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        Moral Disagreement and Interreligious Conversation The Penitential Pace of Understanding David A. Clairmont A warning offered by Pope John Paul II about the difficulties that inevitably accompany ecumenical dialogue provides a helpful frame of reference for an examination of intractable moral disagreements:“Christians cannot underestimate the burden of longstanding misgivings inherited from the past, and of mutual misunderstandings and prejudices. Complacency, indifference and insufficient knowledge of one another often make this situation worse. Consequently , the commitment to ecumenism must be based upon the conversion of hearts and upon prayer, which will also lead to the necessary purification of past memories.”1 While such purification by no means denies or even relativizes the moral truths expressed in Christian faith and signaled by Christian practice, attention to moral fragility and failure does afford us, for the short duration of our dialogues, an opportunity to examine our likeness to those with whom we disagree.  03 Cunningham Ch3 1/27/09 11:14 AM Page 97  | David A. Clairmont In this essay, I want to suggest that a Christian thinking about moral disagreement ought to take as her or his predominant influence and probable horizon the Christian practice of penance and reconciliation . I will also argue that it is precisely this kind of person-inconversation —striving but exemplifying imperfectly the moral truths proclaimed—that those in the midst of moral disagreement long so desperately to hear. In perhaps one of the few ways that the sacramental life of the Church gestures to a dispositional parallel outside itself, in the kinds of persons it forms gradually and with a particular temporal sensitivity, the Christian practice of self-examination, confession , penance, and reconciliation offers a model for interreligious and religious-secular conversations about moral matters. In order to develop this suggestion, I will offer two short comparisons with ideas developed by Alasdair MacIntyre, first on the notion of goods internal to practices and second on the place of moral enquiry in negotiating intractable moral disagreements. In response to the first, I will make two arguments: first, that we are able to think of interreligious conversation about moral matters roughly in line with how MacIntyre describes a practice with distinctive internal goods; and second, that the Christian practice that most resembles interreligious conversation about moral matters described in this way is that of penance and reconciliation. In response to the second, I will argue that MacIntyre’s approach to moral disagreement offers a distinctive future-oriented focus for those engaged in moral enquiry, a focus that contrasts with the historically sensitive and past-oriented focus that he advocates for understanding rival traditions of moral enquiry. While this approach to moral disagreement rightfully argues that productive moral disagreement requires a necessary set of conditions that assures participants in the conversation that they will be free from coercion by their interlocutors or by the governing political powers, it does so at the expense of a proper sensitivity to the presuppositions that people often bring to such conversations—presuppositions about the unacknowledged failures by their partners in conversation to live up to the 03 Cunningham Ch3 1/27/09 11:14 AM Page 98 moral standards advanced. Here, the Christian practice of reconciliation (in distinction to the practices of Christian philosophical argumentation and apologetics) is again helpful in pointing out the depth of self-scrutiny and the pace of self-discovery that ought to govern the practice of moral enquiry.2 Instead of “intractable moral disagreements” (the title of MacIntyre ’s opening essay in this volume), I will use the phrase “interreligious conversation about moral matters,” because it includes a wider account of the morally relevant subject matter for the parties in dialogue than the former term does. Because what I will be arguing is that part of the importance of the analogy to Christian penitential practice is its ability to include a wider scope of moral concerns and relevant actions within its moral scrutiny than an approach to moral enquiry that focuses primarily on actions and the precepts that govern them, I want to reflect in the language I use the breadth of these moral concerns. Indeed, as I suggest below, part of what is distinctive about interreligious dialogue as a practice is its ability to identify morally relevant issues that each tradition as party to that dialogue would not be able to account for exhaustively on its own. Therefore, I will employ the phrase throughout this essay, returning at the end to the notion of intractable moral disagreements...


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