as regards gays. A rather six of one and half a dozen of the other type situation has now arisen as regards free speech and its censorship in Australia because Folau is just so extreme. (He has even criticized Christians for celebrating Christmas !). Since it is well established that young gays have extra struggles of adjustment and a higher than usual suicide rate, they don’t need to have a celebrity promising them the hell fires on Instagram (especially not one who in the not distant past has not been unhappy to model for a gay magazine and be spokesperson for “diversity”. Folau has the right to change his mind without being called a hypocrite, but he should in common decency have left any words about gays to others. For an impassioned gay response to Folau see this article in the Sydney Morning Herald shorturl.at/klrS8
If public figures must criticize gays at that level, it might be more to the point to call out, say, those whose rave party enthusiasms help keep the drug cartels in business or again older gays who exploit the vulnerable and inexperienced young who may have just been shunted into the big world by rejecting families. (This might besides better approximate to the apostle’s “homosexual offenders” as a modern translation like NIV has it).
For the likes of Folau and his supporters (who now regard him, as he plainly does himself, as a bit of martyr ready to suffer any rejection in service of Jesus!) the matter is as simple as “what the bible says” and needing to repeat it. Anglican Bishop Michael Stead of South Sydney in rather similar vein told The Australian (April 17th) if Folau did nothing more than post to social media “what is essentially a summary of the Bible, then it’s a signal to the rest of us to keep our mouths shut”….. WHAT?! Can the bishop be so misguided (and self interested in relation to personal freedoms) as to propose a summary of the bible or gospel is involved?!
The matter certainly isn’t as simple as “what the bible says” or some “summary” of it, and it’s important to realize why.
THE LIMITS OF LITERALISM
As regards specifically homosexuals, words for “homosexuals” and “homosexuality” simply don’t occur in the bible so that translation and terminology will have a lot to do with how the subject is understood today by different scholars, historians and Christians and with other statements and references in the bible taken into account.
Psychology didn’t come into the picture for the ancient world so what the bible, especially the OT, would recognize as indicated would tend to be persons, sodomites, known for acts such as would be committed by especially paganish temple prostitutes masquerading as women. It was this class of persons who got dismissed from the Jerusalem temple (but not executed) under the reforms of Israel’s King Josiah. Such were almost certainly the original target of the often cited Leviticus ban of male same sex. (But lesbians aren’t even mentioned in the OT, while if male same sex is paganish “abomination”, then so too is eating the pork many Christians eat. So let’s belatedly obtain some perspective!).
But almost more to the point for understanding biblical condemnations and any vice lists of the damned which Folau derives from St Paul to the Galatians (which unlike 1 Corinthians doesn’t include anything re “homosexual” or “homosexuality – the guy can’t quote right), let’s notice it includes liars.
Think one moment. The fact is that even the most honest people do, or need, to lie at least occasionally. The bible doesn’t endorse Kant’s “categorical imperative” according to which one should never lie. In Exodus God blesses the two righteous midwives who lied to save the Hebrew children from Pharaoh.
Thieves. Are all thieves damned? Would it be so evil for the starving to steal a loaf of bread? Obviously by thieves St Paul has in mind all those who Mafia-like spend their lives turning the wheels of corruption.
That it’s so easy in this way to start deconstructing what the bible via St Paul states, should alert us to the following:
- The apostle is generalizing. At most he is speaking regards what his supposedly regenerate flock should not exhibit while pointing to symptoms of a larger unregenerate state in the world beyond. But more importantly…
- For purposes of random, sensational quotation like Folau’s, there is anyway a certain irrelevance in these vice lists seeing that in Paul’s understanding, there is another, more crucial generalization involved. This is that – by and large – everyone, even the good, can be hell bound. For the apostle the chief feature of society is that it is “fallen” and largely doomed. “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing” (2 Cor 4:4).
In the ancient world and before acceptance of resurrection belief became common enough to produce more RIP style optimism in even unbelievers, save in rare exceptions the post-mortem state for everyone was understood to be the darkness of Hades. This was unremitting, a version of hell. Consider the Homeric horrors of Odysseus’ visit to Hades and the souls trapped there that blood sacrifice alone can summon up to record their misery. The gods can never save from death.
DEATH, HELL AND ALL THAT
Christianity arrived to promise deliverance from death, conditional upon especially faith and repentance. Folau is all for these and not incorrectly; it’s just that he gets the emphasis and application wrong. Without these, and because God is perfect and humanity imperfect, the two can otherwise never now be easily reconciled and. “Flesh and blood cannot enter the kingdom of God”(1 Cor 15:50). The regenerate soul would require nothing less than the house of a new spiritual body via resurrection to reside anywhere but deep earth or Hades.
