COMMENTARY 778.2: Who’s Right and Who’s Wrong?

On many issues of morality we are deeply divided.

The volume and virulence of disagreement on issues like stem cell research, abortion, and gay unions is testimony to the undeniable reality that millions of Americans are lined up on opposite sides of a chasm, appalled at the ethical poverty of those they disagree with.

According to a May 2005 Gallup poll, about one-third think that buying and using animal fur (32 percent), medical testing on animals (30 percent), gambling (32 percent), sex between unmarried men and women (39 percent), and stem cell research (33 percent) are morally wrong, while a very large majority believe that the conduct is morally acceptable. One-third may be a small minority, but it’s a lot of people.

On the most socially contentious issues the nation is almost equally divided — with about 50 percent believing that doctor-assisted suicide, abortion and homosexual relations are morally reprehensible.

On each issue, believers are sincere and passionate and no amount of discussion is likely to change their minds.

So what are we to do? As to what our laws will permit or prohibit, the majority rules, but the legal solution often intensifies rather than resolves the controversy — after all, morality is not simply a matter of voting.

But who’s really right and who’s wrong?

Though I have strong personal convictions on all these matters, I can’t honestly say I know. I only know what I believe, and while it’s hard for me to “accept” contrary views, I can’t claim superiority in either intelligence or integrity — lots of people I disagree with are smart people of good character. Is the opposite of a moral truth a moral lie?

Ideological intolerance evolves into self-righteousness, condemnation and, ultimately, persecution — and I know that’s wrong.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

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Comments 12

  1. How about lying, stealing or murder? Should we take a poll to find out if they are wrong? A consensus is not a reliable moral compass. There is such a thing as truth. If a society is divided on a moral issue, that doesn’t mean it is wrong to be intolerant or condemn the act, or even the actor in some circumstances, based on a well-formed conscience. You seem to pick the issues that a lot of people disagree with you on and say that no one can know what is right. You say: “But who’s really right and who’s wrong? Though I have strong personal convictions on all these matters, I can’t honestly say I know.” And then you condemn ideological intolerance as leading inevitably to doing wrong. I think tolerance of evil is not a mark of character.

    A few thoughts:

    “An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it. Truth stands, even if there be no public support. It is self sustained.” (Gandhi)
    “Right is right if nobody is right, and wrong is wrong if everybody is wrong.” (Sheen)
    “Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right . . . A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority.” (Thoreau)
    “America, it is said, is suffering from intolerance — it is not. It is suffering from tolerance. Tolerance of right and wrong, truth and error, virtue and evil, Christ and chaos. Our country is not nearly so overrun with the bigoted as it is overrun with the broadminded.” (Sheen)
    “A good person will resist an evil system with his whole soul. Disobedience of the laws of an evil state is therefore a duty.” (Gandhi)
    “Any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one.” (Thoreau)
    “[M]oderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” (Goldwater)
    “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice” (MLK)
    “Tolerance is an attitude of reasoned patience toward evil … a forbearance that restrains us from showing anger or inflicting punishment. Tolerance applies only to persons … never to truth.” (Sheen)
    “There is, however, a limit at which forbearance ceases to be a virtue.” (Burke)
    “The time is always right to do what’s right.” (MLK)
    “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” (Attrib. Burke)
    “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Jesus)
    “Too many people get credit for being good, when they are only being passive. They are too often praised for being broadminded when they are so broadminded they can never make up their minds about anything.” (Sheen)
    “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. . . Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” (Revelation)

    “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (Jesus)

    Character counts when one sees evil and opposes it. You can twist these words and use your sophistry to argue against that hard truth, but in your heart you know it’s right.

    1. I completely agree with Bob! So, I suppose Michael would have found Jesus to have been ideologically intolerance who evolved into a self-righteousness, condemning and, ultimately, persecution — and he knows that’s wrong. Come on man! U gotta be kidding me!

  2. To those who commented, Bob and Bob Marsh,
    Thank you!! Moral relativism is a cop out. Humans have always searched for the truth throughout the ages. Moral relativism allow for “anything goes” and that doesn’t elevate our society. It sounds so nice – we should be tolerant. But in reality it is not so nice. Some things should not be tolerated and I think you all put it very well so I will close.
    But thank you for some common sense on the issue!!

  3. When we live in a society where people do what is right in their own eyes, we become lost, we forget who we are as a people. And that’s when tyranny takes hold.

  4. Whose character counts, then? Yours? Mine? Manson’s?

    Morality is not “idealogical”, as you call it. It is reality. A person is only tolerant of other “ideas” as long as those ideas don’t mess with their lives. I may say sex outside of marriage is fine until my partner cheats on me. Then it is not idealogical anymore. It is a lie. And lying is not tolerated by any ideology to date.

    There has got to be a better standard than you set forth here. Please keep searching for truth. And when you find it, don’t back down. If I find clean water, I am not going to drink brackish water because someone else says that it is good to them. I am going to lead them to clean water. That is not intolerance, that is sharing love.

  5. While I recall that Jesus vehemently disagreed with the Pharisees, I don’t recall any account of him persecuting anyone. I don’t even recall any accounts of Paul of Tarsus hauling anyone into court in moral outrage. If I recall correctly the early Christians didn’t push for legislation against the many social practices common in the Roman Empire which they found morally repugnant until the early 5th century.

