Almanac Religion and Culture: Israel Folau, Notre Dame and paradox

We’ve experienced two situations this week where the interface between religion and culture in the 21st Century has thrown up a multitude of questions. I’ve found the responses both at home and abroad quite fascinating and so I’d like to try to open up a general discussion.


Firstly, in response to Earl O’Neill’s challenging contribution on the Israel Folau conundrum, there has been a lively debate on the Almanac site which has highlighted the multi-faceted nature of that particular issue. The respectful nature of our contributors has been a feature of the exchanges, a most welcome aspect of the Almanac community.


Meanwhile, in Paris, the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral has suffered immense damage in a yet-to-be-explained fire. The images of the conflagration had an almost 9/11 surrealism about them. In response, there have been outpourings of shock and grief both in France and around the world. Damage to this monument to Western civilisation and significant Christian edifice has evoked deep feelings across a wide spectrum of people. When was the last time you saw seemingly ‘ordinary people’ parading through the streets singing hymns?


How much of the reaction has to do with culture, how much with religion, how much with history (and French history, in particular), how much with civilisation as we know it? Why have billions of dollars been pledged already for its reconstruction? What is it that needs to be rebuilt? At a time in history when religion in general, and Christianity in particular, is attacked as irrelevant and regressive, why is there this outpouring of shock/grief/whatever?


Share your thoughts…



About Ian Hauser

A relaxed, Noosa-based retiree with a (very) modest sporting CV. A Queenslander through and through, especially when it comes to cricket and rugby league. I enjoy travel, good coffee and cake, reading, and have been known to appreciate a glass or three of wine. As well as being one of Footy Almanac's online editors, I moonlight as an editor for hire - check me out at


  1. G’day Ian. I was researching some material on the Church a few months prior. Their wealth is so enormous no one can provide a accurate figure of it. Adding to this they have a tax free status globally. If they want to restore Notre Dame they can totally fund it themselves.

    Or maybe….

    If their special friend really exists he could do it on his own. Seriously if he could build the the world/earth in a week, he can restore this building with a click of his fingers.

    Israel Folau and the relationship with his special friend is so rife with contradictions why is it getting the publicity it is ?


  2. Incredibly sad to see Notre Dame burn. The symbolism was hard to avoid. This extraordinary place truly does belong to the world. The Western world anyway. The French have guarded it famously.

    Glen! is right. Why are the utterings of Israel Folau getting publicity? Either the Church and religion are important (in which case what Folau said was also important), or they are not, in which case what Folau said has no significance. It can’t be both. So perhaps the Church and religion are still important? Hence the reaction to Folau and the reaction to Notre Dame burning? It might be subconscious.

    We can’t escape religion, try as we might, because we are born to yearn. We might hate the word and we might reject its notions but it clings. We might call it something else like spirituality or “wellness” or meditation but it stems from the same source. The Folau/Notre Dame events would seem to confirm this.

    C.S. Lewis, in The Abolition of Man, wrote:

    “The Tao, which others may call Natural Law or Traditional Morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgments. If it is rejected, all value is rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained. The effort to refute it and raise a new system of value in its place is self-contradictory. There has never been, and never will be, a radically new judgment of value in the history of the world. What purport to be new systems or…ideologies…all consist of fragments from the Tao itself, arbitrarily wrenched from their context in the whole and then swollen to madness in their isolation, yet still owing to the Tao and to it alone such validity as they posses.”

  3. The Search for Meaning dogs us all. Why am I here? Why is anyone here? At once a miracle and a cruel joke. Its length and its certain brevity.
    Faith and spiritual teaching/story telling provides the context for all our deepest questions.
    As our technical knowledge grows exponentially we increasingly feel we “know the price of everything and the value of nothing”. Notre Dame burning seems symbolic that we have lost our way. Like an eclipse of the sun to the cave man huddling around the fire for the only source of light. So we cling to the fire and light lest we have lost it forever.
    On Dips points – other than tradition I have never quite worked out why Christianity doesn’t ditch the Old Testament. All the idiocy that fundamentalists like Folau spout is in Old Testament babblings of the desert tribes. On my limited understanding the New Testament gospel compassionate teachings of Jesus are a largely different message. As a preacher trying to persuade first century converts he didn’t want to trample on all their old beliefs, so he sold the message as a supplementary addition.
    Here ends the Easter Epistle. Safe travels to all – especially to Holy Places – like Stawell.

