As new members join a site called "Christianity," it is understandably common that many will ask the sorts of questions that would be asked of a pastor, in a church Bible study, or over a cup of coffee at a Christian book store. Questions like:

  1. Of whom is God jealous?
  2. Is it possible to get into heaven, but then be cast out at a later date?
  3. Why did God create man?
  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

But despite the impression given by our name, that's not really what we're about. Why?

We can't handle the truth.

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These types of questions are what we refer to as Truth Questions. It may seem odd to say that a site about Christianity says it can't handle the Truth... Isn't Christianity all about The Truth, and determining The Truth?

Well, yes, Christianity is about the Truth. But we aren't. We are about Christianity.

Put another way: we don't study the Truth, we study the Christian study of the Truth.

And as there are a multitude of Christian opinions, as made apparent by the number of Christian churches and denominations, there can almost never be a single, universally accepted answer to any truth question. This is why we shy away from Truth Questions.

But don't despair! There's still hope for your question. Here are some guidelines on how you can clean up your question to make it possible to answer within the guidelines of this site. And below are some links for further reading if you desire a deeper understanding.

Turning a "Truth Question" into a "Christianity Question"

First understand that a "Truth Question" asks what is true. A "Christianity Question," as deemed appropriate for our site, can ask what Christians believe or do. And more specifically, it asks what a specific group or subset of Christians do.

  • Bad: Is Michael the Archangel also Jesus?

    There are at least two answers to this question. Which one is right? We don't know. We can't handle the Truth.

  • Good: Do Jehovah's Witnesses believe Michael the Archangel is Jesus?

    There is only one answer, because the question is no longer asking for truth, but only what a specific group of Christians believe. Jehovah's Witnesses have a well-defined answer to this question.

An acceptable question can also ask for the origin of a particular belief, doctrine, or practice.

  • Bad: Is drinking alcohol a sin?

    There are countless answers to this question. Some believe all alcohol is a sin, others think it's permissible only for medicinal purposes, or during communion, and others yet have no restrictions on the consumption of alcohol. Which is the correct answer? We don't know. We can't handle the Truth.

  • Good: What is the Biblical basis for claiming that drinking alcohol is a sin?

    There is a well defined answer to this question. And you don't have to even agree with the conclusion that alcohol consumption is a sin to understand the Biblical basis for the claim.

For further reading

If you are still confused about why your question was closed, or need help revising it to fit within our site guidelines, please do not hesitate to ask a question here on meta about your specific situation. We really do want to make it possible for you to participate here!

