Devil's advocate
Devil's advocate

Want to be a saint? Easy. Live a life of superhuman virtue. Then die. Then intercede with God in heaven to bring about two miracles. Oh, wait. There's one more obstacle to surmount. You first have to see off the devil's advocate.

You would think the Catholic Church wasn't that keen on the devil. They aren't, normally, but they bring him in (or at least his lawyer) as part of the process of deciding who should or shouldn't be admitted to the canon (the collection of people the Catholic Church regards as saints). The job of the devil's advocate (usually a senior theologian) is to act as a kind of counsel for the prosecution against the candidate for sainthood. They have to dig deep into his or her life, in an attempt to find as many failings and faults as they can. If, after they've done this, the candidate's holiness is still untouchable, they're on the fast track to heaven.

What has the devil's advocate got to do with debating? Being holy might not win you a debate. But having very strong arguments will. How will you know if they're strong? By attacking them as hard and as ruthlessly as you can, and seeing if they still stand up - just as the devil's advocate attacks the saint's life as ruthlessly as they can. Playing devil's advocate with your own arguments can help weed out the weak ones, and make the strong ones stronger.

Start by brainstorming as many arguments as you can with your debate partner. Then toss a coin. Whoever wins gets to be the devil's advocate. They have to go through the arguments, brutally pointing out all their weaknesses.Unlike in a debate, though, there is no right of reply, no counter-rebuttal. The argument just has to stand there and take it. So instead of thinking up responses to the criticism, the non-devil's advocate debater has to focus on what is wrong with the arguments. They have to make the call on which arguments are the weakest, ruthlessly crossing them out. When you have finished this process, you will be left with the strongest arguments available. Now you can start working on organising and developing them for your speeches.

It can feel brutal being devil's advocate, focusing relentlessly on the negative. But do it right, and you'll be on the way to debating heaven.