That is something you often hear when religion or faith is being discussed. Though it is interesting that you never hear that said when the discussion is about atrocities-terrorist bombings-child abuse etc.
You never hear it when people are talking about the horrors of the concentration camps such as Belsen or Auschwitz. Hitler was undoubtedly sincere in his hatred of the Jewish people but everyone except for anti Semites would say he was wrong. The massacre of 6 million Jews in the Second World War was deliberate-ruthless and the product of a sincerely held belief. Hitler was sincere but terribly wrong.
An example such as this, which caused the annihilation of millions of people, should make us very cautious about saying that it does not matter what you believe as long as you are sincere. That is obviously nonsense-rubbish.
For centuries people sincerely believed that thunder was caused by the gods at war. We now that this sincerely held belief was superstitious rubbish. They were sincere but wrong in their beliefs..
For centuries people sincerely believed that the sun went around the earth. When Galileo, followed by the astronomer Copernicus showed that this was not the case, he was forbidden by the pope to “hold, teach or defend” such a view and was handed over to the Inquisition. I am sure that as Copernicus languished in prison he would not have agreed that it does not matter what you believe as long as you are sincere.
Now I’m not knocking sincerity. Sincerity is vitally important. Nobody likes a hypocrite. But the fact is that sincerity is not enough. I may believe that all the planes at Sydney airport will take me to New Zealand but I would be wrong.
I may believe that eating lots of chocolate and fatty foods is the best way to recover after a heart attack but I would be wrong, -sincere may be but still wrong.
Now if the idea that sincerity is all you need is manifestly ridiculous, why do people say it so often when the subject of religion is raised?
There may be several reasons.
+ For one thing, people may simply not want to get drawn into a religious discussion or argument. They think that such discussions are fruitless and so they try to avoid an embarrassing and perhaps acrimonious debate by saying that it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere.
They would never apply it to mathematics: nobody if their right mind imagines that if only you believe hard enough that 2 +2 = 5, that would make it so. It would be like the student coming out of the examination room and saying, “Please God make New York the capital of America”. In these cases, however great your sincerity you would be wrong.
It is interesting that only in the area of religion, do people talk like this. They think that it is much better to duck out of the subject altogether by saying that it does not matter what you believe as long as you are sincere.
+ Another reason may be that in Australia we are a pragmatic-practical people. We are not famous for our philosophical thinking. It’s been said that 10% of the people think; 20 % of the people think they think. And the rest would rather die than think. We are a practical people. If something works, that is okay, no matter who invented it or what he intended. As Australians we are concerned with actions, not so much with theories. So if you follow that line of logic to its conclusion you will end up by saying, “it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere”.
+ But I think there is also a deeper reason.
Religion is about the fundamental issues of life and death and there is something in many people that makes them not want to look at those issues. Many people feel uneasy-uncomfortable and they would rather not think about them. Most people would rather live for the here-now and shut their minds to complex matters like death and life- heaven and hell.
They think it is much easier to rely on sincerity and living a reasonably decent life in the hope that this will be satisfactory and carry them through.
This attitude is very widespread. You will find a many people from all walks in life, with different occupations-with different levels of education who hold to the view that “it does not matter what you believe as long as you are sincere”.
Where does this leave us as Christians?
The teachings of Buddha and Jesus-the teachings of Judaism and Christianity-the teachings of the Koran and the Bible point in fundamentally different directions.
You may be a sincere follower of the Buddha but what if that allegiance should prove in the end to be mistaken? Where does that leave you?
You may be sincere in thinking that Jesus Christ is out of date-or that he was merely a man as the book “The Da Vinci Code” portrays him. You may be sincere in thinking that Jesus was simply a great teacher or a wise philosopher. But what if you happen to be sincere and wrong?
What if at the end of your life God should say to you, “Why did you not bother about my Son Jesus who gave himself to put you right with me?
Will you mumble, “Oh well I thought that it didn’t matter what I believed as long as I was sincere”?
The fact is that belief is the spring of action and right belief is the spring of right action. We cannot just rely of “sincerity”.
Sincerity is absolutely essential, but by itself it is insufficient.
We would never apply that to any other area of life. It would be an act of absolute foolishness.
Jesus didn’t say, “It doesn’t matter what or who you believe as long as you are sincere”. He said, “I AM THE WAY, THE THRUTH AND THE LIFE, NO ONE COMES TO THE FATHER EXCEPT THROUGH ME”.
Jesus didn’t say,” As long as you are sincere and live a good life you will get to heaven”.
He said,” WHOEVER BELIEVES AND IS BAPTIZED WILL BE SAVED BUT WHO EVER DOES NOT BELIEVE WILL BE CONDEMNED”.
Sincerity is important but so is the Truth –the truth as we have it in the Bible and in Jesus Christ.