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HEARTS of the CITY | Navigating the Real World

A rotating panel of experts from the worlds of philosophy, psychology and religion offer their perspective on the dilemmas that come with living in Southern California.

July 10, 1996

Today's question: Republicans are debating a "declaration of tolerance" for other views in the GOP's 1996 campaign plank against abortion rights. Democrats may be debating how strongly to defend affirmative action programs. It's hard for organizations--political and religious--to soften strongly held moral stances. But what about individuals? Do you have any advice on when to stand firm on what you consider the high moral ground and when to express tolerance for other views, or even to modify your position?

Rabbi Janet Marder

Director, Pacific Southwest Council, Union of American Hebrew Congregations

Compromise and coalition-building are essential to the governmental process. In my view, however, individuals may be guided by a different philosophy. Certainly we should seek out all thoughtful points of view and be willing to learn even from people with whom we disagree. But I think it's important to stand firm on our own moral positions whenever failure to do so would threaten principles we hold sacred. For example, I won't retreat from a pro-choice position on abortion, because that is the only philosophy that protects freedom of religion and conscience for all. Strong moral convictions ought to be expressed in the political sphere as part of a vigorous public debate on the issues--provided such debate is conducted in a civil atmosphere, free from violence or intimidation.

Compiled by JOHN DART, Times staff writer

Richard J. Mouw

President, Fuller Theological Seminary

It helps to realize that a spirit of humble self-critique is itself an important feature of the high moral ground. To be sure, there are times--as in Nazi Germany--when morality requires a refusal to compromise. But it is always good to remember our own shortcomings. As a Christian, I know that as a sinner I regularly attribute the best motives to myself and the worst to others. I need constantly to ask God to help me see things from the other person's point of view lest I bear false witness against my neighbor. Self-righteous arrogance is regrettable, even when it is enlisted in good moral causes.

The Rev. Ignacio Castuera

Pastor, North Glendale United Methodist Church

From a progressive religious perspective, I believe that modifying a position must remain a constantly open option. The moral person is one whose heart and mind are always open to new insights and information. Jesus used the expression sclerocardia (hardness of heart) to refer to people whose positions were unchanging and immutable. A Christian hymn states, "New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth." The major caveat to keep in mind, especially during an election year, is that a change of heart and opinion carries more credibility when such change does not appear to benefit the person or the party making the changes.

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