I'm not sure if it's more appropriate to post this as a new question, or put a new answer on the old one, but a while back, someone has asked "Are 'is x a sin' questions on topic?"

That question was posted in Meta back when we were still trying to figure out the scope and purpose of the site. The highest voted question actually argues to keep them open and included this sentence in the answer:

As Christians we're not only looking for the truth about scripture, but also how to live our lives.

Since that time, the scope of the site has been more clearly defined, and while that may have been the thinking at the time, but the idea that the site is a site to learn about Truth, in that sense, is simply not constructive, and it's not what the site is for. Keeping that distinction is one of the primary reasons we've been able to survive as a StackExchange site. It's also been critical in keeping the quality level of both questions and answers up, and we've virtually eliminated the hostile (or at least argumentative and not constructive) content out of the site.

So my question is, now that we've defined the site guidelines more clearly, and we've got something that is working well, what should be done with "Is X a sin" questions?

Cross-ref: New rule for halal-haram questions –  TRiG Feb 9 '13 at 20:15

4 Answers 4

If my question didn't make it clear enough, I believe that we should be closing such questions a "Primarily opinion-based". Whether or not the question is "on topic" as the original Meta post asks is not the issue.

The issue is that there are simply too many things that some people consider sin, while others don't. It leads to debate in the comments, and quite frankly, unless there is a clear Scriptural statement, some things are open to interpretation. In our Church, our pastor has preached a few messages that touch on this - how to discern the difference between a commandment, a conviction, and a preference.

  • Commandment - clear, unambiguous Biblical statement (Thou shalt not commit adultery)
  • Conviction - Belief that something is wrong based on Scriptural principles (Not viewing pornography because by definition, you're looking after someone in lust and "committing adultery in your heart".
  • Preference - Preferring old-fashioned Hymns rather than more contemporary music.

The problem is that most "Is x a sin" questions fall into one of the two latter categories - otherwise they wouldn't need to ask. And whether something is really a sin is, as you can see, open to debate. I know people that think contemporary Christian music is nothing less than Satan's attempt to lure our kids into rock and roll, and from there into drugs, alcohol, sex, and all manner of debauchery. They'd argue that listening to Contemporary Christian music is a sin. Clearly there are those who feel otherwise. Each side is 100% convinced they are right.

That said, there is a way to make such questions more constructive. Consider the following questions:

The first is objectively answerable. The second and third.. Not so much. The first should stand. The others, at best, serve as good examples of a non-constructive question.

All that can be summed up with this: "Is x a sin" questions are, in most cases, personal opinion questions. No good can come from them. I understand the desire to give Truth answers. A good chunk of the community consider ourselves to be Christians, and we want to glorify God, and lead people into truth. It's natural. But... If a real seeker comes here and sees the conflicting answer, we're doing absolutely nothing to help that person. We're simply demonstrating a lot of uncertainty or disagreement. That isn't glorifying God.

Further, this isn't a Christian site. It's a secular site about Christianity. The purpose isn't to save the lost, or provide pastoral advice. The purpose of all StackExchange sites is to make the Internet a better place. Providing conflicting opinions isn't meeting that goal either.

If we run across these questions, I recommend we follow the same guidelines I posted here.