I suppose that after we get the truth question close reason in place we should close those questions you listed above. –  fredsbend Mar 5 '14 at 21:52
I can't edit this, but isn't "What is the Biblical basis for claiming that drinking alcohol is a sin?" still a poor question because there will be multiple competing answers? Perhaps instead it should be "What Biblical basis do X see for saying drinking alcohol is sinful?" –  curiousdannii Mar 7 '14 at 10:36
@curiousdannii: I'm not quite sure what you mean by competing answers. –  Flimzy Mar 7 '14 at 18:21
"we don't study the Truth, we study the Christian study of the Truth." That's brilliant! –  David Stratton Mar 8 '14 at 3:02
I like this. It's well-done, covers everything, and I think that everything in it is spot on, but I worry that the tongue-in-cheek title conveys the wrong message. We old-timers get it, but newcomers may not, and that's what we're trying to avoid. Also, I'd like to suggest another link for the "Further reading" section. I hope this doesn't sound too self-serving and self-promoting, but I really like Tips for editing a question to make it suitable for re-opening –  David Stratton Mar 8 '14 at 12:40
It seems that if we have a new user someone with less than a (to be determined number of reps), could someone with a (to be determined number of reps) rewrite the question, and in the comments explain what was changed and why. Hopefully that would help the new user to learn how to ask questions. We could also use that process to reword answers. I had a particularly tough time when I first began and still make a lot of mistakes, but then these others may be more adept (smarter) than me. –  Bye Mar 12 '14 at 17:41
@CecilBeckum: That's the status quo for SE... –  Flimzy Mar 12 '14 at 18:44
@Flimzy Which one my suggestion, or everyone being smarter than me? laugh! –  Bye Mar 12 '14 at 19:47
@curiousdannii NO! "What is the Biblical basis for claiming that drinking alcohol is a sin?" is most certainly not a poor question. While different denominations might have differing opinions on any given topic, we should never force questions to be specific to only a denomination as opposed to what is stated in a specific bible. "What does the bible say about X?" is just as good, in my opinion better, than "What do the methodists say about X?" It is a very specific question, and good answers will not be any more opinion based than the methodist version. –  Loduwijk Aug 7 '14 at 16:49
Also, a more specific example: "What do catholics say about infant baptism?" or "What do baptists say about infant baptism?" are good questions, but so is "What does the bible say about infant baptism?" For many people, including myself, what the bible says itself is the most important. This specific example in no way encourages catholics and baptists to be at odds with each other, because a good answer will just look for any possible infant baptisms, and for any possible words encouraging/discouraging it, or the answer could say "There is nothing in the bible about it." –  Loduwijk Aug 7 '14 at 16:54
@Loduwijk "What does the Bible say about X?" is very different from "What is the Biblical basis for X?" The same Biblical passages will be interpreter differently from different groups. Baptism is a great example: the exact same passages in Acts will be used to argue for and against infant baptism. "What does the Bible say about X?" questions are effectively list questions: what passages do I need to read to adequately learn about this topic? It's not ask how it should be interpreted. –  curiousdannii Aug 7 '14 at 22:36
@Loduwijk What I was suggesting is that Biblical basis passages can sometimes encourage contradictory answers if you don't also ask for a denominational perspective. If you asked for the Biblical basis for infant baptism you would get very different answers from Catholics and Presbyterians. I don't know enough about the Orthodox churches but they might provide different answers again. In general on Stack Exchange sites questions which encourage contradictory answers are to be discouraged. Make sense? –  curiousdannii Aug 7 '14 at 22:39
@Loduwijk Lastly it sounds like you're coming from a protestant background and would like to just let the Bible speak for itself. I'm protestant too and can sympathise for that, but the reality is none of us can be sure that we read the Bible the way God intended it to be read. That is why it is important to learn the arguments why people interpret passages how they do, and to be upfront with how our systematic doctrinal understandings impact how interpretations. –  curiousdannii Aug 7 '14 at 22:42
@Loduwijk whose Bible? Does 2 Esdras count? Does the Prayer of Manasseh? Can I make up a book, call it a Bible, and quote it? Does the Book of Mormon count? –  the dark wanderer Dec 16 '14 at 9:58
@thedarkwanderer Yes. Yes. No. Yes. Discussing the contents of 2 Esdras is academic. Discussing how the Catholics feel about 2 Esdras is academic but not as much as discussing 2 Esdras directly. Making up your own book and quoting it as authoritative is not academic. Analogy: Discussing the galactic rotational velocity data and a need to investigate alternative models (ex: dark matter) is academic. Discussing a specific college's take on the original findings is academic, but slightly less so. Writing fictional novels which make use of the data is not academic. –  Loduwijk Dec 18 '14 at 23:40

4 Answers 4

David Stratton commented:

...I worry that the tongue-in-cheek title conveys the wrong message. We old-timers get it, but newcomers may not, and that's what we're trying to avoid. Also, I'd like to suggest another link for the "Further reading" section. I hope this doesn't sound too self-serving and self-promoting, but I really like Tips for editing a question to make it suitable for re-opening – David Stratton♦ Mar 8 at 12:40.

