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Debate good for learning

Dennis Grabowski | Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I write this letter in response to Sy Doan’s Viewpoint (“Christopher Hitchens is the next Obama,” Mar. 25) Though the upcoming debate between Christopher Hitchens and Dinesh D’Souza contains elements that our University is opposed to in its mission, it is precisely these elements of opposition that stand to better maximize the depth, discussion and propagation of Christianity. Hitchens may say that organized religion is “violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children,” but these are exactly the sorts of claims that rational religious persons should seek to answer.

There is nothing more conducive to introspection or the consequential strengthening of one’s faith than the presence of an opposition to that faith. For answers to be found, the questions must first be known; for convictions to be strengthened, they must be forged in the fires of opposition. Truly, no medium is better capable of ensuring well-reasoned beliefs.

Similarly, this impact stands to be better realized in the long term as a result of the debates; in a campus of relative religious conformity, welcoming an outside perspective likewise affects the atmosphere of campus discourse. Discussion becomes laudable — the refrain, “Well, if you believe that then you shouldn’t have come here,” might no longer be sufficient to quell the concerns of non-Catholic members of the Notre Dame family. Nor, I believe, should it be.

It stands to reason that the debate will actually encourage the propagation of the faith, in that there is a positive value in dissuading others from the notion that Christianity is marked by anti-intellectualism. It seems that now, more than ever, Christianity is criticized for its resistance to both reason and discourse; it seems also that Christians have much to gain by doing away with this perception and meeting the atheist on his own playing field.

I shall, in closing, examine the most potent of the underlying fears of the many religious at Notre Dame: that of the potentiality of conversion away from the faith. Toward this end, however, conversion via debate is a non-issue. If one expects to engage the world in a meaningful manner on topics concerning faith, it is necessary that he or she rise above the petty notion that people might be “tricked” into believing one position over another. The debate will be comprised of two prominent academics, delivering well-reasoned arguments to a bright and competent student body — the mentality that we need fear discourse is not only unjustified, but ignorant. It is in the same spirit that the Catholic Church abolished the Index Librorum Prohibitorum that we must welcome and, indeed, learn from those who disagree with our positions: ultimately, a faith that cannot withstand discourse is one without merit. As Pope John Paul II opined, “Reason and faith cannot be separated without diminishing the capacity of men and women to know themselves, the world and God in an appropriate way.”

Dennis Grabowski
Dillon Hall
March 28