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New to the site, but a member for several months on stackoverflow. As you can easily guess the two are quite different. One where most questions have a universally correct answer where here the answers are only correct to a specific point of view.

The issue I have is there is a hostility toward answers that do not appear to be universally correct. None of the answers here are universally correct; that is not possible for us to know. For example, in answering a question about a specific Catholic doctrine I turned to the Catechism for the answer. When does the bread and wine become Body and Blood? I think I answered it well, but naturally it led to more questions of a very specific nature that the catechism didn't necessarily address. I choose to attempt an answer with "I would say ..." I was promptly warned of the site's hostility toward any interpretation and basically that he would only accept a quote from the pope as an answer.

In another example I attempted to answer a question on Cessationism, a particular view point on miracles, not a denomination or specific group. How do Cessationists expect people to believe without seeing miracles today? Despite the warning in the comment I still thought it worth while to share my knowledge of the concept and logically argue the point asked for from someone who adheres to cessationism, which does not necessarily imply that such a person adheres to something else. So I resorted to Systematic Biblical Theology and pointed to passages that supported my answer. I was quickly downvoted and accused of not even knowing what cessationism is. Why should I try with such stringent rules? I suppose I need a doctorate in every topic I try to answer to meet the requirements.

This kind of expectation in the answers is what is keeping the site down. There are less then ten new questions a day. On SO I can't even refresh the page without loosing the question I was looking at in a sea of new questions. The answers inherently cannot meet the kind of precision as on SO, because the questions are not typically seeking as exact an answer as the Catholic question I answered. But even then I apparently am not allowed to deduce an answer from my own logic supported by facts because that is apparently interpretation and opinion. How does that make the site any better than a google search?

Read this post. Is the scope of SE Christianity too narrow? And the selected answer is spot on. The scope of the site is too broad and is the seed of this ridiculous answer squashing because I am apparently not the pope or doctorate theologian so must therefore provide only facts in my answer and not logical deduction. The point of beta testing is to see how the users use the product then adjust accordingly. It does not mean force the users into the mold first made.

See this post. What makes a good supported answer? The first bullet is pretty good and should generally be how a question is answered because, more often then not, the questioners will want to see biblical support. But then the third bullet says in bold 'no original research.' Why? That seems quite contrary to the purpose of a site like this. As for questions that are specific, like the Catholic one above, it is pretty clear what the answer should look like and where it should come from. So let that ride without interfering; it is self regulating.

I think we can all agree: The site is barely surviving. Something needs to change.

I propose this: Change the scope of the site and definition of a Christian and clearly define what a good answer is. Merely claiming to be Christian cannot be all there is. I could claim I'm a lawyer or doctor, however, most people would agree I am not. Simply claiming something does not make it so, nor does it make you part of that group in the eyes of the group as a whole. For example, there are atheistic Christians who only ascribe to the bible for moral direction, having logically deduced that moral living is good for them and others. So that really has nothing to do with Christianity. There are also cultural Christians who only claim Christianity because of heritage (quite common in USA) and do not really care about Christianity of any flavor. So, again, they are surely not Christians. Now this post Christianity.SE vs. Survivor makes it seem like it is in contrast with what I am saying but it is not. It is mostly concerned with questions that might read like "Are Mormons Christian?" Surely that kind of question is not constructive. The first answer by Caleb is very good, which is funny, because he is the guy who keeps downvoting me. Maybe a return to that ideal is needed. The first comment under Caleb's answer by Flimzy mentions the exact issue I am trying to illuminate: the questions are mostly fine; how we decide the constructiveness of our answers is shaky at best.

So what should define a Christian? I would say something like this for this site: "A Christian is a person who first calls himself such. He identifies Christianity with religion and spirituality and believes in at least one god, whether real, metaphorical, allegorical, or otherwise; who god might be and what god might do or has done does not matter for this site. The Christian also believes that the bible, at least in part, no matter how significant, is important to the faith of Christianity. Other texts are not excluded, such as Apocrypha or the Book of Mormon.

I also think there should be a section in the faq that defines a constructive answer for the types of questions there are.

