From the perspective of a postmodern/pluralist worldview, there is no such thing as 'pure' objectivity / true neutrality (nor objective truth, for that matter). In effect, all assertions of neutrality are biases/assumptions in and of themselves. I get this. But I also believe that allowing biases to remain unstated (where reasonable) and attempting to ask/answer with no starting point is not attainable and only causes the site to acquire the assumptions of the majority, which in the case of BH.SE is currently Christian Protestant ideology. I'd like to see a pseudo-neutrality that I've explained numerous times elsewhere.

The issue comes down to how we'd like to see this enforced. I've even given an opportunity to the community for voting on this issue. What's the issue/holdup here? Community apathy/meta burnout? The community does not agree with the pseudo-neutrality presented? The community does not want to have a defined starting point? Or something else?

I've been asked to define "Protestant ideology." For the purposes here, I will define it as holding these assumptions and implicitly bringing them to each post.

Protestant Ideology

  • The Bible is inspired by a deity and is thus free from and incapable of error (as Jon pointed out, beliefs on this vary. Some feel that this only applies to the original autographs which makes textual criticism fair game, some would apply it to an extant textual tradition/family, and others may even go so far as to state that a translation is the 'Authorized' or authoritative text).
  • All Biblical texts are about (or foreshadow) Jesus (including those in the Hebrew Bible).
  • The text applies to Christians today and speaks about events still to occur in the future.
  • There is continuity between the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament - one can be used to interpret/explain the other without defending the connection.
  • Responses can be supported by 'proof-texting' passages from other Biblical texts (regardless of their time period and author) so long as they address a similar topic of interest to the post.
  • The text (anachronistically) addresses later doctrinal controversies in history.

My Contention

Allow me to copy and paste what I've written elsewhere:

I am primarily [talking] about questions. For the record, my current thinking is that these standards should be enforced for questions (edit/close/delete nonconformity), but only encouraged for answers (answers that don't follow these guidelines might be downvoted but don't require editing/deletion).

I'm OK with these biases being present in answers (I bring them to answers on occasion as well) - I want a diversity of opinion just as much as anyone else. I just think that these biases should be stated explicitly when they affect one's interpretation/response (but doesn't have to be in answers - although part of this is also included in 'showing your work'). This could be as simple as stating, "I am approaching this answer from a Protestant Christian perspective." That is sufficient so that we know the general assumptions in the post.

But I don't think it's right to have a question that carries numerous biases such as these, because it limits responses and actually discourages the diversity we'd like to see (which explicitly welcomes Christian, Jewish, atheist, etc. perspectives). These assumptions in questions will make it clear than only Christian perspectives are desired (which is often the case here).

As such, questions should be written in such a way that a Christian, Jew, atheist, or other individual who takes seriously the process of understanding the Biblical texts will feel welcome to answer and will not be discouraged to do so because it is blatantly obvious that the OP is only looking for a response from a specific religious tradition (if an OP does only want answers from a religious tradition, he or she should ask the question on C.SE or MY.SE - not here).

So to reiterate, I'd like to require a pseudo-neutrality in questions so that this site can attain more diversity in answers. I would also like to encourage (but not require) this same neutrality in answers so that they are helpful to as broad an audience as possible. I hope this clarifies my intent.

