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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