We've had a few questions lately that present an argument from a vague or ill defined set of "Christians" and ask for reasons why said group believes what they do:

This is a disconcerting trend for a few reasons:

  • These questions don't ask for any context, and there won't be any correct or most useful answer: what answer do you vote for? The one that you agree with the most? If all possible answers are equally valid (there is no "correct" Christianity, after all), what's the point in asking?
  • By saying it's "Christians" (as opposed to Roman Catholics, or Lutherans, or LDSers, etc.) who believe X, they assume that Christianity is a monolithic belief structure (i.e. all Christians believe the same things) which it isn't.
  • They open the door for straw man questions, where any claim can be attached to Christianity in the form of a question:

    • "Now, not all Christians believe this, but some Christians believe that kicking puppies is good. What's the basis for Christians believing this?"
    • "Why do some Christians hate others?"
    • "Can Christians be trusted?"

    Which is something like the old interview trick to attach a trait to someone or something without actually saying it, "Some people say you're evil. What do you say to that charge?"

Our FAQ says questions need to be about problems we actually face: is "some Christians say" without any information about who those particular Christians are an actual problem?

Or should we require all questions to meet some basic notability baseline? That is, should all questions define who the Christians they're talking about are, and describe or cite the source for the claim that said Christian group believes what the asker purports the group to believe?

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I'm not sure why my ark question is in that list, I tried to write it so that it would apply to bible literalists, which I think is a pretty well defined group inside christianity. I obviously didn't succeed in making this intent clear. It is certainly not directed to all christians, as many don't take the account of Noah and the ark literally. –  Mad Scientist Aug 31 '11 at 7:49
    
@Fabian there are dozens of denominations who believe the Bible is inerrant or take a literal interpretation of all parts of the Bible, but they all have different world-views and reasons for believing it. I don't think it's particularly onerous to specify where you heard the belief you're attributing to a group of Christians, especially when the belief is likely to be dubious to most readers. If it's a question about what the Bible says, that's fine, but a question about what a group believes can't be answered without explicitly defining who that group is. –  user72 Aug 31 '11 at 7:57
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I think Mark has a valid point; I think @Fabian's question was not at all a good example of the point. –  Flimzy Aug 31 '11 at 8:17
    
@Flimzy the question as worded now is fine, as it's about understanding the Biblical passage rather than the beliefs of some unnamed group of Christians. –  user72 Aug 31 '11 at 9:03
    
As I said in my comment on the question itself, I think it was fine in its original format, as well. The question was clearly stated, it was clear which view he was asking to have explained, based on the Bible quote he included. And as he has explained, his "some Christians" phrase was intended to not lump all Christians into the question, so it wouldn't be riddled with "But I don't believe that!" answers. That may not have been necessary, but I don't think it was harmful. –  Flimzy Aug 31 '11 at 9:06
    
Now if his question had been simply "Some Christians think all the animals fit in the Ark. How can they make this claim?" without quoting the scripture that made that claim... then it would be a good example here. –  Flimzy Aug 31 '11 at 9:07
    
+10! Other than the example about Noah's Ark which I think would be difficult to call out any other way than "those who do" and "those who don't" since the views on it are not neatly matched to any other sectarian lines and the OP would not be expected to know what viewpoints to ask for, I think your main point is right on topic. –  Caleb Aug 31 '11 at 15:58
    
While the original revision of the Noah's Ark question prompted this question, the site has no shortage of "Why do some Christians believe X?" questions, and I've replaced the Noah's Ark question with several new examples. –  user72 Aug 31 '11 at 21:17
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2 Answers 2

I think there are two types of questions:

  • Ones where a specific aspect of the Bible is being questioned
  • Ones where a specific aspect of a particular interepretation is being questioned

In the former, I think it's okay to just cite the relevant passage in the Bible and ask a question about it: the passage citation satisfies any need for notability. When it's a question about a passage in the Bible, it allows answerers to provide a particular worldview or perspective, and define who holds that perspective.

So, for example, in the question about how did animals fit into Noah's Ark, a valid answer would be "According to X tradition or faith or denomination, you're not supposed to take this passage literally." It would also, of course, allow for answers from other perspectives that also define the justification for any other possible answer.

We have several questions that do this already:

But once you start asking about a specific interpretation of a Biblical passage (e.g. "Some Christians believe X passage means Y, why?"), it's important to cite the specific people who believe this interpretation, as it provides much-needed context to the question to make it answerable.

That is, there are infinitely may justifications for why someone might believe something to be true: we can speculate as to why a Christian might believe the world to be flat: they're mistaken, they can't read, they're joking, the question asker misread or misheard, etc. Such speculation isn't really constructive, and questions invite that idle speculation when they don't specify a context.

A question asker isn't going to get a real or definitive answer because they're not asking about anything specific.

So if a question asker wants to know why there are some Christians saying "they believe X", they should at a minimum provide information about who those Christians are or a source for the claim. That minimum baseline of notability allows for everyone to be on the same page: to be answering the question the asker intended to ask instead of speculating about any potential group that might fit the mould.

