Not comfortable with planned "debate"

The priest where I am teaching wants me to debate with the Director of Religious Studies for the school in front of the 8th grade. I am to take the atheist position. She will argue Catholicism. This exercise is meant to make the 8th graders consider their faith in greater depth and to be able to defend it. I’ve expressed over and over how uncomfortable I am with this idea. Why am I so reluctant? Two reasons: 1) I think, unless I purposely tank this thing, that it’s going to make a at least a few of our 8th graders doubt their faith. 2) In meeting with the Director a number of times and having some very long conversation; I truly believe I will win this debate easily. In expressing those concerns to the priest he said: “Perhaps it would be a good thing to have our Director humbled.” I suspect I’m in the middle of some small feud between the two. How can I get out of this?

I’m not an expert, but perhaps you could say something like “I’m sorry Father, but I cannot in good faith deny Christ, not even for an academic debate.”

There’s always the simple “I’ve changed my mind.”

best wishes,

What makes you think you will win the debate? Is it because you think she is not prepared or qualified? Or is it that you think Catholicism is wrong?

If you think Catholicism is wrong, why are you teaching in a Catholic school. If you think Catholicism is wrong, wouldn’t that mean the Lutheranism is wrong also? Especially since they are so closely related.

If you think it is an issue about her being qualified or prepared, that really would not be within your expertise to assess now would it? You would be amazed at how many people have incorrectly assessed another persons understanding of their faith. It happens all the time, just look around these forums.

Lastly, if you think that it is some sort of feud between the priest and the director, why not just be honest about it? I would talk to the priest, and explain to him that is the impression you are getting and you are not comfortable being put into that situation. I would also have the same conversation with the director.

I would simply tell the principal that it is opposed to your sense of Christian charity to beat the religious ed teacher in a religion debate, as that calls into question her ability to teach. Further, you are afraid that if you do it correctly, you might lead others to doubt their faith in Christ.

It is one thing to commit sin, it is another to help someone else.

That is how I would approach it.

I minored in speech communication part of Debate is to research and express views whether you like them or not. I found myself defending gay marriage and did because it was required in my debate club and learned how that side would argue. Making me better able to counter that in cases now.

Same for this by learning Atheist positions one can better counter them later. Consider this a learning experience and if the Priest is on his game he should be able to hold his own.

If this is meant to be a learning experience, but not challenge the Faith of immature 8th graders, i would strongly suggest a “mock debate.”

You would present the atheist arguments, but in order to ensure the students were not confused or harmed by your adversary’s weakness, allow him or her to hear your arguments ahead of time & prepare a strong apologetic defense!

If it truly the Priest’s wish to provide some humility to the DRS, then agree to debate him or her in front of the faculty only.

**Never agree to do anything that would harm the fragile Faith of these young students, our society & media already does that 24/7 everyday!! They need to hear the Truth of our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ defended eloquently & with intellectual passion!!
Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, Ora Pro Nobis Peccatoribus!


This is off the thread topic, but your signature caught my eye…

For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths." (CCC1776).

How do you understand your signature together with Romans chapter 2 on conscience?

In the first place, I think it is an effective way to teach truth. In essence, the kids will see both theologies expained side by side. I teach 8th graders, as well. I believe most young people this age can exhibit sufficient thinking in a critical way to be beneficial.

What I don’t get is your point that you will win this debate hands down. You are a teacher of your faith and yet you believe that atheism is a more convincing and favorable philosophy than Lutheranism??? How would you win hands down? Maybe your minister should find someone else (with a bit more conviction) to play the part of the atheist)…

And finally, why should your director be humbled or embarrassed? I don’t get it. I thought the point was to teach the truth of your faith?

Tank it. Take one for the team.

It seems to me that here we have someone who is already doubting their faith.
Do you or do you not trust Our Lord to protect The faith?
You believe that you will be able to “win” the debate agains the Director of Religious Studies. How will you know this. Who will be “keeping score”?
You are afraid that by doing well in this debate you might lead some of the students to doubt their faith. OK - wouldn’t it be better for them to learn this now when their questions and doubts can be answered in the classroom setting?

