12

There's been run of questions which specifically ask about "The Bible", which have been closed on the ridiculous grounds that the user didn't specify which Bible they were talking about. This is ridiculous because:

  1. Questioners may not have a deep knowledge of Christianity (surprise!) and may not know that there are different Bibles. Asking them to specify which one is trying to make them understand complicated things about Christianity in order to get simple questions answered. They probably don't care which Bible the answer comes from.
  2. In 99% of these questions it would have made no difference at all which Bible the questioner specified.
  3. Most of these questions already had good answers when closed.
  4. Most of the people giving answers are quite capable of pointing out which Bible their answer refers to, if it makes a difference
  5. Closing questions on these grounds is essentially saying to these people "you are too ignorant to ask questions here". Speaking personally that's not the sort of attitude I want this site to take. Doing so reflects poorly on all Christians.

And please don't give an answer here saying "it's policy". If it's policy it's still wrong, and policy should be changed. We're in Beta here, and Beta is for sorting these issues out, not locking them in as soon as possible.

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    John 1:1 (RT) In the beginning were some words, and these words were with The Greatest of All Creators, and these words proceeded from The Greatest of All Creators. Do we really want quotes from the Richardonian Bible? – Richard Nov 7 '11 at 13:18
  • @Richard Sure as long as everybody is warned that the content is only the result of your personal tom-foolery ;-) But since you aren't the only one in the world who engages in such tom-foolery, all the specificity around "which bible" makes some sense, it's not just stupidity. – Caleb Nov 7 '11 at 13:48
  • @Caleb So true. And some people create their own translations, doctrines, and religions in earnest! That's what scares me the most. – Richard Nov 7 '11 at 13:54
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    Your argument is a straw man, Richard. Do you really think there is a danger that questioners mean the Richardonian Bible or an equivalent? – DJClayworth Nov 7 '11 at 14:46
  • @DJClayworth What's to stop me from answering with that translation? Check the link and the comments on that question for a much greater understanding of what is going on behind that. – Richard Nov 7 '11 at 15:05
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    That's an irrelevant discussion because it's about translation not canon. Are you seriously going to make questioners specify the translation they want used in the answer? – DJClayworth Nov 7 '11 at 15:11
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I think DJs concerns are very valid. I have experienced frustrations of my own regarding the new guidelines (trouble scoping questions; what should be done with old questions?). But I recently realized that my troubles weren't being caused by poor policy, they were being caused by my own ignorance on the subjects I was asking questions about.

A few days ago studying the topic of faith, I read something that said a result of faith is an assurance of salvation. It prompted me to ask a question here about which denominations believed it was possible to receive an assurance of salvation before death. Richard (and possibly another person) was kind enough to point out that the scope of my question was probably too large because, for starters, it would include everyone who believed "Unconditional Election" and "Universal Salvation" (I might be wrong about universal salvation). So I Googled those terms and quickly found that Richard was right, the scope of my question was too large (at the same time I found the answer to my question, and others that would've followed).

Notice Richard didn't demand a change of scope with the threat of closing the question. Instead, he filled a few gaping holes in my ignorance and led me to see what was wrong with my question. That should be how we handle these situations.

Wax eagle brings up the very valid point that closing questions prevents poor answers being attached to the question before its overhauled. At the same time, its pretty discouraging for a new person to have their questions closed immediately, especially if its their first question. I have to agree with wax eagle's other point that its a good experience for a newcomer to work with the community while changing their question to fit the guidelines. And that requires (1) that we as a community let people know that a closed question is not a death sentence and (2) that we clearly communicate and work with the OP on how to fix their question.

If we want to be welcoming to newcomers, we must accept that many of them will not have sufficient knowledge to correctly scope a question (that's probably why they're asking questions in the first place!).

This is why I mentioned on chat that a resource that explains the basic doctrinal differences of Christian denominations would be valuable. At the very least we should overhaul our FAQ. Compare it to the FAQ on Judaism.SE. Their's is much easier to get started with.

In summary, I think the new policy is necessary; its the enforcement that is getting out of hand. As a community (not just the mods) we must kindly help people understand why "How is salvation obtained?" is not a good question.

