The Chesterton Debate Series, inspired by the notable English luminary G.K. Chesterton, is an initiative of the Office of Catholic Youth in partnership with the Archdiocese of Toronto. The debate series has two primary goals.
1. To provide a forum for respectful and substantive discussion of contentious issues relevant in today’s world.
2. To provide perspective on issues considered important to the formation of an individual’s conscience.
Through these debates, we hope the audience will better understand each side’s positions, which will help them better discern their own convictions. Chesterton lived in a time when ‘polite’ or ‘civil’ conversation seemed to exclude meaningful subjects like faith and morals. Chesterton fought ardently to resist this trend and is famously quoted as saying:
“I say that a man must be certain of his morality for the simple reason that he has to suffer for it.”
A Chesterton Debate is divided into two parts.
A. Opening Statements – The debaters address the audience for 15 minutes each. The opening statements are provided to the opposing debater to review prior to the debate.
B. Follow-up Questions – Each debater asks three follow-up questions to the opposing debater in relation to the opening remarks. The questions are provided to the opposing debater prior to the debate, but the responses are not heard until the night of the debate. The debaters have 5 minutes to respond to each question.
Intermission – 15 Minutes
A. Questions from the Audience – Representatives of each debater read through questions submitted by the audience and pick three to direct at the opposing debater. Debaters are allowed 3 minutes to respond to each question.
B. Final Follow-up Questions – In this section the moderator plays a more pronounced role. The debaters pose additional follow-up questions to one another. Their responses are limited to 4 minutes per question.
Chesterton Debates are approximately 2.5 hours in duration.
Selection of the Debaters
Each debater is chosen with great care. Selection involves contacting notable leaders in the fields in question and asking them who would most effectively represent their view. Based on their responses, a committee then decides which persons should be contacted. Once the participants and moderator have agreed to the terms of the debate, their identities are released to the public.
Selection of a Venue
Given that the purpose of the Chesterton Debates is to engage the culture, venues are chosen based on three factors:
1. Capacity, general accessibility, and technical capabilities.
2. Proximity to prominent centers of learning or culture.
3. Proximity to local pubs and eateries for post-debate frivolities.