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In Possible solution to frequent question closures, edits, migrations, and mission dilution at Biblical Hermeneutics: Floating the idea of a new site, GratefulDisciple provides an informative chart showing the differences between the related sites.

One big problem with these sites (and generally all SE sites) is that there is a very steep learning curve for new users. In particular, the site names often appear to be far more general than what they really are. For instance a site called "Christianity" is obviously the place to ask "Am I sinning when I …?", "Why does God …?", questions that are clearly off topic for those in the know.

SE is gamified. Much of it requires arcane knowledge, with individual users being rewarded with special privileges as they earn reputation (e.g. why else would the number of up and down votes for one's answer be hidden?).

For better or worse, this is how SE works, and it's not likely to significantly change soon.

New users waste their own time, and that of moderators and other users, going through the trial and error learning process. Many of them give up.


If there is to be another site, or even if there isn't, I'd suggest that the existence and purpose of all these sites be well advertised and well defined.

Currently, Christianity.SE begins with:

Like any library, Christianity Stack Exchange offers great information, but does not offer personalized advice, and does not take the place of seeking such advice from your pastor, priest, or other trustworthy counselor.

which is good to have, but it says nothing about the site itself.

Even less informative, Hermeneutics begins with:

Featured on Meta
 - Now live: A fully responsive profile
 - Reducing the weight of our footer
 - 2021 Community Moderator Election Results
Hot Meta Posts
 - Why has my Reputation score suddenly changed?

I'd suggest that the Christian sites each begin with a common statement, something like:

Like any library, this site offers great information, but does not offer personalized advice, and does not take the place of seeking such advice from your pastor, priest, or other trustworthy counselor.

  • Judaism.SE provides Biblical answers from a strictly Jewish perspective. Ask about the Tanakh (Hebrew scriptures), not about Testaments or anything specific to Christianity.
  • Hermeneutics.SE provides objective answers about what the Christian Bible (Old and New Testaments) says and how it translates into English (exegesis).
  • Christianity.SE provides objective answers about how a specific denomination interprets what the Bible and other texts say (eisegesis).
  • BibleApplications.SE provides objective, possibly denominational, answers about how the Bible applies to the everyday lives of Christians.

Please be sure to ask questions on the relevant site, and to write answers that are worded appropriately for the site. (Questions or answers that contain "I", "me", etc. are almost always "off-topic".)

(I don't care about the specific wording or format; this is just an example of the kind of thing I'd like to see.)

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    These sites are not 'Christian' sites. (I don't need to point out that Judaism.S.E. does not belong in this category.) They are each academic sites with particular aspects to them. BH hermeneutically analyses 'scripture' (not the 'Christian' Bible). SE-C is a comparative religion site focused on self-identifying Christianity. There is nothing 'Christian' about these sites. They academically discuss scripture and comparative Christianity.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 25 '21 at 16:27
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    @NigelJ says "These sites are not 'Christian' sites.". In theory no, but in practice yes. BiblicalHermaneutics.SE originally was intended as a religiously neutral site, but that didn't last long. See Monica Cellio's 2013 answer to: Would anyone be interested in helping out Biblical Hermeneutics? - Mi Yodeya Meta, and how its "doctrinal/dogmatic neutrality hasn't worked out in practice". Nov 25 '21 at 17:03
  • The fact is that the scriptures contain truth and the hermeneutic study of the scriptures will expose that truth. Some may not like the truth that is exposed. But that does not, in any way, compromise that disciplined, academic and unbiased study and its inevitable findings.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 25 '21 at 18:31
  • @NigelJ, I'm not saying it's biased, but that it's unsuitable for a non-Christian perspective. As an example, consider genesis - Who was Melchizedek?, with genesis, psalms, melchizedek, and referent-identification tags. That's a question perfectly suited for anyone interested in Judaism, yet all four answers make references to Jesus or Christ. If one wants an answer from a non-Christian perspective, one has to ask it again on Mi Yodeya, so why should one bother asking or reading about it here? Nov 25 '21 at 19:28
  • @RayButterworth Nope, that question could be answered just fine from a Jewish perspective. We don't have many Jewish community members, but we do have a few.
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Nov 25 '21 at 23:08
  • I like your idea, Ray. Anything that will make it easier for people to understand the differences between the sites and and how to use each for the fullest advantage. The less housekeeping we have to do, the more we can focus on discussing the Bible. I agree with Nigel that the differences with the Judaism site would not need to be explained. I would love to see a Jewish answer about Melchizedek, but I doubt there is much we can do to encourage more answers from that perspective. Nov 26 '21 at 18:09
  • I would leave "possibly denominational answers" out of the BA description, though, because even though people from many different denominations will be answering questions, they should not be explicitly answering a question based on what their denomination teaches, but on what the Bible says. Christianity.SE is the established expert site for denominational questions, so they should be referred to them. Nov 27 '21 at 8:10
  • @MartinHemsley, I was thinking about questions like the example "Should I avoid praying the same prayers every day?". It isn't a denominational question, but it will receive very different denominational answers from Catholics and from Jehovah's Witnesses, such as how they regard "Our Father" and "Hail Mary". Nov 27 '21 at 14:01
  • Okay, Ray, that is a good scope defining question. I hope you will follow the proposal to continue helping out with good suggestions. The answer is that even though respondents come from many different denominations, they will be expected to answer based on what is in the Bible. A good answer may require more of a scholarly background to discuss potential liturgical passages. Early church practice and traditional precedents may appear as collateral evidence but without the same weight as scripture. Nov 27 '21 at 22:26
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Answer

