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Respectful dialogue

Nicholas Brandt | Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Two very skilled debaters are going to butt heads on one of the most important questions in a world that is becoming increasingly more secular, and they’re going to do it at Notre Dame.

I cannot stress how important this event will be for Notre Dame, especially in the wake of the Obama controversy. The debate format is the ideal format for academic discussion. This debate will serve as the fuel for Jenkins’s proposal for respectful dialogue. Let me explain why:

It does three things that the Obama commencement speech could not do: It gives two opposing sides equal speaking time, it neither supports nor condemns either speaker and, best of all, it does not declare a winner. So, when Hitchens calls God a “totalitarian dictator” we have an equally skilled opponent ready to challenge him. Sy Doan’s (“Christopher Hitchens is the next Obama,” March 25) concerns that Hitchens is “vehemently antagonistic toward the institution of the Church as a whole” are well-founded, but they are more than adequately accounted for by the presence of Dinesh D’Souza. D’Souza is a tested debater, specifically against Hitchens. I have seen him debate Hitchens two different times and each time Hitchens delivered incendiary remarks, D’Souza put up a brilliant defense and countered effectively.

This is exactly what Notre Dame should have been doing for years. If Notre Dame wants to be respected as an elite institution for higher learning it needs to respect contrarian beliefs and values first. As Dennis Grabowski said in his recent Viewpoint “Debate good for learning” (March 30), “There is nothing more conducive to introspection or the consequential strengthening of one’s faith than the presence of an opposition to that faith.” By bringing in two big name intellectuals, Notre Dame shows that they are willing to back up their ideas for respectful dialogue with clearly defined action. Best of all, Notre Dame doesn’t have to concede anything. It shows that we are up for the challenge presented by the caustic Hitchens and the atheist movement in general. So, bring it on Hitchens. This is a win-win for Old Notre Dame.


Nicholas Brandt
Stanford Hall
March 30