Some examples of questions that ask about beliefs within a specific, well-defined context:

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Humbug. I'm going to have to throw out on of my draft posts on this issue, you put this together really well. –  Caleb Aug 31 '11 at 15:59
    
So, "Some Christians believe X; what is their justification?" questions are verboten unless you define "some Christians". That makes sense ... but. One of the questions listed is mine on the charging of interest. That could be rephrased as "almost all Christians". I know different groups may have different justifications. My preferred accepted answer would be a summary of all the main justifications provided by different groups (with references to published sources). –  TRiG Sep 1 '11 at 20:52
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@TRiG I think such a question runs afoul of too broad a scope. It's akin to saying "What are all the ways programming languages implement classes and what is the justification for each of them?" It's not really solving a specific, practical problem. It'd be better to ask about specific cases you know of rather than trying to lump all Christians into the same pool by asking a general question about "some Christians" or "almost all Christians" –  user72 Sep 1 '11 at 20:57
    
@Mark, But, while I accept that there may be more than one justification for this practice, I don't expect there'll be many. The vast majority of Christians share the same practice in this instance. I imagine they all do so for broadly similar reasons. (I could be wrong.) –  TRiG Sep 1 '11 at 20:59
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@TRiG It's still safer to talk about the cases you do know of: Christians disagree about nearly everything, that's why there are so many denominations. The only thing we all agree on is that Jesus was a pretty cool guy. If you can't isolate it to one specific denomination or a few specific groups, I'd focus on the specific passage in the Bible and ask for a general justification for it (so, class 1 of the questions mentioned above). –  user72 Sep 1 '11 at 21:08
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Yes, it's a valid justification for a question and I'm not sure why these questions are all getting closed all of a sudden.

Of course "some Christians" say a lot of things. But this is legitimate code for "some Christian groups, and I'm not sure exactly their identity, clearly believe X and I want to understand why." Sometimes I know to ask "Why do Baptists not believe in infant baptism," sometimes it's "Why do various Christians whose affiliation I'm unclear on say that rock music is unchristian?" The question in either case seems pretty clearly scoped and answerable.

Obviously "kicking puppies" questions can be closed, but that doesn't mean any inquiry into a valid and common Christian belief has to be closed on the site.

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Because it puts a needless burden on those answering. Instead of looking for Biblical or extra-Biblical justification for the belief, there's an implication that any answer will be speaking for others - with the somewhat paradoxical result being answers that explicitly state "this is my opinion" and follow up with... the answerer's opinion. Opinion polls don't usually make for good, useful Q&A. That's not to say some of these haven't garnered good answers... But I've seen too many, "As a X, I feel..." answers that don't attempt to justify their position. –  Shog9 Sep 2 '11 at 15:49
    
I think if you think that justification through, it eliminates large swaths of questions on many SEs. –  mxyzplk Sep 2 '11 at 17:19
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trust me, I know. "What to programmers think about the chances of the Bears making it to the Superbowl?"-style questions have been a problem for three years now... –  Shog9 Sep 2 '11 at 17:28
    
So it's not even OK if it's about a specific group? Is "Why do Baptists reject infant baptism" an invalid question? Because, you know, someone who's not a Baptist might answer and speak for them. This seems all silly since this SE is coming from the "hey anyone can speak here you don't have to be Christian or whatnot" so a lot of the content here is people speaking from another context anyway. –  mxyzplk Sep 2 '11 at 22:09
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So yeah... I can get a good answer to that question from 1) Baptists who understand their own doctrine, or 2) non-Baptists who understand the Baptist doctrine. Either way, it's understood that the topic is the beliefs, policy, and doctrine of the Baptists, not just... Something that some Baptists happen to do. Contrast with, "Why do some Baptists drive trucks?" Ok. So now replace "Baptist" with "Christian"... Except, don't. The entire site is about Christianity - you don't have to put that in your question unless it makes no sense otherwise, in which case it's probably a bad question. –  Shog9 Sep 2 '11 at 23:56
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My point being... The policy of "we don't check your credentials at the door" is a practical one, but that doesn't mean we're extending an open invitation for anyone to come in and post anything they feel like... The expectation for someone posting an answer is that they know what they're talking about; the expectation for someone asking a question is that it must allow us to determine that someone answering knows what they're talking about and has answered the question. –  Shog9 Sep 3 '11 at 0:00
    
So in other words unless a belief is a documented part of a mainline denomination, it's off topic? If a random 100 Bible churches say something, it's not as much a Christian belief as if some small "brand name" denomination does? Sure, there are too many people who are willing to spout off answers here without a lot of domain knowledge about the question, but that is not at all correlated to this specific kind of question. –  mxyzplk Sep 3 '11 at 0:18
    
Yes, if you show up and ask, "Why does my local 100-bible church say I can't listen to rock music?", that would be off-topic. No, actually, that would be too localized... And it points us back to the crux of the problem: you don't even need to ask that; just ask if there's any reason - Biblical, doctrinal, traditional - that you shouldn't be listening to rock music. Ask when/why music might be a sin. Whatever... When you aren't specifying a specific subset of Christianity, don't specify at all - just state your concern, and ask if there's any good justification for it. –  Shog9 Sep 3 '11 at 1:25
    
Semantic hoo-hah. So we can just edit every one of those questions and remove "some christians say" to "is there any reason" and it's OK? Waste of time for common use synonyms. –  mxyzplk Sep 3 '11 at 1:43
    
no, you can only do that on questions that have a valid form. Try it: "Is there any reason why I should kick puppies?" and "Is not kicking puppies a sin?" are still lousy questions with an obvious answer. As for wasting time, that depends; I've done my best to explain my rationale, noting from the start how these questions encourage opinion answers; if you don't believe it, or can't accept it, or simply don't care, then this is a waste of time... Otherwise, I suggest you stop into chat as this is getting long. –  Shog9 Sep 3 '11 at 1:51
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