Don't fret David Stratton. Christianity is my first SE and this post was informative and fun to read. I may not be an old-timer, but Jack Nicholson's face still makes me smile. =D


Maybe the site's name is deceiving, would something like "Christianity Study", Christian Denominations", etc be more prudent? Even if the site's name doesn't change, we could just change the logo.


meh. The meme is over the top. That was the bad guy in that movie... This is not new information for anyone who has been associated with this particular SE for long. Those who haven't been here long might be turned off by the whole "our interpretation of reality is so great join us or perish" self congratulatory crusader type mentality. You may not be able to handle Christ as the Origin of Truth (Via, Veritas, Vita John 16:6) but I certainly can and don't agree with this post.

Well, I do agree the meme is a little distracting. –  Matt Mar 19 '14 at 0:14
@Matt thank you it takes courage to agree even if only in part with someone as lowly as me. :) –  caseyr547 Mar 19 '14 at 0:17
What if the crusader is a mod? –  The Freemason Mar 19 '14 at 17:21
@thefreemason often they are. Such personalities are drawn to power –  caseyr547 Mar 19 '14 at 17:42

While the existence and seriousness of the "meta" section of this site is laudable, I simply don't think the distinctions made in this post hang together coherently. The only thing approximating a definition of the terms is given here:

First understand that a "Truth Question" asks what is true. A "Christianity Question," as deemed appropriate for our site, can ask what Christians believe or do.

Yet upon reflection it should be clear that all belief questions are truth questions, even if not all truth questions are belief questions. All questions are truth questions, whether you are asking about beliefs or math problems. "It is true that Presbyterians believe x," is just as much a truth statement as "It is true that Michael the Archangel is not Jesus." This same thing can be seen in the other example:

Good: What is the Biblical basis for claiming that drinking alcohol is a sin?

This is said to be a good question, but what if we add another possible criterion, "What is the Biblical and/or Augustinian basis for claiming that drinking alcohol is a sin?" Is that still a good question? The more criteria we add, the closer we come to the simple, unqualified, "Is drinking alcohol a sin?" The difference is one of degree, not kind.

The Point

The actual distinction isn't between truth questions and belief questions, it is between easy questions and hard questions, straightforwardly verifiable questions and questions that do not have ready-made answers sitting in some library book. It just so happens that belief questions tend to be easier questions than non-belief questions. And the alcohol example just limits the premises, or criteria upon which a question can be judged, thus making it an easier question to answer. The ease of these answers comes from the fact that they are meant to be merely descriptive and thus require no synthesis, creativity, judgment, or weighing on the part of the author.

The mindset represented by this post has had a very problematic influence on metaphysics in recent years, and yet it may be legitimate for a website to limit itself to easily verifiable questions. Hard questions often have a correlation to entrenched argument, trolling, outlandish and facile opinions, etc., but there is by no means a direct causal relation!

So go ahead and say the site is only concerned with easily verifiable questions, or that it is only concerned with belief questions, or that it is only concerned with questions that can be answered in a purely descriptive way, but don't misleadingly say it is not concerned with truth. For myself I think such a limiting would be unfortunate. There are many good questions that are neither denomination-specific belief questions, limited-criteria questions, or questions that require only a descriptive answer. One such question is "What would be different if there were no Holy Spirit"? It's a great question for Christians and those wanting to learn more about Christianity, but it isn't an easy question.

