Should we allow preaching answers sidetracking the question?
That is, should we allow answers that disregard the literal question and instead just try to preach?
Examples of answers I'm referring to:
Q: What are the dates researchers most commonly attribute to the period of the life of the Buddha?
A: That is not important. The important is to do meditation and etc etc.
Q: Was the Buddha harsh?
A: There's no sutta or veda for every question but an acceptance can always be here (only you know what it is).
Conversely, should any moderation be performed on preaching comments -- specially when uncalled for? e.g. telling someone to follow right speech because of disliking how he or she was addressed -- specially when one does not know if the person being talked to is Buddhist or not.
The thing to keep in mind is that many of us have made the case that this site should welcome buddhists and non-buddhists alike. So, at the very least, I don't see how it's appropriate to treat every user here as buddhists.
Since this discussion might come up again in the future, let me expand the context of this question and clarify things a bit to avoid confusion. Though I think the concern here is one, I'll divide it in two parts.
From the examples above, I hope it is clear the nature of the exchange I'm referring to. This is not a matter of whether answers should be teaching (dhamma) or should not be teaching (dhamma); obviously, any clarification of a dhamma topic could already be qualified as "teaching dhamma" anyways.
I'm afraid it's not quite settled in this site that "Buddhism equals dhamma" (as far as "Buddhism" here refers to the term that serves as the title of this community and delienates our scope), at least from what I have seen since I joined here. It's my understanding that, from the beginning, there's an implicit (and often explicit) attitude to welcome topics of:
- historical nature
- philosophical nature
- cultural nature
- artistic nature
- and religious nature.
In that sense, I understand dhamma is just one of many topics related to "Buddhism" we would like to provide an open door to.
If we come to agree that the scope of this site is not restricted to dhamma, than I think we must respect the boundaries of each question and settle that this kind of answers (those that diverge from the original request) are "not an answer" -- regardless if such "non-answer" is believed to be valuable for the one who questioned, or for future users who may come up here. A few reasons why:
The belief that such "answers" are valuable comes invariably from those desiring to provide "dhamma teaching" (whether it answers the question or not); it is not necessarily the opinion of those looking for actual answers to their questions.
[Consequently] it likely alienates users who asks questions (and, in particular, those who asks "non-dhamma questions", but are interest in some on-topic aspect of Buddhism). E.g. those users who really need specific information, only to find something else being offered. If they don't get what they come for here, if it's not useful to them, why come again?
Finally, this kind of dynamics in internet forums likely detracts seasoned users. I'm of the position that sanghas and personal teachers are the proper communities for interactions that S.E. is simply ill designed to be useful. @yuttadhammo's last post might also be a good related reading to have in mind when reflecting on such matters.
Now, if on the contrary, we decide that this should be a community strictly devoted to dhamma, I guess this should be clarified.
On mindless preaching
This is more of a "call to discussion": not every user here is buddhist and this has been problematic every other month when we are not mindful of that. I think it reflects in some answers (as discussed above) and it reflects in the general attitude towards some users and their questions -- creating confusion, which further makes good users distance themselves, etc.
While many here are buddhists, we should expect users who subscribe to other religions, who are atheists, agnostics, who are researchers interested in buddhist history, who are artists interested in buddhist art, who are meditators (but not necessarily buddhists), or just a general non-buddhist curious person. Thus, I think it's sensible to expect that, unless stated otherwise, a user may not subscribe to, say, the doctrine of anatta or feel bound to any other buddhist teaching.
Is this any relevant to be discussed? Is it not? Should something be done about it? ....