27

Science-Fiction & Fantasy has a policy of excluding all religious texts. This makes sense because SFF is about fiction, and stating that a particular religious text is fictional is pretty offensive to those who believe it. However, I feel like we are in a slightly different situation because our site is not entirely about fiction, and so we might be able to have a more academic literary discussion of religious texts.

On the other hand, allowing these might be opening a can of worms for arguing about theology, and there's a lot of potential for hurt feelings.

Should we allow literary (not theological) questions about religious texts? (The Bible, The Qur'an, Book of mormon, etc.) If so, what guidelines should we set down to cultivate healthy respectful discussions that everyone could participate in regardless of religious beliefs?

0

6 Answers 6

28

I think this can work, if we all agree to not disparage anyone.

Once again, I swoop back to Mythology Stack Exchange. We deal with everything from tales from the Sumerians to the Quran (a relatively modern work of mythology). And you know what? We don't give a wet slap if any particular myth is grounded in fact or fiction. We just ask and answer questions that involve analyzing it.

What if I told you the story of Jesus's crucifixion - religious specifics aside - and you asked a question about it here? Could anyone tell the difference between those events and just another story from the era? Not particularly, no. And hey, the supernatural has arisen in stories from all eras. It doesn't matter whether or not people believe it actually happened; the same elements are in both religious anecdotes and stories written for pleasure.

So yes, I think we can take religious stories. By doing so, we wouldn't be calling them fictional because they're side by side with stories that someone made up ten or twenty years ago. We'd be doing literary analysis on a story that's just pretty old. And so long as we don't say, "Oh, this is ludicrous and didn't happen, and people are stupid for thinking it did" or "This absolutely happened, and you're insane for thinking otherwise" - in other words, if we completely ignore whether or not it happened and just treat it as a story - then I think these sorts of questions can work.


Questions about such texts but not dealing with literary analysis of them should be directed to the appropriate site, whether it be Biblical Hermeneutics, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Mi Yodeya, or some other site.

6
  • 2
    I'm just gonna drop a link here to this main meta post about respecting people who disagree. That's what we should aim for ... well, always, but specifically in discussions about religious works of literature.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Jan 20, 2017 at 2:36
  • 6
    I suggest you add a part where we redirect those not asking for literary analysis to either Christianity, Islam, or Hinduism. Jan 20, 2017 at 8:18
  • 1
    @Gallifreian Good point; done.
    – HDE 226868
    Jan 20, 2017 at 14:40
  • I think this would work, and imho the main item of contention would be piecemail issues of "does this specific question belong here or on specific religious site".
    – DVK
    Jan 20, 2017 at 16:37
  • 1
    I actually disagree with this answer. To use the bible as an example; it's pretty clear that Jesus was a real historical figure. We allow questions about the relation of history to literature; discussions of the history surrounding the bible seem perfectly on-topic to me. Questions about how the fact that these were religious texts affected their translation also seem on-topic. However, I do agree with the spirit of this answer: we should treat religious texts respectfully, and we should redirect questions about "how can I live my life according to this religious text" to other sites.
    – user111
    Jun 10, 2017 at 12:41
  • @Hamlet If you're comfortable using that logic for all religious questions, then that's fine.
    – HDE 226868
    Jun 10, 2017 at 13:25
9

Yes

This was tested in the proposal with I have heard that the "Epic of Gilgamesh" may predate the stories of Noah told in Abrahamic works, is there any evidence to support which is first? it recieved 11 up votes and no down votes. It included the comment

Testing scope for religious works, where a non-religion based answer would be appropriate. This question is partially addressed in Mi Yodeya and several posts at christianity.stackexchange.com both address religious issues for the topic, which would be out of scope here, while empirical answers should be in scope here.

The question was also asked here as Which flood is first? where it has been well received.

7

Yes

Many atheists I know (myself included), while not agreeing with the text, will argue that the King James Bible is one of the best books ever written. The influences that religious texts (particularly the passion) have had on literature should not be ignored. I think that any theological ground that arises in a question or answer should be easily closed as opinion based.