I do agree with the core concern raised here, and would like to see other proposals for what to put in that box. SE does have an entry threshold, mainly because it's not a forum, nor a social media site. It is very different to most other sites on the Internet, and so there is a necessary process of inculturation for any new members of the community. It'll never happen overnight, and that's okay. But it's good to think about how to make that process easier.

I may add some more thoughts about the box, but am unfortunately drawn to a tangent from some of what's been shared so far:


Reflections on the content shared above

What a well thought through and informative post - thanks so much for sharing. I feel like I've just recovered an important piece of the site's history, and am also having to stare in the face the obviousness of the SE format's "gamified" nature. This all triggers a host of reflections in me, so please do bear with me:

  1. First off, I want to underline that Monica's experience is not okay. New users from diverse viewpoints should know that their contributions are welcome and wanted. For new genuine users like her, this shouldn't be a place of exclusion and conflict. If Christians, Jews, Mormons, Atheists and anybody else want to engage in hermeneutics, they should feel welcome to do that here. This is not a Christian site.
  2. Second, it is important to acknowledge the reality of Monica's experience, which does still resonate with the site today. The site's scope does have an implicit Christian bias, since it is about study of the Christian holy book. Most users carry strong starting biases implicitly or explicitly, and we can't actually change that - only acknowledge and reflect on it.
  3. However, Hermeneutics is ultimately about exegesis - honouring the texts, their authors and their intent as we study them. We all approach the texts with a common obstacle before us: none of them were written in the modern Christian cultures most users are immersed in (nor the modern Jewish nor atheistic culture either), and so it takes effort for any of us to actively cast off our own biases and read the text as it was intended.
  4. On the other hand, it is impossible to do hermeneutics in a vacuum. It's best practice to simply start with the text, and I'd always hope for at least one good answer to each question which does this without incorporating doctrinal biases (Trinity, Incarnation etc). But these are life-changing concepts: the entire Bible becomes a completely different book depending on whether Jesus was or wasn't God incarnate. It's different again if the Holy Spirit is real, and whether the stuff Joseph Smith taught was true or not. It's good for different answers to capture these various perspectives.
  5. We will always struggle with this. Every user wants the site to be something slightly different, and has different interests in engaging with the text. And the fun thing is that the site isn't really just one thing either - it's like a diamond, with a million facets embedded in each Q and A capturing and expressing those different viewpoints.

How to move forward culturally

The disconnect between our own views and our personal perception of the site's views will always exist, for all of us - the best thing to do is to own it:

  1. Confidently write your own Answers, from your own perspective, trying your utmost to respect the text and its author as you do so. I'm always thrilled to read a well researched Answer from a different perspective.
  2. Show respect to others from different viewpoints. Don't downvote an answer simply on the merits of coming to a different conclusion from you, or for endorsing a different perspective. Don't upvote an Answer simply to raise the profile of your preferred conclusion.
  3. Don't harass others in the comments because they carry different biases from you. Their worldview is not a threat to you or your views. Relax and let them get on with it - nobody likes to be harassed or chased, or to be condescended to because of a difference of opinion.

Ultimately, good quality exegesis is sort of the answer to all our diversity problems - because the text doesn't really care who you are, or about your personal doctrinal views. If we're exegeting it well and examining it closely, the text will demonstrate the truth or falsehood of most of our own personal truth claims.

We're not here to wrestle with each other so that our views win - we're here to wrestle with the text, so that the text's views win. Or at least that they are respected and explained correctly.

And that's not where most users start, and so that also sort of explains why it takes a long time for most to grasp what hermeneutics is all about. And so I suspect there are many steps we need to take as a community to help make that path easier - box and all.

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