I was looking at this site to see if I could find links to the articles of the Magic Pentacle, which were produced before the internet. No luck, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that I wrote the article described below 🙂 I’ll just say here that Michael Freedman was a wonderful, intelligent, generous, free-thinking friend, who is missed, 19 years after his death.
The article came about because, at the time, I co-ordinated a group called Pagan Revivalists at the University of Auckland. We hosted a small Pagan gathering out at Awhitu, with people from various paths giving talks and workshops of Pagan interest. I gave a talk about what makes someone a Pagan. It can be quite hard to define. I argued that, in the end, if you call yourself a Pagan you probably are. The discussion then drifted to other topics, including Satanists. I said that some Satanists say they follow Pagan paths, but I thought they were mistaken. Someone who had been paying attention then piped up: “Isn’t that inconsistent? You say a Pagan is someone who says they are a Pagan, but deny Satanists who say they’re Pagans?”
He was completely correct, which I admitted at the time, and said I had to think about it. After we got home I wrote an article for the Magic Pentacle titled Inconsistencies. I don’t remember my focus, but I do remember admitting my mistake, and arguing that Satanists that called themselves Pagans probably are, after all. Nowadays I wear a two-points-up pentacle myself, for a variety of reasons (but not that I am a Satanist). I do not like to be inconsistent in my beliefs. It shows dogma, failure in cognition, possibly due to bias, it’s illogical and commonly irrational, and, if defended, shows personal cowardice or laziness.
These are strong words to use for a minor inconsistency in ones opinion, but consider this: the reason why it is hard for a person to change their beliefs, and the behaviour that comes from that belief, is because we invest pride, self-worth, integrity in the rightness of our actions. If we admit that a personal belief is wrong, we have to admit that all the behaviour that originated from that belief could have been wrong, too. Imagine we were raised to believe a certain group of people are inferior. We will treat them as inferior usually from childhood. By the time we are young adults we are trying to convince other people around us of the rightness of our personal beliefs. If we admit now that we’re wrong, we have to admit that we’ve probably been treating others unfairly all our lives, and that people would have suffered for this. Imagine that realisation comes 10 years later, when we’ve been instilling the idea into our children, or in middle age… It’s far easier to say you’re too old to change than to face the certain knowledge that you have not been the paragon of virtue you thought you were.
So it takes courage to admit your mistake, a willingness to both accept your investments in self-worth through that belief were bad investments, and need to be stopped, and that you will change your behaviour from there. This is not easy – some beliefs are hard-wired through culture and community. They may always return when the guard is down. You may also need to think about reparations, to recover your self-esteem, however they can be given to people you injured.
And then there is a social stigma of being labelled hypocritical: “You used to say that, but now you do this”. In a world of permanent record, anything you publicly say or write can be taken as your defining moment, and any deviation from that is suspect. This may seem a significantly unfair criteria, but I hear it all the time in political news, liberal and conservative, and it is commonly used in communities. From Wikipedia: “Hypocrisy is the claim or pretence of holding beliefs, standards, behaviours, or virtues that one does not truly hold.” Deciding that someone is hypocritical is all about making a subjective judgement in our own favour: someone claims to have some standard that we judge to be noble or ideal (not everyone would) and then they act in a way that we judge someone with that standard would not. Calling someone a hypocrite is just a way of saying you are upset that they no longer seem to support your personal world view. We don’t call them hypocrites if they hold a belief we don’t consider noble, then act in a way we like. We hope, then, that they are changing.
We should recognise that everyone around us, including our public figures, can change, without necessarily being inconsistent or hypocritical. If someone seems incapable of change I would personally be very suspicious – does this person believe they know everything? Do they not challenge themselves to learn new things about the world, which would affect how they respond to it? Are they so dogmatic that no new ideas can seep through? Or are they just acting the part they think others want them to play? How can such a person help make the changes the world needs for us all to escape poverty, or stop global warming, or deal with any new threats, if they always act in the same way? The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result (attributed to Einstein, but probably not him). When I was challenged about being inconsistent after making some fundamental belief changes I replied that I will always, consistently, change myself if I come to believe that I can be a better person with that change. That is something that can be relied on. We should hope that our public figures can also be so responsive to the changing world.