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    +1 for "I think the new policy is necessary; its the enforcement that is getting out of hand." – Waggers Nov 7 '11 at 20:49
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    On other sites 'closing' a question effectively ends it. Hardly any questions come back from being closed, and those that do are because people disagree with the reasons for closure. Why would this site be doing something different? – DJClayworth Nov 8 '11 at 15:37
  • @DJClayworth I don't participate enough in other sites to know. – user23 Nov 8 '11 at 15:39
  • <Obsolete and debatey comments removed.> – El'endia Starman Nov 8 '11 at 19:27
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    @El'endiaStarman I'm not sure what the other comments were, but removing comments because they were "debatey" from a thread that's clearly labelled "discussion" doesn't sit well with me. Perhaps we're all getting a bit oversensitive – Waggers Nov 11 '11 at 9:06
  • @Waggers: The reason I was the one to remove them was because the other four mods were all too involved. The discussion had drifted away from the original topic. – El'endia Starman Nov 11 '11 at 17:10
  • @el thanks, Iwasn't worried about who removed the comments, just why. Being off topic is a good reason. – Waggers Nov 12 '11 at 12:14
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I have to agree. It's getting ridiculous, and in a few cases it appears that this "policy" is being used as a way to silence or at least discourage minority viewpoints by stealth. (If we can't "vote them off the island" we can use the rules to ensure that they only speak when spoken to! Brilliant!)

...or not. I think the scope policy is ridiculous and it's having a harmful effect on our community. None of the other SE sites that I'm aware of have anything comparable, and with good reason. When you make questions harder to ask (with restrictions that the asker might not be aware of and might not be knowledgeable enough to do a good job of following,) and you make them harder to answer (by forcing everyone to restrict the answers to a specific, narrow viewpoint,) you will inevitably end up with less and less questions being asked and answered.

I can't be the only one who's noticed the way the pace of this site has dropped off dramatically in the last few weeks. I won't claim that this policy is the only factor in that, but it's definitely a factor, and continuing to attempt to enforce it makes the site appear quite hostile to newcomers, which, to put it bluntly, is just plain moronic, especially while we're still in Beta. The scope rule has been weighed in the balances and been found wanting, and it needs to go.

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    The guidelines aren't being used to silence views. There is a big difference between giving good answers from minority perspectives (encouraged) and answering from a minority perspective and trying to say it's actually representative of some other view (discouraged). Other SE sites do have policies that require some effort/knowledge to ask questions. It's ok to raise the bar on question asking at least a bit. – Caleb Nov 7 '11 at 7:29
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    On the traffic issue, there was pretty good concencous a while back that we were drowning in low quality posts and that most of the experts were not interested in sustaining their participation in that. Yes we need to drum up a bit more traffic again but lets keep aiming for the good stuff. – Caleb Nov 7 '11 at 7:33
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    @Mason things were not done in a vacuum or in private. Things were hashed out in meta and in chat. You haven't chimed in at all in any of those posts or in the chat room set aside for the discussion of refocusing this site. Is the refocus effort moderately reactionary? Sure it is, but its a reaction to an actual problem. We speak different languages, and if we can't get a person asking a question and a person answering a question on the same page then the entire process is meaningless. – wax eagle Nov 7 '11 at 13:36
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In relation to the specific "which Bible" thing.... I was in a bookshop the other day where it was apparent that anything labelled "The Bible" was a reference to the "Protestant" Bible. They also had "Catholic Bible"s on sale, and they were labelled in that manner. Similarly I think it's fair to say that the Bibles of sects* are not the same as "The Bible" (of denominations* of Christianity).

I would therefore suggest that if a question asks about "The Bible" it's primarily asking about the Protestant Bible unless otherwise stated. It may be worth pointing out to the OP that Catholicism has a different Bible (or, more accurately, the same Bible with some additional books), and there are sects that have altogether different texts which sometimes resemble the Bible as recognised by the wider church but with significant textual differences.

*I dislike the word sects when applied to denominations and I think it's important to make the distinction. This is how they're defined according to a Google define: search, and these are the meanings I'm using in this post:

de·nom·i·na·tion/diˌnäməˈnāSHən/ Noun: A recognized autonomous branch of the Christian Church.

sect/sekt/ Noun: A group of people with somewhat different religious beliefs (typically regarded as heretical) from those of a larger group to which they belong.

3

Well, if there's an intellectually dishonest and misleading answer hit the down arrow.

There's no reason we should mislead people about scripture.

