Monday, February 28, 2011

In Honor of the Devil...

My Speech students have started working on their Devil’s advocate speeches. For those trivia diehards out there, the popular expression comes from the Advocatus Diaboli, a canon lawyer whose purpose was to seek out evidence and make a case against the canonization of any candidate for elevation. Pope Sixtus V established the office in 1587 and Pope John Paul II abolished it in 1983, paving the way for a dramatic increase in the number of canonizations. At any rate, my students will not be attempting to demonstrate the sanctity or lack thereof of any individual; instead, they will have to articulate a position on a divisive political issue from a vantage point with which they would normally disagree.

I selected both domestic (public unions in WI, Proposition 18 in CA, vouchers in DC, pro-life sonogram legislation in TX, DOMA, Obamacare) and international topics (Turkish membership in the EU, American foreign policy in the Middle East, the dollar as the global currency) in order expand their horizons through the widest range of subject matter. Playing the Devil’s advocate is an excellent introduction to dialectical thinking, which will equip the students with the skill set necessary to battle one another successfully in the Public Forum debate on the next syllabus.

This assignment always leads me back to Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters and Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary. These are excellent literary works with drastically different styles and themes, yet what unites them is a learned and witty approach to life with a wry and perhaps even sardonic voice. I leave you with a brief sampling of these men’s dabbling with the diabolic and “diabolical” perspectives. The former is Lewis; the latter, Bierce:

Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn't think of doctrines as primarily "true" of "false", but as "academic" or "practical", "outworn" or "contemporary", "conventional" or "ruthless". Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don't waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous—that it is the philosophy of the future. That's the sort of thing he cares about.

EVANGELIST, n. A bearer of good tidings, particularly (in a religious sense) such as assure us of our own salvation and the damnation of our neighbors.

FAITH, n. Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.

PRAY, v. To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.

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