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Truth is trouble : the strange case of…
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Truth is trouble : the strange case of Israel Folau, or how free speech… (vuoden 2020 painos)

– tekijä: Malcolm Knox

JäseniäKirja-arvostelujaSuosituimmuussijaKeskimääräinen arvioKeskustelut
313,364,966 (4)-
Jäsen:booktsunami
Teoksen nimi:Truth is trouble : the strange case of Israel Folau, or how free speech became so complicated
Kirjailijat:Malcolm Knox
Info:Cammeray, NSW : Simon & Schuster (Australia) Pty Limited, 2020.
Kokoelmat:Coverless
Arvio (tähdet):****
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Truth Is Trouble (tekijä: Malcolm Knox)

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I thought that this was going to be a novel so was a bit surprised when it turned out to be a piece of investigative journalism...or maybe a meditation about free speech in the modern world. It really revolves around the strange case of Israel Folau (a high profile footballer) who posted an extract from the Bible on social media and copped a hammering for it...eventually losing his Rugby job in Australia. However, the book ranges much more widely that just the case of Israel Folau and, for me, probably the key chapter was the discussion about what was driving the modern right-wing ...mainly in Australia but perhaps it goes wider than this.
Essentially Israel Folau posted a couple of verses from 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10 which say (in the New King James Version) that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God. A whole range of sins are spelled out (like idolaters, and drunkards) but the couple that provoked the outcry were homosexuals and sodomites. It's interesting that the translation in the original King James version at this spot just refers to the "effeminate and abusers of themselves with mankind". At no time does Knox question the authority of the extracts and one could certainly question the authority of the the author, Paul, who never actually met Jesus but effectively, through his writings and teachings to the non-Jews created Christianity as we know it today. Folau added his own touch: "Those of you who are living in sin will end up in Hell unless you repent. God loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin". Certainly nothing more than one might have heard from any fire and brimstone preacher at many a church, any Sunday in the 1950's. (And is "going to Hell" exactly the same as "not inheriting the kingdom of God"?)

Actually all Hell actually broke loose on Folau, not on those living in sin...as he'd vilified gays (and by extension lesbians and trans gender). Eventually, when he wouldn't retract he was sacked by Rugby Australia. Though that wasn't the end of the drama because he sued for wrongful dismissal and the case was eventually settled out of court ...apparently with the payout placing severe strains on Rugby Australia.

The debate swirling around the issue (about April 2019) seems to distill down to the right of a religious person (such as Folau) to publicise their beliefs when the beliefs have the impact of "hate-speech" on certain people. ........Apparently the idolators and the drunkards didn't feel too vilified.

And, as Knox starts to burrow into the case, he found that Folau's church is really a splinter group formed by his father Eni...(Which has broken away from the Mormon Church). And their mode of operation was: "They didn’t discuss social issues. Just Bible studies. The preaching of the church is the same every week: a correct form of baptism, the one God, repentance, attacking homosexuals, attacking fornication and going to nightclubs and drinking. I’ve never heard them say, “We’re going out on Wednesday night to run a soup kitchen.” So I found that quite fascinating. And regarding doctrine; "He, [Eni] pointed to his Bible and said, “I’ve read it from cover to cover three times.” I asked Eni what goes on with Bible college. He said, “It’s a waste of time, you just need God’s word from my church.”.....So we've got a fairly selective interpretation of the Bible...apparently unenlightened by biblical exegesis or hermeneutics.....and apparently just the Revised King James Version of the Bible ...(After all, if it was good enough for the Apostle Paul then it's good enough for....). Though, this is all rather beside the point. This issue is that these people sincerely believe that homosexuals are going to hell and believe that they need to do everything they can to prevent it.

However, the gays on the receiving end of this "tough love" and all their fellow travellers see this as homophobic, and dangerous vilification which has a real psychological (and maybe physical, in terms of violence towards gays) impact.

Knox explores his own experience of hate speech and sectarianism: "On the sporting field, the transformation had also been sudden and complete. When I joined the Sydney University Football Club, Catholics and Protestants bound arms around each other like brothers. Many of my teammates were from the same schools that I had been brought up to avoid as if they were carrying some transmissible disease". Knox also attended Knox Grammar which has been shown to have featured a number of pedophile teachers who's activities were either covered up or not exposed by the management.....notably Dr Paterson". Though Knox himself seems to be only partially aware of the activities happening "under the chapel". I went to a government school (not a private Protestant school like Knox..at Knox) and though there were mild antipathies there, I don't recall anything like the conflict that Knox experienced.
Knox explores a few other cases of politically incorrect speech: the case of Dr Jereth Kok...anti abortionist, anti gay marriage...and anti a lot of things. (He got himself de-registerd). The case of Scott McIntyre, a journalist who posted some anti Anzac day tweets.....and this cost him his job. The case of Roz Ward the promoter of the safe schools program who made some comments about the racist Australian Flag on Facebook and was suspended. And the case of Angela Williamson who twittered about the lack of abortion services in Tasmania....and lost her job with Cricket Australia.

