34

Proposal: Christianity

Should this also allow questions that critically ask about the validity of the Christian faith, the Christian bible history and such? And questions about what the bible says about homosexuals, about women and such?

I personally don't like seeing stackexchange grow up to a fanboy forum for radical Christians and such. What point of view will the site take? Is there any consensus?


Another formulation: Is this an evangelistic site that aims to convert people to radical Christianity, or is this a site that talks about Christianity? Is the site going to teach that visitors that aren't Christians go to hell? I want to find a clear consensus, before I start committing or anything else.

  • 14
    I don't think SE as a whole will ever grow into a fanboy forum. – John Jan 29 '11 at 4:02
  • 22
    What about non religious zealots? There is the atheist forum with some radical atheists. I guess you have some problem with what you believe to be God's view on some things but some of those aspects can be clarified, obviously. I really hope this to be biased toward Christianity, first of all because I believe it to be true, and also because if it wasn't so I would serve no useful purpose at all because it's by definition a place to discuss Christian doctrine, not to debate unfruitfully. I'm here to talk about Jesus and Him crucified, that's what Christianity is about. – Trinidad Jan 29 '11 at 20:28
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    @Trinidad see, I don't want to commit to sites that tell homosexual people to "convert to jesus" and that damage the life of these people just for the sake of "being saved". And I want to find a clear consensus among the people committed. I found a couple of "proposed questions" that had a 4/4 count on who consider it on and who consider it offtopic. I think that's problematic. – Johannes Schaub - litb Jan 29 '11 at 22:05
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    This site should inform, not preach. – Kramii Jan 29 '11 at 22:09
  • 25
    +1 Kramii. It's a classroom, not a soapbox. @Johannes The site will exist to ask what Christianity teaches, not to debate whether the teachings are moral or not. If Christianity teaches that homosexuals are "sinning," then that is a question to be asked and answered. If you want to discuss the morality of such a teaching, that is outside the scope of the website in my sincere opinion. – Sampson Jan 29 '11 at 22:30
  • 3
    @Jonathan great. IMSO that's a good thing. – Johannes Schaub - litb Jan 29 '11 at 22:43
  • 15
    Well, but if this site is gonna be faithful to Christ then fundamental doctrines like God's justice, our sinfulness, the need for Christ, repentance, what happens after we die, eternal life and eternal, and what is the condition for being saved from damnation would be mentioned often, that is the Gospel. If we're not going to declare and expose the work of Christ then we're just wasting time here. I personally don't care if the one who's not Christian get offended about those things, the truth about human depravity and is not meant to be pretty. But I completely agree that it's not a soapbox. – Trinidad Jan 30 '11 at 3:10
  • 6
    @Trinidad, from what I see, your "preaching" won't be welcome here, and I'm glad that people approve. No we will not waste our time. We will be a good service to help people who study in religion and to people who are being preached to by radical Christians and that start to doubt and want to find out about alternative interpretations (what @Kramii mentions). – Johannes Schaub - litb Jan 30 '11 at 3:26
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    @Trinidad Nobody disputes that the Gospel and Christ will be a central focus of the site - all that is being said is that Questions and Answers ought to be viewed as devices to develop a head-knowledge of Christianity and what it teaches. This will result in scripturally-based discussions of Jesus' deity, man's depravity, and the necessity of repentance for Salvation according to the Christ's teachings. As you said in your last sentence, this isn't a soapbox, it's more of a course in Systematic Theology offered for free to all who wish to attend. – Sampson Jan 30 '11 at 3:40
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    @Trinidad "Preaching" in the context of SE is more of how you're communicating, rather than what you're communicating ("Repent!" vs "The Bible calls men to repent in [Ref1, Ref2]"). In all honesty, I don't think anybody should be asking personalized questions ("Am I going to go to Hell?") on the site, but rather speak in general terms ("Will a professing Atheist go to Hell according to the Bible?"). – Sampson Jan 30 '11 at 3:55
  • 5
    @Trinidad Nobody objects to the discussion of core doctrines, just as long as they're discussed in an educational manner. A great example of this would be most any Systematic Theology book from Seminary, contrasted with transcripts of a fired-up local revival sermon. BTW, Seu ingles e muito legal. Eu pensei que voce fosse um americano :) – Sampson Jan 30 '11 at 4:07
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    @Trinidad There is a big difference between preaching and teaching. Teaching is "Christians believe that Jesus is God". Preaching is "Jesus is God, and you must believe it or face the consequences". – DJClayworth Jan 30 '11 at 19:29
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    @Trinidad It is not hypocritical refrain from stating your personal beliefs, unless you were being asked about your personal beliefs. – DJClayworth Jan 30 '11 at 19:31
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    @Trinidad that's teaching people your own belief. It's not teaching people about the Christian religion. We are supposed to teach people what the Christian religion is. And we don't know whether what the bible says is accurate or not, so we shall not state such irrational things. Your belief is "This religion is correct", and that belief is offtopic. I know that radical Christians usually can't understand this. I once was a radical Christian, so I know too well. – Johannes Schaub - litb Jan 30 '11 at 20:27
  • 18
    This comment thread does not bode well :( – Benjol Jan 31 '11 at 6:21