Opposing views? –  David Feb 9 '13 at 3:54
I'd tend to disagree - If people are trying to understand the scriptural basis to know if something is sinful. Generally the Bible is either explicit in what is sinful, or through understanding it is quite clear what is sinful and what isn't. There should be very little left to debate if you just look for the truth in the Bible. Your example about music, if the Bible doesn't say anything about it then it clearly isn't a sin... –  Ian Feb 21 '13 at 13:05
@Ian: So how do you explain why the Amish think it's sinful to own cars, but everyone else doesn't? –  Flimzy Oct 30 '13 at 2:34
Hmm, seems to me that you've taken your answer to a question and are now saying that any contrary answers are out of bounds and cannot even be discussed. Surely a question of the form, "Does the Bible say that X is a sin?" would in many cases be subject to a direct, factual answer. Does the Bible say that murder and adultery are sins? Clearly the answer is yes. Does the Bible say that wearing a blue shirt is a sin? Clearly the answer is no. Similarly if someone asked, "Does church Y teach that X is a sin?" could also be directly answered by reference to church documents ... –  Jay Dec 13 '13 at 5:39
... or public statements of church leaders. Okay, you make a distinction between questions of the form, "Is X a sin?" and "On what basis do some Christians say that X is a sin?" This is a pedantic distinction. Demanding that posters express questions in such an approved form is just annoying and tedious. So what, you would reject the question in the first form, but if the person then reposted in the second it would be acceptable? Why? Wouldn't this just be a waste of time, demanding that questions be reworded like this? What is gained, other than adherence to an arbitrary rule. –  Jay Dec 13 '13 at 5:43
Some people say that morality is a matter of opinion. Others say that morality is absolute and objective. I don't mean to sound harsh when I say this, but: Why should your opinion that morality is a subject of opinion be considered an unquestioned standard, that no one should be allowed to even discuss an alternative view? –  Jay Dec 13 '13 at 5:45
And finally: I suppose whoever created this site or whoever is funding it has the right to say what the criteria for posts on the site are. I don't know if you fit that category; I don't. But that said, to say, "the idea that the site is a site to learn about Truth ... is simply not constructive" ... umm, than what is this site for? To spread misinformation and lies? "If a real seeker comes here and sees the conflicting answer, we're doing absolutely nothing to help that person. We're simply demonstrating a lot of uncertainty or disagreement. That isn't glorifying God." ... –  Jay Dec 13 '13 at 5:52
... Surely there are many questions about Christianity where the answer is complex or subject to debate. I don't think it dishonors God to say that we cannot give a single, unequivocal right answer. Indeed, I'd think a large majority of the questions on this site fall in that category. If the answer was really simple and well-known, someone could just look it up in a reference book. The interesting questions are those that are complicated or debatable. –  Jay Dec 13 '13 at 5:54
I'm only going to address the last three comments because I don't necessarily disagree with your perspective. However, Addressing those comments, I am not attempting to define what the criteria for posts is, I'm trying to explain it to those who don't understand it. The fact is tht opinion-based questions are considered not constructive across the entire StackeExchange network. Not only are there hundreds of Meta posts across all the sites, one of the primary reasons to close questions is "primarily opinion-based". –  David Dec 13 '13 at 13:08
I'd be willing to concede that I may be misapplying the principle here (if the community decides I am), but the fact remains that the guidelines for all StackExchange sites includes the ban on opinion-based content. Based largely on community consensus,and also on blog posts by the site's creators and owners. –  David Dec 13 '13 at 13:09
In fact, my first comment on this, if you scroll up, was to ask for opposing views. Since you have one, please post it as an answer. That's how Meta works, and how site guidelines get clarified. I urge you to make your case as an answer, so that the community can vote on it. I'm not trying to push my will on this (again, just trying to explain, rather than set policy),and if the community disagrees with my interpretation of the opinion ban as it applies to "is x a sin" questions, I'll stop voting to close on on them. –  David Dec 13 '13 at 13:20
@Jay I really do urge you to post your case as an answer. Make a case and see what response you get. That's what Meta is for. I'm not God around here. But if there's no opposing answer, there's nothing for people who agree with you to vote on. I don't like the fact that there's not an opposing view on this question for people to vote for. Its hard to gauge the level of agreement from the community if only one view exists as an answer. If you believe you make a strong case, please post it as an answer. –  David Dec 14 '13 at 1:36
"clear, unambiguous Biblical statement (Thou shalt not commit adultery)" - funnily enough, I actually ended up here from a question about what constitutes adultery, so I think the line between commandment and conviction is a lot blurrier than you seem to think. Take pork for example, the Bible explicitly forbids eating it several times, yet this is widely regarded as not being a sin for whatever reason (*cough* bacon *cough*). –  Zaz Jul 8 '14 at 21:29

'What is sin?' is a pretty large component of Christian faith, so part of me feels a loss to say we must exclude it. Possibly rephrasing those questions under 'What is the biblical bases for deciding X is a sin?' could save the subject without deteriorating the objectives of the site. For example, 'What is the Biblical basis for deciding that abortion is a sin?' would seem good for a Q&A format.

