I dislike the NeoNov topic for nearly the same reason as I was appalled by the OldNov topic. It removes the particular offensiveness, which is positive. But it’s also unfortunate in some ways, because we’re left with a topic I find undebatable, but which now lacks offensiveness as a builder of consensus to forge our own. The Northeast was never going to debate the old one anyway. I would have preferred the resolutions we were tossing around to substitute over this dreck.

Why don’t I like the debate about debate? I don’t much like the debate about religion, actually.

The province of debate is fact. We derive rational debate from observations of the world we inhabit and share. A debate must begin by agreeing on basic axioms and common evidence; the argument is over the implication and meaning of those facts.

The province of religion is faith. Faith is often unrelated to fact. An act of faith is not always derived from logic, reason or observation. To believe in a religion is an act of faith. To believe in no religion is likewise an act of faith. And acts of faith are personal, ineffable, unexplainable, and therefore undebatable. In faith, I’m right because I’m right. You can be right too in a different way. But your rightness does not invade mine.

So there’s no common ground on questions of faith, unless you already agree. Without an accepted common ground to start from, there can be no debate; only argument and anger. In ancient times religious disputes were settled by war; in modern times we skip the wars and also skip much of the resolution too, by virtue of the fact that we leave the unbelievers alive. It’s progress, certainly, but doesn’t bode well for conducting religious debate.

Abortion is the first example of the resolution everyone avoids. Extempers drop topic slips about abortion faster than Regis LD judges drop debaters running kritiks. And there’s a reason why. Abortion is a question of faith. We have no clear definition of life that draws a logical and universal bright line between a fetus and birth. If you think a fertilized egg is a human life, you do so on faith. If you instead believe that the line between an actual human life and a potential one is crossed much later, you too do so on faith, even if you are a person without religious faith, since you have no better rational justification for your bright line than the pro life person does.

One’s views on abortion are therefore derived from a determination of faith. That’s why it’s the classic undebatable topic. That’s also why it has proven intractable in the poltical arena. The language of public debate is rooted in reasoning and logic, but the question of abortion is based on neither. Both sides believe what they believe very strongly, and they spend a lot of time arguing it, but no one is ever convinced.

Debate on abortion is therefore unproductive, and potentially hurtful. Debate over religious identity and religion can be worse.

A few folks have emerged from LD to weigh in, mostly in a patronizing sense of “Oh, this is easy, you PFers don’t know how to argue this, but we sage LDers deal with this type of argumentation all the time.” Of course, LD has its own issues, talk about an event without a rudder. But anyway, the popular LDer claim appears to be that simply running “religion is altogether bad”. Muslim students thereby need not engage in arguments that essentially group them together with terrorists as a virtue of their religion and culture. Instead, they can very ecumenically dismiss the value of all religion, and thus avoid the attack on their own particular group.

Here’s the thing. Religion outweighs everything to the religious. Those without faith tend not to understand this point, because in most cases atheism is much further down an atheist’s priority list. And the one thing that faiths cannot tolerate is repudiation. Faiths are belief systems; if they permitted routine denunciation for something so trivial as winning a debate round, they would not exist. Arguing “religion bad” in order to win a round would constitute apostasy to a faithful person; turning one’s back on God. It’s not an acceptable alternative.

One coach argues that refusal to take that option, renders the religious unable to debate both sides of the original topic. By being unable to debate both sides of one highly irregular and poor topic, the religious are proven unworthy of participating in debate at all. Is the tent of debate to be so small that it accepts only those who value it above all else — only those who, shall we say, worship at the altar of the ballot? I’m sure some of the irreligious would claim that religion and faith is a matter of choice, so people aren’t necessarily excluded from debate by that; they can choose between debate and their religion. But choice of religious belief is not so simple, and certainly not so casual. Some may say it is not a choice, but an imperative.

Yes, students should see the many sides of political ideas and rational arguments. I believe firmly in switch side debate. But faith is not an idea, and it’s not an argument. My political beliefs affect your lives; because I vote. That makes them fair game in the public arena.

My religious beliefs do not directly affect others; I disclose to very few what they even are. They may affect others indirectly, should they affect or control my political beliefs; but at that point, you can argue against those political beliefs and need not know the religious ones to do so. Debate should remain on the latter ground, and not touch the former. Or we’ll be repeating this November affair often.

Therefore, I affirm.

I’m not going to judge these debates. It wouldn’t be fair to the debaters struggling to overcome the topic’s limitations to also overcome my own objections. I’m probably not going to coach it much either, for the same reason. Thankfully I wasn’t scheduled to judge or coach it anyway; I’m only attending two tournaments on November’s topic, and I’ll be tabbing both.

Can’t wait for December.