10 Answers 10

54

I don't think there's anything inherent to the site proposal that would discourage "rational" questions. Of course, I'm assuming by "rational" you mean logically sound, valid and intelligible.

It would seem pretty acceptable to ask questions like "What historical events lead to the rise of the Christian religion," "What role did the Catholic church play in the formation of the present canon of scripture," and "What does the Bible say (if anything) about same-sex relationships/marriage?"

I don't think the site necessarily has to take a point-of-view. Like other Stack Exchange sites, this site ought not be a soapbox, but rather more of a classroom. The discussion of Christianity here should be no different than any other objective discussion about a prominent perspective held by societies down throughout history.

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    +1 for "this site ought not be a soapbox, but rather more of a classroom". – Kramii Jan 29 '11 at 20:45
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    Thanks, this is what I would like the site to be too. Looks like there is consensus among most here. – Johannes Schaub - litb Jan 29 '11 at 22:21
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    @Johannes Please keep in mind that not everybody will like the answers, but as long as the answers are proper representations of what Christianity actually teaches, that is what matters. – Sampson Jan 29 '11 at 22:32
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    @Jonathan I think it will be a difficult thing to define what Christianity actually teaches and what not. Some people will say that Christianity teaches answers to "How old is earth?" and "How could Adam and Eva mate and get healthy children?" and "Will we ever get to the core of earth?". I found texts that claim that the bible would answer all of these questions. Others will say that these questions are scientific and not biblical. I'm all for clarifying these matters and putting it into the FAQ. – Johannes Schaub - litb Jan 29 '11 at 22:48
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    I don't doubt that some questions will have overlapping categories: Noah's flood would be a great example. We will have to be careful about the type of questions asked: "What does Christianity teach about x" vs "how probable is the Christian teaching of x" - one is clearly a Christianity question whereas the other pulls away from Christianity a bit. – Sampson Jan 30 '11 at 0:37
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One important thing is going to be to distinguish between critical questions that are actually seeking an answer and those that are seeking to be argumentative, or to make their own point.

"Does Christianity teach that those who don't believe in Christ are going to hell?" Good question, deserving of a reasoned answer.

"How can anyone think God sends people to hell just because they didn't believe in some guy from 2000 years ago". Argumentative and should be closed.

  • 8
    Your second question as phrased is argumentative and obnoxious, sure, but I think the underlying question is valid if phrased better. Try this: "If Christians believe that a personal belief in Christ is necessary for salvation, what is the Christian doctrine on the fate of those who live their lives and die without ever having the opportunity to learn of him?" Would you agree that's a more appropriate formulation of the same basic question? – Mason Wheeler Feb 9 '11 at 19:18
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    That was my point. Sometimes the tone is important. – DJClayworth Mar 2 '11 at 19:12
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    @Mason: congrats, you just rephrased the second wording into the first ;) – RCIX Jul 26 '11 at 21:56
  • @RCIX: Not really. What I did (or attempted to do at least) was find the real question that people are usually looking for an answer to when they ask the first or the second. – Mason Wheeler Jul 26 '11 at 22:11
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    I don't agree that that question should be closed. Questions should be edited to be non-argumentative whenever possible – Casebash Mar 28 '12 at 6:39
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Should this also allow questions that critically ask about the validity of the Christian faith, the Christian bible history and such? And questions about what the bible says about homosexuals, about women and such.

All genuine quesions about Christianity are welcome.

I personally don't like seeing stackexchange grow up to a fanboy forum for radical Christians and such.

This site should inform, not preach.

What point of view will the site take? Is there any consensus?

We respectfully agree to disagree.

This means that, in answer to the question, "Do people who practice X go to hell?"

  1. "People who do X are going to hell" is a very poor answer. It tells me your opinion, but little else. The statement might actually be true, but the answer conveys little information beyond a personal conviction.

  2. "I believe people who do X are going to hell" is just slightly better: at least it acknowledges that there other people hold other beliefs. Otherwise it is just as bad as (1).

