When Does Consistency Matter?

We’ve all heard the quote–attributed to Emerson–decrying “foolish consistency” as the “hobgoblin of little minds.”

The phrase requires us to distinguish between the sort of consistency that signals a thoughtful intellect and the “foolish” consistency that Emerson disdained.

I have recently concluded that the distinction is critical to a proper evaluation and interpretation of today’s partisan political arguments.

Many of us still remember the critique of John Kerry when he was running for President; he was widely mocked as a “flip flopper” because he’d changed his position on some issue. I no longer recall what the issue  was, but I do recall his entirely appropriate response, which was along the lines of “when I encounter facts of which I have previously been unaware–when I learn more about a subject–I change my position to accord with those facts.”

When scientists discovered that disease is caused by germs, and entertained the possibility that smallpox hadn’t been sent as a punishment from God, as many had thought, that inconsistency led to the development of medicines and vaccines. Human progress requires the recognition and correction of error. “Consistency” in such matters would merit Emerson’s scorn.

On the other hand, right now, one of the thorniest problems of American governance is the large number of elected officials–almost all Republicans– who absolutely refuse to change or reconsider their beliefs even when faced with credible contrary evidence. Their stubborn refusal to modify their positions even after those positions have become logically and factually untenable is a perfect example of Emerson’s “foolish consistency.” (No one can call them “flip-floppers”!)

When ideologues refuse to rethink or reconsider mistaken positions, the resulting incoherence is  arguably worse than the temporary confusion that often accompanies necessary change.

Ideological rigidity and a refusal to recognize how hypocritical their resulting messages sound is an obvious trait of  today’s GOP.  Ironically, in their refusal to rethink  or reconcile incompatible articles of faith, Republicans  are struggling to apply a totally incoherent political philosophy to issues that really do require  a measure of intellectual consistency.

A few examples will illustrate that incoherence:

  • Free markets are good because they expand choice. Individual choice is an integral part of freedom and a public good–unless, of course, we are talking about women’s reproductive choice, because that’s bad.
  • Religious folks should be allowed to act on the basis of their sincere beliefs, even if those actions disadvantage other people. But those accommodations shouldn’t extend to adherents of non-Christian religions or to liberal denominations that permit abortion.
  • Parents should be given the right to exercise very broad choices when it comes to how they raise and educate their children–unless, of course, mom wants to take Junior to Drag Queen Story Hour at the local library, or give Junior’s teenage sister free reign to read whatever might be on those library shelves.
  • Parents should be trusted to do what’s best for their children–unless they’ve decided to work with medical professionals to help their children cope with gender dysphoria, or manage transition.
  • Business owners should be free of  heavy-handed government regulations; after all, those owners and managers know best how to create jobs, serve their customers and make a profit. But government shouldn’t allow them to factor “woke” concerns about inclusion and the environment into their business decisions.
  • Welfare programs just encourage dependency; hard-working taxpayers shouldn’t have to support people who can’t or won’t make it on their own. But those taxpayers definitely should continue to fund the huge annual subsidies that further enrich profitable corporations and obscenely profitable fossil fuel companies. That’s not welfare, that’s economic development.

In all fairness, there really is a consistency lurking beneath these surface incompatibilities: theocratic consistency.

If we approach those examples from the perspective of a Christian Nationalist, the seeming disparities become far more cohesive. The lawmakers and pundits who hold these otherwise inconsistent positions are operating out of a theocratic conviction that they should have the right to impose their “sincerely held” religious beliefs on everyone else–after all, they are the “real” Americans, listening to the “real” God.

Even the clear influence of money in all this  has a theocratic element–U.S. policy has always been influenced by a corrupted version of Calvinism–the belief that financial success is evidence of moral righteousness, and that poverty is a sign of God’s displeasure.

Speaking of hobgoblins….


  1. Confederates thought Freedom included the freedom to own other people and Liberty meant the liberty to spread slavery, or at least take their slaves with them, everywhere. Todays GOP is very consistent in their modern version of that self serving “thinking”.

  2. By the end of today’s postings, I expect we’ll have reached the conclusion that Jeff has proposed. I see it in spiritual programs I attend, where open-mindedness is a key to success in life daily.

    Sheila calls them “consistencies,” while I call them “contradictions.”

    It stems from self-centeredness on their journey to “wokeness,” but they don’t even know it yet. They hear others talk about woke topics, and they rebel – primarily flocking into groups like Christian churches, political parties, or ideological groups on TV and social media (echo chambers).


  3. “He will die for lack of discipline and go astray because of his excessive foolishness. I shrewd man conceals what he knows but the heart of the fool blurts out his foolishness.”
    Proverbs the 5th chapter.

