OPINION

IT'S hard to worry about the gripes of minorities when just staying fed and clothed is a daily struggle, and Queenslanders have less patience with perceived 'troublemakers' than our softer southern neighbours.

So it's interesting to watch as $7m man Israel Folau's pleas for handouts threaten to turn Christianity into another  minority we have to pander to.

All sides of politics have slammed his cash-grab, with progressives angry at the waste of money and conservatives angry that he can't just follow the rules like everybody else.

His move from the Church of Latter Day Saints to his current church just moments before he would have been obliged to go on his missionary work did not go unnoticed.
His move from the Church of Latter Day Saints to his current church just moments before he would have been obliged to go on his missionary work did not go unnoticed.

When the strongest argument for his comments not being hateful is "but he said other people should burn in hell, too", we have to worry about the quality of public discourse we take seriously these days.

And now Christians across the country, formerly cozy in the knowledge they have some safety in numbers, find themselves having to play the minority card or be wiped out by Folau's tantrum.

The parts of Aussie heritage we can trace back to our religious side are a long list of charitable and social works designed to make sure society stays stable, ethical, and - above all - fed.

Folau's GoFundMe page was the exact opposite of that honourable legacy. Where once we identified the church as a builder of schools and guide to the helpless, moves like this are turning the Church into a glorified trade union.

Does this mean Folau should have just rolled over and taken it? Is it true that there are no implications for free speech in Australia?

Most of those giving money probably can't afford it, but their faith is strong and they want to help.
Most of those giving money probably can't afford it, but their faith is strong and they want to help.

On the first question, he probably 'should' have stayed in his lane as a sports player, just like Colin Kaepernick was asked to do by many of Folau's supporters. To say the former Rugby player is an expert on the hereafter is probably insulting most of the church leaders who have dedicated their lives to their calling.

On the second question, we have to ask what will change depending on how this goes.

If Folau is kept out of Rugby, even with his new source of handouts, there will still be no laws coming into effect, no precedent, that change what a company can and can't fire you for. Those laws aren't on the line and the court will only be applying rules that already exist.

If he is allowed back into Rugby after his welfare grab, I can't see a sudden rush of anti-gay players suddenly coming out to make life harder for gays, adulterers, and people who have tattoos - it's happening already so what's new?

So what changes here? The only thing Folau has achieved is to use every tactic his side of politics has been complaining about others using for years.

Now when news of Christian values being trampled by the Government hits the front page, readers are going to assume there's a financial motivation behind it.

Now when good works by Christians deserve to be shouted from the rooftops, instead we'll see comments sections being derailed with comments about greed instead of giving alms.

Even an angry atheist like me can see the danger in relegating religious groups to the sidelines the way Folau's actions have. This breeds the alienation required for extremism to flourish in a way that no other influence can.

If we want our spiritual life to be respected in this country, we need to call people like Folau out on the damage they're doing. No criticism by some keyboard-warrior atheist can do as much damage as Christianity's latest representative.

The religious people I know are much, much better than that - and deserve to be heard in ways Folau no longer does.

Kieran is a former economist and political staffer who currently works for News Regional Media. 

News Corp Australia


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