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Dan recently wrote:

We should avoid the fallacy that we can somehow require diversity. We certainly welcome diverse perspectives, but what if some questions only have Christian perspectives? We can't control whether or not Jewish, atheist, and other contributors post answers or not. Neither should we expect every OP to find every perspective useful. The key is they we are respectful of other perspectives and acknowledge that other users may find them to be useful answers—even if we don't.

Many of the meta discussions over the last few years have roots to the fundamental question of how this site can live up to the vision of welcoming all hermeneutical perspectives. Breaking down Dan's answer:

  1. Respect other perspectives.
  2. Acknowledge that they may be useful to others even if you don't value them.
  3. There is no way to mandate diversity where it does not exist.

Quite a few of the things that have been proposed to encourage diversity (such as my suggestion to declare the word "heresy" as offensive) have focused on the wrong problem. There are dozens of biblical traditions (conservative estimate) which have disagreed with each other for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Eliminating any and all offense that one group might cause to another is not an achievable goal. Even within the broad categories (Jewish, Christian, etc.) there are deep divides over how the Bible should be interpreted.* We cannot solve that problem here.

The goal of this site is not interfaith dialog. We are not here to correct long histories of misunderstanding by fiat, nor change deeply-held beliefs. If one person disagrees with another person's hermeneutic, they may:

  1. Downvote,
  2. Write another answer to the question,
  3. Ask a respectful question on the site, and/or
  4. Discuss the matter politely in chat.

Please do not use flags, comments, or meta to carry on a dispute between your tradition and someone else's. Be aware that some traditions are mutually offensive and yet both are welcome. Stack Exchange is a secular entity and has no interest in taking sides on doctrinal issues. As a result, we might get fringe, bizarre, downright wrong answers. Voting ought to work as well here as it does on the rest of the sites; good answers bubble up and bad answers get voted down.

There is a very strong consensus on type on answers we are looking for. Build on that. In prime position is the strong encouragement that answers show their work. Be aware that different interpretive traditions have different methods of operating, so "show your work" is defined within the context of each tradition. If you don't understand a tradition, you may ask questions in the comments (and/or downvote) but you may not belittle that tradition's standards. That's just rude.

I'm happy to discuss the issue here and welcome your feedback. But I'm firm in my position: from here on out, this site will welcome diversity by allowing answers posted in good faith from all hermeneutical traditions—even when this results in answers which are distasteful to those from other backgrounds. This is the only way this site can possibly thrive here without tearing itself apart; if you're unable to accept that, this may not be the right place for you.


* Within my own church, some people are deeply suspicious of my chosen hermeneutic, the inductive method. I've been told (in the nicest possible way) that some of the conclusions I draw are heretical. That's fair, I suppose. I think their views are heretical too.

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    Excellent! This is music to my ears. My only suggestion would be to use a more awesome title like "We welcome mutually offensive traditions‼" – Caleb Jan 27 '14 at 20:46
  • Just for clarity, by 'mutually offensive', did you perhaps mean 'mutually exclusive'? – user2910 Jan 27 '14 at 21:35
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    @MarkEdward No, I'm pretty sure mutually offensive is the right operative expression here. Everybody knows certain views are mutually exclusive. The contentious issue that this site went through a long phase of debating is what to do about bits that are considered offensive. Some attempt was made to filter out all potential offense. This is an acknowledgment that that is not possible and that the solution lies in taking a slightly different tact. – Caleb Jan 27 '14 at 21:46
  • Okay, thanks for specifying that. – user2910 Jan 27 '14 at 21:48
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    Answers that do not attempt to answer the question under which they are posted are subject to removal, @Gone. Answers which are poorly-written, incomplete or incorrect should be down-voted. Strive to moderate based on the content of the post, not the (supposed) mindset of its author. – Shog9 Jan 28 '14 at 0:07
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    This is awesome, truly awesome - as a scientist/amateur historian - the Bible is a treasure trove for me. The long line of history, of cultures, major events, the stories of the people and how they live all fascinate me - from a historical and scientific point of view. I am very glad to read this, as it makes me feel even more comfortable here to pursue one of the longest standing hobbies of mine (now that I know the name of it) - hermeneutics (by the way, how do you pronounce that word?) – user3376 Jan 28 '14 at 6:58
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    @Amaterasu her-mih-noo-ticks (or if you prefer the IPA: hɜrməˈnutɪks). – user2910 Jan 28 '14 at 7:50
  • @MarkEdward thank you for that! you don't want to know how i was pronouncing it lol – user3376 Jan 28 '14 at 8:08
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    @Mark I hope it's clear that Caleb does not mean 'gratuitously offensive', but is talking about the inherent offense that happens when someone else picks up 'my' text and looks at it though their own eyes (and interpretive framework). – Jack says try topanswers.xyz Jan 28 '14 at 8:10
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    @JackDouglas and that occurs within the sciences too! – user3376 Jan 28 '14 at 8:19
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    That would depend on the question, wouldn't it? Unless y'all start allowing questions seeking evangelism, such an answer would be out of place. – Shog9 Jan 28 '14 at 8:46
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    @GoneQuiet: Was playing catch-up on things yesterday, so I didn't get around to writing anything. I think I'll add an answer to your questions as an answer below. The principle in the question was hard won over years of struggle. – Jon Ericson Jan 29 '14 at 17:27
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    @JonEricson "Eliminating any and all offense that one group might cause to another is not an achievable goal." Thank you. – Kazark Jan 29 '14 at 20:16
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Am very impressed with this post, and the ramifications for participation in this site. I am reassured too - as an Atheist, I have always found it difficult to participate in sites in my search for archaeological and scientific interpretations of and in support of Biblical texts.