Today, neither faith nor repentance (lit. mind change) are popular, well understood concepts, especially amid trendy doctrines of personal autonomy and pride in self and one’s accomplishments. Faith and repentance are nonetheless secrets of meaningful spiritual change …..even if not change to the extent Folau assumes that the gay orientated person will become straight. (As the himself probably gay orientated prophet Jeremiah famously had it: “Can the leopard change his spots?” ( See my “Jeremiah’s Loincloth” feature https://wp.me/p2v96G-Hm). The gay person needs to be responsibly rather than chaotically gay.
Though the bible does argue for God from creation, belief itself is treated less philosophically than existentially. Accordingly, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand” is how the Baptist introduced his ministry. It is honest recognition of human failure, brokenness and mortality which can best prompt both realization of the need for God and what the nature of God is. “Repent” in this case denotes a general direction of the mind for everyone – a whole vice-list of those needing to repent doesn’t come attached.
REPENTANCE AS A USEFUL PRACTICE
Providing it doesn’t descend into morbid, self-unforgiving guilt, repentance or permanent self-criticism, is (with praise) almost the prime religious exercise. To say repentance “doesn’t work” because people keep failing, is almost but not quite irrelevant. Just as people do (or should) reckon to keep saying “sorry” if they hurt and offend others, even though they are virtually guaranteed to do so again (but perhaps less so over time!), so it is good for mind and spirit to keep “repenting” failures. It’s the opportunity for renewal of mind and spirit. Simply to recognize one is not Superman or Superwoman for ideal performance in life can be both a relief and a means of being closer to interaction with the perfection of God. Confession to self, others and God and being forgiven by them is a profound human need inadequately understood. The rationalist poet, Goethe, couldn’t understand his irrational need for it.
It nonetheless makes sense because from a certain point of view it could be said we are anyway always a bit “wrong” even at our best (our righteousness like filthy rags as the apostle had it) and moderns especially are half neurotic living in what the writers of bible would probably regard as a state of ritual impurity from sheer lack of regular, sufficient “repentance” in their lives. Some would even boast “I never say sorry”, but perhaps they really should for their own and everyone’s good!
NOT ALL AND QUITE LOST
Though unquestionably he does regard the whole world to be “perishing” and needing to repent, in fairness to the sometimes severe apostle, this doesn’t mean St Paul assumed as some extremists since St Augustine and up to Folau today evidently do, that everyone, (from unbaptized infants to even the ignorant in the case of Augustine!) are all automatically lost souls. In fact, he surely negates that claim in such as Rom 2:14. However….there’s no need to go into that subject here nor regarding hell, matters I touch on in an article Greg Sheridan’s God is Good for You: A Major Book with and odd flaw https://wp.me/p2v96G-16w What should be stressed is where Folau’s outspokenness puts the rules of public conversation in an era of PC.
Folau’s pushing of his beliefs despite warnings against their unsuitability and possible danger to impressionable young minds, is troubling. His aggressive “witness” and then his martyred stance is almost a caricature of type of Christian role. Little good can come of it…. Except possibly that it reminds us of one thing that church leaders ignore, namely precisely the need for “repentance” as a major aspect of life and Christianity itself, and almost as a technique…..
FUNDAMENTALISTS WITHOUT REAL FUNDAMENTALS
….Radical change is not being preached in the majority of churches, especially where whole areas of private behaviour are concerned. A too frequent, puritanical over-emphasis on sex in the past has led in the present to an almost total silence to the point almost anything has been allowed, or at least conveniently ignored. The scandals of especially clerical sexual abuse have occurred only because it was too easy to forgive or just dismiss things where a more serious repentance was plainly required. You don’t say like Cardinal Pell “I’m not interested” when faced with a case of notorious abuse.
The churches, reduced almost to just arms of smiling public charity, have ceased to teach their members, let alone preach to those outside, some basic spiritual and theological principles of the faith. It is scarcely possible to understand what has happened through the Folau controversy otherwise. Folau’s actions and attitudes are both an accident and over- compensatory reaction to what the churches have become where beliefs and witness are concerned. There is a crisis of ignorance that neither church silence nor celebrity shouting can hope to resolve but against which Folau kicks and butts.
This is an article it should not even cross my mind as a lay person to write. It should be unnecessary because if they were attending to their their job so many church leaders should already have given meaningful answers to Folau and to gays and others; but so far the silence is either deafening or as in the case of the cited Bishop Stead, almost in itself another scandal of misguided thinking. No one wins in this case. If Folau loses that’s bad for freedoms, if he wins it will seem like open day to the uninformed, careless even eccentric treatment of religion in public. Folau is an insensitive messer should have just kept quiet and whatever happens, he and the world should not see him as any martyr to the things of Christ.