  4. daniel flesch says

    A significant building has been extensively damaged and will be re-built at the cost of eagerly and freely donated Euro squillions . Good outcome for the building. Meanwhile climate change is poised to cause huge damage to both built and natural environments while land-clearing proceeds apace in many parts and we might yet even get the Adani coal mine to wreck the Reef. Trump and cronies abolishing environmental controls in the U.S. There’s a gyre of plastic rubbish in the Pacific Ocean bigger than many countries. Then there are constant wars promoted by various religions , dictatorships and the lethal weapons merchants. There’s widespread poverty , malnutrition , lack of access to clean drinking water in many parts of the world. There’s widespread trafficking of girls and young women , there’s AIDS (big in neighbouring New Guinea !) and ebola . Huge problems everywhere and we concentrate on a building owned by the obscenely rich Church with a history of heretic-burning , exploitation of children ,fear-mongering to the guillable and gross hypocrisy. Where’s the perspective ? Sheeesh!

  5. DBalassone says

    Peter_B, I’m hear you re the Old Testament, but I think Israel Falou’s rant is actually based on New Testament scripture, mainly from Paul’s epistles. This is where the evangelicals get there view on this issue, though I should add that the majority of Christians I know (I know quite a few through family, school) would not judge or speak the way Israel did.

  6. Frank Taylor says

    The secular society.
    “In studies of religion, modern democracies are generally recognized as secular. This due to the near-complete freedom of religion (beliefs on religion generally are not subject to legal or social sanctions), and the lack of authority of religious leaders over political decisions.” – Wikipedia
    A secular society, by definition, is a TOLERANT society. It allows its citizens to hold a variety of (private) religious and cultural beliefs within a framework of civil laws and customs that respect these differences in the interest of society AS A WHOLE.
    However, there has to be a line in the sand somewhere, and, like bigamy (allowed in the Mormon and other religious faiths) this is not legally allowed.
    I put Falou’s comments squarely in this category.
    Like the Mormans, he has a certain religious belief which he may privately hold, however, as a public figure and a genuine role-model, this is a bridge too far.
    This is hate-speak using the cover of a religious belief.
    Hate-speak is not any indicator of a tolerant, secular society by any measure.
    I personally do not see any difference between a young Adolf Hitler thumping a a podium in Munich denouncing the Jewish race (where did that lead us?), and a young (probably a similar age) Israel Falou, banging away on his podium – Twitter or Facebook – denouncing homosexuals.
    Rugby Australia, or whoever has his playing contract, has EVERY right to terminate his contract, as he has, indeed, brought his game, his code, our society, into disrepute.

  7. Punxsa-and-the-rest-of-it Pete says

    Dips, while religion can spawn hate speech like Folau’s it can never be unimportant. But, of course, that doesn’t make it important. It just makes it a scourge for the many, many people it harms.

    As for religion’s value? Well, maybe I’ve misread you, but I can’t see how you can confine it to a binary range of important or unimportant? That only covers believers and non-believers who have apathy towards it. To those who despise it, religion is neither important or unimportant. It straddles somewhere in a range of other terms, me thinks.

    Daniel, great, great comment.

  8. Michael Viljoen says

    People here ask, if Folau’s comments are so terrible, why is he getting this much publicity? A good question.
    I would ask why, if his comments are so abominable, are all the media constantly repeating them?

    I think that if the RA quietly disassociated themselves from the comments, it could have quickly blown over. It now has the potential to drag through the courts of years, with Folau eventually becoming a revered Christian martyr.

  9. So many Questions.

    So many reports.


  10. Michael Viljoen says

    I offer a reason as to why this is getting the publicity it is.
    He doesn’t believe he’s done anything wrong. He’s still walking with his chin up.

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