Talking About Religion

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When talking about a religion or belief system, please be particularly careful to ensure that any comments are fair and helpful.


There are many definitions of religion; for our purposes here, we can understand religion as shared spirituality.  This is, inevitably, too wide for some people and too narrow for others, but it has the advantage of being reasonably clear, and it makes sense within the wider framework used on this site.

We can share spirituality through words and through actions; most religions involve both, and each aspect sheds light on the other.  When we are talking about religion, we have to talk about both the words and the actions: to ignore either one is to only see part of the picture.

The Purpose of Talking About Religion

When we talk about any religion, we can distinguish between at least two basic positions (from inside or outside the religion), and two basic purposes (to explore what it means, or to convince others).  More detailed analysis is, of course, possible, but this can serve as a starting point.  The picture is complicated by the fact that every religion has multiple strands (traditions / denominations / sects), each of which may respect, tolerate or oppose one another - but every individual communication can fit reasonably clearly within this framework.

The purpose is not always clear, and it is possible to seek to achieve several different purposes in a single communication - but this is difficult, and very difficult to do well; I intended to ignore such complications for the time being.

So there are, at this level of analysis, four distinct modes, giving four distinct purposes.

  • Exploring from the inside: devotional and inspirational.
  • Convincing from the inside: educational and informative.
  • Exploring from the outside: comparative religion and anthropology.
  • Convincing from the outside: criticism and challenge.

On this site, all four purposes are perfectly valid - of course, some religious groups normally consider any criticism to be unacceptable, but on this site anything is open to criticism and challenge; anyone, from any religion or faith position, can participate, but there are no protected beliefs and no ideas which cannot be questioned.  The key consideration here is clarity of purpose: whatever you wish to say, please make it clear why you want to say it.

Keeping it Relevant

Clarity of purpose is needed for several reasons: partly to help others know how to read what you are saying, and partly to make it clear what kind of response is appropriate.  Any content which is posted can be criticized and challenged but, in order to be helpful, responses need to relate to the matter in hand.

So a person may post some content from the perspective of a religion or faith group, but it is not appropriate to raise issues you have with that religion which are not addressed - explicitly or implicitly - in the original content.  If you want to raise a different topic, please start another post to directly address it.

For example, if I post some devotional material for the benefit of fellow Christians, it is not appropriate to raise questions about the historicity of the Gospels or about atrocities committed in the Crusades.  But if I post something to promote the Christian faith to people who do not currently follow it, then those questions could be entirely reasonable.

We hope that the question of what is relevant will be reasonably obvious, but there may need to be some negotiation when it comes to working out what is relevant in the messy details of actual conversation.  It is possible that some examples may be included here to further clarify the guidance.


All the usual principles of good practice on this site apply to discussion of religion too.  Please be clear about the purpose of any contribution, and please aim to keep any response to a contribution relevant to what was posted.


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