I agree. Rephrasing/editing is a viable option. –  David Feb 13 '13 at 23:42
In a similar way, "Does D teach that X is a sin?" could be answerable (where D is a denomination or other grouping or possibly even a significant individual)--perhaps usually including "on what basis?" –  Paul A. Clayton Feb 15 '13 at 4:05
@PaulA.Clayton - Yes, where a denomination takes a more or less uniform stand, this is even a better formula. Where denominations are divided on the issue the basic 'biblical basis' might work better. Good point. –  Mike Feb 15 '13 at 4:09
I have in effect taken someone else's closed, "Is it a sin?" question and created my own "What is biblical-basis" for question, and gotten high marks. Exact same sentiment is being asked, and same caveats apply. If there are folks on the fringes who don't hold "X" to be a sin, that is precisely the same statement as saying there is absolutely no biblical basis for X to be a sin! Closing, deleting questions doesn't help the site look any more professional, especially if the list a newcomer would see is filled with corpses of "closed" questions. –  pterandon Jun 4 '13 at 11:20

These questions should eventually be deleted. I suspect that we are keeping them around in order to bootstrap the site, out of worry: if we close questions that are so popular, seemingly most important to Christians, don't we risk having people abandon this site for something more useful? I don't think so. As David points out, these questions invite personal opinion. Personal opinion is toxic.

For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths.

The absence of personal opinion is what will make this site stand out among other sites. Allowing personal opinion will turn people away. After all, it's only a matter of time until you find a personal opinion that doesn't match your own.

The example that prompted me to reply is in David's question, which quotes the top answer to the older "is X a sin" meta discussion. The full text of that quotation references a question titled "Is masturbation a sin?" as an archetype of an appropriate "sin" question. The top answer in that question, quoted here (in full!) because I hope the whole mess will be deleted:

The root of the matter is lust.

Matthew 5:28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

I would say that the act itself is not the sin, it's the intent of the act.

This is the type of answer we want to avoid. The author is offering a personal interpretation of the Bible, and, in my view, is utterly butchering the concept of sin. Sin is an act, and the aim of the act matters: Jesus is teaching that a neutral act like "looking" can become sinful. But the intent (or purpose) does not matter for non-neutral sinful acts, due to Rom3:8. So the answer is not only deeply confused, but has almost certainly led people into sin. Of course the point isn't that I disagree with the answer, the point is that seeing this answer rated so highly makes me, for my own good reasons, seriously worry about whether I should contribute to this site and be a part of this community.

If the question had been "I'm a Catholic, is masturbation a sin?", one would reply "always", quote the CCC, and point out that it can't be done even to provide a semen sample for medical reasons.

David has already mentioned some good reasons to dislike these open-ended questions. My point is that they aren't just sometimes inconvenient, but in even the best cases are actively harmful to the formation of the community and the reputation of this site. The motto of this site should be "no personal opinions". Be friendly, but close and delete the question.

I think you've confused "questions / answers worth a down vote" and "reasons to delete a question." No reason to go to the extreme. –  pterandon Jun 4 '13 at 11:47

Why don't mods simply edit the post to state "Which Denominations think X is a sin and why?", and edit the entirety of the OP question?

For example, in the question "Is anal sex evil", the OP stated:

The God said that people should live in peace and happiness, and, the happiness is strictly correlated with humans joy. Reading good book before going to sleep is not a sin, neither is having a loving wife. I understand that anal sex is sin, cause it can't lead to pregnancy, and I lived believing that God would punish me if I not obey His will. The problem is, that, yesterday, my wife said that she's barren. We would never have children. Now I don't know if I can have sex with my wife while we don't even have a chance to have children. Or, if I can freely have sex with my wife, does it mean that I can have anal sex too?

Instead of closing it, why not reword the title to "Which denominations find Sodomy in marriage to be wrong, and why?"

The question itself could be rephrased to

"From my understanding, certain denominations regard sodomy between a married couple as a sin, because sodomy is a form of sexuality that does not lead to pregnancy. However, when a wife is barren, it would be logical to assume that the couple could not participate in any form sexual relations."

Of course, this completely destroys the intent of the OP. However, I think it looks bad when I come here and see most of the front page down voted and put on hold, with questions like "Is anal sex evil" -- it puts me off, to be honest. Is there some philosophy in stack exchange that prohibits the extreme modification of questions, such as I am proposing?

In general I think edits are meant to represent the intent of the original author, so that rather than editing a question into acceptability ourselves, we encourage the author to do so, or to ask another question. –  curiousdannii Mar 10 '14 at 0:56
Which denominations ... turns it into a list question, and it doesn't always break down so easily. Usually, the intent of the OP is to find out if they should or should not believe a certain way about a thing, which is pastoral advice also a bad fit fo rthis site. In the end, the closest one can get to salvaging the question is to get to the biblical basis for a doctrine, but even there, you end up doing so in the lens of your worldview, which really means a priest or your church. NOT US. –  Affable Geek Mar 10 '14 at 1:20

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