I have seen these kinds of questions (paraphrasing from real questions)
1) Very specific doctrine questions - "In Catholicism, when does the transubstantiation occur?"
2) More generic but denomination specific - "What would a Lutheran say about God having ordained all things?"
3) Also generic but view point specific - "How would a Cessationist argue that miracles are not needed to become a believer?"
4) Implied Biblical Answer wanted - "Does a Christian who sins remain a Christian?"
5) Purely Biblical - "How does the author of Hebrews argue that every sin receives a just retribution?"
6) Historical - "Is it true that before the Quinisext Council it was heresy to draw Jesus on icons in the form of a man?"

Here is what I think should define a constructive answer for these questions
1) You must quote from literature produced by the denomination in question or an authority figure for that denomination (Pope, Arch Bishop, etc.). Wikipedia will not cut it, nor will your opinion. The answer, if it exists, will be just as specific as the question. You may make logical deductions from the literature, but sparingly and only if necessary; do not base the whole question off of logical deduction.
2) Quoting from denomination literature or figurehead is not required but is preferred. There is more freedom on logical deduction but it must be based on quoted fact or common knowledge first. Your own research can make an appropriate answer, but not likely
3) Quoting would be difficult as that would also require a denomination association, which is okay, but that greatly restricts your answer. Logical deduction from the basic points of the view point combined with quotes from the Bible and other texts are perfect for this type of question.
4) Although somewhat vague, this question should still be allowed because it is implied that the questioner wants the generalized consensus of the Christian community. Answering with quotes from the Bible and other texts is best for this. Using any approach to the interpretation of the texts is acceptable so long as it is clearly stated or the text is frank and explains itself.
5) This question is not interested in interpretation or anybody's view point. The questioner wants to better understand the particular religious text from the frame of the text itself. The question is also not interested in what other texts say about the topic.
6) This question is largely fact based and requires quotes. For occasions when there is more than one view point on how the history happened it is best to either declare which view point you are stating or discuss both, noting how they relate and differ.

Some general rules are:
1) If you are asking about or answering from a specific view point then say so at the top of the post.
2) For generic questions like #4 it is best if you state the kind of answer you want. Classify your question based on this list of types of questions [this makes me think that if the community likes this 'types of questions' idea then we could have a dropdown for each question to be classified]. If the question is not classified the answerer should assume that the asker wants the general Christian consensus and/or biblical support for the supposition.

I am excited having found this site and am eager to engage in a long journey of theological education. I would hate to see the site fail when there is such potential. Something needs to be done because the current model is scaring users from asking and answering. What are the suggestions? Is doing something about the answers like I suggest something that might work? Are any of the mods on the same boat as me?

As an aside check out the islam SE. It is rife with apparent opinion and no one there cares. The even have an advice-needed tag! I have asked three questions now and not one has quoted anything yet; just comments. I'm not saying we should do that here but I think some where in between that and what is happening now here is good.

  • I must admit, I have read only the first few paragraphs and the last paragraph because I am very tired (it's almost 3 am). I'll read all of it tomorrow. That said, I have two points to make: 1) Alypius may be a better-than-usual newbie (no offense intended), but he is a new person and not a regular member, and 2) this site will not fail. We'll actually graduate sometime in the near future, as soon as Jin, the graphic designer, makes our design. Don't be discouraged though; you're learning, and if you stick with it, the community will be honored to have another high-quality contributor. – El'endia Starman Feb 18 '13 at 8:02
  • I responded as I did due to Caleb's chat request/concern - I'm happy to see that you came over to meta. Also, I am fairly certain that your speculation is just plain wrong according to mainstream RC. (The question is not as easy as you might think, and I am looking for a pretty rigorous answer.) And the site is hostile towards speculation. @El'endiaStarman Thanks :) – Alypius Feb 18 '13 at 23:03
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    This posting is longer than it should be and is difficult to read. It addresses too many issues at once. The proposed solution(s?) should be posted independently of the problem(s?). It is probably more appropriate to handle this matter in the chat room. – Alypius Feb 18 '13 at 23:15
  • @Alypius ok lets chat. How? Where do I go? – 3961 Feb 18 '13 at 23:19
  • @fredsbend chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/1167/the-upper-room I believe. The chat rooms are pretty quiet (people might be busy doing other things), so don't be discouraged if conversations proceed slowly. – Alypius Feb 18 '13 at 23:46
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    Mod note: For reference, question closure (and possible future deletion) is at the special request of the OP via a flag. (I don't want people that are able to see deleted content but not flags wondering if I am sweeping something under the rug.) – Caleb Feb 25 '13 at 11:09
  • @Caleb Since you mention it in that comment from 2 years ago, please do not delete this. I use it regularly to identify with new users that I also missed the point. – 3961 Jan 30 '15 at 6:22
  • If this is still useful to future visitors, maybe our choice to close it was premature. Should it be re-opened? – Caleb Jan 30 '15 at 17:16
  • @Caleb Well, actually, I was thinking about some of the things I've said here and that they are applicable, and I think I can reformulate them into a new post. I view this as more of a rant than anything else. That's why I asked you close it two years ago, after I understood the site ethos and MO. So no, I don't think it should be reopened. – 3961 Jan 30 '15 at 18:26
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Welcome to Christianity.Stackexchange.com. Welcome and I hope that after you read this you will continue to want to participate. I welcome your post and your critiques, and would remind you that a lot of the policy that the moderators and community of this site enforce has been built on two years of meta discussion and argument.