The actual distinction ... is between easy questions and hard questions This really isn't the case, although I can see why it might seem that way. The real distinction is that we answer questions about doctrine, as one very specific area of "truth" (as you describe it). Every SE site (indeed every site of any genre) has to limit its scope. This is how we limit ours. The discussion of "Truth questions" is a literary shortcut many of us use when discussing our site's scope. If that terminology is not helpful to you, feel free to ignore it. But your suggestion is, as I read it, to... –  Flimzy Jan 3 at 22:51
... open the scope of this site up to something completely unmanageable (and we know this from experience!) Before this community decided that we are a site about doctrine, we had a lot of voting wars, and hurt feelings, when someone would ask, as an example, "What would be different if there were no Holy Spirit?" and one person would reply "I don't believe in the Holy Spirit at all, here's why...". We need some criteria to make such questions constructive. The best we've come up with, so far, is to limit the scope of all questions to existing doctrine. If you can propose an alternative... –  Flimzy Jan 3 at 22:53
... scope which accomplishes our necessary goals, I'm sure we'd all love to hear it. But removing the scope isn't the way. –  Flimzy Jan 3 at 22:53
First, I'm not sure how you could read me as saying the scope of "doctrine" must be removed. That scope was not even mentioned in the question or my response. Second, after familiarizing myself with more of the “meta” discussions, it seems that the site is having an identity crisis and the answer isn’t clear. Your idea of doctrine is interesting, but certainly not unanimous. The scope as “describing Christianity” seems more commonly accepted and in line with SE’s compendium mentality, but verifiability and relative ease inevitably attach to this scope. I think “describing Christianity”... –  zippy2006 Jan 3 at 23:27 a workable scope, but I don’t think that should devolve into a distaste for hard questions and the synthesis and creativity that accompanies them. Else the most interesting and useful questions will be barred. Too many questions are balked at on the basis of difficulty rather than any principled scope concerns. I’m of the mind that this could lead to a relatively shallow, sterile site. It may be more apt to say that--rather than simple description--the scope should aim at a (deeper) understanding of Christianity, which is a living religion and not a dead specimen. –  zippy2006 Jan 3 at 23:27
So you quote how the original post defines "Truth question" then you redefined it and argued from there. That doesn't make any sense. Actually, I believe that is a classic straw man. –  fredsbend Jan 4 at 3:45
Can you provide an example of a question that has been rejected or otherwise "balked at" for its difficulty? –  Flimzy Jan 4 at 11:10
@fredsbend On the contrary, I took his definition of a "truth question" (i.e. "asking what is true") and pointed out that belief questions are, by that very definition, truth questions. Indeed the point is that his understanding of "truth questions" actually has nothing to do with truth. All you have to do is consult a dictionary to see how improperly words are being used in the original post. Flimzy himself explains the nature of the problem well here. –  zippy2006 Jan 4 at 18:43
@Flimzy Two examples come readily to mind, one that I answered and one that you asked. These questions are a good fit for my criterion of "understanding Christianity" but they don't fit your criterion of "doctrine" or a "strict description" criterion. They are hard, not easy, and the objections given to them don't seem to be intelligible. In any case, SE and the community see them as valuable. –  zippy2006 Jan 4 at 18:53
@zippy2006 Words are used differently among different groups. This group, the community on C.SE, has a history of using the term "Truth question" in the context that this page discusses. Neglect that if you want, but you will only look foolish to the rest of us. –  fredsbend Jan 4 at 19:16
Again, the distinction isn't coherent. Does Flimzy himself still think a coherent distinction can be made between questions of truth and questions of belief? He gave definitions, no one is confused about meaning, and thus no (community-based) equivocation is occurring. I already pointed out that a more proper distinction would be belief vs non-belief questions. Flimzy isn't even standing behind his original language: he now describes it as doctrinal vs non-doctrinal, which is a subset of belief vs non-belief. –  zippy2006 Jan 4 at 19:49
...I think you're being too dismissive. This is a foundational meta topic involving "admins" and is therefore a significant issue with far-reaching implications. The language is problematic, but if you would read me more carefully you would see that I am not merely quibbling over semantics. I think the meaning underlying the original post is faulty or at least skewed. Others see it too. –  zippy2006 Jan 4 at 19:55
What makes you say this site is having an identity crisis? –  curiousdannii Jan 5 at 3:43
I stand behind the original language 100%. That doesn't mean I think it's the only possible language to explain the concept. Thus if someone is having trouble grasping the concept using the terminology of "truth question," as you appear to be, I'm also in favor of using other terminology to discuss the same concept. –  Flimzy Jan 5 at 18:46
The two examples you provide are not problematic because they are hard questions. They are problematic because they are out of scope. In fact, both are asking for opinions. For this reason, I would vote to close my own question, too, but it's presently locked. –  Flimzy Jan 5 at 18:47

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