Why can't you believe what you want as long as you're sincere?

(Carson Weitnauer) #1

Hi friends,

I thought you might enjoy this quick video from my friend Dr. Andy Bannister:

My notes from this talk:

We live in a very diverse world. So the idea is, accepting anyone’s sincere beliefs promotes a more harmonious world.

The problem is, “It mistakes sincerity for reality.”

Imagine a pilot on an airplane saying that he doesn’t plan to use the engines to get across the ocean. It doesn’t matter how sincere the pilot is, this idea will end in disaster.

Many sincerely held ideas have led to disaster: Hitler, Stalin, etc.

The test of ideas is not sincerity but truth.

The other problem with sincerity is that it makes it all about me. Christianity teaches that it isn’t sincerity that saves us, but the object of faith that saves us. It isn’t about us but Jesus.

Questions for discussion:

  1. How are you tempted to think that sincerity is the most important thing about your beliefs?
  2. How could you start a respectful, open-ended conversation on this topic with a friend this week?

(Keldon Scott) #2

That is a great conversation starter. Love Andy. One of my favorite starters is: do you believe that every person has intrinsic worth? Most say yes. Not all by the way. But when they say yes, I ask: why? It opens up the conversation, but I love watching the wheels turn when one contemplates the answer.

(Helen Tan) #3

Because we can be sincerely wrong :))

(chandra kishore sardar) #4

Thats a very wonderful and intriguing question. Well! A lot of times i get the question - why do you think christianity is the only true religion. People i have discussed about religion have often said good things from their religious scripture and they often insist that its matter of sincere beliefs. Whatever you believe you believe it all your heart and life.
@CarsonWeitnauer can you please talk more on the objective truth and elevating autonomy ? I guess the current thread can have some connection with it or i could be totally wrong. Has sincerely believing something to be true to do with autonomy and elevating the preferences ?

(Carson Weitnauer) #5

Hi @chandrakishore,

That’s a great follow-up question! I think we can affirm sincere belief as being better than hypocritical belief. Compare the two scenarios:
Scenario 1: I think Christianity is false, but I pretend Christianity is true to make my family happy
Scenario 2: I think Christianity is true, and I am publicly a Christian, which promotes harmony in my family.

Let’s say (for a minute) that Christianity is false. I am still inclined to have more respect for the person in Scenario 2 than in Scenario 1. I do value authentic or sincerity of belief.

At the same time, even as we show respect for people of authentic conviction, we can say that this is not sufficient for true belief. Why is this? Well, there are people of authentic conviction who are atheists, Christians, Buddhists, and Muslims. They can’t all be correct about the existence and nature of God. Some (or all) of them have beliefs that are not aligned with reality.

I think I would offer a ‘fulfillment’ narrative. “Yes, I see that your beliefs are authentic, and I respect the sincerity of your convictions. I think that your belief is authentic and wholehearted because you are convinced that your beliefs are true, that they describe reality. Would you remain sincerely committed to your beliefs if you discovered that they were false? I think too much of you to conclude that you would persist in your beliefs even if you knew they were not accurate. So while I respect your genuine conviction, and I believe you respect my genuine conviction, I think we can have a genuinely interesting and respectful conversation about which set of beliefs is true. Does that sound appealing to you?”

I look forward to your thoughts and questions!

In particular, how do you see the connection between autonomy and sincerity in this discussion?

(chandra kishore sardar) #6

Thats a wonderful illustration so as to explain the sincerity of belief which i guess i quite didnt get at the start.
I was just thinking how people are often driven by their own prefrences to judge something to be true and hold on to it sincerely even if it meant judging others to be untrue. People here often believe hinduism because it is the religion of their ancestors and most of them dont even know the reasons why they do the things they do (in rituals and beliefs related to hinduism) and when they are provided with arguments about the truth and beliefs ( Christianity) they tend to reject it.i guess thats how i got thinking to connect autonomy and sincere belief.

(Carson Weitnauer) #7

Yes, that makes sense to me. And it can seem morally wrong to betray our ancestors and families. How could a good God want me to turn my back on everyone who has provided for my life and everything that I have? I’m not sure if that is accurate at all - I would be curious to hear from you how you see it.

The underlying point is, I think we need to listen deeply and at length, with empathetic hearts, to understand what the objection is. An argument can be a flimsy thing against loyalty to one’s family and culture. And, loyalty to family is better than betrayal of a family - that’s something God encourages us to do, to obey our parents, to love our children, to be responsible family members.

At the same time, even Jesus said that loyalty to him must come before family:

From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, and two against—or two in favor and three against.
‘Father will be divided against son
and son against father;
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother;
and mother-in-law against daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’
Luke 12:52-53

So we might need to ask ourselves some hard questions. How can we affirm the rightness of loyalty to family and culture in a way that opens someone up to see that Jesus is worthy of a higher loyalty? If our family wants the best for us, and if Jesus is the most desirable one, then the greatest thing we could do for our families is to follow Jesus - even if they don’t see it the same way.