Firstly I'd like to address some major issues with your post, before I get into the substance of it.

  1. "This site is barely surviving" - This is patently false. In fact, we are the next site to graduate from beta. That in an of itself isn't enough to ensure site stability, but it's a pretty good indication that SEI (the company that owns this site) thinks that we're on solid footing. To add to this, we've been seeing rising numbers of questions, answers and views overall for some time now. We're not struggling to survive, we're thriving.

  2. That the site's definition of Christianity is up for debate. SEI has from day one said that all self identifying Christians will be welcome here. That includes the group that you single out (Christian atheists) and it includes plenty of other groups that I not only don't find to be Christians, but that I personally find to be down right blasphemous. The key is that I have my opinions, but I do not, and can not allow those opinions to color how this site is managed because my mandate is (pretty much above all else) to make this a welcoming place for all people who identify as Christians.

Now that those points are out of the way we can get to a substantial answer.

To address your first two questions, about why your specific answers were negatively commented and downvoted:

  • on the first question, I see no downvotes (+3/-0), and a comment series that seems pretty darn friendly for this site with people trying to understand the points you are making. You make some clarifying edits to pull it into essay form (our desired form here) and overall it becomes a pretty good answer. It's left in a place that seems fairly satisfactory. Looks like a pretty good process to me.

  • On the second question. I'm inclined to agree with Caleb here, you've missed the boat a bit on it. Your definition of cessationism doesn't line up with the one from the question and so you've missed it on that. But also you're giving what amounts to conjecture as an answer. We work hard to ask people to post well researched, or at least well cited answers. Keep in mind though that we only delete the real cruft. Your answer, while it might not be the best one given, is in no real danger of deletion, the reason Caleb is spending the time to try to help you onto the right path is because he believes you potential contributions to this site are worth it.

Now as far as your suggestions on how to change the site to make it (in your opinion) better. Let's examine them individually.

  1. A reasonable theologian would be acceptable in addition to a church leader (often the same, but many doctrines don't have specific people maintaining them but they do have reasonable theologians who have defined them.). However, these are often questions that can be answered without citation provided an answerer can provide one when prompted. it is not this site's policy to require citation in every answer, just that they can be provided when challenged
  2. You've got the right position here, quotation from denominational literature is preferred. but obviously some denominations don't have a super well maintained knowledge base like others do, so unsourced statements, while not preferable, are welcome here, even if we don't really care for it.
  3. You're seeming to assume that only denominational authorities are authorized to speak about specific doctrines. The way we've tried to word things is that any published theologian is a worthy source, even if that publication is a blog. As long as it's linked so that folks can check it out and verify we've tried to make the bar as low as possible. There is good reason for this, many very small opinions and groups don't have the kind of history and wealth of theologians that you'd find in the Catholic, Presbyterian or Anglican churches (to name a few). To continue to serve those groups (as per our mandate) we must make the bar for a source quite low.
  4. Implied Biblical answer questions as you called them are basically (As generally phrased) searches for truth. These don't go well here and should be generally discouraged. They happen and we try to limit them, but they are one of our primary concerns as moderators when it comes to questions. We'd very much prefer if this type of question went away quietly, but they keep coming so we do our best to try to narrow them and serve the askers the best we can.
  5. This kind of question is often #4 couched in just slightly different terms. If someone is looking for the right interpretation they are likely better off on our companion site Biblical Hermeneutics. However, if they're interested in how a group interprets a passage and especially in how they apply it, then they should feel right at home, provided they can actually specify a group.
  6. Historical questions are on topic and will continue to be so, but you're right, answers should be sourced, or at least meet our minimum bar "being sourceable" that means if you're asked to support it that you do.

