Once again, we're seeing an influx of new talent, which is GREAT! A growing community means more people, sharing new perspectives, or perhaps bringing a clearer explanation of an already described perspective.

In a few of these new contributors, I see a lot of potential, but I also see the same misunderstanding about the purpose of this site that I had when I was new here.

We're seeing some of the same questions that have been asked, closed, and deleted due to the fact that they aren't really a good fit for the site. It's the same thing all over again.

I know that there are plenty of Meta posts discussing what is and isn't acceptable, what constitutes quality content, and what is good for the site overall. And most of those posts are excellent - at a quality I could never match. So why would I bring it up again and post almost the same question?

The short answer is that everyone's brain is wired differently, and some people simply learn differently than others. I may be off-base, but I thought that it might be nice to have one question/answer that presents things using a different approach.

Almost all of the good posts explain things using an essay format. But not everyone bothers to read those, and some people's minds wander. So for this one I'm proposing something that is more concise - a side-by-side comparison of what the site is and isn't in simple, example format for people who, like me, process information differently. I do well with analogies, but not with technical deep detailed analysis. it's more of a pattern recognition thing. I can't be the only one, so why not post things that oddballs like me can readily grasp?

So I'll start out with an answer to the question right away, but please, feel free to edit, add to my answer, or come up with your own competing or complementary one. The goals is simply to have something to share with the new kids, so they have an easier time fitting in, and feeling like they're welcome, while guiding them into the expectations of our little cosmos.

Enough rambling.

What is the Christianity.SE site all about? And what isn't it about?

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Well, C.SE is about long, not short, answers. ;-) –  Jon Ericson Oct 3 '12 at 16:37
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3 Answers 3

I've come to understand what is and isn't acceptable in a way that can be expressed in two images.

In one, I picture a seeker, maybe coming to their Pastor or Priest, or maybe climbing a mountain to ask a guru the secret of life, or hoping the heavens will open up and divinely reveal absolute truth.

In the second picture, I see a giant person peering into a box with a magnifying glass, viewing all the little Christians running around with their various beliefs, saying "Oh, hey, look at this. That bunch over there believes in predestination while these ones over here don't. I wonder why that is. Hey, little guy: Why doesn't your group believe in predestination?" The little guy answers, and maybe triggers another little guy to ask a question of another, and sooner or later, all understand each other just a little bit better.

This site is more like that second picture.

With that in mind... (additions and editing is more than welcome)

  • This site is a place to come to learn about what various Christian teachings have to say.
    • This site is not a place to come to learn which Christian teachings are true.
  • This site is a place to ask about, learn about, and inform about various Christian teachings, denominations, concepts, and doctrines.
    • This site is not a place to debate which of these teachings are true.
  • This site is a source for truthful answers about doctrine, Christian teachings, theology,
    • This site is not a source for Truth with a capital "T"
  • This site is a diverse community that values treating each other with respect and civility, even when we disagree.
    • This site is not a place that welcomes hostility, open or veiled.
  • This site is a place that welcomes non-Christians asking honest questions about Christian teachings.
    • This site is not the place to come and post questions whose sole purpose is to form a "Christians are stupid" attack in the guise of a question.
  • This site is a place to ask what a particular denomination, or tradition teaches on a certain subject.
    • This site is not the place to come if you want an absolute divine truth about a certain subject.
  • This site is a place to come to ask questions that can be backed up by accepted Christian teachings, denominational statements,established doctrinal understandings.
    • This site is not the place to ask questions that can be answered only via opinion and conjecture.
    • and this question should be the poster child for awful questions. I'd delete it out of shame, except that it makes such a great example what not to ask, and the resulting comments, answers, and associated negativity is such a great example of why it's bad.

For those who have commented and are curious, the question that I had said should be the poster child for bad questions was, indeed, deleted at my request. Those of you with sufficient reputation can still see it, but for those that don't, the title was "How would you respond to the assertion that Christians are less intelligent than non-Christians?"

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The two images in the first paragraph are spot on! I think the list of is and is not examples are helpful too. I've been thinking that the struggle we face is to find the middle ground between pluralism and objectivity. Your examples trace out the distinction well. –  Jon Ericson Oct 3 '12 at 16:44
    
Apparently not, given that answers from my form of Christianity that are relevant to the question asked (i.e. when the question asks for answers from "any form" of Christianity or from forms that possess specific attributes which apply to my form) meet all of those criteria and yet are regularly deleted. –  Steely Dan Oct 24 '12 at 23:50
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Your "poster child for awful questions" has apparently been deleted. –  Adrian Keister Jul 21 '13 at 20:35
    
@AdrianKeister: Yeah, I noticed that too. It must've been really execrable! –  rhetorician Oct 4 '13 at 21:23
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I actually came here today to ask this... but I'll just make it a comment: Should we be able to make posts and ask question about other faiths/ideas (Islam, atheism, etc...) in light of Christian teaching. For example, Q: Could someone clarify [XYZ Christian theologican]'s response to [ABC's religion] stating Christ was nothing more than a man?" Certainly, comparative religion has its place here with Christian ideology at the root. –  Squirtle Jan 28 at 0:23
    
The link to your poster child for awful questions is gone. –  Sarah Mar 12 at 11:35
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Christianity.SE is all about asking genuine questions about Scripture, Tradition, and Practice of Christianity in all it's forms. It's about being able to show off when you know what the right answer is, proving it using any or all of the traditional four sources of theology, and perhaps most importantly presenting it in a clear, convincing fashion.

