Over on my other favorite StackExchange site, there's a problem with quality questions that's so pervasive that the community has sort of adopted a no-tolerance, no exceptions approach to such questions. The question is always a rephrasing of the following:

I want to accomplish X. How do I do that?

(With no detail other than what they want to accomplish, what they've tried, where they're confused, or half a dozen other details that would be helpful.)

This particular type of question is so awful that community doesn't even bother trying to improve the question, they simply vote to close it with the same comment.. Over and over again... "What have you tried?"

There's an excellent blog post, by the way, that details why people react this way, and why such questions elicit no mercy from the community. The comment borders on the snarky, is utterly unhelpful, and would, on the surface, seem to violate the precepts set forth for the Summer of Love.

Yet, the community tends to agree that the practice of asking the snarky-sounding question is perfectly OK, as long as you're nice about it.

If the OP doesn't improve the question, it's closed. Asking the question (and for some, posting the link to the blog post) is a way to let the OP know that the question isn't acceptable in its present format, gives them a chance to improve the question, and if they don't want to take the effort to bring it up to site standards, it gets closed in short order.

Just as SO has one common, persistent, inherent, hard to kill problem that keeps cropping up, so do we. We continue to have "new kids" (and I don't mean that in a mean way) coming to the site looking for "Truth". Today alone, we've had six of these, and the experienced members are answering. (Except for those that are closed as duplicates)

  1. Of whom is God jealous?
  2. Is it possible to get into heaven, but then be cast out at a later date?
  3. http://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/10039/why-did-god-create-people
  4. What could persuade a presumably otherwise-rational Satan to turn on God?
  5. Genesis 19. 8 Why should he protect strangers above protect his daughters?
  6. Original sin and its consequences

Not all of these are necessarily bad questions (although some of them are). It's just that they miss the point of what the site is supposed to be. I don't know what the will of the community is, but it doesn't seem consistent to say we want questions about Christianity, and to still be answering questions about Truth.

Many of these questions could be rephrased to "what is the x teaching on this subject" and be salvageable.

I thinks we need to be nice to the new kids, but this isn't the site to come seeking that kind of truth.

I'm wondering if we need (or already have) a blog post, or a Meta post that can address this in a way that's as friendly, yet descriptive as the "What have you tried" blog. Something that kindly, and nicely steers users away from asking these types of questions, or gives them tips for improving them.

Thoughts?

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Spot on. +2 –  Caleb Oct 4 '12 at 5:37
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(And for the record, I can't actually +2 nor did I try. I actually needed two more characters to post that comment, so + supplied the first and 2 the second ;) –  Caleb Oct 4 '12 at 5:40
    
I've been referred here from the could people be immortal question. I don't understand the problem (please help). I do understand when someone writes, "fix me code plz" (too vague) but I've answered some of these questions because I think they are good questions. Can anyone tell me what is wrong with, e.g. q3 (except it is a dupe) or 4? –  Wikis Oct 4 '12 at 9:56
    
@Wikis maybe this link would have been more appropriate: meta.christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/1379/… –  David Stratton Oct 4 '12 at 11:41
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@Wikis the point is that if you ask a question "seeking truth" then you're asking the wrong question for this site. "Tell me what's true" is our equivalent of "solve my problem, I don't know what it is, I don't even know what language I'm coding in" –  wax eagle Oct 4 '12 at 12:45
    
@waxeagle: yes, thank you. Also DavidStratton's second link helped clarify that. Right now, I'm not sure I agree. Will come back if I can clarify my thoughts on this... –  Wikis Oct 4 '12 at 12:54
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@Wikis no problem if you disagree. Just wanted to clarify the rationale for why this would get linked. Just glad we're talking about this. –  wax eagle Oct 4 '12 at 12:56
    
@waxeagle: thanks! –  Wikis Oct 4 '12 at 13:43

2 Answers 2

Expert level questions would be nice, I'd imagine that the powers that be, who modeled stackoverflow as an anti-experts exchange, intentionally did not place a difficulty level on questions. And, when they/we (I was a beta user on stackoverflow) got rid of the subjective tag when it became obvious that a subjective badge was a farce, it became clear that the only way to avoid all the foibles of the other q&a sites was to avoid any meta tags.

Therefore, the presumption is that all questions should be useful questions and all useful questions should be broad and all broad questions should be answerable by experts or people of a given experience. So... I'm kind of of the mind that if users are willing to take the site seriously, they may have a decent chance.

I don't really like asking questions on stack exchanges where I'm merely curious because we're all pretty much the same, if your question doesn't fit the mold of 60% of all the other questions, you're likely to be eaten by a Grue.

It's happened to me on English, cogsci, skeptics, scifi and others. It's very hard for speculative questions to exist. The difference here is, we actually want to answe these questions because most of us are motivated by a desire to not only pass on the faith, but actually evangelize. Not outright proselytizing, but certainly apologetically answering questions.

