Myth Number Seven: Truth is Whatever You Sincerely Believe
Can you make something true just by thinking it? What an astonishing power! If you sincerely believe you’re a large Diet Coke, are you really one? If you sincerely believe the onion rings are fries, are they actually fries? In that case you must be a mighty magician. I’d like to meet you— if nobody drinks you first!
Now here’s something odd. Nobody outside the mental hospitals falls for the “truth-is-whatever- you-sincerely-believe” gimmick when the subject is Diet Coke or fries, yet many students fall for it when the subject turns to the big, important things we were talking about a few minutes ago. Let me tell you, if your magic doesn’t work on fries or Diet Coke, you can be sure it won’t work on right and wrong and God!
The fact that we aren’t magicians isn’t the only problem with the sincerity myth. Another is that it leads to inconsistencies. You sincerely say the window’s open; I sincerely say it’s not, If you’re right, I’m wrong, and if I’m right, you’re wrong. Sincerity can’t change that. But the sincerity myth says it can. It says that since we’re both sincere, we must both be right. You’re right, so the window is open; but I’m right too, so it’s not. Some sincerists try to get out of jams like this by using the words “for me” and “for you.” Of course, saying the window is open for you but closed for me doesn’t help a bit. If it’s open, it’s open for us both, and if it’s closed, it’s closed for us both. But sincerists don’t waste for me and for you on little things like windows. As before, they save their myth for big things like right and wrong and God.
Here’s the sort of thing I mean. Two sincerists are having lunch. The first one says, “I sincerely believe that God is my inner self,” and the second replies, “I sincerely believe that God is tuna fish.” The first returns, “‘Then ‘God is tuna fish’ is true for you, but ‘God is my inner self’ is true for me.” They cheerfully agree. Later the same two sincerists are having dinner. The first one says, “I sincerely believe that infanticide is right,” and the second replies, “I sincerely believe that infanticide is wrong.” The first returns, “Then ‘infanticide is wrong’ is true for you, but ‘infanticide is right’ is true for me.” They smile and eat their salads.
I’m being silly, but not nearly as silly as you think. True, nobody on campus thinks God is tuna fish, but many a student thinks God is his inner self and considers his sincerity enough to make it so. As to infanticide—you’d be surprised how many people on campus think an unborn baby isn’t human unless the mother sincerely believes he is. If the sincerity of her belief could make all that difference for unborn babies, why couldn’t it for born ones too? In fact, some pro- abortion people already think this way. Biochemist James Watson sincerely believes that babies should not be considered alive for three days after they’re born. Some people have sincerely suggested that three days are too few— they want thirty.
The problem is that sincerity doesn’t make anything true, and it doesn’t make anything true just for you, either. In fact, there is no truth just for you. Truth is for everyone. We just have to share it.
— J. Budziszewski, from How to Stay Christian in College, p. 91