The key here is that over the past year in all of our meta discussions we have tried hard to avoid requiring sourcing (Even if I've argued for it, consensus is against me). Thus we've set the bar as "sourceable."

Now, from the looks of it you've got the potential to ask and answer a great deal of very interesting questions. No one is asking you to get a doctorate every time you answer a question, but do know that you may not be qualified to answer every question on this site. But that shouldn't be a don't that's just an opportunity for you to do the research. The key to answering any site here is the exact same key that you used for every research paper you wrote in school, you can't write the paper if you haven't done the research. So if you find a question you want to answer, but don't know the answer, or you don't have support for it, do the research instead of just spouting your opinion. It will be much better received.

On your last point. I haven't spent a great deal of time on the Islam.se site, but I have talked to their mods several times, and they are plagued by sectarianism and infighting that we've largely avoided here. Heck, one group of users from that site even tried to start a new Area 51 proposal for his specific sect. We've avoided these kinds of issues largely by keeping things focused on doctrine and trying to make sure answers match to perspective asked for in the question. None of us will argue that it's perfect and all of us probably wish this site catered more thoroughly to truth rather than to the blasphemous hodge podge we've put together, but so far it's working, and we've been successful by the metrics SE uses so I call that a win.

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    I wholeheartedly endorse this response, including the bit where you put words into my mouth. – Caleb Feb 19 '13 at 13:44
  • How did the community evaluation go? Does it look like our quality is being maintained? – Jon Ericson Feb 19 '13 at 19:34
  • @JonEricson I'll try to dig up the results again, I had them... – wax eagle Feb 19 '13 at 19:36
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Wow that's a lot of thoughts for one post! I am not going to try to engage all of your points, but here are a few things that come to mind to keep the conversation going. There seem to be a few misconceptions going on here that maybe we can clear up with a little history.

Before we start with that though, I want you to know that my comments to your early posts were not meant to be antagonistic. I'm sorry if I came off as rude or demeaning. In particular my remark on your personal knowledge of a doctrine was uncalled for. Forgive me for that, I should have made less assumptions about you and stuck to what I could see in your post. I still argue that the post doesn't properly represent the doctrine in question, but I should have stuck to trying to help you improve it rather than presuming a lack of knowledge on your part.

Now, for some points...

I think we can all agree: The site is barely surviving.

No, actually, I don't think you'll find much agreement on that point here. We are doing a lot better than "barely surviving"! The numbers show steady growth and really solid amounts of traffic, and the folks that have been around a while see a different picture.

Of course there is massive room for improvement, but we're thriving. We've even gotten the green light to graduate from beta and be a full fledged member of the SE 2 network.

Along with that growth come some growing pains. We're actually seeing such a high rate of influx on new members that we're falling behind on getting them up to speed with the SE environment and our local site norms. We're not educating people fast enough with all we've learned over the last year and a half and newcomers are quickly dragging the site through some of the same issues we ran into early on and found solutions for. If anything, your experience with the site reflects this mix of directions as new members think they know what's going on long before they actually grok the big picture.

I was promptly warned of the site's hostility toward any interpretation and basically that he would only accept a quote from the pope as an answer

Say what? Whoever gave you that line doesn't sound like they represent the greater community at all. (Note: I'm specifically not naming names because this isn't about calling them out, just trying to help you along in your understanding.) We're not hostile towards interpretation -- in fact vast amounts of it are called for even in answering straight up factual questions. What you did with referencing the Catechism and then trying to make some inferences in line with it was right on target. We want to see more where that came from!