  3. "Verse 123 in the Bible says that people who do X are going to hell" is a bit better. At least it appeals to some kind of evidence. However, without justification for a particular interpretation of verse 123 it still doesn't do the question justice.

  4. "Denomination U interpret verse 123 to mean that people who do X are going to hell" is better still. It places the answer within a cultural and evidential context.

  5. "Some Christians say people who do X are going to hell because... but others disagree because..." is better again. This answer demonstrates understanding of different opinions and the justification for those opinions.

  • 1
    great, +1. I just wanted to hear about the variety of opinion about the proposal. I know people personally who claim that their own interpretation is the only true because "the holy spirit tells me". – Johannes Schaub - litb Jan 30 '11 at 0:10
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    Depending on the question, I believe answers should be expositive at least in maybe one of those fashions: exegetical; historical; and in the worst case, based on induction. – Trinidad Jan 30 '11 at 3:32
  • 1
    I think that any accepted answer to any theological question on this site would have to include beliefs of multiple denominations. – TRiG is Timothy Richard Green May 28 '11 at 23:03
  • My own view is that the words true and false should be banned from this site (if it comes to pass). – TimLymington Jul 19 '11 at 13:48
10

Based on Stack Exchange's model, Rational questions are the only type that would (A) be real questions and (B) be objectively answerable. Even (good) subjective questions have a rational basis for inquiry.

However, this question's comment thread is quite possibly what your site will look like. You may end up with very few questions, with very few answers (or far to many low-quality/un-authoritative answers), because people will become distracted by what is happening in the comments. This has nothing to do with Christianity in particular but the method of discourse I see above.

It is an exemplary mirror of the Atheism.se state, a site I actively participated in. Without clear, concise questions that yield answers, and people participating via answers rather than comments (where bad responses can be voted on their merits), the site will stall half way through beta.

  • Very insightful response, @mfg. – James Apr 18 '11 at 15:21
  • It will be very important to establish up front that questions/answers/comments should not be argumentative but sincere. There will probably several chances to test out that flag button. The moderators will be busy indeed. – Stainsor May 4 '11 at 16:50
  • I think the Atheism site failed because it never really fitted into the Q&A model. I tried to help, but I always suspected it wouldn't work. – TRiG is Timothy Richard Green May 28 '11 at 23:04
7

Number one here is that questions should be respectful, especially of those who believe. Questions that do not show appropriate respect to the beliefs of active users and those who follow should be closed as "subjective and argumentative".

If you follow that single principle, than any of those questions you want to ask are fine.

Now, as an example of how this might play out, lets looks at your original question:

  • Rational — the phrasing begs an interpretation that questions which do not "question the validity of the Christian faith" are not rational, a point to which most Christians would strongly object. While I don't believe it was intended to be offensive, hopefully you can see that potential here to easily offend.
  • Radical — again, the phrasing seems to beg an interpretation that all or most Christians are radicals, or that Christianity is a radical rather than mainstream belief (there are still more English-speaking believers than English-speaking non-believers). You don't have to interpret it this way, but it makes it easy to believe that the author holds a less-than-respectful view of Christians. It's probably not meant to be offensive, but it could easily offend.

I don't mean this as an attack, but just an example of how easy it is to be offensive in the context of religion. This is exactly why an attitude of respect is so important.

  • 4
    Why be respectful especially of those who believe? Why not be respectful of everyone. In fact, considering that Christianity already has a privileged place in our society, perhaps we should be making a special effort to be respectful of non-Christians. – TRiG is Timothy Richard Green May 28 '11 at 23:06
  • Questions and answers (and comments) should be respectful to Everyone. – Pacerier Aug 15 '11 at 22:53
5

I don't see the problem with rational questions from the perspective of someone wanting to genuinely learn more, or open minded individuals looking for clarification on things that they've heard. In fact I'd say this was a good thing since a lot of potential misconceptions could be cleared up through such questions.

The key though I think is whether the questions are asked from an open viewpoint. There are inevitably questions asked where the author is dead set in their opinions and refuses to budge on their viewpoint whatever facts and opinions they are presented with, and I'd personally say that wouldn't be a great thing for such a site.

  • 1
    @berry120: I think I understand what you are getting at. However, I think we should be clear that this site is will exist to help people understand the viewpoints of others, but not to persuade people to change them. (I imagine that some participants will change their views based on understanding, but that is beside the point). – Kramii Feb 1 '11 at 12:56
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A problem we have with a site on Christianity in general is that it will be difficult to frame questions which are truly good questions, conducive to good discussion. I like this idea:

"All genuine questions about Christianity are welcome" (Kramii),

but then I see this question:

"Do people who practice X go to hell?"

