Hell has been much in the news lately, oddly for these self-worshipping, hedonistic and non-believing times.
By wading yet again into the waters of Folau, one risks over-egging the story. But the Folau saga is the gift that keeps on giving, and there is yet another angle here, one that explains much of the backstory and which has been mostly overlooked.
Those who support Folau, increasingly with their hard-earned, it seems, fall into three distinct camps. There are those who support what he said about unrepentant sinners going to hell, those who (it seems) loathe what he said but, following Voltaire (or whoever actually uttered the words first), will defend to the death, or somewhere approaching death, his right to say it, and, finally, those who couldn’t give a rat’s but still go with the freedom of speech defence.
Those who oppose Folau are mostly just one big blob. They think he is a bigot and that he should be silenced. Some think he is a rich bigot. There are others who are not on his side, though. These don’t especially think he is a bigot, or don’t much care, but think the dispute is simply about contract law. They do not see any bigger freedom-of-religion picture.
It is worth looking a bit more closely at Folau’s supporters, for they are an interesting bunch. Those who support his rights to speak on religious matters but feel the need to express abhorrence at his expressed views are especially interesting, and their statements tell us much about the world we now inhabit.
One noteworthy exponent of this position is Andrew Bolt. According to a Bolt opinion piece this week, Folau’s views are “vile”. Bolt referred in passing to his own gay relatives and friends being hurt, and then expressed the view that Folau was especially out of line for “comparing” homosexuals to liars, thieves, etc. By now, we all know St Paul’s list.
Others have concurred with Bolt’s assertion. “Bigot” is a term often used in this connection.
Another Folau critic, a junior News Corp reporter (who in his spare time, “likes to eat”), one Sam Clench, thinks Folau is “clueless”. In a simply awful (perhaps, at a stretch, vile) piece of which anyone calling him or herself a journalist should be ashamed, the Clench boy brings out all the big ones – Folau is rich, he will use his winnings to buy a yacht, he is bigoted, he is hateful, he is a hypocrite for pretending that Christianity is about love, he is selective in his use of the Bible, he is judgmental, he says horrible things, and, of course – he is homophobic! That seals it, then. His legal case is a “tantrum”. He is wallowing in self-pity. Goodness.
Oh, and that wonderful business, GoFundMe, supports kids with leukemia, just by the way. Go figure. And lots of Wallabies also don’t like what Folau said. Well that proves the case!
What is worst, perhaps, is that Clench almost – almost – goes so far as to link Folau’s hate speech with youth homosexual suicide. This was the Ian “first openly gay footballer” Roberts line, which, mercifully, which got little traction because it is simply absurd.
Then there is Josh Bornstein, a workplace relations lawyer in the public eye, who has called Folau’s views “ridiculous” and “whacky”, while at the same time suggesting the case is very important for our society and for freedom of religion. Whacky? Vile? This is a quite a backhander to Christians by the freedom-of-speech brigade. Just letting you know – we think you are kooks, what with the talk of hell, sin and stuff, even though we will support your right to be seen to be kooks.
Of course, anyone is free to slag off at Christian views. They often do, and they do much, much worse. I heard in a homily this very morning that around 43 million Christians have been martyred over the past two millennia. Over half were slaughtered in the 20th century. The killings and persecutions continue, indeed they multiply. Insults like vile and whacko, are not even flesh wounds in comparison to the much harder experiences Christians endure, often short of death but typically including the loss of wealth, income and serenity.
Christians also endure the ignominy of having to live in what Pope John Paul II termed a culture of death – of rampant abortions and killing of the aged – where crimes are dressed up as individual rights, of the sight of men being wed to men and prancing up and down Taylor Square once a year in early March, marching not to protest against the absence of their rights, but to denounce ours.
Is Bolt correct? Are Folau’s views vile? Well, if they are, then until about eight minutes ago, the majority of Western populations, then not only believing but also practising Christians, also subscribed to these vile views. Now, of course, many still-believing Christians would agree with Bolt. The Church of Nice, as a Kiwi friend has aptly popularised a term borrowed from The Church Militant group, doesn’t hold much to Folau’s “fundamentalist” views of Christianity. One American priest (Fr James Martin), either a champion or notorious depending on one’s perspective, speaks often and publicly of “building bridges” and of pastoral care, rather than calls to repentance. His ilk feel they have a friend in the current Pope. The Gallen “mafia” in the Catholic Church, often aligned with the profiteers of the sexual revolution, might even be called a Catholic Gaystapo.
Bolt is, in effect, what might be termed a post-Vatican II atheist (with apologies to the late Paddy McGuinness AO). He especially doesn’t believe in what Christians used to believe in, or what he thinks they should believe in now. He has said (in a recent interview with the American writer Rod Dreher) that he just doesn’t get the Church’s “opposition” to gays. Bolt’s non-comprehension of the Christian position on homosexuality is similar to Clench’s charge of Christians “condemning them to hell for their sexuality”. (Bolt’s post Vatican II atheism reminds one of the American philosopher Robert Nozick’s quip in Anarchy, State and Utopia about “normative sociology”, the study of what the causes of social problems should have been. This is an hilarious take on political correctness, a marvellous vignette in a delightful, though generally dense and difficult, book). In other words, were there a hell, it certainly would not be full of the loving gay couples of Bolt’s acquaintance. Bolt is creating his own heaven, even though it does not, for him, exist. Imagine!
