Foolish Consistency

Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said that a “foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Please note the modifier “foolish.” He did not say that being consistent is foolish or that only a fool would seek to be consistent in his or her thinking. What he is saying is that it is foolish to hang on to a conviction when the evidence clearly points in another direction — as in the case of global warming, for example. Only a fool would insist that global warming is a fiction because he said so yesterday and the day before and damn it he is not going to change his mind, no matter what anyone says. Don’t confuse me with the evidence; my mind is made up!

Strange it is that a foolish consistency in one’s beliefs is regarded in this culture, by a great many people, as a virtue. One hears that Jones is a courageous man because he “stands by his guns,” even though everyone knows he is dead wrong. George McGovern, it was said, lost a presidential race because he changed his mind about his Vice Presidential running mate. Heaven forbid that a person change his mind when the evidence suggests that it requires changing! Yet, surely, it is foolish to hang on to one’s beliefs when there is no longer any solid ground beneath them to give them support. Little minds, indeed.

But we now see on the national front candidates running for president with hoards of followers behind them who claim to be Evangelists, True Believers in the words of Christ who condemned practically everything the leader of that political parade stands for. The leader (who will remain anonymous) says the most frightful things about his fellow humans, casting aspersions left and right, threatening to punch those who disagree with him. He is a known philanderer and a failed businessman who exhibits every one of the Seven Deadly Sins except, perhaps, sloth. And yet his “Christian” followers believe he will turn the country around because “he means business.” They ignore what he says even though it is in direct conflict with their most deeply held religious convictions. Or are they deeply held? Is it possible that those who claim to follow the same Christ who threw the money-changers from the Temple really would rather follow the money changers and see to it that they themselves are financially well off, comfortable in their beliefs — and in their warm, safe houses where “undesirables” are forever denied access at gun point? One must wonder.

It would be foolish indeed to hold on to a set of religious beliefs that are in direct conflict with certain truths — say about the origins of the universe. But it is equally foolish (if not downright hypocritical) to continue to pay lip service to those beliefs while embracing the rantings of a political candidate who is the embodiment of everything that religion condemns. When one’s religious beliefs condemn the very things that man stands for it is indeed a foolish inconsistency to continue to support that man, if not patently illogical. Unless, again, those religious convictions are merely a sham, a facade behind which the “True Believer” hides his own hatred of anyone who differs from him and who might possibly pose a threat, no matter how remote that threat happens to be.

When Christ said “Love thy neighbor” he did not qualify it by defining “neighbor” as those who agree with oneself. The word is meant to include all our neighbors of every color, shape and belief. It is not a foolish consistency to act on that prescription and rid hatred from our hearts and reject those who preach it with a loud and angry voice. Indeed, it makes perfect sense.

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