To be honest, I was hesitant n joining due to some of those experiences, however, after my chats with Jack Douglas and Dan, and now this post - I feel that my approach is welcomed.

Sure, I have been downvoted and will probably be downvoted, pretty much due to indirect and direct feelings of

inherent offense that happens when someone else picks up 'my' text and looks at it though their own eyes (and interpretive framework)

I do know how to write a question and answer, and know I can (and have received) great help when I am not sure. So, I am thrilled that my voice has a place here.

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    Welcome to the site, Amarerasu. I'm pleased that my call for diversity had such swift results. Your answer and questions indicate a keen curiosity in archaeology, which the site hasn't much explored. I hope to see more of your contributions! – Jon Ericson Feb 3 '14 at 4:24
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(I'm not sure that what follows "deserves" to be an "answer", but I'm quite sure it's too long for a comment. I'm counting on the higher tolerance level of "meta" to accommodate some fringe activity. :)

This thread has me scratching my head. In the brief period I've been active on the site, I thought I had more-or-less got to grips with its purpose and parameters. I've tried to be a good citizen, reading through quite a lot of "meta" and attending to the lessons dealt out to me (gently) by the mods.

However, I sense something of a shift here and it leaves me a bit less certain about the BH.SE "purpose and parameters" than I thought I was.

My understanding of what "hermeneutics" is may well come into play at this point. I think it's fairly uncontroversial that a "hermeneutic" is simply a "theory of interpretation" ... but it is interpretation. With that in mind, here's the conundrum I'm sensing in this meta Q&A. Consider these two extracts, both from Jon:

(1) From OP:

But I'm firm in my position: from here on out, this site will welcome diversity by allowing answers posted in good faith from all hermeneutical traditions—even when this results in answers which are distasteful to those from other backgrounds.

(2) From a later answer (with the first sentence in bold):

If you don't have (or can't identify) your hermeneutic, you aren't really answering a Biblical Hermeneutics exegesis question. We get a lot of crappy answers that just spout off ungrounded nonsense.

The puzzle I'm sensing is that (1) seems to open the door in a welcoming way to (2). But (2) is supposed to be unwelcome! I think some of the slippage comes in speaking of "hermeneutical traditions", because (from what I've observed here and there), the temptation to tip over from "hermeneutical tradition" to "hermeneutical tradition" proves irresistible to some participants. So much so, that the "hermeneutical" (i.e., interpretive = interpretative in Brit-speak) pretty much vanishes. It is all too easy for "(hermeneutical) tradition" to be a smoke screen for "spouting ungrounded nonsense".

