24

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?

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.

  • 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 Jan 20 '17 at 2:36
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    I suggest you add a part where we redirect those not asking for literary analysis to either Christianity, Islam, or Hinduism. – Gallifreyan Jan 20 '17 at 8:18
  • 1
    @Gallifreian Good point; done. – HDE 226868 Jan 20 '17 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 '17 at 16:37
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    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 '17 at 12:41
  • @Hamlet If you're comfortable using that logic for all religious questions, then that's fine. – HDE 226868 Jun 10 '17 at 13:25
8

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.

6

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.

  • 2
    I won't call it "one of the best books ever written," but this atheist certainly can't deny the influence on other literature. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Jan 23 '17 at 11:26
  • @LaurenIpsum does most influential work for you? – Matrim Cauthon Jan 23 '17 at 12:17
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    "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. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Jan 23 '17 at 13:15
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    @LaurenIpsum fair enough – Matrim Cauthon Jan 23 '17 at 13:27
5

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.

-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.

  • 3
    Literature should incourage disagreements, I personally love Lord of the Flies, while also completely disagreeing with it's message. – Matrim Cauthon Jan 20 '17 at 2:16
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    @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 '17 at 2:20
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    no one should bring out pitchforks for any book, and on this site that is all the religious texts should be. – Matrim Cauthon Jan 20 '17 at 2:22
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    @muru - we already had a holy war over song lyrics. You'd be surprised at what arouses people's passions. – DVK Jan 20 '17 at 16:35
  • 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. – EJoshuaS - Reinstate Monica Jul 31 '17 at 21:19

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