My own criticisms of some of your posts were not that they included personal interpretation but that they were either A) did not directly answer the question or B) were nothing BUT personal doctrine when a specific church doctrine was called for. They told us about what you believed but not about what Christianity believes. When a logical defense of a doctrine is called for by a question, by all means include it. However when the gist of a question is about how that doctrine relates to a specific issue, answers need to approach the issue directly, not beat around the bush or build a case for something related to the doctrine. The worst (and these will get deleted rather than commented on) are when answers wander so off track that they actually attack the doctrine in question rather than explain it.

The first answer by Caleb is very good, which is funny, because he is the guy who keeps downvoting me.

You don't know that. In fact this is something you should know across the SE network: it is much harder to guess who is voting than you think and you should avoid every assuming you know who voted. Even when they outright say +1 or -1 in a comment, it is often the case that they don't actually vote the way they comment.

It is quite common for someone to comment on a post with some criticism and have somebody else come along and vote the post down. I tend to comment more than I do downvote and often save the downvote for if people don't do anything to improve their post. I am, however, not shy of downvoting and have downvoted one of your posts. But just one and not where you seem to think I have. I have also upvoted several of your posts.

I propose this: Change the scope of the site and definition of a Christian and clearly define what a good answer is.

The "definition" of Christian on this site only defines who is allowed to participate and the overall scope. Changing this would do absolutely nothing to improve the state of answers on a per-question basis. In fact it would actually set a precedent of being scoped like a church and reduce us to moderating based on doctrine. Imposing a definition on Christian would necessarily ruin the entire main theme that is going on here.

As for the latter part of that suggestion, we've already done that. Maybe they need improving, but we do have guidelines for what makes good answers.

the questions are mostly fine; how we decide the constructiveness of our answers is shaky at best.

Here I am about to go doing almost what I was apologizing for above: but are you sure you've understood how we define constructiveness? I don't hear in your complaints anything that actually sounds like what we're aiming for. I do hear that you've received a couple complaints yourself that missed the mark and I'm sorry about that. Can we keep a discussion going, in particular could you engage with some of our more experienced users and see if they can help you understand the in and outs rather than taking another new users' views as defining?

I'm sure we welcome help on communicating our guidelines. You'll find that over time new voices on meta have been welcomed as they helped communicate what we are about in new ways to people with different backgrounds. However before you completely re-invent the wheel, please do take the time to understand what we've been through as a site and learn from the experience that the last couple years has taught us.

As an aside check out the islam SE.

I am well aware of the situation there, but they are hardly a model to emulate. If anything, they are busy trying to emulate us. They ran into massive problems and conflicts early on and have done a lot of reform to clean it up. In many ways they are working through some of the same issues we did and are gradually settling on some things like question/answer scope matching and a preference for referenced material in the same way that we have. Your statement that "nobody cares" implying that what they had going is a good thing. It's not true, all kinds of people cared and some of them are trying to do something about it.

The nature of their beliefs and the breakdown of their sects does allow them to make deeper inroads into one genre of question that we have had to make totally off limits: pastoral advice and personal counseling questions. Islam has formula based answers for those kind of things where Christianity does not and the doctrinal beliefs of many of the major traditions in Christianity lead us to direct those people to find a local church rather than answer their questions here. However, those don't seem to be the kind of questions that you're concerned about in the first place.

Without dealing with the specifics of your numbered examples and proposed guidelines (some of which I like, others of which I disagree with), I think it's more important that we get on the same page with the big picture first. Some things you consider problems I consider solutions and some things you see as solutions I consider to be problems. Maybe after considering any feedback you get on this meta post you could break down issues into smaller pieces here on meta so we can deal with them in bite site pieces?

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    I don't know if I'd say Islam.SE is trying to emulate Christianity.SE per se (I reckon we're gravitating more towards a Judaism.SE/Skeptics.SE mashup myself) but we're definitely taking cues from here as you've already dealt with many of the same issues we're only starting to struggle through. – goldPseudo Feb 20 '13 at 1:53

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