I feel that I am stumbling for words and insights, so I welcome your clarifications and corrections on how to approach this in your context.

(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #8


I very much agree with you on this. Christ calls us to love God first, than to love our neighbours as seen in Matthew 22:36-40:

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

If one were, say, an atheist, why do they love their family? Is it just because it’s their own flesh and blood? We can’t choose our siblings, but we still love them. We as Christ followers are called to not only love our families, but also our neighbors, which basically means the rest of the seven and a half billion people who live on this planet. Why? Because every single person has intrinsic value placed on them by God Himself when He made us all in his image. The atheist (and those of other religions) don’t have that kind of calling. I sometimes ask myself, would I love my family if they weren’t related to me in any way? The answer is a emphatic YES! because I am called to not only love strangers, but to love my enemies, too. What other worldview besides Christianity (the Truth) gives you that kind of love and devotion to humanity?

It is because of this why we are called to be apologists, to be examples of Christ to the rest of the world. Christ is in the soul-saving business, and we’re just along for the ride.

(Lakshmi Mehta) #9

I have been tempted to think that sincerity is important when faithful followers of other religions have similar or more interest in charitable deeds, seem generous, confident and exercise great self-discipline as many Christians.

For myself, when I struggle with the doubt of how Christians are any better than non-christians, I know it is Christ in me, the object of my faith. I know from RZIM talks that Jesus did not come to make bad people good but dead people alive and give the hope of eternal life. Yet, it is a struggle to give an answer to the non-christians who ask, how is my life any better than theirs.

(Carson Weitnauer) #10

Hi @O_wretched_man,

I think this is an interesting quote from John Gray, in his book, Seven Types of Atheism:

Atheists attack Christian values because they are changeable and often contradictory. In incessant mawkish debates, they insist that unbelievers can be highly moral people. It does not occur to them to ask which morality an atheist should follow.

To be clear, I think this is a bit of a harsh way to put it. I only mention it because there’s a certain credibility in quoting an atheist’s commentary on atheism. In his book, he carefully traces the many different moral codes that different atheists have proposed in different cultures. For instance:

Modern atheists can be individualists like Rand, socialists like Karl Marx, liberals like John Stuart Mill or fascists like Charles Maurras. They can revere altruism as the embodiment of all that is truly human with Auguste Comte, or revile altruists as thoroughly anti-human with Ayn Rand. Without exception, these atheists have been convinced they were promoting the cause of humanity. In every case, the species whose progress they believed they were advancing was a phantom of their imagination.

In this quote, you see a hint of two other arguments he makes: atheistic morality often borrows from Christianity two ideas:

  1. That progress is inevitable
  2. That “humanity” is a real thing - “we” are in “this” together

But, as he sees it, we are all just individual organisms living by different codes. There’s no grand project that we were made for and no reason to believe “we” are making progress now or will do so later.

In this particular case, if we were in conversation with an atheist who did not want to become a Christian out of loyalty to their family, I think it would be a challenging task to help them first see, that their own atheistic beliefs could not consistently ground a commitment to family loyalty. But second, that family loyalty is a good value, and it can find fulfillment and proper limits within the context of loyalty to Jesus.

But perhaps in some situations and relationships, that would be a helpful conversation?

(Carson Weitnauer) #11

Hi @Lakshmismehta,

You are in good company! Please allow me to share two lengthy paragraphs from Ravi on hypocrisy:

But there is a second question that is more burdensome and worrisome. Even the skeptic with a blind spot can see this one clearly. Over the years, I have come up against this one repeatedly from the university floor. In fact, just hours before penning this article I was faced with the same question from a fellow passenger on a plane. The range of the challenge is wide but its focal point is the same. It is this: History has not painted a good picture of the way in which Christianity has made some of its gains. Politicized, militarized and empowered in numerous ways, it has run roughshod over people and often has left a debris-ridden if not bloody trail in its wake. Why has this happened? Were such carriers of the message truly persuaded that they were doing the will of God or deep within them did they know that theirs was an effort to devalue others and to use God for their own purpose? Spiritual talk with power motives is the deadliest of all plagues. I would long to know the inside story of such lives.

The reason I raise this goes beyond demagoguery and power-mongering. The question filters down deep into our own personal lives. After years in the ministry I have seen so much and heard so much that leaves a puzzlement beyond measure. Why is there so much belligerence in lives that speak of grace? Why is so much hate and anger vented by many who name the name of Christ? After all, Paul does charge Timothy to watch his doctrine and conduct. To quote my fellow passenger, who happened to be from the East,“Christians are like vegetarians who harp on the virtue of vegetarianism but have a meat market of their own downtown.” It is true that some of the most obnoxious letters we receive are from some of the most pious sounding people. Some of the greatest rancor vented is often done in the name of righteousness, and I have frequently sat at my desk or laid my head down at the pillow at night and asked the Lord, “Why? How can this be?” Oh, I know the common answers to these issues. We all do. But deep inside there is a struggle. Are those who are governed by such blatant violations of the Gospel aware of their hypocrisy or is there a pitiful desensitization that has plundered the heart? Where is the personal relationship we proclaim when He seems so absent in the living? This was the first major question posed to me when I became a Christian. A Hindu friend of mine asked my brother-in-law and me when we were new believers, “Is conversion truly a supernatural work or is it all just psychological and affects some while it does not change others?”

