Thursday, February 03, 2011

Sincerity: Will it really get you anything in the end?

I've been running into a number of people recently who have been using "sincerity" as a proof for truth. After all, if someone is sincere, is it really possible to say that this person is "wrong"? Couldn't it just be my limited perspective not allowing me to understand where others are coming from? 

A conversation I had last week with a fine Christian follower illustrates the point. His rationale is very common., going something like this: "What right do we have to say that someone from another country, say Papua, is not worshiping his gods to the best of his ability? Why would God not understand that such a person also belongs in heaven?"

I tried to explain that there are some Christians who hold to pluralism (also called universalism) that says everyone goes to heaven; others, like him, hold to inclusivism, which says those who are sincere in their beliefs are saved individuals; and those, like myself, who belief Truth is narrow are called exclusivists, meaning that only a true relationship with the God of this universe will suffice.

General revelation, as talked about in Psalm 19 and Romans 1, says that there are a number of ways God reveals Himself to people, such as through the conscience and nature, for example. Special revelation is God's Word, which God revealed to help people understand how we can know what God's mind really is all about. I don't like to get too deep into the "judgment" of the fellow in Papua. When I'm witnessing and this is brought up, I normally say, "I don't like to speculate about people in faroff lands, but let's talk about you and me since we have the Bible and therefore the knowledge of what is true." 

I just don't buy the "sincerity" card, though. I know many who are most sincere in their beliefs. For example, a Muslim man whom I've met with annually for more than a dozen years is an excellent example. Dr. Talabeshi is from Syria, a most devout and sincere follower of Muhammad. In addition, I have a Jewish friend--Rabbi Rosenthal--whom I've known for more than a decade and even had a chance a few years ago to speak at his synagogue. He could very well be more sincere than I. I have personally known Jehovah's Witnesses, Scientologists, a pagan witch doctor (met him in the Philippines), and yes, even Mormons; none of them could ever be accused of lacking sincerity. Heck (that's a common phrase here in Utah), I have even known very sincere Atheists. Does that mean that the Atheists' sincerity could mean--at least for them--that there is no God and they don't fall under judgment?

I wonder, will the sincerity of any of these good folks get them anything in the end? My friends, I can be quite sincere that gravity doesn't exist, but I dare you to go ahead and jump from a 20-story building to test my theory. You might agree with me, but your sincerity will become meaningless the second you take that giant step out the window. We can expand the examples, whether it's my sincerity that dog poop is good for human consumption to my insistence that a computer virus should be put into every computer because this improves performance.

I'm sorry, but I just can't buy that sincerity counts for anything. Yes, truth--such as gravity or Jesus as the only way to God--is narrow. That's just the way it is. I didn't make up the rules. But I'm going to live by them.


Blogger Mitch Hurst said...

If one goes by the definition of sincerity, "the virtue of one who speaks and acts truly about his or her own feelings, thoughts, and desires," then there truly is no sincerity in atheism. I'm constantly amazed at how believers construe atheism. At its core there's no feeling, thought or desire. It's simply a nothingness about the notion of god. It's really where we all start before external influences begin their work.

9:10 PM  
Blogger Eric Johnson said...

Thanks, Mitch, for your comment (and posting with your name--I appreciate it). I guess we have to agree to disagree on this since it could be argued that some folks could "start" with a belief in God. What I mean is, I believe that many inherently believe that there is Something out there, a belief they have in their inner core, perhaps even before they were ever told about "God" (however that is defined to be) by "external influences." I agree, others could start with a view that there is "no God." It takes someone who comes along and tells them an opposite viewpoint before they understand there are opposing views.

I believe, naturally, a baby abandoned on a deserted island who never had contact with anyone would grow up wrestling with what else is out there, whether it looks like a human or is maybe something bigger than I. (I doubt the initial thought would be that "I am God" when omniscience is missing.) So I would disagree that, naturally, there is a "nothingness" about the notion of God until outside influences take over.

In addition, Mitch, atheism truly is making a positive claim of its own. "There is no God" is just as much of a positive claim as "There is a God," and hence evidence must be considered from both sides. The same would be true to show that Santa didn't exist. I ask, "How do you know?" You say, "That's not my job, that's yours." But wait. Show me the video of your parents putting presents under the tree, the 1,000s of Santas at malls, etc, and we can see that your proposition has meat.

Honestly, I find most New Atheists as being disingenuous, as so much of Dawkins/Hitchens et al resort more to ad hominem attacks and utilizing other logical fallacy tricks rather than dealing with the issues. I watched a debate two years ago between Hitchens and William Lane Craig--look it up, if you get a chance--and if I were an atheist, I would have to say Hitchens was an embarrassment to the cause. Maybe atheism is true, but atheists owe this very important issue more than just mere rhetoric.

Since it is impossible to empirically prove either the existence or nonexistence of God, the role of one seeking truth is to test both views with the evidence we do have. Of course, we can come up with different conclusions, but only one of us can be correct--that there is a God or there is no God. As I have said in my piece, sincerity as an atheist gets you nowhere if there really is a God/Gods.

6:49 AM  
Anonymous Keev Allin said...

Really enjoy expanding the old grey matter on stuff like this. Would it be fair to say that since God is always "just", that the native who never hears of Jesus is one who never would respond to the light no matter how bright or perhaps, that He can be "just" even if that native doesn't hear the Gospel simply because we don't "deserve" more than our Father graciously gives us? I know that might be the longest and most confusing sentence ever but I'll bet you can see what I mean. Also, can you break down the difference between "pluralism" and "inclusivism"? I'm not sure I see the difference.

6:13 PM  
Blogger Eric Johnson said...

Thanks for posting, Kiev. Pluralism, or universalism, is the idea that all roads lead to God. If you're born, you're in. Inclusivism is the idea that as long as you are sincere, no matter which religion, your sincerity is enough to get you "in." Exclusivism says that truth is narrow, and if you don't have the right relationship with God, then you're not in. Traditionally, Christians have been exclusivists, but in the past few decades, more and more go down the road of political correctness and choose one of the former paths.

7:24 PM  
Anonymous Jason Melling said...

This is something I have wrestled with in the past when dealing with my own belief in God and His relationship with us. (Note the capitals, I am a believer in Jesus Christ and what He has done for us). I don't see an answer to the question of where an islander in the south pacific who has never heard about Jesus, or a Biblical God, would stand before Him once the islander has died. If we as believers are to know, and defend, that all people are able to know about God through general revelation, what then do we say in regards to those people who in their lifetime will never know about Jesus or a Biblical God? I do not see it being a very supportive statement of Christianity (or any belief in a god) to say that we are not to be concerned with those people in that scenario, because my understanding of the Bible would say that all people are loved and cared about by God. Yet if we never have a good answer for how God sees someone who never knows about Jesus, let alone a Biblical God, then we basically may be ceding that a loving God does not exist.

1:46 PM  
Anonymous Keev Allin said...

I'm comfortable with the stance that since we know from scripture that God is always "just" and that it is in His character to save all of us that will be saved by our own free will that any who do not seem to have enough special revelation to accept Him, would therefore never be someone who would have accepted Him. This seems logical to me but I'm not sure I'm articulating myself very well. Am I making any sense?

7:31 PM  
Blogger Eric Johnson said...

Reading Romans 9 and understanding that God is the Potter, we are merely the clay, means that God is sovereign and does what He wills. It's a mystery, but we have to allow God to be the One in charge.

7:34 PM  

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