This is an example of a question which is likely asked genuinely, but needs to be improved before it can be answered in a StackExchange community - we are not a "confessional faith."

Obviously, it could be improved as: "Do Christians (or people from some specific Christian tradition) believe that people who practice X go to hell?" But even this is a far cry from a fruitful question.

As a Christian I would want to say: "This person needs a helpful, pastoral answer; e.g., does he have an understanding of grace, atonement, forgiveness? Does he realize that all Christians are in a process of sanctification in turning their lives to God, that we are cognizant that we all still, to some degree or other, live with sin - the church being a "school for sinners?" I would want to say: "We are told that God is the judge of ultimate things - and not we ourselves; please try to gain more of an understanding of Christ's love, and His gift of grace; and then consider the issue of God's justice, its place in human thriving, and its more ultimate consequences."

But my answer would probably, rightly, be down-voted - SE is a forum for informing, and not for providing pastoral responses. Yes, all those questions are relevant in the larger issues which frame this question. But no, we aren't here to be pastors or preachers.

I could probably respond, justly:

"Your question is better framed less specifically - e.g., 'what is the relationship between Christian practice and ultimate judgment - i.e., the issue of heaven and hell?' - as it can only be answered in the much larger context of love, grace, and justice."

But I don't think I'd want to give a lot of my time to these types of helping people re-frame their questions, and I'd be afraid that there would be many, many more such questions than people available to help re-frame them. Also, as a person of faith, I'd find this kind of answer somewhat insensitive-sounding - I'd be eager to answer it in a more pastoral tone, without banging down on the rules of the site regarding objectivity and properly-framed questions. But my "sensitive," pastoral response wouldn't be acceptable to others from a background which doesn't embrace Christianity - it would seem like pastoring, preaching, etc. etc., and not like a "just the facts" type approach.

It takes no expertise to genuinely ask a question about the Christian faith. But it can take quite a lot of expertise to frame a question in such a way that fruitful answers and discussion can ensue.

If we set ourselves up as a resource simply answering any and all questions about Christianity - I think we will fail. This is more a task for real-world pastors, and for people who are willing to devote a great deal of time to helping people find the right context for specific questions. For a "programming equivalent" - this question is like saying, "I have a site about monarch butterflies - should I use [some specific javascript library] for it?" A good programmer would answer: "Concentrate first on what you want your site to do - then we can figure out what the programming needs are."

So I would suggest: before launching a site on Christianity, it is probably best to launch one on a topic which will likely attract more on-topic, properly-framed questions, simply because the topic is more specific: and thus I believe we would be better off beginning a site on Biblical hermeneutics, only later to start one on Christianity, with the hope that some of the expertise we have in Biblical hermeneutics is able to help us in moderating the site on Christianity. The site on Christianity will be a much, much more difficult and time-consuming task if the community here is really intent upon "getting it right" and assuring fruitful, objective, rational discussion and answers. There is simply so much passion involved and there are so many hot-button issues. And frequently, the most informed are highly passionate about the relevance of their viewpoints - on both sides.

In the end, the Christian site might be more of a place for "experts" asking good questions - with people warned beforehand that all questions are not equal, and the questions of newbies will very likely be re-directed to other sources. If it ends up becoming more of a democratic free-for-all with votes given based more on the answers we agree with, rather than the quality of the content - the site could end up a pretty sad place.

We must remember that when it comes to hot-button issues, many users will be much more profoundly motivated by the viewpoint presented, than the quality of the reasoning and the cogency of the answer. And most questions on value-laden issues are themselves value-laden in one way or another.

3

The formulation of the original question should be a good example of a question 'too vague' or even 'off topic'.

The only way you'd ask about "Christian" teaching on homosexuality and women is if you were intentionally trolling (as this question seems to have done successfully). If you were asking about ELCA, Catholics, Mormons, or Anglican teachings, that might be on-topic. But no useful answer can be formulated from such a generic query as the original. It is effectively impossible to actually answer that question, so no, it would be quite offtopic.

For a moment, please remember that this is a Q&A site proposal with a topic. We don't spend all our time on SO debating the relative merits of trinary computers, but a few are reasonable. If you have a legitimate question that can be answered about christian history or beliefs, it will probably be on-topic. If you flood the site with thinly disguised transplants from a skeptics board, don't expect much of a welcome.

2

If the site is against people saying "Homosexual is an eternal sin thus you are damned to hell unless you repent" (Soapbox talking), that's fine. If the site is against mentioning that several verses in the Bible mention that Homosexuality is a sin (literally), then what are we getting at?