I really appreciate Ravi’s candid, heartfelt acknowledgement of the problem here. He even says, “Oh, I know the common answers to these issues. We all do. But deep inside there is a struggle.”

I think there are two parallel truths from the Scripture that we need on this point:

  1. Christians are not better than anyone else. Actually, our confession is that we are sinners in need of forgiveness. This acknowledgment of our failures and shortcomings produces the humility the Lord wants from us.

  2. Christians are not to remain as they are. We confess that Jesus is not only our Savior but our Lord. To be saved is to be saved not only from the penalty of sin but the reality of sin! Sin is a horrible monster! True salvation is to be enabled, by God’s grace, to live holy and righteous lives.

If we can keep both of these truths before us, then God can increasingly humble us as we realize how great our need for mercy and grace is! Yet, we can confidently, eagerly, push forward to be more like Christ. We will not wallow in guilt or shame, but rejoice that our lives are increasingly demonstrating the reality that we are a new creation in Christ Jesus.

What other advice do you have on authentically responding to the challenge of hypocrisy?

(Lakshmi Mehta) #12

@CarsonWeitnauer, thank you for those great thoughts and for that excerpt by Ravi. In it, Ravi makes what a powerful statement of truth, “Spiritual talk with power motives is the deadliest of all plagues”. It truly alienates the seeker from the truth and can be a potential temptation to disown one’s faith. I appreciate your question,

Our initial reaction to Christian hypocrisy is to question the person of Christ when we should be questioning the person following Christ. I am reminded of another talk by Ravi where he quotes Augustine – “No philosophy must be judged by its abuse”. The abuse of faith is not unique to Christianity but is universal to all religions and that is why a philosophy must be judged by the life and teachings of its founder rather than by its misrepresentation by flawed men. This evidence of hypocrisy in all of humanity is congruent with the sin nature of man that is described in the Bible and points to the idea that sincerity is truly not enough! Man’s salvation must have its source outside of man’s realm.

Here is a link to how Ravi answered a similar question:

Another aspect to keep in mind is that a religion must not be judged merely by external appearances but by the condition of the heart that only God knows. Consider the parable of the poor widow in Mark 12:42-44 where Jesus praises the poor widow who gave two coins out of her poverty rather than the rich who gave out of their wealth. So, while people may judge a religion by the display of deeds / or one’s abilities, only God can judge the humility of a man’s heart and have true knowledge of one’s abilities.

When the question of hypocrisy becomes personal, I guess we can find out if we unknowingly hurt someone, acknowledge in humility our failures and state our sincere desire for growth and our reliance on the righteousness of Christ. Ultimately only God can be our true judge. Also, true worship is about who God is rather than what He can give us.

(chandra kishore sardar) #13

The religion and culture here is interwined and it often the case is if you are reject one you reject the both.well, ofcourse that doesnt mean if you follow another religion you are completely lost the culture. As per my observation, being a hindu here has keeps you engaged not only in the family but society and even nation. That makes it pretty hard for one to think outside the box( or even think of anything better than being accepted in the family society ).

I think that is really a challenge. But i personally think studying the scriptures of both hinduism and christianity can enable one to highlight the contrast so as to show what really is consistent and logically rational. I myself was very intrigued and surprise when i knew all the inconsistencies and irrationality in the hindu scripture while reading Jesus talks with krishna by Dr. Ravi.

(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #14

It can also boil down to each person’s definition of love. When you say you love your family, do you love them for your own good (they fulfill a need or longing) or for their own good (God has placed them in your life for a purpose)? The definition of love can vary between a skeptic and a Christian. A skeptic sees love as an emotion that ebbs and flows depending on how they feel at one particular moment while a Christian sees love as an action or a rendering of the will that is not based on feeling.

If an atheist had no interest in becoming a Christian out of loyalty to their family, you could ask them what makes them stay loyal, what is there about atheism that makes one feel the need to stay loyal? You could then ask them wouldn’t you be all the more loyal to your family if you could know and live for the truth instead of living in a lie? If your family was living a lie, and you knew the truth, wouldn’t you want to tell them, to liberate them from their own ignorance so that they can live more fulfilled lives?

(Page Gallimore) #15

It is refreshing to hear a bold statement in favour of THE truth.

God bless you.

(Andrew Bulin) #16

This is a great point, especially when you span cultures. In Japan, you may have a more open relationship with your childhood friends than with your own spouse. That does not necessarily make it wrong, but the expectation of what is sincere with different types of relationships greatly vary.