    “Look at the one who was pregnant with wickedness; he conceives trouble and gives birth to lies. He excavates a pit and digs it deep but he falls into the very whole he made. The trouble he causes will return on his own head; his violence will fall on the crown of his head.”
    Psalms the 7th chapter.

    “The wisdom of the shrewd is to understand his way, but the foolishness of the stupid ones is deception.”
    Proverbs the 14th chapter.

    So, this is just a few of many scriptures that condemn foolishness, ignorance, and deception!

    A fool would work against his own self-interests. A fool would boast about his prowess and intellect, and then turn around and purposefully deceive.

    I suppose without any direction, it’s easy to be confused on appropriate thought? To be non-judgmental? To love your neighbor? To love your enemy? To allow someone to be a free moral agent which is their god-given right? A lot of stuff to unpack. When does one’s opinion supersede someone else’s? When does one’s rights supersede others? Well, it shouldn’t be that way. Secular government and scriptural discernment tell us to be tolerant, because people usually reveal what or who they are in some form or fashion.

    Is bigotry a one-way street?

    Is it right to label individuals as homophobic if they don’t agree with 97 genders? And why does the public have to really know about 97 genders. Why be invited into the bedroom and then complain about criticism!

    And why would anybody feel the need to criticize anyone’s lifestyle!?!?

    Every single individual on this planet is free to live their life as they see fit.

    That was the right that they were given originally. Free to do or not to do! We don’t have the right to judge. When that time of judgment does come, it won’t be from men, and all of those who decided to elect themselves as superior, no matter if it’s left or right up or down black or white wet or dry, people have the right to believe what they wish and to live as they wish. And if their rights are infringed upon, they must be given recompense.

    Being free to believe whatever one believes, is not a one direction road, it’s a multi directional hub! Because in man’s society, there is no singular one size fits all direction. If one for example doesn’t believe in 97 genders, should that person blurt out that they don’t believe in 97 genders? No, keep it to yourself. Does someone who claims to be part of that 97 gender belief system have the right to condemn someone who doesn’t believe in 97 genders? Keep it to yourself! Live your life, you don’t have to have anyone in your bedroom but you and whomever you tend to be intimate with.

    A fool will try and force a belief. Which never works because it just galvanizes those being forced!

    A narcissistic preacher seeking attention and power might criticize someone for their lifestyle choices, and then, you have those who live a particular lifestyle doing the exact same thing! They want to force their lifestyle on everyone else at The risk of blowback, or, labeling the other as the one being too rigid! The other being a bigot!

    Keep your private life private, and, if you must flaunt your belief, be prepared for the consequences no matter what direction a person is moving.

    And lastly, The Apostle Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians; “I do not mean your own conscience but that of the other person. For why should my freedom be judged by another person’s conscience? If I am partaking with thanks why am I to be spoken of abusively over that for which I give thanks keep from becoming causes for stumbling to Jews as well as Greeks and to the congregation of God, just as I am trying to please all people in all things, not seeking my own advantage, but that of the many so that they may be saved.”

    Everyone has the free will no matter their belief structure. Ones conscience allows them their life and how to live it. And everyone will be judged on that equally in the long run. Just keep your nose out of other’s business, just as they should keep theirs out of yours! Keep your bedroom private! Love and respect your fellow man, the bedroom should have no part in that, one way or the other!

  4. “when I encounter facts of which I have previously been unaware–when I learn more about a subject–I change my position to accord with those facts.”

    The above is the action of a thinking person who values those beyond themselves and their needs and wants. Why should the GOP change their position when their lies are working consistently for them?

    John Sorg; no one on this planet is free, we are all chained to the “hobgoblin of little minds” of those who refuse to learn anything beyond those little minds which cannot change due to facts. Proverbs 12:15; “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes; but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise.” The GOP keeps its own counsel by using those little minds to their advantage; we watched their chosen fools yelling insults at President Biden during the State of the Union address, their consistency in action…it mattered then and continues unabated.

    “Speaking of hobgoblins….”

  5. Sheila, my friend,
    You are overgeneralizing. Little Marco’s deeply held, unshakeable core beliefs depend on which lobbyist he is with at the moment.

    PS: Kerry’s flip-flopping was the invasion of Iraq.

  6. Very Nice JoAnn!

    Absolutely spot on.

    Small mindedness abounds everywhere.

    1 Thessalonians 4:11 reads; “Make it your aim to live quietly and mind your own business.”

    But who really does? Those who wish to control anothers body? Those who wish to live in someone else’s bedroom? those that wish to force their bedroom on others? Everyone needs to mind their business and keep their business to themselves. That way, there shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

    “Rarely set foot in your neighbor’s house so he does not grow tired of you and hate you!” Proverbs 25: 17.

    Familiarity breeds contempt!