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    Would you please go ahead and define "Christian Protestant ideology"? That phrase sounds very much like a false category to me. ("Protestant ideology" is a bit of a paradoxical contradiction of terms.) – Jon Ericson Nov 11 '13 at 23:16
  • It sounds like you are proposing something approximating a methodological naturalism (which I feel is not how the Bible ought necessarily to be interpreted; though, of course, I welcome answers from people who do). Is this a fair understanding? – Soldarnal Nov 12 '13 at 0:30
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    This almost sounds like an 'imposed' axiom, ie:IF there is no 'absolute' and the Bible is nothing more than a collection of historical writings; THEN state from your analysis how your interpretation of it's content can be impartially validated. Fine, if you're discussing Freud, NOT if you're discussing a work of it's very nature commands you to take a particular view. – Tau Nov 12 '13 at 2:51
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    @GoneQuiet: If we can't agree what the site's bias currently is than we can hardly mitigate it can we? – Jon Ericson Nov 12 '13 at 4:32
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    @Gone Quiet: That makes very little sense to me, I'm afraid. If we are biased toward brilliant answers with amazing support, I don't imagine you'd be at all concerned. If we were biased toward Evangelical inerrancy, I'd be as profoundly unsettled as you are. (Note that I personally hold that view.) But what I see being proposed is a bias toward a very narrow viewpoint that is not universally accepted in academia. I continue to believe that the best defense against bias is diversity. – Jon Ericson Nov 12 '13 at 5:23
  • All, please read the updated post. – Dan Nov 12 '13 at 16:12
  • Thanks Dan, I'm currently in full agreement with Jon: I see this as a move to a very narrow viewpoint, though I'm open to attempts to talk me round… – Jack Douglas Nov 12 '13 at 16:27
  • Odd, I actually felt you and Monica's recent post was even more restrictive than this (which I upvoted BTW). – Dan Nov 12 '13 at 16:33
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    Thanks for clarifying. The inerrancy position you describe is far from universal among Protestants. It's also an extremely complicated issue with many nuances. A common formulation is that the autograph copies were free from error, which means textual criticism is fair game. My point is that I don't think you've accurately stated the bias of the majority people on the site. But I absolutely agree with the idea that questions should be reworked to allow all sorts of answers. – Jon Ericson Nov 12 '13 at 17:09
  • @JonEricson good point, I clarified that in my post (hopefully) – Dan Nov 12 '13 at 18:09
  • @All-Pardon my ignorance, but I believe BOTH Christians and Jews take the Bible seriously-albeit Christians both Old and New Testaments and Jews, the Hebrew Bible. If your looking for the 'Thus spake Zarathustra' crowd, you may find one who is a little curious but not someone who will put the same weight and emphysis that a Christian or Jew would. I believe that a GOOD Question and a GOOD Answer are dependant on those that 'reverence' the sources; not 'profaning' them to their particular agenda. – Tau Nov 13 '13 at 4:55

Is Sectarianism Ruining your Site?

Shortly after Islam.SE left private beta, Aarthi warned that sectarianism was ruining the site. The trouble was (and to some extent still is) that there are clear lines in the sand between the way different branches of Islam approach their faith. To make matters worse, users used every disagreement as an opportunity to widen those divisions. Rather than "I disagree", people were prone to say "you are wrong". As ashes999 said:

If you personally don't believe in hadith, fine. State that in your answers, so we know where you're coming from. But do not troll other people's questions and answers and attack hadith. This is absolutely unacceptable. Islam.SE is about "Islam," not "your version of Islam."

At the time I felt pretty good about Biblical Hermeneutics because we had:

  • a user who answered from a Sensus Plenior point of view,
  • another user who answered using the documentary hypothesis,
  • a number of Jewish users,
  • at least one Orthodox viewpoint, and
  • a number of answers from perspectives I couldn't readily identify.

As has been said many times in many ways:

A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.—Mahatma Ghandi

Not yet...

I'm deeply troubled by the suggestion that we ought to achieve some sort of, for lack of a better term, purity in answers. The voting on meta on these important questions tells me and ought to tell you that this site is deeply divided. We have different understandings on how to achieve our goals and we very likely have different goals. If you care about the site's future, please consider how to narrow the division.

Consider, if you will how the above minority viewpoints have been treated:

  • Sensus Plenior: gone.
  • documentary hypothesis: gone.
  • Jewish users: disaffected.
  • Orthodox: disaffected.
  • Aramaic primacy: come and gone.

Notice that the people who are gone hold minority positions associated with: Catholicism, secularism, and Syriac Orthodoxy. Several other views have come and gone so quickly that many might not have been noticed: Complementarianism, Dispensationalism, Jehovah's Witnesses, and King James Only. My impression is that many of those folks left because they refused to submit to a culture of intolerance when it comes to theories that vary greatly from contemporary biblical studies.

Now what?

