I'm getting the sense that a lot of questions are receiving answers and comments from a wide variety of personal perspectives. In a looser forum, sans-voting, this is perfectly acceptable and great. But, in a forum with voting, I'm worried that the QA will turn into a belief popularity contest, rather than a, what does Christian Group X say about Y type of forum, which is what I believe the intent to be here.

I'm certainly guilty of injecting my personal insight into my posts as well, though I try to at least ground them in the beliefs of the group(s) I'm answering on behalf of (usually Catholicism). But, I'd also like to be held accountable for separating my personal opinion -- which I understand per the FAQ is not valid material for an upvote or checkmark -- from the "plain" facts about denomination(s) X.

That said, I also want to be, and other users to be, protected from comments that attempt to debate the validity of denomination X's beliefs in response to an answer. While I love to debate this sort of stuff personally, one on one, per the FAQ, this isn't the forum for that.

And finally, how are we to treat non-denominational responses? Responses from Christians who have no affiliation? Or rather, an answer that has no denominational affiliation. We can't call them non-Christian; but we also can't let a "personal doctrine" serve as a suitable, representative answer. Can we?

How are others dealing with this? How strict do others feel these lines needs to be? What's the threshold for a downvote? The threshold for a flag?

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I'm digging the word threshold. –  Daи Jan 23 '13 at 19:20

3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

That's an old problem and you've got a good point. It happens as we get more users, and older users that should know better (me included) forget the rules.

As for the debate in comments based on personal belief - About the only thing I've found effective is to be very careful in how the questions and answers are phrased, and including disclaimers. I hesitate to post this now because I am afraid it'll jinx it, but I'm quite proud of the fact that I actually asked and answered a question about the YEC view without having it turn into a free-for-all debate in comments. I am not sure, but I think it's the only YEC question in the history of the site to pull it off, and I'm pretty sure it had everything to do with the disclaimers.:

Why do Young-Earth Creationists make such a big deal about the YEC view

I honestly hate making those disclaimers, but so many of the questions and answers here can be misinterpreted so easily that I'm doing it more and more. As a matter of fact, my most recent answer needed a disclaimer to try to head off the anticipated debate that always, always, surrounds questions about Creation or the Flood. And it does seem to help.

One other thing that might help. I've been thinking it would be nice if we had a post here on META that would offer tips for editing Truthy posts to bring them in line with site guidelines.

Usually it's not really that hard to salvage a question or answer, but for a newcomer, it's got to be insanely difficult to figure out what the site is really about. Most of our meta posts are pretty long-winded, and based on much discussion in Meta or chat. Reading the FAQ or FAQ questions is a bit much to expect. A post of simple tips might be a help.

And if you need help, feel free flag down a moderator, or post something in chat.

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So, to clarify, you'd be in favor of discussing the issue or editing the posts over flagging or voting to close? How about downvoting? Under what circumstances do you find the downvote to be the best "tool" for the job? –  svidgen Jan 24 '13 at 2:27
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I think it depends on the question at hand. I don't know if this is really fair, but for someone new, I am in favor of giving them the benefit of the doubt and trying to be helpful For someone who knows better, voting to close or down-voting or both. Or someone who's new who has been offered guidance and blatantly ignores it. –  David Stratton Jan 24 '13 at 3:29
    
Ok. This is good. I'll ask you the same question as I asked Greg though: Would you agree to the general notion that answers should be provided as though the beliefs and practices explained therein are not one's own? –  svidgen Jan 24 '13 at 15:29
    
I think so. I've provided answers from perspectives I agree with, and from perspectives I think are hogwash, just like Greg, and it really does make the answers less preachy, less "truthy" and more in line with site guidelines. –  David Stratton Jan 24 '13 at 23:44
    
The skeptics site has a very useful faq whereas this site's faq is really lacking, imo. Skeptics links to very helpful pages on their meta from the faq. Some of you high rep guys here should really do something like this (better than already done I mean). –  fredsbend Feb 26 '13 at 2:57

As a conservative evangelical I have found it hard to dissasosiate my beliefs from my answering/commenting/voting. I've started doing 2 things:

  1. Make sure I read each answer with it's justification/evidence. I don't consider whether or not I agree with the answer, just if it does answer the question.
  2. Answer the question from my own belief, making sure I can justify the answer

The first one is harder for me. Recently I have been upvoting a lot of Catholic answers, even though I think the theology is wrong. They are good answers from a Catholic point of view.