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I couldn't agree more on the reason we want to answer them. There are times I wish the site were what I originally thought it was. I feel a bit jaded sometimes when answering anything, because even though I believe in my heart that some teaching or another is way off base, or is Truth, I can't really frame the answer that way. Part of me wants to simply evangelize, or present what I believe as total truth, but the honest-to-goodness truth is that once I "got it" I started appreciating other views more, and I'm finding a deeper understanding of things I just assumed. My faith isn't shaken.. –  David Stratton Oct 4 '12 at 3:35
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but rather strengthened. I can verbalize things that were just vague ideas before. I worry, however, that seekers will come here seeking truth and go away discouraged, and thinking there is no Truth. I worry about that a lot. That's why, lately, the idea of what the site is and isn't gelled for me and became really important to me. –  David Stratton Oct 4 '12 at 3:36
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@DavidStratton I think the key factor is that this site is not for seekers and I would never ever refer a seeker here. This is a site to learn about what other traditions believe, to learn about what your tradition believes. One of the primary purposes it can serve is to try to correct misconceptions about certain traditions and help us see the benefits other traditions bring to the table –  wax eagle Oct 4 '12 at 12:42

I would like to make a suggestion here in order to help out the people making the questions that you guys keep complaining about.

The Problem

I have noticed, and not just in this specific meta Q, that some of you don't seem to care for questions of the form "Is X a sin?" or "What should we do about Y?" and instead want people to phrase questions as "Does the X group believe Y is a sin?" or "What should the Z group do about W?"

Some people do not know enough about theology in general to be able to do this. If John Doe comes here because he is going to baptize his infant next week but his neighbor told him that infants aren't supposed to be baptized, so John Doe asks "Should infants be baptized or should people wait until they are older to be baptized?" it is not reasonable to ask the person to rephrase the question as "Do catholics believe that infants should be baptized?" or "Do baptists believe that infants should be baptized?" That turns the question into one which can have 2-3 letter answers: "Yes" or "No" That is not very helpful to the person who asked the question.

My Suggestion

I suggest that for these types of questions there be an expected answer format wherein the answer contains a very brief overview of different beliefs and, if possible, a brief explanation about what causes the differences.

Different groups of Christians have different beliefs on this matter. Catholics, lutherans, methodists, [...] believe that children should be baptized in their infancy. Baptists, mennonites, mormons, [...] believe that infants should not be baptized.

One main argument between the two camps is about the purpose of the baptism. Those who believe infants should not be baptized hold the baptism to be an act that a person takes upon themselves when they accept Jesus' sacrifice, something that an infant is incapable of doing.

The Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) reject infant baptism on the grounds that children are born without sin and are incapable of committing sin.

Check out Wikipedia: Believer's Baptism

An answer like the above, answering the hypothetical baptism question above, gives the question asker a place to start and supplies some facts. It is perfectly in keeping with what a Stack Exchange Q/A should be like. It can provide an answer to anyone who Googles the question in the future. The person who asked the question can then ask another question if needed, one which is closer to what you want even, and will be able to ask it properly.

Sometimes you need to know something, but you don't know what it is that you don't know, so you don't know what you need to know. You need to break through that wall somewhere, and as long as a person is sincere about trying to get over that initial hump, they should be helped over it.

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Obviously some questions cannot easily be answered in the manner that I prescribed above. But if it can, then the above applies. –  Loduwijk Aug 7 at 18:21
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You might find this helpful: Types of questions that the community finds acceptable. –  fredsbend Aug 7 at 23:58
    
@fredsbend I have read a bunch of things you guys have about "What the community finds acceptable." I am specifically saying that "what you find acceptable" is a problem. To be honest and blunt, some of you guys are clamping down too hard in certain ways. I completely understand wanting to have a good atmosphere here, a good one, that you do not want it degraded; but some of what I see goes beyond that. The purpose of Stack Exchange is to provide a free-flow of quality information. Some restrictions are required for that, but there are some restrictions here that are just arbitrary. –  Loduwijk Aug 8 at 15:43
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I agree with you in general about the need to exercise grace when people "Don't know what they don't know", but the particular case you cite is not a good example - as you've decribed it, it's actually a pastoral advice question & is exactly the type of question that we should be avoiding answering even beyond 'truth' questions. The motive of the questioner is a big part of the equation - do they want personal advice? Do they want to find out about their own traditions practices? Do they want to pick a fight? These motives are subtly revealed through Q wording and require a nuanced response. –  bruised reed Aug 8 at 19:16
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@Loduwijk I understand your position. Note question types 2 and 7, however. Type 2 is very similar to what you are suggesting. What you are proposing is called an overview question and they are allowed, but they require specific wording for the community to get that you are looking for that, hence, I would classify it as type 7, "everything else." So, actually, if an infant baptism question were worded as "what are the various views and reasonings" would be on-topic, but risks being closed as too broad. –  fredsbend Aug 8 at 20:39
    
@Loduwijk Also, not trying to sound snooty here, but the community at large does not want average Joe Christian, who thinks there is only Protestant and Catholic, to ask questions here. His questions are just too basic and one dimensional. He should do some independent study on the vastness of Christianity first, before asking "Should I baptize my infant?" –  fredsbend Aug 8 at 20:45
    
It's a good thing to argue for the health of the site for the hypothetical user/viewer, but not at the expense of the already existing community that generates most of the content in the first place. If this site catered to Joe Christian rather than the formally educated theologian, I would likely not contribute often, or even ever, and I think a lot of the other great users here feel the same. –  fredsbend Aug 8 at 20:45
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I appreciate you sharing your thoughts on this. I have a couple of points in response. 1) The proper way to address these questions is not with a specific answer format, but in comments. We can ask the guy who's about to baptize his infant which church he belongs to, and which church his neighbor belongs to, to guide him to ask an appropriate question. 2) Your example is actually a bad one, because the guy is breaking another one of our rules, and is essentially asking for pastoral advice. –  Flimzy Aug 11 at 11:00

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