Imagine that… you are among the first of prophet’s disciples, as part of the council group, you have the power to write the holy book and establish the first foundation of your religion. Among that foundation, you are discussing how you are going to portray your prophet and the event leading to the spread of your religion. This house as the writer of holy scriptures, would only include verses about the prophet that are historically accurate. *will have to exclude miraculous events, hyperbolic rhetoric, godly association, etc.
First off, bravo to the adjudication core of JDF Open for coming up with this motion! And all the elimination rounds motion that is very exciting. Second, although this is a religion debate it is a fictional one. This debate should write off claims about the existing religion, such as; “no, the verses was not written by the disciples, it is written by God himself!” or “no, the miraculous events are indeed historically accurate, Jesus did bring the dead back to life or Muhammad had indeed went to travel to afterlife, heaven and hell during Isra’ Mi’raj”. It should assume that; 1) the scriptures are indeed written by the first disciples, 2) the events are indeed historically inaccurate. So, for the purpose of this try to disassociate this debate with any existing religion or your own faith. But note that, the discussion in the debate could actually use an existing religion as the evidence that a particular writing of holy scriptures affects how followers behave. And most importantly, since debate does not ends in debate chambers but also as a learning process, you could actually try to contemplate on your current religious belief, how are you affected by the style of writing of your religion holy scriptures. Thirdly, as a disclaimer, since this is a designed-for-British-Parliamentary motion, there is an enormous possibility of argumentation that I might not cover in this analysis. What I write here may or may not be sufficient for an opening case, but it is certainly will not be sufficient for the closing benches. So, try to find other arguments that could even be more strategic than what I write here (or what I brought in the debate myself).
To start off, as usual, I would try to formulate the core of the debate using the wording provided in the motion. As my traditional belief in debating; the adj-core write the context slide for a reason(s). As the context slide suggest, you’re among the first disciples, so, obviously, your main goal is to spread the religious influence to everyone in the world. This should be the first core debate. Another one is, the motion demanded us to portray the prophet. So, what does the prophet means to a religion? What type of portrayal is best to serve this function? This should be enough for the second core debate.
Government, or rather opening government?
When you’re done with your first five minutes of reading and re-reading the motion, the first thing you think of would be stance/model. Well it could be the other way around (as Ben Woolgar suggest), but my personal preference says that I should think of stance and model first. The model could be as simple as a “You don’t say” model as it was written in the motion and context slide, but a little addition to that would not hurt; that is to depict the comparative: what does it means to be historically accurate? As you obviously still want to spread your religion and still had to portray your prophet, you have the Burden of Proofs (BOP) to illustrate the alternative, otherwise, the adjudicator can wander around with their own thought of the alternative. You can try to illustrate how you are going to depict the prophet by several portrayals, 1) their good deeds, or 2) their mistakes and how they correct themselves afterwards or 3) their spiritual journey, as similar to Gautama’s journey to enlightenment. *note to editor: that I use “they” as singular pronoun here to avoid sexism by using his/him as a generalization that prophet has to be a male*
Let’s go to the first argument for government. Answer the question what does prophet means to a religion? A prophet is obviously an icon of the religion, they are the role model of the religion. All of the followers, will inevitably follow them, be it their deeds their way of life and even their way of dressing. They will become the standards, the parameter of individual’s spiritual fulfillment. People measure their completeness of spiritual fulfillment by getting closer and closer to copying their prophet. Having said that, in which portrayal (accurate or inaccurate) will the followers would be able to connect to their prophet? Government could argue that spiritual fulfillment standard has to be attainable. Portraying your prophet as holy and miraculous will set an unattainable standard for followers to connect to. My teammate stated “even if you pray eight years straight, you will not be able to divide the moon”. Well, then, what are the impact? Let’s then analyse the spectrum of followers: 1) an obedient one, and 2) the not so so religious individuals. Both are impacted. 1) the obedient one will try and try so hard to fulfill the prophet standards but will never get there, and on the process of trying he is burdened while in the end of the day, failed to reach his spiritual fulfillment of copying his prophet, 2) the other spectrum, when faced with unattainable standard would not even try to fulfill it.
The second core debate would talk about the spread of religion. Since you are one of prophet’s first disciples, you have the responsibility to spread your religion to other part of the world. Now, it’s more intuitive for opposition to argue on this part, right? Because in this context of chaos in the middle ages, you would need to have a superpower prophet to convince people that your religion is their salvation. How would you deal with this on government? One of the way you can take the clash is to argue on sustainability of your preaching. Your responsibility to spread religion is not only to the current generation but to the next generation until the end of time, and the problem with miracle is that it will be continuously challenged by the renaissance. Familiar with creationism vs evolution theory? Yes, that’s what will happen to your religion, you’ll lose relevance, that’s why your preaching should anticipate on the rise of science.
But this would cause a “time frame” debate and your argument would sound so weak in the face of opposition who would argue on the current time frame is more important and in the context of chaos, miracle, and the power beyond human becomes the only viable way to preach. To tackle this, government will need to also engage in the current context of middle ages, how would you preach here? One way of dealing with that is to attack its exclusivity. Some of the parts of your religion that can solve the chaos are 1) good morality and 2) good system. What do I mean by this? In the context of chaos (or in Islam, we call it Jahiliyyah), what we need to preach on is good moral principle and good economic, political and social system i.e. in Islam we have the syahsiah, the Sharia economy, so that we solve the underlying cause of chaos; injustice. When you prove that there is another way, now you can leave the miraculous methods behind.
Opposition, or rather opening opposition?
One of the tips being a good opening opposition (or any position in BP) is to predict the best case of your opponent team during the prepping time. Well, then since in the previous part, I tried to prep the best case of government, let’s start on that. Let’s accept that how close you are to your prophet becomes a matrix of your spiritual fulfillment and let’s accept the premise that miraculous events and association to Godly powers are unattainable standards. But, why then the prophet has to be unattainable? Equality among followers. Here’s the thing, as the first disciples, or as anyone, it is regrettable to see one follower claims that they are holier than others. If the standards are attainable, some of the followers could fulfill it while others don’t. It creates hierarchy among followers and we don’t want this. So, to maintain equality, let’s just make sure no one hits that standards.
The second part of the debate, would talk about the spread of the religion, right? Part of this supposed argument for Opening Opposition was already explained in the Opening Government part. But here’s more complex and comprehensive one. God is far far away. To relate to God and their power, especially in the context when you’re unfamiliar with it, is hard. To ensure relatability to these constituents, you need to preach on evidence that God exists; prophet is one of the evidence. But to make prophet an evidence, it is insufficient to just portray him as “a good human being”, because everyone can be that, it is no evidence. When it is impossible to relate to God directly and also impossible to relate to “just a good human being”, how do we preach? We need a middle-man. A depiction of prophet who possess Godly powers is a manifestation of God on earth. This indirectly has to clash with government analysis of good morality and good system, because we’re preaching so that people to believe in God and your religion as a basis of belief and faith, that’s the difference between a religion and philosophy or political ideology.
Closing teams (?)
As usual in BP debates, closing teams start their arguments by adapting to the dynamics of the opening. So, it is redundant for me to write on closing teams arguments. Let’s just leave in on here with some additional assertion:
- Miracle shakes off your belief when it doesn’t happen to your when you need it the most. If miracle exists, then why it doesn’t happen in Gas Chambers, Auschwitz.
- Miraculous event/history leads to fanatic absolutist claims: remember Jerusalem?
- Miracle is hope. Religion is a salvation out of the world’s banality