4
  • 3
    I won't call it "one of the best books ever written," but this atheist certainly can't deny the influence on other literature. Jan 23, 2017 at 11:26
  • @LaurenIpsum does most influential work for you? Jan 23, 2017 at 12:17
  • 1
    "One of the most," yes. I can't call it the most because I'm not familiar enough with non-Western canon to definitively declare that the Koran hasn't had more influence on Arab or Eastern texts, for example. My objection to "best" is that it implies something inherently pleasing, not just influential. I find very little pleasing, or pleasant, in that book. Jan 23, 2017 at 13:15
  • 2
    @LaurenIpsum fair enough Jan 23, 2017 at 13:27
6

Yes - we already allow questions on The Chronicles of Narnia and other books with explicitly religious messages. Why should a religious text be treated differently than a book with an explicitly religious message?

There are, of course, on-topic and off-topic questions about that. For example, I recently asked whether C. S. Lewis supported annihilationism in The Last Battle (which is the final book in the Chronicles of Narnia position). If I had asked about annihilationism as a theological position, that would clearly be off-topic for this site; however, I was asking specifically if a particular passage in that book was implying that position. Whether annihilationism is true or false, or how it fits into Christian theology in general, are completely irrelevant to the question because the question's only dealing with what that passage says about the issue.

0

I think that it's valid to include religious texts for literary analysis and comparison.

I would, however, suggest a policy of not allowing questions and answers regarding religious texts as fictional works. And yes, as a member of SF&F, the line can get tricky when we're trying to distinguish the Bible from Norse mythology from people who think that Final Fantasy 7 really happened in another universe, and they are Jenovah reborn. But in general, it's best to discourage people from posting religious books as fiction.

6
  • 1
    This is a good clarification to the general policy that religious texts are on-topic here, but unfortunately it's unlikely to get noticed or sufficiently upvoted from so far down the page. I'd argue that it's already implicit in the top answer - "So yes, I think we can take religious stories. By doing so, we wouldn't be calling them fictional because they're side by side with stories that someone made up ten or twenty years ago. We'd be doing literary analysis on a story that's just pretty old." - but I don't know if everyone would agree.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Jan 25 at 18:15
  • @Randal'Thor Do you think that the specific situation that triggered this (the answer to my question) needs to be brought up on meta separately? I guess I could do that though I already feel drained from this situation.
    – Laurel
    Jan 26 at 12:09
  • 1
    @Laurel There's some discussion going on in private that hasn't reached a conclusion yet. It could be worth a meta post too, but don't feel pressure to do that if you're already feeling drained.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Jan 26 at 17:14
  • @Laurel: I think your question was fine. Now, we're just discussing what appropriate answers are. :) Jan 26 at 17:45
  • Not sure what this means. Isn't treating the Bible as literature implicitly treating it as fiction because there's an assumption that most literature is fictional, and literary analysis is largely uninterested in truth? Or do you mean assuming the Bible/Quran was written by a human being rather than by God, which would also seem to be necessary for meaningful literary analysis?
    – Stuart F
    Feb 22 at 14:25
  • 1
    @StuartF: I'm specifically addressing the "as fiction" aspect of it. Admittedly, many history books and biographies are also partially fictional, but generally, we don't refer to "the fiction book, Barack Obama: Life in Brief" or use it as an answer if someone says they're looking for a fictional book about a black president. Similarly, religious texts are generally considered to be non-fiction, although there exist fictional works about religion like Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter or Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal. Feb 22 at 14:37
-8

I think we shouldn't, because questions about "word-of-God" texts have a rather large potential to involve interpretation, and interpreting such texts without offending someone is pretty hard. Even literary style matters for religious interpretation, and questions about character motivation would be practically impossible.

5
  • 3
    Literature should incourage disagreements, I personally love Lord of the Flies, while also completely disagreeing with it's message. Jan 20, 2017 at 2:16
  • 1
    @MatrimCauthon of course, but I don't know if anybody will bring out pitchforks over a disagreement about Lord of the Flies
    – muru
    Jan 20, 2017 at 2:20
  • 1
    no one should bring out pitchforks for any book, and on this site that is all the religious texts should be. Jan 20, 2017 at 2:22
  • 2
    @muru - we already had a holy war over song lyrics. You'd be surprised at what arouses people's passions.
    – DVK
    Jan 20, 2017 at 16:35
  • 1
    By that logic, wouldn't we have to avoid any potentially controversial or difficult-to-interpret texts? Seems like you'd have to ban a lot more than just religious texts if we enacted this. Jul 31, 2017 at 21:19

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .