In my experience the Stack Exchange family of websites tend to ask the type of questions that have specific provable answers. Since your basic religious argument in-general boils down to faith, there is almost no question that can be answered sufficiently. Compare any two Christian denominations they all differ on some belief or another. Does that mean that one is wrong or right? No. The main rub I have is that you should not be looking to SE for your religious answers but the resources that are provided for exactly that purpose. In Christianity that would be the Bible, the Holy Spirit, etc.
I totally agree with you. That's why we had the effort to move this from a generic Christianity.SE to a more specific site about Christian Doctrine.
The effort to make this site specifically about doctrine has turned this from an opinion-based, faith-based site into a site about facts.
A post regarding our new standards explains this fully, but essentially if the question isn't asking about doctrine, then it's not really appropriate for this site--it's Not Constructive for the exact reason that you mention above.
It's no less appropriate than Parenting, Sci-Fi and Fantasy, or any of the other "soft" and "fun" sites out there.
By "soft" I don't mean to denigrate. I'm referring to the fact that not all of the questions can be answered as indisputable fact.
There isn't always a hard-and-fast correct answer. As with the Parenting site, answers like "Here are the choices, and the arguments for and against each, weigh the facts and decide for yourself..." are perfectly valid. This happens on all of the SE sites, including StackOverflow.
While I appreciate the incredible effort that the moderators and others took in raising the level of professionalism of the site, I still think we're missing the point. The measuring rod of whether a site, SE or otherwise, is a good site, is not whether those in control of it like it. The only valid measure of a successful site is whether or not people are drawn to it, and then, much more importantly, drawn back to it.
I've seen it said in an earlier Meta post that StackExchange is a business. It is "somebody else's commercial venture."
In my professional life, I am in charge of several commercial websites, related to the company I work for. I inherited it as a jumbled mess of garbage that no customer cares about, mixed in with some mission-critical apps that our customers actually need.
I get requests regularly from different business unit that want to have a presence on our main corporate website. To them, a blurb about the buying department, or the real-estate department is important. I fight a constant battle because on the one hand, I have high-level executives that think they know what belongs on the site, while on the other hand, I field complaints from actual customer because they can't find what they want on the site because there's too much to sift through.
The point of all of that is that the Business Unit leaders are wrong 90% of the time. Our Analytics data shows us that the people who visit the site could care less about that stuff. When it comes tot he website that I manage and develop for, what our customers want is to be able to access the information they need, and all of the other stuff is a waste of time.
Christianity.SE is billed as a site "For committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more. " If that is the target audience, then that is the group that we need to attract. While the tone of the site has been much more professional, and again, I seriously thank everyone that's probably taking offense to this post for your hard work, the fact is, the cost has been too high.
The problem is that the questions that are deemed as acceptable - those with a hard and fast absolute answer can all be answered by a visit to Wikipedia, and if not there, then within the first set of Google search results. Why on earth would a seeker bother to come to a site where the best answers need to be short and sweet, when they can get a full-length article by visiting Wikipedia?
The value to the SE sites is that you do get different perspectives. The other soft sites I've been visiting all seem to get this, and they don't seem to have a problem with a "voting contest" on questions with multiple possible perspectives. Even SE doesn't completely frown on this. There are some very good questions out there that can only be answered by giving options (here and here) - in other words, soft questions with opinions instead of solid answers that provide a real value, and give people a reason to come back.
Getting good advice, even if it's mixed in with bad, is still valuable, and people are more likely to come back to a site that's actually helped them decide something than one that has no interesting content.
I think that the problem, and I'm just as guilty of it, is that the subject matter here has eternal value. We take it very seriously, but think of this:
The StackExchange sites all have one thing in common -they mirror real life, but better.
- On SO, it's like going to a city filled with the best and brightest programmers out there, mixed in with a bunch of people that need the help of these expert developers. The value comes from having multiple professionals and amateurs with different backgrounds and experience, but a common interest, sharing ideas, and learning from each other.
All of them have different approaches to their craft, and all have opinions, but for the most part, they're all professional, polite, and do their best to help each other out. Nobody gets offended if someone else offers a different approach to a problem and the asker accepts a different answer. Instead, we see a good answer and add that knowledge to our arsenal.
On Parenting.SE, absolutely nobody agrees on what's "good parenting", yet there's value to the site. Where does the value come from? The value comes from having people from multiple walks of life, with a wide variety of preconceptions but a common interest sharing ideas, and learning from each other.
The Sci-Fi and fantasy site is chock full of questions that are based on conjecture about what the authors meant on purely fictional work. ("Why does harry Potter always cast spells out loud?") There's no possible answer to that other than to just make up something that sounds good based on knowledge of the subject matter. That site is doing much better than this one is. Why? Not because the answers are factual, but because the site attracts a wide variety of people with different tastes, and different ways of interpreting the subject matter, but with a common interest, sharing ideas, and learning from each other.
Project Management - More art than science. There's some well-established advice, but even much of that is bunk, and open to debate. But again, the value comes from having multiple professionals and amateurs with different backgrounds and experience, but a common interest, sharing ideas, and learning from each other.
The list goes on.
So what I'm saying is this: This site is no less appropriate for the SE network than any other. Rules about politeness are good. The standard of closing questions that become argumentative is good. The same guidelines that apply to the other sites should suit us here.
The problem isn't that this is a bad subject for this format. Maybe the problem is that everybody is trying to re-define what the StackExchange format is because the subject matter is so critical.
The StackExchange Network isn't defined by rock-solid answers with no opinion, and no voting contests. the StackExchange network is defined because it excels at providing sites that attract communities made up of people with different backgrounds and experience, but a common interest, sharing ideas, and learning from each other.
All of this works because the voting system, and the mods, do a good job of filtering out those that are obnoxious, rude, offensive, and just plain dumb. (Well, maybe not the last one. I'm still allowed on the sites so far.)
Christianity.SE can provide the same value as the other sites for a community that is either committed to, or curious about Christianity if we'd keep that in mind and stop focusing on the wrong things. Christianity is a perfect subject for a site that is focusing on what really makes the SE network successful.
I disagree. StackExchange is exactly the right format for questions and answers about Christianity. Yes, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are sufficient, but we can learn so much more when we add the fellowship and teaching of other Christians into the mix. Walk into any Christian bookshop: they sell more than Bibles.
Secondly there are several Stack Exchange sites where the answers are not "provable" for the most part (parenting is a good example) and of course there is an excellent precedent for religion based SE sites in Judaism.SE.
I think when people complain about the Stack Exchange format for this particular site it's because they want to turn a straightforward Q&A site into a discussion forum, or into a church. This site is neither of those things.
Ultimately the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Does this site work? Yes it does. Does it produce interesting questions and provable, supportable answers? Yes. Is it beginning to attract new, knowledge users who stick around? Yes.
Is Stack Exchange really an appropriate format for questions about Christianity? Yes, it really is.
while we are not here to provide answers to all of your spiritual needs, Christianity and other religious subjects are also studied in an academic context (both in seminaries, secular and religious universities and other private and public institutions).
I do not see a reason why we cannot have an academic style discourse about Christianity.
Yes it is a more sensitive topic than many other Stacks, but we have largely shied away from things like pastoral questions or specific religious advice.
One of the things we have said from the outset is that we are neither a church, nor a ministry vehicle. This is a place to engage with other Christians in questions and answers. Much more academic in nature than what you seem to be looking for.
I'd add one more argument that SE is a perfect platform. For centuries, Christians have often taught the tenets of the faith via 'catechism' - a question and answer format.
Obviously, we have sufficient diversity that we aren't going to be force feeding answers, but Q&A is the original pedagogical technique.