Before I encountered this thread, I tried my hand at contributing to the question about "application" in Q&As, I don't know how successfully. At least it was an attempt to ensure that the activity engaged in was "hermeneutical" (!) -- an interpretation of biblical texts. It certainly does not eradicate difference, nor does it lead to uniformity of approach or universal understanding. Different traditions, prior commitments, and hermeneutical approaches will still incline interpreters to weigh evidence differently, and construct divergent arguments and accounts of the text.

So, in sum (if I can!), I want to affirm a welcome for all traditions at BH.SE -- of course! --, and sound a note of caution that there is an insistence that participants prioritize the activity of interpretation, in which their welcome tradition is the background, not the foreground.

(And maybe that is what is being said above: feel free to set me straight! It's happened before, it will happen again...)

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    You've done a good job here of describing the tightrope we are trying to walk :) – Jack says try topanswers.xyz Feb 2 '14 at 10:33
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    @David I spoke about this dissonance in chat the other day. I feel ya! – Dan Feb 2 '14 at 15:47
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    I like your smoke screen analogy. It can often be very difficult to tell the difference between an answer that is posted in "bad faith" and an answer that fails to communicate itself well. The primary purpose of this meta question is to encourage people not to take (or institutionalize) shortcuts to making that determination. Thanks to Hanlon's Razor we know its far more likely an answerer is simply unable to express themselves well than that they are out to cause trouble. – Jon Ericson Feb 2 '14 at 17:03
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    This is why I prefer Wikipedia's Assume good faith precept to Handlon's Razor here. It's all too easy to create a boogieman from folks you disagree with, turning uneducated askers into Vampires and misguided answerers into Crusaders. If you're looking for a fight, you can always find an enemy - but even if you "win", you've done so as a warrior, not a teacher. – Shog9 Feb 3 '14 at 0:29
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There are a couple of questions in the comments that I'd like to address:

Please clarify remedies for answers in bad faith, the ones that seek to preach Truth rather than offer a respectful interpretation.

And:

[It] sounds like you're canceling "controversial, offensive content must be relevant and [supported]", where editing or deletion is the remedy. Could you clarify? Are you? If not, could you add to your actions list? You seen to be implying that all we can do in that case is DV.

Answers come from all sorts of traditions (and abilities). Different traditions have different ways of interpreting and speaking about the Bible. Some of the things some of the traditions say will be offensive to others. The offense is inherent in the hermeneutic that is being applied to the question. According to the principle of "all traditions are welcome', there's not much you can do except downvote. The answer isn't offensive because the author is out to offend, but because they are applying their hermeneutical knowledge and technique.

Now it's possible on a case-by-case basis for answers to require deletion. For instance, an answer might not actually answer a question. But remember, according to the "all traditions are welcome" principle, that needs to be judged by the principles the author adheres to. Very few answers here (besides my own) live up to my standards when it comes to answering questions. But my standards aren't the relevant standards (and neither are yours). Feel free to use your democratic right to vote to delete, but don't be surprised if others disagree.

In other cases, an edit might be helpful. Remember the guidance:

Any time you feel you can make the post better, and are inclined to do so. Editing is encouraged!

According to the "all traditions are welcome" principle, "better" means according to the standards of the author's hermeneutic. It's hardly fair to criticize someone for failing to meet standards they did not aspire to.


Jon, please answer yes or no: are you rescinding this policy, particularly the parts in bold?

I really like the policy you and Jack proposed. It is, I believe, a great stride forward1 in interfaith dialog. If the site's goal was the creation of a sort of Universalist understanding of Scripture, I'd be all for it. But it isn't. Stack Exchange just isn't in the business of manufacturing a single approach to answering questions about the Bible.2 So while I wouldn't say that I'm rescinding the policy, I would say that when it comes to deletion and editing at least, welcoming other points of view overrides that policy.

I don't see an answer to my question about answers in bad faith, the ones that seek to preach and assert rather than to follow some (any!) hermeneutic, showing their work. Are you now supporting those or do you agree that they need to be fixed? Would you prefer to discuss specific examples?

If you don't have (or can't identify) your hermeneutic, you aren't really answering a Biblical Hermeneutics exegesis question. We get a lot of crappy answers that just spout off ungrounded nonsense. The most obvious of these tend to not stick around very long. That's a good thing and perfectly aligned with the "all traditions are welcome" principle. Personal and unmethodical interpretations aren't making the internet better for people who want to understand the Bible.

