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It's been written pretty frequently on meta, most recently here but many other places, that "we are a secular website". As a longtime user I'm very aware of what that means - that the website does not take a Christian viewpoint, that it doesn't promote Christianity, and that both Christians and non-Christians are welcome to post - I'm fully supportive of that stance, and not suggesting a change.

However the word 'secular', especially in some Christian circles, is often taken to mean 'explicitly unchristian' or even 'opposed to Christianity'. In view of this, I therefore wonder if we would be better saying "we are not a Christian website" rather than "we are a secular website". I think it better reflects that we treat both Christian and non-Christian views and posters alike, and might avoid giving the impression that we are an anti-Christian site.

Or am I wrong about the interpretation of 'secular'?

EDIT: Just to say I'm not intending this as a criticism of the various people who have written this in the past, all of whom are doing a great job explaining the site to newcomers.

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  • In that particular instance, I required a positive statement to make my point, so my options were "we are a secular website" and "we are a website that is not Christian," and therefore chose the former as less wordy. But in general I agree that "we are not a Christian website" is slightly less specific and to that extent less prone to misunderstanding. – Nathaniel is protesting Jul 11 '16 at 19:08
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    Does "non-Christian" have the same possibility of misinterpretation as "secular" to you? – Nathaniel is protesting Jul 11 '16 at 21:23
  • @Nathaniel It would sound a bit odd to identify a website whose primary identifier is "Christianity" as "non-Christian." – Lee Woofenden Jul 11 '16 at 21:53
  • @Nathaniel Yes, "non-Christian website" would, to me, imply something that was explicitly outside the Christian sphere. – DJClayworth Jul 11 '16 at 22:57
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    I believe it more beneficial to say "This site studies Christianity as an academic subject". Then clarify if they don't understand what that means. – 3961 Jul 12 '16 at 0:04
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I'm not all that excited by either "secular" or "non-Christian." Neither one of them really captures what we do here.

Many, if not most, of the posters and participants are, in fact, Christians. Many are explaining the beliefs and practices of their own faith. To say that this website is "secular" or "non-Christian" conveys the idea that we are a bunch of non-Christian, non-religious folks talking about Christianity. That would not be an accurate representation of the site. Yes, there are non-Christians, atheists, and agnostics actively participating here. And that is good. But this is certainly not an atheist or agnostic website in overall tone and participation, as would be suggested to many people by applying the words "secular" or "non-Christian" to the website.

I am also not excited about the sometimes used "scholarly" or "academic." The reality is that most of the answers here are not actually written by religious scholars. I happen to be one in my own particular field (Swedenborgian faith and practice, and related Biblical studies). But many others answering questions here are not. And we certainly don't require scholarly or academic credentials for people to post answers here. Only that the answers provide good, solid, well-referenced information that clearly addresses the specific question asked. (Unfortunately, many of the answers fall far short of that ideal.)

"Scholarly" and "academic" are closer to what this website is all about than "secular" or "non-Christian." But they still don't quite capture the essence of the site. Just as this site is not sponsored by and in support of any religious institution, it is also not sponsored by any academic institution. We really are not an "academic site," nor are we really a "scholarly site." Much of the content here would not pass muster at a respected academic institution. And as long as the answers are good, I have no problem with that.

My current thoughts of how to describe the site are therefore along the general lines of "scholarly" and "academic," but with fewer connotations of academia. I would suggest as possibilities:

  1. Educational
  2. Informational
  3. Instructional

I like the first two better than the third. And of course, any of them would have to be embedded in explanatory text about the nature of the site.

I would also suggest that in our masthead, instead of having "Christianity" by itself, we add, in smaller letters, perhaps above and offset from the main title, the word "about," so that it reads something like this:

     about
            CHRISTIANITY

This would be a tip-off to the actual nature of the site: that here we answer questions about Christianity, rather than advocating Christianity. I expect that a reasonably skilled graphic artist could make it look good and artistic.

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    Educational is good. I don't mind academic either, because the reality is that a lot of academia isn't much better ;) – curiousdannii Jul 12 '16 at 0:47
  • I like both educational and informational. – KorvinStarmast Feb 13 '17 at 22:58
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I think "secular" has just the right connotation.

I understand what you mean about the word having a negative connotation which can easily imply to some people an anti-Christian bias. Where I disagree is your suggestion that this is not helpful. I think this connotation actually helps people understand correctly what this site is about and prepares them for when they will inevitably encounter content that runs contrary to their faith. The vast majority of visitors come in with assumptions about this being a Christian venue and assume it is run the way they would run such a site. They don't even stop to think about how different their denomination's approach to discussion is from other denominations, much less how different that is from a secular approach.

Five years ago I bolded my assertion that this is a secular site in my Brothers, we are not Christians‼ post specifically because I wanted the weight of that assertion to push people back on their heels. I wanted them to have to stop and consider what it means that this site is driven by secular principles. Even if the subject matter is Christianity and the primary constituency come from Christian backgrounds the driving force (SE's business model) is fundamentally secular and even the simplest principles of how the site functions are shaped by the pragmatics of secular dialogue.

Interacting inside this secular scope isn't going to be for everybody. Not every Christian is well prepared to explain their faith in the context of an open market place of ideas where they have to play by a rule book not written in their favor. The advantage I see in calling a spade a spade (i.e. using the label secular to apply to this site) is that it prepares people for what they will have to deal with here in a way that sugar coating it (i.e. using "non-Christian" or some other indirect moniker) will not accomplish.

Explicitly calling this out as a secular site might cause some people to feel less at home, but that's okay: people shouldn't feel at home who don't understand the basic rules of engagement.

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  • I completely agree with this. I feel that the warning should be placed more prominently to help others realize the purpose of this site, since most people would not gather that from the name of the site alone. – DKing Jun 6 '17 at 22:11
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Secular means "worldly" it doesn't mean non-sectarian.

Non-sectarian means Protestant or Catholic or whatever, but not particular.

Non-denomination means (literally) no-name.

We are afficianados in a multi-denominational, multi-sectarian, multifaceted smorgasbord of topics.

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  • We aren't really anything in particular when it comes to Christian denominations. This site does not take a Christian stance. Some of its regulars aren't even Christians. So "we" aren't anything "religious" or "Christian" at all. – Lee Woofenden Feb 13 '17 at 23:29
  • @lee, sorry, i forgot to complete that sentence. – Peter Turner Feb 14 '17 at 2:52
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Anyone with a good enough understanding of the word secular will understand what is meant by that. This website cannot play favourites to any of its religious SE. That could divide the community in a dangerous way.

In the end this website has to be fair to all the World Views and this is just one of the ways it has decided to do it.

That is not to say that there is no apologist work to be done, even if you are not actively proselytizing. If a Christian wants to spread the good message then he should not underestimate how far a good reasoned response can reach.

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    The question isn't about 'playing favourites'. It's specifically about a choice of wording. – DJClayworth Jul 11 '16 at 19:39

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