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Originally posted as an answer to Types of questions, or template questions, that the community generally finds acceptable, I'm following the suggestion to make this a separate post.

I believe that the sort of proposal I'm going to make has been argued for before, but I would like to weigh in on that discussion and request a re-evalution of the community's judgment for:

  • Elementary enquiries regarding Christianity (as a whole) posted by those who lack the conceptual framework to be able to successfully research their own answer to what may be regarded as basic questions by those who do possess such a framework.

The background for this request is thinking about the way the following two questions and in particular their answers were received by the community: A Christian view of Mohammad & How should Christianity respond to the person who defames it?. Both questions were eventually closed, but in the case of the first question in particular, much of the community seemed inclined to leave the question open despite it fairly clearly transgressing the current site standards (the upvotes to Fredsbend's request in comments for it to stay open are a good indication of this). There is a valid argument that the second question is not as well formed as the first and there may be a desire to disassociate the two in regard to this discussion, but I wish to highlight that in both cases the highest voted answers attracted votes far beyond the normal rate for the average run of the mill question posted on the site lately. I believe that this is because the community recognises intuitively that despite the questions not exactly aligning with the site guidelines, they were a) genuine questions b) covering important issues and c) the answers constituted content that is valued by the community. For this reason, I would like to propose that this type of question be allowed, and that we have a mechanism to clearly differentiate them from the normal run-of-the-mill questions with an appropriate tag such as:

  • elementary enquiry (description: an elementary enquiry is the type of question made by someone with a basic, limited or incorrect understanding of 'Christianity' as a whole, who will in the absence of an appropriate conceptual framework find it difficult to conduct their own research on the topic they are interested in)

The reason to differentiate them clearly, is that much greater latitude would then be applied in judging whether the question was on or off topic according to other criteria. As askers will most likely not add this tag themselves with their first question on the site, the community should be encouraged to make a judgment as to whether tagging the question as an elementary enquiry is the way to go and act accordingly.

This site is designed to be for 'experts' on Christianity. This doesn't mean we only admit 'expert' questions, nor does it mean we have an obligation to answer any old question that someone sees fit to ask with out them doing basic research, but we should have the flexibility to share our 'expert' knowledge (such as Fredsbend has done so admirably in the first instance cited) in answer to novel elementary enquiries that may not otherwise strictly adhere to the site standards.

This is alread a long post, but one final argument I would like to make for this case is to ask you to review a google search using the (original) title of the second question as a search term to get a sense of how difficult it might be for a genuine enquirer to gain a legitimately 'Christian' answer to his question: https://www.google.com/webhp?hl=en#hl=en&q=How+should+christianity+respond+to+the+person+who+defames+christianity

Community members are invited to post answers to argue either for or against this proposal including suggested changes/improvements in implementation and to vote for their preferred option as well as downvoting proposals regarded as unacceptable.

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    I'd like to see more examples of these types of questions, that are both good, and better without being edited to restrict the scope or into explicitly asking for an overview. – curiousdannii Sep 24 '14 at 8:08
  • I am really on the fence on this one. I thought both of the linked questions were good questions which would be useful to people from non-christian cultures, but then on the other hand, the quality of the answers and comments on the Mohammad question show precisely how these kinds of questions can spiral out of control. However, that probably has more to do with the sensitive nature of the topic than the elemental-ness of it. – Steven Doggart Sep 24 '14 at 12:50
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    +1 for raising the question. – El'endia Starman Sep 24 '14 at 15:44
  • @curiousdannii What do you thjnk of this question: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/33801/… do you think it should be closed as too broad or primarily-opinion based (as is probably indicated by site rules), would it be improved by restricting the scope of asking for an overview, or is it fine as it is? – bruised reed Oct 18 '14 at 1:20
  • @bruisedreed Hmm. I think that kind of question would really work better at Biblical Hermeneutics, asking what the fuller metaphroical meanings of in is in Paul's writings. – curiousdannii Oct 18 '14 at 2:28
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I don't believe this is a workable question format.

…an elementary enquiry is the type of question made by someone with a basic, limited or incorrect understanding of 'Christianity' as a whole…

The issue here is that this site uses a very broad definition for "Christianity as a whole" that includes mutually incompatible religions. I have yet to see a proposal for throwing open the door to these questions that does not directly lead to "truth" questions where answer voting becomes a popularity contest and sects that don't fit the most popular formula for orthodoxy are no longer welcome.

I do empathize with the desire to handle such questions. I believe there are answers to such questions and in real life I would handle them very differently. This dichotomy creates a fundamental tension around here and I feel it as much as you do. However I have observed first hand what happens here when we try to use this QnA format without question boundaries. It was a fiasco that almost sunk us during beta and only a massive reform effort turned things around and put us on track for graduation. If you want a more current case study you could follow what's been happening over on the Islam.SE beta site. Of course you'll need to look past the fact that it's a totally different religion, but as far as usage of a QnA engine go there are a lot of similarities—most notably multiple incompatible religious sects under one umbrella term. Unfortunately they've struggled to get community momentum behind question scoping guidelines like we eventually did and the result has been an ongoing fiasco.

The one thing I would note is that I have long advocated for "overview" questions. These are distinctly different from both "truth" and "elementary" questions. They take general require more research effort to ask properly than more focused questions and they specifically require broad knowledge that is inclusive of heterodox groups. As much as I think they do work well when asked properly, I've also seen them fail time after time when used as a way to get around the normal scoping rules. They are not a formula for asking what so many people want to ask (elementary or truth questions).

Questions that work best here are polarized toward one end of a scale:

  • Either the subject matter is defined in the question and the scope is more about where that fits in the the available pool of theological traditions…

  • …or the subject matter itself is what is being questioned in which case the results are bounded inside a specific pool.

Leaving both ends of the equation open is a recipe for Survivor—and this site is premised on the idea that we don't want to go there. Any proposal for questions that leave both the issue and the scope open ended rather than than one of the two general formats above would need to also propose a way to effectively mitigate the natural tendency for such questions to drag the QnA motif into a tailspin.

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    Do you feel that you have actually exhausted all options of trying to make something like this work, or would you be prepared to concede that applying the lessons of the past, it may still be possible to construct adequately strict guidelines to prevent the very real issues you've identified? eg In your view, is there anything wrong with this type of answer: "While a majority of Christians believe X because of Y, a minority of Christians actually believe ~X - and if you want to know more about that particular view you can ask in those terms" - not necessary a full overview, but helpful y/n? – bruised reed Sep 24 '14 at 13:33

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