As a Catholic, I acknowledge in general Protestants have the upperhand on bible quotes and whatnot and a bible question probably ought to go first to people to whome the bible means the most. To a Catholic, the Eucharist means the most.

People who don't really care about denominations shouldn't be precluded from asking questions. I remember your plea from a while ago regarding closing the Catholicism.SE proposal in favor of Christianity so that the answers could sit side-by-side so I know where you're coming from and in general I agree.

There are some things that we can't really reconcile, but if someone asks, where is it in the Bible? Most Christians agree on most of the Bible and most Christians agree that Gnostic gospels are not biblical. The Deuterocanonicals are good for examples of purgatory (2 Macabees), taking care of the dead (Tobit), and the 'femaleness of Wisdom' (Wisdom).

It's up to the person who actually wants to answer the question to drag that sort of information out of the questioner (or at least pony it up when answering). It would be dishonest for me to reference something out of a Bible that is utterly unlikely for the asker have on their bookshelf.

But, if all my Bible links from from the USCCB.org or Vatican.va, there's not a lot of confusion to the source of the text. What is confusing is saying that my 1 Kings is different than Richard's 1 Kings is different from Waggers 1 Kings. That is untrue and misleading.

  • Your 1 Kings is different, isn't it? The Douay Bible's 1 Kings is 1 Samuel in the Protestant canon, and what the Protestants call 1 Kings Douay calls 3 Kings. Or do Catholics no longer use the Douay names of the books? – TRiG Jan 1 '12 at 22:37
3

I think you are being overly reactionary here and need to step back and consider the bigger problem. If you don't think we had a problem with questions not being focused enough to answer in a sane way, you can go back through the reams of discussions, posts, and documents regarding that issue. Secondly it doesn't sound like you are engaging the actual issues, only one nit-pick you have about verbage.

I do think the term "which Bible" is a little bit pedantic and we could probably word that in a way that would help people understand the real problem. However there is a real problem. If you have a problem with how we word it, maybe you could suggest a solution. If you don't think it's a problem ... keep reading.

About the post you linked to -- that question is very specifically dependent on which Bible you choose to use to answer. In particular the NWT used by the Jehovah Witnesses is going to give you a different answer than most of the others. Just answering the question at face value would cause multiple conflicting answers and a voting war. Just because one didn't break out yet doesn't mean it wouldn't in the future when a JW comes along with an answer. The fact that I happen to agree with your answer and even the Mormon perspective on this issue agreed with us doesn't make this a good question. This is beta -- a time to work out what questions should and should not be encouraged.

Closing a question isn't a death sentence, it's a chance for everybody in the community to improve questions before they are turned loose again. If you feel that your answer and the other answers should be preserved, help the OP write a question that is scoped such that those answers are on-point. Your attempt to work against somebody that was trying to make improvements to the question is not appreciated. Please work with people not against them. If you think have a better solution, please propose it.

  1. Of course they don't. But lots of people don't know there are different Unix distros either and it's almost always necessary to mention the one you use in questions on U&L. If your question is about shell scripting you need to specify which shell you use. That's just the way it is. Prompting OP's for this information is part of the life cycle of a question. If people don't care to give that information, their questions don't get answered. The problem with our subject matter that makes it a little different is that people think they can step in and answer with opinion when these reference points are missing. That's why we have to close instead of just letting them turn into tumble weeds ... because bad questions bring bad answers and around here that turns into controversy and mess.

  2. Just not true. Sure a lot of them don't matter, but the one you linked to matters a lot, so I think your chosen test case is a point against your argument.

  3. Doesn't matter. If the question doesn't give any framework to judge future answers against, it will eventually turn into a mess. We saw it a bunch of times on month-old questions already ... new users come along and hit the old question and they just turn into bad-answer magnets with time. The answer here is to fix the question so that the good answers can stand.

  4. Sure they are capable. History has told us that they don't. That's why we decided we had to head off the problem at the question level because it was unmanageable at the answer level.

  5. We're not telling people they are too ignorant to participate, only asking them to play along and choose how to refine their question based on prompts. On all SE sites requiring some level of effort from the OP is normal. Having to research just to ask is also normal. We are not a church and do not have the same focus as a church. We are not trying to cater to seekers and answer every question out there. We're trying to build a site for experts. If newbies want to play too, they can but they are expected to make some effort too and answering promptings to help focus their questions is part of that.