If the site would rather remove verses from scripture to avoid some hurt feelings, then it failed.

The Bible also mentions that women are equal heirs in Christ's kingdom, yet are required to submit to their husbands. How to balance the two is a mystery, but certainly shouldn't be barred from mentioning.

In other words, the answers shouldn't state, "This is what you should do, or else, because...". Rather it should state, "This is what this scripture says, from this book, from this source." Interpretation can follow, but never be along the lines of, "Do this or die!" mentality.

Oddly enough, this is the exact paradigm I follow when I witness. "This is what I see here." "This is how I interpret this." "This is how it affected my life.", with the exception of the third being absent in topical discussion.

At the same time, since it is titled "Christianity", people would also be allowed to mention scripture not in the Protestant canonized Bible. As such, Catholic books and Mormon books should be allowed. However everyone should be required to cite the origin of the scripture and which denomination it originates from.

  • 1
    "If the site is against people ..." vs "If the site is against mentioning that several verses in the Bible mention ...". These are not contrary positions. The site shall not be against the people. It shall merely tell them what the bible has to say about it. "If the site would rather remove verses from scripture to avoid some hurt feelings, then it failed.", I don't think anyone rational is hurt from knowing that the bible call them "sinful" / "damned". They may be hurt from knowing that other people call them that way. – Johannes Schaub - litb Jul 7 '11 at 7:58
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    How might one mention what the Bible says about a classification of a person, determined by said person's choice, without being presumed to be classifying the person. I have a problem with that. You mention that the Bible says "X is a sin.", and someone participating in "X" responds, "Stop judging me." The public does not hold a distinction between forwarding a message and owning a message. It's worse if you hold the same belief as the message, as then you'll never separate ownership from delivery. The "Judgement" is carried forth from the message, not the messenger. – Lee Louviere Jul 7 '11 at 21:54
  • Yes rational people are hurt from knowing that the bible call them "sinful". They constantly try to paint the verses as an invalid interpretation. Of what? Themselves!?! They throw out that verse and then are free to claim you are judging them by mentioning the verse. I don't want to win any arguments, but I don't want to be downvoted or banned from mentioning a verse. – Lee Louviere Jul 7 '11 at 21:56
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    that someone is in error. He should not respond "Stop judging me.". Just stating that the bible says something is not judging anyone. It's important to hold a distinction between forwarding a message and owning a message. If a participant of the new site is a believer and s/he can't separate delivering and preaching, s/he should not use the new site (at least I hope that's the consensus of the community!). – Johannes Schaub - litb Jul 7 '11 at 22:06
  • The comments here seem to bring up a basic problem with the proposed site: it is impossible to have a reasoned debate on Christianity on an unrestricted public board. Any interesting answer (and most interesting questions) will bring impassioned comments like: 'No, real Christians don't believe that', 'If that's what Christianity says, it should be banned', and 'How can any rational person think that?' All of these may lead to interesting discussions; but if every question leads to one of them (just look at the comments on the suggested questions), the site will implode. – TimLymington Aug 4 '11 at 14:31
2

Hopefully, and if I have anything to say about it. The best answers on the site will have more than Biblical references.

  • Natural Law (Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine)
  • Magisterial Teaching
  • Tradition
  • Writings of the Church Fathers

Should all be applicable since this site is called Christianity and Christianity was around for hundreds of years before the canon of scripture was finalized.

A reasonable Christian answer should have the backing of Tradition, Scripture and Magisterial teaching. I don't know how this formulation works in a non-Catholic sphere, but I'd imagine they could make it up!

So, if you asked "What does the Bible say about homosexuals". I'd have to turn in my badge as a Religious Ed. teacher if I failed to mention what the Catechism says about homosexuals in the same breath. That wouldn't be a means to convert you, but if you didn't recognize the truth in what the Catechism says (especially in relation to what the Bible says), it wouldn't be my fault.

God's word is alive, it pierces more surely than a two edge sword

  • The Bible alone is sufficient : carm.org/bible-alone-sufficient-spiritual-truth – Pacerier Aug 15 '11 at 23:06
  • @Pacerier, I heartily agree that the Bible is holds the entirety of God's revelation. But, it is tradition and magesterial teaching which gives us the canon of scripture. Jesus never said, "go therefore and write a book." Furthermore, St. Paul did write that all scripture is good for teaching, but he wrote it before all our scriptures were even written! Hopefully answers can coexist. I have no problem with using the Bible as the basis for any answer in the realm of Christianity and life. Yesterday was the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, not in the Bible, but important to us Catholics. – Peter Turner Aug 16 '11 at 13:06

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