Blog: February 2013

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Why participate in the Biblical Hermeneutics site?

Biblical Hermeneutics is a site on the Stack Exchange network. Its founders said it was intended as a scholarly, not religious, site for Q&A about the bible -- the focus would be on hermeneutics and showing your work, not on theological claims. A year and a half in, somebody asked how people of different religions can participate -- since there can only be one right answer to each question (this person said), how can you be pluralistic? The person asked if the site is viable. I wrote the following answer, now deleted.

Thank you for asking this important question. I share your concern about viability, but for reasons almost opposite of yours. I am one of those on record as believing that the only way a site that wants to be religiously-diverse can succeed is to avoid assertions of Truth while providing information. It is possible to describe an interpretation without asserting doctrine by following just a few simple rules (taken from Wikipedia):

  • Avoid stating opinions as facts. (For us, this means recognizing that what you hold as Truth is, to someone else, an opinion. We all need to be mature enough to be willing to do that. Reasonable people can disagree.)
  • Avoid stating seriously contested assertions as facts. (Almost all interpretive assertions are seriously contested.)
  • Avoid presenting uncontested factual assertions as mere opinion.
  • Prefer nonjudgmental language.

You have strongly-held beliefs and Truths. So do I. So do the moderators. So does everybody here. They will never all be the same. But that doesn't mean we can't learn from each other; it just means we have to treat this as a Q&A site that strives to provide supported answers, not as yet another Internet opinion forum or a congregational assembly hall. Think of Biblical Hermeneutics not as your clergy, who will set you on the Right Path, but as Consumer Reports, which will present information about a bunch of different options and leave it to you to decide what to do based on your own individual circumstances.

If we fail to do that, however -- if we as a community accept evangelism, unsupported assertions of Truth, and opinions in the form of answers -- then we should shut this site down as a bad fit for the Stack Exchange network. In that case it would work better over on Yahoo Answers or some place like that. I now realize that even reducing it to "Christian Hermeneutics" probably wouldn't solve the problem, given the issues raised in the question here; y'all don't agree with each other either.

So to answer the question in your title -- why should one participate here? I participate here to learn and share with a diverse community, without judgmentalism, without accusation, and with a degree of rigor that I can't get by hanging out at Starbucks or my congregation's study hall and chatting with folks. But I find myself participating here less than I once did precisely because we have not, after more than a year, made enough progress on dealing with these matters, and as a non-Christian I am feeling like my input doesn't matter. (In the original there were a bunch of links to specific instances here.) And no, it does not particularly matter that I am currently #3 in reputation for the site; that just means that I've been willing to put in the effort to provide supported, non-opinion (non-Truth-asserting) answers despite the doctrine in other answers.

Put another way: I know in my heart that most of the other participants here are Wrong. But that isn't my problem; that's between them and God. I'm here to study text. Can you be here for that reason too?

Ultimately this failed; the site accepted an abundance of opinion (belief, doctrine, dogma) stated as fact, making for a hostile environment.