However, the spectrum of what people consider "bad faith" and sermonizing is broad indeed. We won't be getting anywhere if we jump out of the lake of defining a unified approach only to fall down the rabbit hole of judging "bad faith" answers.

It doesn't help to talk about the uncontroversial examples. So let's talk Sensus plenior. It's obviously a valid tradition since it meets the "has a Wikipedia page" criterion. To outsiders some of the conclusions are impenetrable and seem to "assert Truth". (I count myself in this camp regularly.) It's often difficult for an outsider to judge or edit such answers. Even so, some of us see an internal consistency to the method and it's possible to become expert in applying the technique. How can we welcome that tradition and express our displeasure with some of the answers produced by it?


The bottom line is that if we are going to welcome (and not just permit or tolerate) all relevant points of view, answers must be allowed to use the methods and language common to their interpretive tradition.

Downvoting is the mechanism designed for you to express disagreement:

When you can't leave a quiet, anonymous downvote, you're more likely to post a snarky reply to express your displeasure.


1. Ugh. Can I just say that the Cultural Revolution ruined that phrase?

2. And not just this site, but Christianity.SE and Islam.SE as well. Even Mi Yodeya, which naturally has more cohesion, errs on the side of inclusion. These discussion aren't even limited to religious sites.

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  • @GoneQuiet: I'd argue that he did show his work, but none of us really bothered to try and understand it. Your earlier test case is of the same sort. I see why it caught your eye, but it either needs a downvote or a little help filling in the details of the interpretation. It's a long ways from what we are looking for in answers, which explains it's relatively (and absolutely) low score. No harm, no foul, so to speak. – Jon Ericson Jan 31 '14 at 22:05
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    @GoneQuiet I'm pretty sure saying "canceling key parts" is to look at this whole thing upside down. What it does is supply a key part that was missing from that whole attempt: the issue of offensive to who and why. It is a good guideline for avoiding gratuitous social disparagement, but it was inadequate to deal with cases where hermeneutical approaches that differ on mutually 'offensive' religious premises brought out doctrinal disagreement. – Caleb Feb 1 '14 at 11:51
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    Exactly, @Gone - offensive should mean the same thing here that it means everywhere else. The tortuous efforts made here to extend the concept to cover what anywhere else would be seen as simply low-quality answers may have been well-intentioned, but the resulting confusion and paralysis among folks on the site who should be stepping up to help moderate it was a disaster. – Shog9 Feb 3 '14 at 0:36
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    I'm sorry, but... I'm talking to someone wearing the name "@Gone Quiet" who repeatedly and quite publicly expressed frustration with the lack of progress made by these policies. Not only was no progress being made, this conflation of disparate policies had become actively poisonous to the very folks - like yourself - that it was intended to encourage: instead of being glad that the community here was rejecting lackluster posts, y'all became increasingly alarmed that offensive posts were not hastily burned, their authors banned... YOU stand as a testament to the harm this has wrought. – Shog9 Feb 3 '14 at 1:10
  • Indeed, change takes time - it took months to go from productive discussions about editing to frustrated rants about heavily-downvoted posts that weren't getting deleted fast enough, @Gone. But I'm not blaming you; your predicament is a symptom of a problem that should have been identified much, much sooner, a destructive effort by this community in trying to achieve inclusiveness by subtraction. I don't know if you'll ever see hope here - I certainly haven't seen any signs of it in a long time. But I support this policy in the hope that it will help show others a less destructive path. – Shog9 Feb 3 '14 at 2:35
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    This does nothing of the sort, @Gone, apart from removing philosophical disagreement as a potential reason to force edits that fail to respect the author. Yes, there are still long-standing problems that must be solved; y'all will just have to solve them without vilifying those with whom you disagree. And you can stop treating successive moderators as some great white hope, or trying to pit them against each other; it isn't helping. – Shog9 Feb 3 '14 at 2:56
  • There's an old saw about the definition of insanity that applies here... No, waiting for another moderator to burn out trying to enforce some impossible, ill-defined standard that no one here can agree on is not a viable option. We have a system that actually works, for thousands of people on dozens of sites - y'all tried to do something different, and it didn't pan out; time to admit that and move on. – Shog9 Feb 3 '14 at 3:07

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