2

I have to agree with DJClayworth and Mason Wheeler on this. While I wholeheartedly accept the principles of the new guidelines, and agree that following them would probably give us perfect questions and perfect answers, we do have to accept that there will be less-than-perfect questions and less-than-perfect answers. And slightly less than perfect is still good, and that is good enough.

Caleb is of course right, we had a spate of low quality questions a while ago (I wouldn't say we were drowning in them though). But some activity is better than no activity. If we keep going with moderate quality questions and answers, we stay open. If we raise the bar to the extent that we only get one acceptable (very high quality) question every few days, and that question has only one possible answer (because effectively that's what the guidelines require), the site is going to close.

I don't think we should ditch the guidelines completely, they're a good resource to indicate the kind of thing we're aiming for. But if we insist that anything that falls short of those expectations is quashed, we're shooting ourselves in the foot.

There's no doubt that traffic has decreased of late. We can only speculate as to the reasons for this, but my perception is certainly that that decrease began with the new guidelines. I don't want to blame the moderators for this; I think they've worked very hard to improve quality and give users constructive feedback and the opportunity to tweak their contributions. But there are some users who are being somewhat overzealous in their approach to the new guidelines, to the extent that I personally have started questioning whether I want to carry on contributing to the site (mainly after this fiasco).

Right now the community is too tense and almost afraid to post anything for fear of being pounced on by the guidelines police. If we want C.SE to stay open, we need to relax a bit, and offer a bit of leeway.

  • There's quite a bit in this post, I'd be interested in knowing which bits people are disagreeing with to the extent that they vote it down. This thread is, after all, a discussion... – Waggers Nov 7 '11 at 21:30
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Edit

Based on continued discussion in chat, I went ahead and made the changes I mentioned below, and the question's now reopened.


We were talking about this in chat the other day: asking whether or not Jesus literally says "I am God" or makes a claim to be God would be a fine enough question (albeit trivial), and wouldn't require the question asker specifying a Bible: if He said it and an answerer cites the translation, it'd be sufficient enough to test.

However, looking at the body of the question, that really wasn't what was asked:

[...]does Jesus ever claim to be God, God-like or God-related, or is this something that we infer?

Should I, in fact, put aside the claims to being a messiah or king? Or does this reliably mean a claim to "Godness" in the context of the texts?

And looking at the answers, none of them actually cite passages where Jesus literally said He was God; they're interpretations of passages that don't explicitly say anything about Jesus being God:

  • The reference to Jesus saying "Before Abraham was, I am"
  • Jesus forgiving sins
  • Jesus equating Himself to the Father
  • Jesus not correcting people who call Him Lord

For people who don't know enough to scope their question in a meaningful manner (i.e. your objection to requiring a scope), these are meaningless without some context. Why are they clear references to Jesus saying He's God? Who believes that? What secondary sources confirm that?

It's because people are going to be coming here who are not well versed in the Bible or Christianity that we want specific, well-defined questions. Without some amount of reliance on scope, there is absolutely no way to test or verify the answers. Voting, the best way we have to sort answers, is meaningless: it doesn't matter if it's actually correct, relevant, or indicative of what Christians actually believe, if it sounds nice people will vote it up.

I would hope that's not what we want to do here: we're not here to opine about the Bible, but to help people get answers to questions about Christianity. People who aren't going to know what's accurate and what isn't, and they aren't going to know whether or not an answer's particular interpretation of the Bible relates in any way to other Christians, or if does, how it relates or who it applies to.

But compare to a question about what a specific group of Christians believe: "How do Lutherans justify Jesus's belief that He was God?" That's straightforward: find prominent secondary sources from Lutheran theologians and present the argument based on that. There's no room for ambiguity: the asker (and people voting on answers) can verify the sources themselves if they doubt the veracity of what's presented.