The second one I think it very important for this site to succeed. If you don't answer from your own belief set then will anyone? If the question is something like "what did Jesus mean when he says x?" then anyone should be able to answer it with their own beliefs (including stating what those beliefs are).

There are times when this is inappropriate, e.g. if the question says "What do Southern Baptists say about x?" I shouldn't answer with my view as a Sydney Anglican.


EDIT: Just to clear up what I mean by "answering from my own belief". Writting "from my own belief" would be more about writting from my belief as an conservative evangelical. And it would be important that I could back that up either using the bible or using other sources from either the church or other writters on the subject.

I don't have a problem with people telling me I'm wrong either by down-votting or commenting, as long as they can back up why I'm wrong and argue from my point of view. Simply saying "you're wrong" seems a bit pointless, as does your protestant answer is wrong because this what the Catholic church says (unless it asks for a Catholic answer).

Even within denominations there will be differences. The global Anglican church is currently debating the role of Women and homosexuals in the church. There are two clear camps (those who want change and those who don't). Personally I'm in the camp of not wanting change. I should be able to answer a question about women ministers from that point of view and reference why I hold that belief (including bible passages, articles written by senior church leaders, etc).

People can disagree with my theology and that's ok - I don't agree with their point of view either. But they should only downvote if my answer is wrong (e.g. if I said the Pope wasn't the head of the Catholic church, I would be wrong and should be down-voted) or if my answer doesn't have anything to do with the question.

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Given your option 2, would your justification entails a reference to another prominent denomination or Christian author? And, reluctantly using you as a sort of representative for the non-denominational users if I may, would you find yourself "warmly" accepting of the potential [polite] criticism that your answer is not representative either of any particular denomination and/or Christianity in general? –  svidgen Jan 24 '13 at 4:18
    
@svidgen I've updated my answer to try and answer your questions a bit. In general if it isn't representative of any denomination or Christianity in general then it should be commented as such, and/or if the answer is wrong it should be downvoted. –  Greg Jan 24 '13 at 4:59
    
Thanks for the clarification. But, you've given a few examples of things that are questionable per the FAQ / site purpose: supporting "your" beliefs; supporting beliefs [exclusively] with Biblical references; and picking sides in disputed territory, as opposed to "scholarly" noting the dispute. I think we want somewhat scholarly accounts of Christian beliefs, plain and simple. Any provided Biblical or theological basis should tie a commonly held or known and relevant to the question fact to the denomination, sect, prominent Christian author, teacher, or pastor in question. –  svidgen Jan 24 '13 at 15:27
    
Would you agree to the general notion that answers should be provided as though the beliefs and practices explained therein are not one's own? –  svidgen Jan 24 '13 at 15:29
    
I see what you're getting at now. Should you try and hide what you believe? No. I don't see any reason for that. But it shouldn't be the bulk of the answer. I think "I believe x because of y" is a great answer. –  Greg Jan 24 '13 at 19:35
    
You can be perfectly transparent about your beliefs, but only if you're being perfectly transparent, and only if you recognize and note that they are not the relevant part of the answer. And I certainly appreciate personal spice in most answers. But, the spice is not the meat. So, "I believe x because of y" may be a good spice, but it's likely just offensive or overwhelming without the meat. –  svidgen Jan 24 '13 at 20:21

Something I think we should welcome and encourage is "expert opinion". Unpacking that, it's the personal opinion of an "expert" - and an expert, in the context of C.SE, is someone with qualifications, experience or other credentials that make the answerer an authority on the subject in question. Determining that someone is an "expert" is still pretty subjective so we have to be careful with this approach.

It would be a shame for someone who knows a subject well to feel unable to answer a question without having to cite sources left, right and centre. But equally we don't want any Tom, Dick or Harry turning up and spouting their opinions here without anything to indicate that their opinion is a valid answer to the question.

I guess what I'm getting at is, each case needs to be taken on its own merits. Personal opinion is not always bad - in fact, often an "expert"'s personal opinion is exactly what needs to be included in an answer.

There's also a difference between a mere expression of opinion and a reasoned argument. The conclusion the answerer comes to from a reasoned argument may not be fact but it's a different sort of personal opinion to "well I just think pigs can fly, so there". Personally I find the answers where answerers state and justify their opinions and beliefs to be the most enlightening.

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