Look, I might be wrong about what's going on. But the sense I've had since I felt so proud of this site is that some of us have targeted off-beat answers for deletion. That's really a lousy way to encourage the sort of diversity this site strives for. If you think an answer is dangerously wrong, downvotes are the most effective and least divisive way to indicate that. If you think that some of an answer is needlessly controversial, maybe submit a friendly edit would help the poster from being needlessly downvoted. But wanting to delete answers because they fail to meet criteria that not everyone agrees to? Well, that's a pretty dark path to head down unless the need is dire.

So let's have a touch of patience with each other.

  • @GoneQuiet: Upon further consideration, you are correct. The 4 truly Protestant minority positions I could recall on the site never got any traction at all. The minority positions I listed are hardly Protestant in origin. I've updated my answer. But these positions were held on our site by Protestants and/or atheists. Mainstream Protestantism has actually been the primary torchbearer for the DH. Unfortunately, Dan hasn't explained what he means by "Christian Protestant ideology". I suspect he means Evangelicalism, but even that branch hardly agrees on a unified hermeneutic. – Jon Ericson Nov 12 '13 at 3:34
  • A couple points - I agree with several of your concerns. This is where Monica and I differ: I explain myself here. I want to see all sorts of diversity in answers, including the positions all listed above - I just want to know what I'm getting myself into when I read those answers. My policy for handling poor answers is downvotes, plain and simple. Occasionally I might edit extraneous information out that has nothing to do with the question, but usually I just vote up or down (or not at all). – Dan Nov 12 '13 at 15:50
  • When it comes to questions, however, I'd like to see there be some kind of standard so as to dissuade poor answers. – Dan Nov 12 '13 at 15:50
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    In other words, I do not support requiring any kind of pseudo-neutrality for answers (but I strongly encourage it and will likely vote along these lines), but I think it should be required for questions. – Dan Nov 12 '13 at 15:52
  • Please see my updated response. – Dan Nov 12 '13 at 16:13
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    Also, I don't think I'm seeking 'purity' at all. I made it clear that this is a bias as well (hence *pseudo-*neutrality). I'm seeking a way forward that actually encourages diversity (by not unnecessarily offending/dissuading those who are not from the religious tradition of the OP). – Dan Nov 12 '13 at 16:24
  • @Gone Quiet-Ditto! – Tau Nov 15 '13 at 16:09
  • @JonEricson-Truth be told, most of those here hold some very different views; what seems to delineate them is that there are a few who can truly exposit them, and instead of clapping we upvote. What needs to be understood by all of us on this site is that this takes WORK! Some of us who have migrated from other sites don't seem to realize this, and are chagrined when their opinions get 'shot down'. Rarely does this happen to someone who 'textually and contextually' crafts an answer that is directed towards the questioner, and can be understood by the larger audience. – Tau Nov 15 '13 at 16:20

What depresses me about all of this (except for Dan's writing) is the extent to which it looks to me like reinventing a wheel. People who set up and operate interdenominational academic institutions have spent decades learning how to structure an environment that allows respectful collaboration on texts across the various lines. Yet it seems to me that some people here stubbornly insist that the hard-won lessons of those institutions are trivial, and that you can just invite anyone to type in any old thing and, by the magic of the internets, all will be well.

If you want a conversation amongst equals across all the groups referenced in answers here, you need to set boundaries. Yes, you do. This isn't just a symptom of dry, academic, behavior. It's a means of creating a space in which everyone can contribute on an equal footing.

The onus is upon those of you with diamonds to do something to encourage us outliers to continue to lie around and not walk out. If we walk out, you'll still have a site. If you work hard at moderating it, you can perhaps have a site that is not 70% 'the spirit told me that ...' posts. But you won't have us. And once you lose us, and the site finishes tipping into the space of a particular set of assumptions, it's hard to see how it ever moves back. And perhaps you won't miss us. It will be Bible study at Church expanded over the internet. Hardly unusual, but perfectly reasonable.

I remember when this site first showed up as an Area 51 proposal. The proposal was, to my eyes, written by Christians for Christians. I vaguely recall writing a post to the effect of, 'OK, if you want to launch such a site, fine, but would you please label it accurately?' Now it seems that it's arriving back where it started.

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