If you want to understand the white-hot firestorm that has ignited Australia with a single social media post, there is no point going back to Twitter or Instagram. You have to go back to the German town of Munster in 1534.
This was the age in which the Protestant Reformation met the printing press, when for the first time in history masses of people were able to read and hear the Bible in their own language.
Prior to this the good book had been very carefully kept, curated and interpreted by an elite clerical hierarchy who preached the Word of the Lord in Church Latin to parishioners who often literally didn't even know what they were saying.
Now, with the Bible printed both scandalously and illegally in the language of the people, they could read it with their own eyes — or, more probably, listen to it with their own ears — for the first time. This was in itself a revolutionary act.
For centuries the Roman Catholic Church had established itself as an institution which propped up corrupt kings and waged bloody crusades, often for no particular purpose other than to propagate its own power. However the church had also gradually started filling the void of the collapsed Roman Empire, setting up schools, hospitals, monasteries and universities as well as providing some semblance of piecemeal welfare.
In other words, the church became a de facto state, providing a social order and moral framework that reflected the values of the time and the ritual of Mass was used to reinforce that, for both good and ill.
But with the Bible now scandalously — and illegally — translated into the common languages of Europe all that was suddenly thrown out the window. Now people were reading and hearing first hand about a radical preacher who drank copious amounts of wine, consorted with prostitutes and declared no rich man would get into heaven.
Moreover they were discovering for the first time the countless crazy, colourful and contradictory verses in the Old and New Testaments passed down by word of mouth, then written by a thousand unknown authors in Hebrew and Greek, then translated into High Latin and then translated yet again into all the languages of Europe. And with the priests removed as gatekeepers of this knowledge, with no one now required to interpret or make sense of it, any individual could open up the world's most rambling and powerful book and take from it whatever they wanted.
As a result, everybody completely lost their sh*t.
And so it wasn't long before the good citizens of Munster were stripping people of all their worldly goods, frogmarching infidels out of town and staging wild wife-swapping orgies. And they were doing it all in the name of the Lord.
Half a millennium later and it's hard not to feel that it is all happening again. We live in an age where anyone can have their most absurd prejudices reinforced and effortlessly spread their most extreme ideologies. Social media is the new printing press and the internet is the new Bible. Anyone can take from the world wide web whatever they want and spread revolution like the plague.
Now insert into this petri dish a young man who just happens to be extremely good at football who has done what the residents of Munster did 500 years ago: He read the Bible for himself and decided it was his duty to spread the word. This is the story of Israel Folau.
It simply cannot be overstated how big a story Folau has become: It has been a front page fixture on newspapers from both major publishers, the lead story on countless TV and radio news bulletins, the top trending topic on Twitter and the subject of endless public debate.
Indeed, the coverage has been so saturating that many people are now complaining of Folau fatigue and yet many more are breathlessly obsessed by it.
Another by-product of the internet age is that editors and executive producers no longer need to second guess what audiences want, nor are able to tell them. Every click can be recorded, every angle can be gauged and every measure tells us that people simply cannot get enough.
No newsroom is shoving this story down anyone's throat — the nation is gorging at the trough.
Indeed, it is almost as though the revelation itself is upon us: This is apparently the ultimate titanic struggle between the faithful and the disbeliever. Or between freedom of speech and freedom from oppression. Or between the individual and the corporate machine.
And apparently all of this hinges on a hokey evangelical meme that Folau posted on his Instagram feed listing the various types of sinners whom he believes will go to Hell.
According to the list this includes "drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters" — basically all the people who are the best fun at parties.
As is obvious, Folau's Hell-train would have to carry virtually the whole population of Australia, assuming that even the most God-fearing virginal teetotaller has once picked off a grape at the supermarket or told his wife that no, her bum does not look big in that.
Many have observed that of this laundry list of barbecue meat it is only the "homosexuals" who have kicked up a fuss about their eternal fate but I think this is unfair. It is no secret that gay people have throughout history been subjected to particularly cruel forms of suppression, exclusion and even execution — and not just by Christians I might add.
I also think that Rugby Australia was perfectly within its rights to terminate Folau's contract, assuming that he was indeed on a warning after previous posts and that this violated the sport's code of conduct. Yes, he has a right to express his religious beliefs, but Rugby Australia also has a right to decide who it hires — otherwise I'd be a five-eighth.
Even leaving the moral question aside you have a national football team whose primary sponsor is an out and proud Australian company in the form of Qantas. It's a bit rich for Folau to effectively say to its CEO: "Hey, you're going to Hell — but can you please keep giving me money?" Let alone saying it twice.