  7. If you have been paying attention, you may have noticed that the darlings of the right have frequently changed their minds about many issues. We have tons of video showing many of them in previous incarnations saying the opposite of what they tell us they believe. Consistency is only for whipped cream.

  8. Sheila. Excellent analysis, as usual.
    The common characteristic of religious fundamentalists is their insistence on having their own freedom while making laws to deny freedom to others. That is the foundational inconsistency which leads to all others, including those you so clearly described. But religious fundamentalism leads, inevitably, to religious war because, even within what begins as one group, there arise disagreements which lead to schisms. Then each newly formed group applies their practice of “freedom for me, but not for thee” on the other.
    The only thing that can stop this historically repeating cycle of violence is separation of religion from government so that all are free from being constrained by the religious dogma of others. This freedom, guaranteed by the Constitution, is exactly what the “Christian” Nationalists are trying to destroy. And they are willing, even eager, to shed blood to do so.

  9. To twist a well known phrase…Republican intelligence is an oxymoron!
    “…when I encounter facts of which I have previously been unaware–when I learn more about a subject–
    I change my position to accord with those facts.” Gee, this sounds just like one of the quotes I used
    yesterday…”When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” Paul Samuelson, receiver of the Nobel Prize
    in economics, 1970. Glimmers of actual intelligence!!
    Well, the GOPIGGIES are very consistent, consistently toxic, focused on greed and control.

  10. Well, the small minds are conspiring to start WW III. Kim fires missiles. Putin’s war with Ukraine expanding soon to Moldova. Xi and Putin becoming kissing cousins. Israel threatening to attack Iran. MTG wanting Red State Nation. McCarthy giving away the palace keys to an idiot.

    What could possibly go wrong? We may have just enough time to bend over and kiss our butts good-bye.

    Facts NEVER matter to ideologues, because if they did, they’d become liberal. Oh dear. We can’t have that.

  11. those republicans who are so called self serving to themselves? seems theres a money side of that and the pure joy of giving the finger to the rest. I doubt any republican can say screw em all, after all,many of their own ilk vote the red line. paid propaganda is just that,think tank chatter to convinced the broke and tired of the republican menance,or liberal save the world,while we swin in the local sewage lagoon. if im considered a small mind,so be it. id rather be a liberal fool than to support any asswipes who want it all at any costs. taking away the world and giving it to the highest shareholders,is republican policy. the christian nationalist is merely a shareholder in the big box of their now overflowing assets,protected by no audits (and trumps anoitings)and free giveaways to make sure we further see less and less money circulating in the economy. its all the game of win by any means,and eventully when they have passed enough laws to quiet dissent, only then we will see the fruits of their labors..

  12. John:
    but those (neighbors)who cant figure out who you are,just gossip the mindless sensations they want to believe..unknown…..

  13. One thing that liberals seem consistent about is the purpose of laws as to protect freedom to live our own individual lives without unnecessary interference from either the public or private sector. That is brought about by preventing others who otherwise would from executing such imposition in ways that range from killing us to restricting opportunity on the basis of some dimension of who we are. How else can law protect? That’s what refereeing is all about.

    The whole culture war pseudo-debate is over government’s responsibility to protect despite the fact that the more complex and inventive imposers become the more inventive laws and enforcement protecting our freedom needs to be.

    That’s not overreach that’s progress in preventing predatory behavior be it from capitalists, racists, evangelicals, misogynists, conmen, politicians, corrupt professionals, peddlers of ignorance, etc.

    Authoritarians have been led away from that which they would normally agree to shrinking by defunding government into playing less refereed games to protect less and empower those who would impose because it can enhance wealth redistribution up or any of the other ways to take advantage.

  14. Jack,

    We will never be able to stop knowitall busy bodies.

    Those fools love to sleuth around and perpetrate hoaxes and false rumors including innuendo. Never having to make an accurate case concerning anything, but lighting the fire of suspicion and hatred. Arsonists that burn society.

    They have their own selfish reasons, whether it’s narcissism, whether it’s fanaticism, whether it’s mindless fantasy, those are the ones that will destroy society.

    The unwashed psychologically disturbed Incel living in his mama’s basement, has no life experience, and yet, will espouse some sort of doctrine or dogma that they read about on some conspiracy thread. Feeling that they now belong to something bigger than themselves, they set out to destroy, to burn down to expose the self-perceived conspiracy directed squarely at them, feeding their Messianic persecution complex!

    Not with the intent of making anything any better, but just to satisfy their own selfish wants and desires. So they continue to start rumors and point fingers and lay blame to keep the tumult whirling as a conflagration of ignorance, completely shredding common sense, compassion, and empathy. Having the desire of being authority but proving to be completely inept at living/surviving life themselfs.

    Pretty sad!

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