Chesterton debates live on

  • April 23, 2014

TORONTO - The spirit of Catholic apologist and author G.K. Chesterton will inspire debate once again in the Archdiocese of Toronto.

On the heels of a successful first debate about the existence of God, organizers of the Chesterton Debate Series have announced their next topic: God’s politics? A debate on religion’s role in political life.

For the first debate titled Is there a God?, “we created a whole new brand,” said Matthew Sanders. Within three weeks of opening registration in early January, the tickets were sold out. “It exceeded our expectations.”

Sanders is the Special Projects Manager in the Office of the Moderator of the Curia in the archdiocese. He says that the series is meant to provide a respectful forum to discuss contentious issues and to “provide perspective on issues considered important to the formation of an individual’s conscience.”

The series engages the public, including non-Catholics, and was created with the New Evangelization in mind. It is organized by the Office for Catholic Youth and the Archdiocese of Toronto.

“The Chesterton Debate Series is really an answer to a question or a challenge: How do we as Catholics engage people of other perspectives on matters of faith and morals? So why don’t we have a debate series and why don’t we invite people of other perspectives to challenge us on our faith and hear our champions respond to their challenges,” said Sanders.

With the first debate that saw a Catholic priest and an atheist argue the existence of a higher power, Sanders says some considered the event philosophical and intellectual in nature.

“What we wanted to do in this (second) debate was change pace and deal with a subject that was a little more practical and down to earth for people, an issue that people deal with in their day-to-day life,” he said. “We’re also going into an election year. We thought having a discussion about faith or religion and how it’s exercised in political life is something worth having.”

The debate will take place in early 2015, under the looming possibility of a federal election.

Though the tension of how religion interacts with the state is more publicly hashed out in the United States, Sanders says that this same issue is also relevant to Canadians.

“I am a Catholic politician. How do I exercise my Catholicity but also represent my constituency? These are very serious tensions that a lot of Catholics suffer with.

There’s a lot to be said, a lot of guidance the Church has to offer,” said Sanders.

The debaters and the moderator have been selected, but their names will be released in the coming months with all relevant information posted on the newly launched web site The site will also serve as an archive for materials on past debates, as well as information on Chesterton, a man Sanders calls “one of the greatest treasures of the Church.”

“The Chesterton Debate Series may be a solution to one of the problems we have in the Church, which is engaging culture. For now we’re trying the Chesterton Debate series in Toronto but if other dioceses or other groups wanted to host their own Chesterton Debate, that’s something we’d be willing to discuss.”

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