Indeed, one might easily accuse Folau of gross hypocrisy by happily taking a gay man's patronage while at the same time condemning all of his kind and then crying poor when the money runs dry.
But if this story has taught us anything it's that fundamentalism and hypocrisy aren't just limited to conservative Christians, and the attacks on Folau's wife for merely supporting her husband's fundraising efforts were surely the worst kind of both.
How much of a hypocrite can you be for demanding a woman be sacked for the actions of her husband while at the same time declaring yourself progressive or a feminist? How much of a hardliner must you be for even wanting to see that happen? What punishment will ever be enough and at whom will it stop?
This brings us to the dark heart of this debate, and it is one that has less to do with bigotry than it does with bloodlust.
This debate has little to do with me personally but it touched me personally nonetheless. Not because I was particularly offended or outraged but because at exactly the same time as I was struggling to raise money for the homeless via a nominally Christian charity — the eternally selfless Society of St Vincent de Paul — Israel Folau was using his Christianity to raise money for contract lawyers.
By the time you read this I will probably still have failed to get to my target of $10,000 while Folau will probably have topped $2 million. This is more than the entire amount raised in Sydney for the Vinnies CEO Sleepout — its number one fundraising drive for literally the poorest and most deprived people in the country.
That fact is beyond galling, it is sickening. And it tells us everything about what gets money and attention these days.
But the self-righteous crusaders who are seeking to crucify Folau are no less culpable in this absurdity.
Firstly, let us consider the magnitude of his oppression. A lot of people like watching Folau play football but who actually follows or even cares about his religious beliefs? Here's a clue: His minuscule congregation of the so-called Truth of Jesus Christ Church is a religious movement so populous and powerful that it is currently headquartered at Izzy's dad's house.
Secondly, do those who are supposedly so apoplectic about Folau's beliefs and the harm they cause even want to change them?
There has been a maelstrom of calls for Folau to be sacked, stripped and strung up in the town square for posting what he did. There have been excruciatingly few who actually took up the argument.
If people genuinely believed that Folau's views were dangerous, perhaps even deadly, to LGBTI people you'd think there might have been a concerted effort to change them. Instead all the efforts seemed to be directed solely towards condemning him.
As recent history has shown, this ended up delivering seemingly limitless money and momentum to his cause. And as all fundamentalists know, there is no better weapon than a martyr.
Meanwhile, the outrage machine has, as always, spectacularly missed the point of what it claims to be outraged by. Surely if you were worried about the wellbeing of gay people — let alone drunks, fornicators and liars — you'd want to know if they were actually going to Hell or not. Or rather, if that was even a true Christian belief.
As was revealed in the lead-up to the magnificent same-sex marriage plebiscite result, even Catholics don't believe it. Two-thirds of that supposedly notoriously homophobic religion — the original one true church — supported marriage equality. Even the Pope himself explicitly said this year that homosexuality was "not a sin", a massive and welcome shift.
In other words, Folau's position is a tiny outlier on the fringe not just of the broader community but of the very religion he seeks to espouse. No wonder they can fit their entire parish in a lounge room.
And so let us get to the actual core of the matter. Let us get to the truth, something studiously ignored in this debate. Was Folau right? What does the Bible actually say?
This is the text of Folau's post:
"WARNING: Drunks, Homosexuals, Adulterers, Liars, Fornicators, Thieves, Atheists, Idolaters. HELL AWAITS YOU. REPENT!"
As anyone who's actually read the Bible knows this is a gross misrepresentation of a couple of verses from the letters of St Paul to the Corinthians. Like Folau, Paul was a great evangelist who had never met Jesus — at least while He was alive — but felt driven to spread His word. Unlike Folau, however, Paul's message was overwhelmingly one of love and inclusion.
Indeed, Paul's entire mission — the one which made Christianity the dominant religion in the world today and the cornerstone for Western civilisation — was to tell people that whatever sins they may have committed in the past — however silly or old fashioned those sins may seem now — it didn't matter. They would be welcome in the world of God.
This is what the King James Version of the Bible, that beautifully constructed work of the Reformation itself, actually says:
"Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
"And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God."
In other words, he wasn't telling anyone that they were going to Hell. He was telling everyone in front of him that everything was okay and God loved them. It was a f***ing pep talk.
This is the point that Folau and his fundamentalist brethren completely miss. The light subtlety that is always lost on literalists. But that doesn't mean they should be crucified like the guy they claim to emulate.
The thing that so many people fail to understand about free speech and those who champion it is that it's not an end in itself. We don't believe in freedom of expression just so everyone can shout at each other. The idea is that if people are able to express all manner of ideas then the good ideas will ultimately prevail. Reason will ultimately win.
Because if it doesn't then none of us will be going to Hell. It will come to us.