  6. Thank you all! Moral and subjective relativism comes from modernism which became the new “golden calf” in the French revolution. “If it feels good, than it must be good.” That is our fallen nature to think and act this way. Yes we all have wants. Not all our wants are for good and truth. If we in moral character than we will make an evil choice. Mr. Jesephson, who gave us the 10 Commandments? Who gave us the old and the new law? It was not man, so why do we serve him and feel that we can serve all our earthly and fleshly impulses? There is no morality in that. This revolution in thought is destroying the moral fabric of the Church, the family, and many so called governments. I believe to elevate ourselves we must remember, not out of fear but out of love, He ho created us, He who will judge us, and ultimately He who we must submit, know, love, and serve. If not, every moment that this is not in our hearts and our minds, something evil is.

  7. Morality is not something that should be legislated EVER. It is not our right or our mission to judge others on where their moral compass leads them. That is left solely to the Creator. Societies evolve and change, that is inevitable. Issues about Gay marriage, abortion, assisted suicide are moral issues for individuals but not for society as a whole.

    I agree with Michael that I have my own personal opinions about these things and I while I may or may not agree with them on ethical issues, I wouldn’t say that people who engage in any of these things are immoral or unethical for that matter. It is their personal morality and ethics that are at issues and as long as laws are not broken, I have no dog in this hunt as they say.

    If you truly believe in the teachings and actions of Christ, then you know that his mission was to uplift the down trodden and show the way to righteousness. He said, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”. What right do we have to judge other sinners? NONE!

    I will also point out that at a point in time I remember when interracial marriage was illegal. Why I don’t know, but I’d guess because we are bigoted society, bigotry is a sin. I don’t know if interracial marriage is right or wrong either, but at least it isn’t illegal anymore. God will sort out the right and wrong issues way after I’m off of this earth.

    Just my opinion!

  8. Who decides what is right or wrong? The group with the biggest say or power? Who certified them to be the certifiers of me or you? I believe that I can do anything that I want as long as I am not taking the rights and freedoms of another away. It’s just that simple! And if that is fallen nature then I subscribe to fallen nature. Who determined what is idealogical? Who determined what is moral? The moral fabric of the Catholic Church of recent doesn’t come within my definition of moral. Oh yes, I don’t know about the fabric? What does that mean? Too much of all this stuff has been contaminated by religion … religion that is designed to controll the masses by creating all this crazy”stuff.” And it diverts us from focusing on being the spiritual beings we may have been designed to be.

  9. Jerry,
    The Bible determines morality, not religious teaching.
    Religious leaders have always tried to add to the basic requirements that God has asked regarding moral teaching. However, to follow human beings leading.. allows opens the door to “everyone doing what in right in their own own eyes.” (read Judges 17:6, which is sin.) The Bible teaches in Prov. 14:12 that “there is a way that seems right in a man’s heart, that leads to destruction.”God’s word is the only authority that doesn’t change we are to follow on earth. Most people have never even read it. “The heavens will pass away, but the word of God will endure forever!” Matthew 24:35

  10. Bob,
    The bible determines religious morality … per your belief. The bible is a religious teaching! I don’t have to subscribe to the bible being the only and final authority. Perhaps you believe that, but others have their own beliefs and understandings. And what would make religious leaders take upon themselves to “add to the basic requirements that God has asked…” Did God fall short of his requirements design? And If I don’t do right by my own convictions, then in whose mortal eyes should I place my authority? The “…way that seems right in a man’s heart … ” may come from when man listens to his ego rather than his heart of love. Of course we aren’t taught that in church. And just what is Gods word to you? The bible? Perhaps God never really said a word. Man has said a lot and convinced some that it came from God. And then it became a belief system so strong for some that they have come to believe it to be true. And if I don’t believe what they believe, then I am wrong. How egotictical, narcissistic, and histrionic! True, “…God (the Law of Nature), will endure forever.” It’s the same “…yesterday, today, and forever.” Blessings to you, Bob!

  11. Jerry,

    You have responded with little fact and a lot of opinion. Bob is sighting the Bible a text that was written by the hand of God i.e. by those whom He hand picked as scribes. Besides would our feeble minds even come up with teachings that come from the Bible? We can never mix Truth with error.
    Look, the facts are that we live in a time of Modernism. Your position seems to be clearly that of moral relativism.
    Definition below:
    Relativism is the concept that points of view have no absolute truth or validity, having only relative, subjective value according to differences in perception and consideration.[1] The term is often used to refer to the context of moral principle, where in a relativistic mode of thought, principles and ethics are regarded as applicable in only limited context. There are many forms of relativism which vary in their degree of controversy.[2] The term often refers to truth relativism, which is the doctrine that there are no absolute truths, i.e., that truth is always relative to some particular frame of reference, such as a language or a culture (cf. cultural relativism). Another widespread and contentious form is moral relativism. (See also moral relativism, aesthetic relativism, social constructionism, perspectivism, and cognitive relativism.)

    Relativism is sometimes interpreted as saying that differing points of view are equally valid, in contrast to an absolutism which argues there is but one true and correct view.[citation needed]

    One argument for relativism suggests that our own cognitive bias prevents us from observing something objectively with our own senses, and notational bias will apply to whatever we can allegedly measure without using our senses. In addition, we have a culture bias—shared with other trusted observers—which we cannot eliminate. A counterargument to this states that subjective certainty and concrete objects and causes form part of our everyday life, and that there is no great value in discarding such useful ideas as isomorphism, objectivity and a final truth.

    I pray that you understand the Truth some day.

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