I recognize your concern here and do not wish to belittle it, or you, but I think you are missing some larger issues.
There is little doubt but that most of these eighth graders are going to question their faith in the next 8 years or so. High School and College are tough places for those of faith.
Would it not be better to expose them to some of this questioning now when they can receive good answers and get clarifications on their questions? Or do you think it would be better for them to have these debates sitting around at some “party” later on in college.

I would suggest that you accept the debate, do the best job you can to defend “your” points in a respectful manner. Then - make sure that the students know that these are not your true beliefs and that, if they have any other questionsor concerns, you would be more than willing to help them better understand and answer the atheist position.

Infact, I think that this could provide a good chance for a “follow-up” debate or discussion where the students could, 1) critique the arguments on both sides - raising different points and issues, and 2) Ask additional questions to either “debator”.
This could be done by - Having the debate as scheduled, then giving the students a few days to discuss and write up their critiques and questions, then having a follow-up where the students can make thei critiques and ask questions.

Most of all I think that you should pray very carefully on this and Trust that the Holy Spirit will take care of business.


I agree, we should never do anything to hurt the faith fo these children, but hiding them away is not the way to do it.
The do need to hear the Truth, and they need to be exposed to the arguments against that truth so that they may better defend and hold to The Truth.

It would be a shame to underestimate the awakening critical intelligence of these children and fail to properly prepare them to meet the coming challenges of apologetics. Make sure that there are certain safeguards in place and then have the debate. Allow the students time to consider what they hear and ask questions of their own.

I speak as one who knows how poorly we have trained our children in the past. I suffer daily from csd, (catachesis deficiency disorder).


As a teacher of debate, I can honestly say the truth is often the victim in a competitive debate. There are many things that influence the outcome (especially in the minds of the audience), which include presentation, evidence, and reasoning, I think a more valued debate would be between 8th graders on the same subject (although it would be SO much better if you had a resolution that each side could defend). Then they are on relative equal wits and presentation skill set. Afterwards a “teacher” can use the debate as a springboard for truth, logic, fallacies, and a wide variety applications.

Debates are like sauage making, a lot of nasty things go into it that makes you question whether you like the final product. (although everything is compared to sausage making).


People have unfairly questioned/attacked the OP. It was clear to me she was worried that the motives for the debate were not charitable and the results may not be beneficial to the 8th graders.

  1. The idea that she must doubt or not trust Our Lord in this case is ludicrous. Atheists defeat Christians in debates all the time. Why in the world would anyone think Atheism must lose the debate just because it the false philosophy. Really boggles my mind that anyone who has seen a political debate on TV, or has even talked to someone with different views on anything else, could possibly think that debates necessarily bring out the truth, ha.

  2. She knows the 8th graders better than we do. If she thinks that it may hinder rather than nurture their faith, she should act on her best understanding.

My own advice would be to prepare your arguments with an explanation of why each argument is essentially wrong. Then I would present this to your opponent beforehand, with a charitable tone (not implying he “needs the help”), conveying that you wanted him to have the information so that the students could really see the flaws in your presentation.

Another thing: why assume the OP is uncharitably underestimating the Director. This assumption itself in uncharitable. Maybe she has reason, from experience, for believing he would not explain the Christian position well. The priest’s comment that the director should be humbled is strong evidence for this.

I agree 100%. Honesty coupled with charity is the key. Nice post, ralph!:thumbsup:

In Christ,


Charity is one of the Catholic Innovations that I hold to :stuck_out_tongue:

Haha, spot on! :stuck_out_tongue:

In Christ,

I just wish more Catholics did :blush:

If you think you can’t get out of it, insist on having a preamble to the debate in which you are able to say to the 8th graders you believe in God and Jesus Christ, but for the sake of the debate you will do your best to present arguments for atheism. Make it clear the debate is simply to encourage them to think about the issues presented. You should have the freedom to do that much.

It’s a common experience in debating to have to defend positions you don’t believe in. I’m in Toastmasters, and from time to time members have to evaluate speeches with subject matter they may strongly disagree with. But their evaluation is on the techniques of public speaking, not the subject matter.

Personally I don’t think most of us have enough opportunities to debate. But maybe that’s my temperament talking.

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