In short:

  • YES: Asking whether or not something specific is mentioned in the Bible (i.e. "Did Jesus ever literally say or claim He was God?")
  • YES: Asking why a specific group of Christians believe something (i.e. "Why do Lutherans believe Jesus was God?")
  • NO: Asking whether or not we can infer or justify a doctrine via the Bible without specifying the doctrinal scope (i.e. "What passages can be interpreted to mean Jesus was God?" or "Do references to the Messiah or King always mean a reference to God?")
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    "For people who don't know enough... these are meaningless without some context." True, and those are, by definition, the people who don't know enough to provide the required context. That really should be up to the answerers, not the askers. – Mason Wheeler Nov 7 '11 at 5:33
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    @MasonWheeler It's not the job of answerers to guess at what the asker wants. If the asker doesn't know enough to ask a specific question it shouldn't be held against them, but that's what comments and community editing is for: to improve the question so it is specific. Letting everyone guess and interpret the question however they choose because the asker didn't specify is madness. To be clear, the question was specific enough except for its request for people to interpret the Bible. If it just asked about where Jesus said He was God, it'd have been perfectly fine. – user72 Nov 7 '11 at 6:32
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    I think what Mason is hinting at is that many people asking questions don't know enough to correctly scope their question (I often run into that problem). Though I disagree with Mason's assertion that its the job of the answerers to scope. It should be the job of the community to help the OP correctly scope their question. – user23 Nov 7 '11 at 17:49
1

When you ask a question on Stack Overflow, or Gaming.SE or RPG.SE you are asked to specify a programming language (or tool or something), a game or a gaming system when you ask a question.

All we are looking for here is for you to tell us what system you are operating in. Christianity is not a homogenous system, it has branches, deviations and denominations. It even has branches and deviations within denominations.

We are kidding ourselves if we think that a question and answer can be useful when they are coming from 2 different view points. It would be like answering a question asking about D&D 4e rules minutia with a D&D 3.5 rule. Anyone familiar with the D&D line of products will see that this is patently ridiculous. While operating in the same world, with many of the same features, the rules are completely different.

Christianity is unfortunately not different, even similar denominations, possibly with even the same words in their name interpret scripture differently and come to different conclusions.

Perhaps asking for which Bible they want is a bit pedantic. Perhaps it needs to be made a bit more clear. There several different major versions of the Bible that are considered in-scope for this site:

  • Mainline Protestant (66 book canon with various translations like NIV, ESV etc)
  • Jehovah's Witnesses' NWT (the usual Protestant canon but with significant doctrinal differences showing through in translation)
  • Catholic (mainline Protestant canon + deuterocanonical books)
  • Various Orthodox canons (mainline Protestant + deuterocanonical books + more deuterocanonical books)
  • The Mormon Bible (mainline protestant canon (unique Inspired Version preferred for doctrinal disputes but substitue other protestant translation) + Doctrines & Covenants and Book of Mormon).

Asking which canon you are working in is the first step in asking what kind of interpretation you are looking for.

I'd actually see us go stricter, I would much rather see us ask for the doctrinal framework the question comes from. This actually gives a great deal more information to the answerer than simply asking for a baseline biblical canon.

However, at the very least the asker and the answerer must come to some agreement on the canon, because where they arrive at the end will be determined by the canon they use.

  • @MasonWheeler I'm fairly ignorant on the particulars of the Mormon canon so feel free to edit that list into shape (Caleb already has). – wax eagle Nov 8 '11 at 12:28
  • @waxeagle Doctrinal conclusion or not, it may or may not be logical or based on wrong premises. On the other hand, to be able to provide a questioner with a satisfying answer, one needs to know what premises the author has. If the author believes that God's word does consist of the Bible alone (sola scriptura), then Catholic answers to the question will probably be invalid. It seems you have a point. But I still think that it's to blunt to tag questions by traditions. Maybe it would be better (but harder) to tag them by premises and/or principles. – Shathur Nov 8 '11 at 14:48
  • @Shathur I'd be ok with that for the most part (doctrinal premises rather than traditions). However, we need to be sensitive to the fact that sometimes verbiage is similar but the tradition and meaning can be very different (look at baptism as an example). I honestly don't care how a question is delineated, there just has to be some kind of statement of assumptions from the asker that determines how a question can be answered. Cont'd – wax eagle Nov 8 '11 at 15:02
  • cont'd -> Whether that is a common text (A specific translation or set of translations or canon), a common denomination or a common doctrine (common grace, double predestination, infant baptism) is irrelevant, there just has to be some kind of contract implicit in the question that specifies a framework that answers should hang on. Its this way across the network and should not be different here. – wax eagle Nov 8 '11 at 15:03
  • <Obsolete and debatey comments removed.> – El'endia Starman Nov 8 '11 at 20:16

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