What about Folau’s “comparing” gays to “real” sinners? This is a canard, Mr Bolt. We are not picking on gays, Master Clench. We are all sinners. We all need to repent, in order to gain the eternal rewards Christians expect and in which they believe. Folau did not “compare” or “liken” (as another critic put it) homosexuals to (worse?) sinners. He merely stated that homosexual acts are, and remain, for Christians, sinful, in the same way, post the Fall, that other sins are, well, sins. And those who commit sins are, well, sinners. Good heavens!
Which of these views are vile, Andrew?
# “If you love me, you will keep my commands” (Jesus Christ)?
# “Go and teach all nations” (Jesus Christ)?
# There is sin? It is real?
# There is a hell (and a heaven, contra John Lennon)?
# Unforgiven serious sins merit hell?
# God gets to decide which activities contravene His commands? We do not?
# God judges what is in men’s hearts?
# Justice is on the other side of mercy?
# The laws of nature, held to be so since Moses, confirmed by the Lord and by Aquinas (who rated homosexual acts at very, very high up on the list)?
# All men are fallen?
# Sins have been named, and named clearly, in black and white (St Paul, the Didache, the commandments written down by the Apostles – “thou shall not commit sodomy”)
# God has revealed to us his laws?
# “God created them male and female” (Genesis)
Seems Andrew thinks it is vile to be a mainstream, believing Christian.
What is actually going on here is that the Bolt view is creating a secular definition of sin and of hell. A re-imagining of religion and of Christian belief – and yes, by a non-believer! In Bolt’s world, there is a new list of sins. A secular ten commandments, if you will. For the secular progressives, the things that would condemn one to hell, if it existed, include hate speech, homophobia, cheating (some sins still count), murder (still), paedophilia (still fashionable as a sin, but who knows in the future, given the beliefs of some on the fringes of the sex revolution), climate crimes and Islamophobia. Some would add supporting George Pell to that list.
According to that “right-wing refugee, Rita Panahi:
If you ask me, the only people going to hell are clowns who recline their seats on short flights.
Setting aside Rita’s seat-back sinner, there is no room on the secular sin list for authentic Christian sins, or little room at any rate. No gays in hell, only serial killers. Oh, and just about everyone goes to heaven. In other words, our sin list trumps yours. We get to pick the sins now.
Here is how one Christian writer has contextualised hell. According to Stefanie Nicholas:
The so-called “merciful” view of salvation-for-basically-everyone-except-Jeffrey-Dahmer that has come into vogue in recent years has no similar endorsement beyond its popularity.
Yes, the no-gays-in-hell view resonates with the times. Here is Stefanie again:
I believe that viewing Hell as the “baseline” — the default for human beings without Christ, due to the reality of sin entering the world — makes the most theological sense within the defined dogmas of our faith. I also believe that the good fruits of this view of Hell are obvious. Truly working out my salvation with fear and trembling helps me to have the courage to speak the truth about what our faith teaches in other areas, even when it means facing severe criticism and even hatred. It’s worth it. Helping to lead one soul away from the utter horror of eternal Hell is worth anything this world can dish out.
I just hope that Israel Folau keeps believing that “it is worth it”.
Yes, there is now precious little overlap between secular society’s favourite sins and the Christian faith’s rather Mosaic list, later perfected and simplified by Jesus Christ. The Folau critics, even those who respect free speech rights, want the new sin list to take precedence over the old, and even to banish the Christian sin list from the public square. The Christian sin list is so day-before-yesterday. Now we (the new ruling class) get to pick the sin list and our sin list trumps yours. This secularist misunderstanding (wilful perhaps) of the Christian understanding of sin is at the heart of much of the angst over Folau and his Christian supporters. It is a failing that must be called out, and loudly.
The distinctions among Folau’s supporters also provides a neat, current example of the things that divide libertarians (the free speech obsessives) from social conservatives who, while accounting for differences of theology and emphasis, pretty much support what Folau actually said. Indeed, they are glad he said what he did, both as a corrective to sloppy and indolent preaching by the pastors of our age who have forgotten sin and hell – “the four last things” – and as a rebuke of those in society who cherish, indeed champion, the godless, anything-goes era we inhabit.
Gary Scarrabelotti has written very well on this.
There is, in fact, a sizable gap in the things that supporters of Folau believe, and support. Does it matter? In the short term, of course not. As the millions pile up in support of the legal challenge, no one is much worrying about why those who support religious freedom do so. We just want to win the case, and, for a good many of us, to rub Rugby Australia’s and Peter Fitzsimons’ noses in it.
Longer term, whatever the final resting places of our twenty-first century brothers and sisters – hell or other destinations – we would probably do well to drop the right-of-centre virtue signalling, the urge so often apparent in our right-of-centre punditocracy, to tug the forelock to our progressive betters who occupy the cultural commanding heights among the ruling class of the age.
Rather than calling mainstream Christian views vile and whacky, Mr Bolt and others, instead ponder the downsides of merely accepting as a given Gaystapo’s core argument, the consequences of which are grave here on earth, whatever there might or might not be on the other side. Those who stop at the freedom-of-speech argument and ignore (or worse) chastise (largely Christian) people who accept the content, meaning and import of Folau’s position, are fuelling the coming turbo-charged age of persecution.
I don’t believe I need to quote Martin Niemoller’s gut-wrenching poem to finish.