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Was Izzy Folau moral?

By Peter Bowden - posted Monday, 1 July 2019

His message was

Drunks, Homosexuals, Adulterers, Liars, Fornicators, Thieves, Atheists, Idolators, Hell awaits you. Repent

The arguments since he posted his beliefs on Instagram have been massive. Issues such as freedom of religion, and of speech, and his right to make these statements have been bandied back and forth for several weeks. 


The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) helped Israel Folau raise more than a million dollars for his legal fight against Rugby Australia (RA)."We got legal advice on this before we went ahead with it," ACL said. "Israel Folau is not a member and our charitable purpose is to advocate for changes in law and public policy and the advancement of the Christian religion. This is a religious freedom issue which for law has implications for law and public policy.”

This article asserts that Folau’s Instagram message was immoral. The question of whether Israel Folau has behaved morally then extends to whether The Australian Christian Lobby, which supports him, has also behaved ethically.The controversy  also includes issues such whether we should have complete freedom of speech and freedom  to advocate our religion.

To answer this question, we need to define morality. Unfortunately, philosophers have been arguing over what constitutes morality for thousands of years. One of the better known theories, that of Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative, allows us to argue for either side of a disagreement: "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it (your belief) should become a universal law". This rule enables you to claim that your view on any of the above conflicts is the correct one, that the opposing viewpoint is wrong.  Other moral theories, particularly the theories on virtue, also can be used to support whichever side you wish.  Both sides can claim ( and fully believe) that they are virtuous, that they in the right, and the opposing viewpoint is in the wrong.

We need, therefore, to first define morality. This correspondent, a teacher and writer on ethics, uses an approach going back 2000 years. The rule he uses was recently reiterated by the Dalai Lama: “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” This rule goes back to the Book of Proverbs written by King Solomon about 900 BC.

Proverb 3: 27  Never walk away from someone who deserves help

Proverb 3:29   Do not plot harm against your neighbour, who lives trustfully near you.

This near 2000-year-old precept is near enough the same wording as the Dalai Lama’s Help others, at least don’t hurt them.


The Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain philosophies also hold the concept “Respect for All Living Things and Avoidance of Violence Towards Others”. It is termed Ahimsa

Debrata Sen Sharma, writing on Hindu ethics, advocates that we should be “abstaining from violence in any form and should refrain from causing injury to any one through deed, word or thought”

The eastern moral philosophies overlap with four of the Western moral theories. Possibly the most outspoken of these is John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism (1863), which repeatedly condemns harming others.

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About the Author

Peter Bowden is an author, researcher and ethicist. He was formerly Coordinator of the MBA Program at Monash University and Professor of Administrative Studies at Manchester University. He is currently a member of the Australian Business Ethics Network , working on business, institutional, and personal ethics.

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