My teenage son has joined his high school debate club. We are in a fairly conservative area so I feel pretty confident he won’t be given very controversial topics. But just for the sake of debate What if one is asked to defend a moral evil, like contraception? I can make a case for standing up for principal and refusing to take it on (or asking to be on the opposing side), and I can make a case for taking it on as an exercise in the art of debating.
I have not been on debate teams, so I don’t know the rules on these things, but I’d like to give my son some guiding principles. If you’ve faced this yourself or have authoritative citations, those would be very helpful. Thank you.
The entire point of debating clubs is the argument, not the aubject. I doubt you’re going to have “hot button” issues, and even mroe so, contraception, as the vast majority of people don’t even realize there’s a debate to that. But abortion and SSM might appear at least in a classroom setting.
TBH, I think he should do it. It’s the point of the activity; to be able to defend what you don’t agree with. And besides, it’ll allow him to know the views of the opposing side more intimately and completely
It is a way to get people to think about not just the one sided-ness of an issue but to see that there are two sides that have their own convincing arguments, if not more sides in every single issue that you can think of.
It also is a way to prepare for arguments in either professional debating/competitions or as an attorney in a courtroom to be able to defend something, or someone, you don’t agree with but you have a duty to defend that topic.
I had good friends in high school who were stars in the debating club. They were sometimes expected to defend both sides of the question, without warning or time to prepare, especially during district or regional competition. Debating teaches good critical thinking skills; you learn to debate with conviction, but you don’t need to have that conviction. Congratulations to your son; he will use these public speaking talents for the rest of his life! :o
I wouldn’t put it out of the realm of possibility that he would be asked to defend things he disagrees with, especially at debate meets: same-sex ‘marriage’, abortion, and such. True, it is more about the tactics, and such, not necessarily agreeing with what you are ‘defending’. However, I myself would have a hard time being asked to debate on the side of those two particular issues if it disagreed with my moral and Faith beliefs. I don’t think my youngest son would have been able to accept defending abortion in debate club (he was in Forensics). He could have argued other points he disagreed with (like government, choice of football teams, etc), but his moral compass would not have allowed him to defend abortion in any manner.
I think no one should be required to defend a position he believes is morally wrong or against his religion. Instructors have to be sensitive to the limitations placed upon them by the 1st Amendment. Nobody should be required to pretend he is an advocate for abortion or same-sex marriage. There are any number of secular topics that an instructor can put together without violating a student’s moral convictions or religious principles. Thinking along both sides of a question can be effectively developed as a skill just by the fact that if you are a Catholic, and you are assigned to argue against Roe v. Wade for example, you will have to study the arguments defending Roe v. Wade in order to effectively rebut them.
That’s kind of a disturbing idea, to have a duty to defend the indefensible. I think one’s faith should be more important than one’s career.
I’m thinking this idea of defending what you disagree with could be why a lot of kids lose their faith while they attend college. There’s a pressure to be “open-minded” about so many things that the Church teaches against. I took a Contemporary Lit course that seemed designed to undermine ideas of sexual morality- the professor gave us Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller, which is a very perverted and insidious book. Put that professor in charge of a debating club and I could see him deliberately choosing kids to defend abortion for the purpose of undermining their faith, under the guise of building up their critical thinking. Moral compass is a hard enough thing to maintain without the confusion of defending themes that are anti-Catholic. I think this is where you get all these self-identifying “Catholic” politicians who differentiate between their own supposed anti-abortion position and their public position of “not legislating morality.” This goes directly against the CDF teaching that a Catholic cannot defend laws that are morally evil. The epitome of this kind of hypocrisy was when Nancy Pelosi claimed to be a scholar of Thomas Aquinas because he subscribed to the Aristotelian doctrine of life being “animated” at a certain number of days after conception. I’m sure she did not find this detail by reading the Summa, but it allows her to defend her pro-choice politics, despite the clear teaching of the Church.
I know of no better debate practice than to argue in defense of something which you have either no feeling for or are actually opposed to. It does not mean you support whatever you are defending, but it forces you to view issues from many different points, think outside the box, and expose strengths and weaknesses in your own side of the debate. Its an exercise in mental flexibility.