It is less of a church then a seminary: Imagine being observed by a bunch of professors who know the Bible, but don't necessarily believe it. That is you audience- even if many of us are believers. In seminary, "Truth" is often less important than how you arrive at it. That is not to say that Truth isn't important - it just is secondary to scholarship in this context.

We make the Internet a better place by bringing rigorous scholarship to bear on the real questions people have about the Bible and the Church.

And, let's face it. It's also all about the points. Want more points? Be

  • well sourced
  • explicit in your proofs, with as few leaps of logic as possible
  • faithful to whatever tradition you claim to speak for
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Nice description! –  David Stratton Oct 5 '12 at 22:38
    
Not sure about "Truth" being secondary, can you explain that? –  Wikis Oct 10 '12 at 8:52
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Truth is the most important thing when determining how one lives one's life, but it is not necessarily the most important thing when studying theology. For many non-believing academics, theology is a logic puzzle. Much like "New Math" says, whether or not you get the right answer is less important than the process you used to get there. This is why I stress in this context. When I preach, When I seek to apply theology, and When I seek God, you better bet that I care about truth. On this site, however, it's more academic –  Affable Geek Oct 10 '12 at 11:05
    
I feel your answer is in opposition to David's, namely when you say, "It's about being able to show off when you know what the right answer is, proving it using any or all of the traditional four sources of theology, and perhaps most importantly presenting it in a clear, convincing fashion." While David says, "This site is not a source for Truth with a capital "T"". You believe we should be able to prove things, he seems to suggest we should just state what people believe is provable or what their proofs are (and not to add our own proofs). –  Squirtle Jan 28 at 0:18
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I don't know who actually "owns" this forum and thus has the final say on what is permitted. But to the extent that anyone cares about my opinion of what it ought to be ...

The general tone of this site is that it's "what does Christianity (or such-and-such branch of Christianity) teach", rather than "is Christianity true" or specific questions about "how do I deal with such-and-such problem in my personal life". The latter two are good and valid kinds of questions to discuss, but it makes sense to devote a site to one category and not the others. I'm happy, for example, to debate the truth of Christianity with atheists, but it gets messy when you try to mix talk "within the club" with talk "between our club and others". Like, when a group of, say, Democrats get together to plan campaign strategy, they want to discuss which districts to target, whether to use TV or radio, etc etc. If a Republican came to the meeting and started debating which party's policies are better for the country, this would just be annoying. They'd be fully justified in kicking him out. Not because this isn't a valid and important question, but because at some point it is fair to say, "This group of us here have agreed on the answer to that question, and we now want to move on to discuss the implications of that answer. You are certainly free to form a group that has agreed on a different answer to that question and see where that answer leads you. But please, let us discuss other questions in peace and not re-hash the same debate over and over again."

But when you start asking questions like, "some Christians say X, is that right?", I think it gets murkier. Sure, at some point you may have to just say, "Catholics say this but Protestants say that and we're not going to end the debate here". But it's fair and useful to ask, "WHY do Catholics say this?" and "What arguments do Protestants offer to defend that?"

Personally, I think folks on this site are too quick to close a question as off-topic. Sure, if someone asks, "How do I find a natural logarithm?" or "Who is your favorite performer on American Idol?", that's clearly irrelevant and should be closed. And if a question is a duplicate, it makes sense to refer to the original and close the new one. But I've seen a number of questions closed for asking, "What does the Bible say about X?" or "Should Christians do X?", on the grounds that these are seeking Truth with a capital "T" rather than truth with a small "t". So what? If you find the question impossible to answer without qualifying it with, "Well, Presbyterians believe that ..." then fine, so qualify it in your answer. If someone gives an answer that categorically states, "The Bible says that ..." and you think this is debateable, then make your own post saying this.

In my humble opinion, questions should only be closed as off-topic if they are blatantly so. What is the harm of allowing debateable questions? If you don't want to answer it, then don't. Go on to the next question. I've seen lots of questions closed as "unanswerable" after several people have posted answers. Why shut down a good conversation?

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In response to your last question: Because SE sites aren't about conversation. We're trying to keep it from being a discussion forum. The problem with some questions is not that people feel like they can't answer them, but EVERYBODY feels like they can. These questions don't die. Since there can be no definitive answer or even a couple good ones that satisfy people that the bases are covered, they just keep raking in answers as everybody with an opinion jumps in. That's one kind of thing we close until they have a framework by which they can verified against and put to rest. –  Caleb Nov 28 '12 at 12:41
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The harm in it is that these kind of questions without enough focus quickly overwhelm the focused expert stuff we're trying to foster -- the signal gets lost in the noise -- and the real experts loose interest and let the chatters and opinionated but not well versed masses have their chatter. I'm being dramatic but that's "the harm" that can and does come of allowing questions that don't fit the guidelines. –  Caleb Nov 28 '12 at 12:44
    
On a different note, we actually very rarely close anything as off-topic. Most things get closed as "not constructive" or "not a real question". This means they are not off-topic for the site, they just need some editing to reformat them into something on the same topic that would be a constructive format. Unfortunately this is often lost on people as they often don't really want definitive answers they really are just trying to make discussion. Which I would argue they should do somewhere else and keep the QnA format for questions that it's possible to answer concretely and move on. –  Caleb Nov 28 '12 at 12:47
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In response to your first question, Jeff Atwood and Joel Spoelsky "own" the forum, but we all run it :) –  Affable Geek Dec 7 '12 at 15:39
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