Knox then explores the debates over same sex marriage in Australia. Some 60 percent of Australians voted for it and it was passed into legislation but around 40 percent were opposed to it. (Interesting that they felt so threatened). The Archbishop of Hobart released a booklet (in 2015) opposing same sex marriage. It was opposed by a Greens candidate...Martine Delaney who said that "the booklet presented dogma-- Catholic doctrine--as fact..and ...used questionable, cherry picked research to lend an unwarranted sense of factual authenticity." Though the complain against him was withdrawn, Porteous (The Archbishop) became a proxy martyr to the religious right...which now included the increasingly well-organised "Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) " group. To placate the religious right various moves have been made to review how anti discrimination laws deal with religious exceptions. Four public enquiries within two years. Knox says he has read thousands of the submissions. Much was made of hypothetical scenarios ,,,,but s paucity of actual cases. The NSW Council of Churches and the ACL essentially "opposed any law that purported to define a religious belief, because that would leave the work of definition to a judge in a secular court, whereas ‘beliefs are personal, nuanced and ultimately subjective. Therefore, a religious belief should be determined by the sincerity of the individual’s conviction.’" Healthcare organisations featured in opposing a new religious freedom law. Social workers were concerned that "Current anti-discrimination laws require that judges consider the experience of the complainant, not the intent of the person charged under a complaint. Someone like Israel Folau, as the law now stands, would not be protected by his defence that his condemnation of homosexuality came ‘from a place of love’".
Knox says that "When I looked closely at those wanting to influence the religious freedom bill, both for and against, whatever their differences in relation to religion and free speech, the sense of grievance and endangerment was common". Why? They have the platform of social media...So Why are so many dissatisfied when they are give their say? Is it about being misheard?
Knox describes a satirical piece he wrote in his cricket column...but you had to read to the end to get the punch line. Most readers did not and did not understand it as satire. So Knox was trolled unmercifully for racism. He didn't try and undo it...as he says: "if satire doesn’t work the first time, you can be pretty sure it won’t work with an explanatory footnote". I recall reading something from the Philosopher Karl Popper where he says: "it is impossible to write in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood". And being married to a Japanese, I'm well aware that satire or irony is not only lost in the conversation but regularly back-fires. I guess, Knox has had a useful "learning experience."

When Folau posted a couple of twitter messages on 10 April 2019, followed by his retweet of the message from 1 Corinthians, it was picked up by a journalist and published in the Sydney Morning Herald. "The first casualty of this war was nuance. As Meghan Daum writes, ‘any admission to complexity [is] a threat to the cause’. She observes that the university students she teaches flee on every contentious issue to the safety of the ‘woke narrative’, and asks, ‘Why couldn’t they see that it was possible to be more than one thing at the same time?" For Knox, "the significant fact was not what people were saying but the numbers of people who were motivated to speak on this issue ...also of note was their instant entrenchment in opposing camps."
Tracey Holmes, a sports writer tried to steer a middle road through the fracas with a piece for the ABC. ‘Sport is to be commended for striving to uphold the best values of a modern society,’ Holmes wrote, ‘but what happens when those values clash–the human right of sexual orientation versus the human right to freedom of religion?’ Inevitably she became caught up in some interesting social media exchanges with people who felt strongly about the issues raised by Folau's posting. And Knox observes that "what was plain to see was that the social media environment makes it impossible for antagonists NOT to mis-hear each other." He also quotes Salman Rushdie: "The moment you say that any idea system is sacred, whether it’s a religious belief system or a secular ideology, the moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible."

Knox observes that Folau's words need to be confronted: they do cause actual harm. It was another satirist, Voltaire, who asked, ‘What to say to a man who tells you he prefers to obey God than to obey men, and who is consequently sure of entering the gates of Heaven by slitting your throat?’ And not long ago, Islamic state were slitting throats in Syria using the same logic.
Knox muses about what glues the many disparate positions of the religious right together. He suggests that what unifies them is a shared "contrarianism" ...an "up-yours" to political correctness and runs with Mark Latham as the archetype of this "Up-yours" approach.Yet there are weird lines of conformity....all that up-yours and yet so much herd behaviour. With Corona virus.....complaints about erosion of liberties and overkill with restrictions. (Though they seemed to actually work in Australia). It was the right calling on people to eschew masks and ignore contact tracing Apps. And then an abrupt U turn as they criticised the Victorian Premier for not being tough enough on hotel quarantine. The protests on the right were protests against everything.
And yet, on the other side the progressives find themselves pursuing their fight with quasi-religious intolerance and the champions of the marginalised are a footballer with a multi million dollar income and Alan Jones from his eyrie above Sydney harbour. (The reverse of what one might expect). Though Knox has no real solutions: His " instinctive response to hearing so much certainty is to recoil from it and, as a writer, stage guerrilla actions through satire, indirection, fiction, nuance, and any other tools that come to the hand of the deeply undecided". Well, at least, I guess, that is some sort of a plan.
There is some suggestion that the reaction from the religious right is a flailing-around to resist irrelevance as the importance of religion continues to decline in Australia ...and not at all helped by the revelations of the failings of the church in regard to pedophile priests....and teachers.
Knox has put together a nice think-piece on the issues of free speech. But he's been less successful in coming up with a solution. It's really interesting...making me think..and I don't have any great solutions either. I give it four stars. ( )
  booktsunami | Feb 15, 2021 |
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