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I was watching this issue for a while before deciding to take a side... Comparative religion type questions are questions that involve comparison of Buddhism with Christianity, or Hinduism or Yoga or even Science, directly or indirectly. These types of questions tend to attract answers from people that are knowledgeable in one field but not necessarily in the other. This leads to incorrect assessments, which in turn leads to arguments. These arguments attract views and clicks, resulting in such question bubbling up to the top. The question then appears on Hot Network Questions list, getting even more views. As a result, other, more interesting and useful questions do not get attention they deserve. Should we ban "comparative-religion" questions or is there any value in keeping them that outweighs the harm they do?

P.S. I do believe that comparative religion itself can be a very fruitful field of study, it is just that I don't think it is a good S.E. topic.

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    'other, more interesting and useful questions' - I get why you think other questions might be more useful, but the fact that certain questions appear on the hot list clearly indicates how interesting they are. – yuttadhammo Oct 6 '14 at 21:38
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    'interesting' doesn't mean either deep or popular. It means 'arousing curiosity or interest; holding or catching the attention', a quality of questions that I would argue will help this site grow (provided the questions are also useful). Don't you think the dictionary definition of interesting applies to the questions that make it on the hot list? – yuttadhammo Oct 6 '14 at 23:00
  • I do, in fact that's my exact concern. Because many people seem to find superficial controversies so interesting, they get attracted to them like flies to dung, while truly interesting questions get < 100 views each. Hence my proposal: why don't we ban superficial controversies? I guess it's not really just or indeed about comparative-religion. The Woman Buddha question is another example of these. But these are harder to identify. That's why I thought about comparative-religion first. – Andrei Volkov Oct 7 '14 at 1:34
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    I hear you, but who decides what people should be interested in? – yuttadhammo Oct 7 '14 at 2:30
  • FYI there's a strong correlation between number of views and number of answers: questions with > 200 views have 4 or 5 answers or more ("having many answers" is one definition of "interesting"). – ChrisW Oct 7 '14 at 3:26
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    Actually I was pleased by Bakmoon's comment after the Woman Buddha question, and maybe I learned something too (I know very little about the evolution of Buddhism), so even though it doesn't seem to be a practical question, about "practice", I confess I kind of liked that dung at the time. But let's be positive: instead of saying what questions aren't interesting, what are interesting question? Can you say what questions people should ask? – ChrisW Oct 7 '14 at 3:27
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    @yuttadhammo, I agree that these questions are objectively more "interesting" and we can't dictate what people should like, but why not use the on/off-topic leverage to keep the dung bar somewhat high? ChrisW, I would be glad to see more questions about basic principles and how they play out in practice. – Andrei Volkov Oct 7 '14 at 12:07
  • Would you like to demand that questions be practical and not merely doctrinal? That demand might be supported by the "based on actual problems that you face" requirement. For example, the Skeptics site has put effort into requiring/defining that questions must be about 'notable claims', and that questions must be "notable" in order to be considered on-topic. If you ask a question about a claim which they don't think is notable enough, they might challenge you to demonstrate it's notable. Similarly here your ... – ChrisW Oct 7 '14 at 13:31
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    ... challenge might be, "how is that a practical question?" I don't know whether "practical" is the wording around which you might like to set the bar. IMO you can set the on/off-topic bar wherever you like. It would be normal to explore/explain/define on meta where that bar is, and you'd be looking for some majority of the 'community' to agree that that is what they want to site to be about. – ChrisW Oct 7 '14 at 13:35
  • @ChrisW, I don't mind doctrinal questions as long as they are not too speculative or nitpicking. – Andrei Volkov Oct 7 '14 at 14:32
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    Sites can also define their own, custom Off-topic Close reasons. For example, the Skeptics site has two: This question doesn't identify a specific notable claim. Please add a reference to and quote from the published text which contains the specific claim you want to question. and Questions about unresolved current events and issues currently under investigation by a court of law, government, or other similar investigative body are off-topic because there is insufficient data for a meaningful answer. For more information, see Handling current news questions. – ChrisW Oct 7 '14 at 14:40
  • IOW in theory you could (try to) define "Speculative nitpicking" as a close reason. – ChrisW Oct 7 '14 at 14:41
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    As funny as that sounds, it's not a bad idea :) Although I don't think we as community is yet at the point when we can easily agree on what "speculative" means, but at least we are having these conversations, so there is hope one day we will start making calls. – Andrei Volkov Oct 7 '14 at 15:53
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I think I might be a prime offender here. I've posted 6 of these and I wrote the tag wiki. I think I might have even created the tag originally so I really ought to post. So in no particular order here are some general points and feelings about the issue.

  1. I'm not a huge fan of the notion of banning a set of questions unless they really are off topic. We can downvote or vote to close if we really don't like them. The system is designed with this in mind so the community can express their opinion on a case by case basis.

  2. Reviewing the tag they are of a variable quality like all the tags. The one on faith resulted in one of he best answers I've read here - from OP (Thanks Andrei)! Others have been closed or downvoted a bit which is as it should be.

  3. Even poorer question can result in great answers. The Buddhist Bible one hasn't been one of my best admittedly and it go a few downvotes and some complaints about it in chat. But it generated some really great answers.

  4. These questions can attract more heated debate - i think that's clear. But I think this is a call to be more sensitive and accepting of other peoples religious views (i was tempted to post on meta about that exact subject). People are very willing to moderate their opinions when challenged - the faith question again was great for challenging peoples notions and people edited their answers in response thus improving them.

  5. The question do take someone with a foot in both camps to answer. But since many of us were brought up in non-Buddhist religious contexts or live in non-Buddhist societies - that is exactly a lot of us. I don't see this as a massive problem.

  6. I would argue that we have a supply problem with questions. If we are determined to go down the route of banning sets of questions that I would really want us to dream up ways to encourage good questions. Otherwise we risk choking the site off i would argue. That's not a reason to keep rubbish questions but if we are hitting the questions with a stick I would want to see a carrot for getting more of the right kind of questions in.

  7. On the supply problem again - I would really encourage people to post questions that they are interested in. If these questions are generating too much heat then one way to approach this would be to post more great questions on topics that you would really like to hear people's views. To me that would be a more positive approach then any kind of ban.

Anyway I like these questions and I think they produce good answers but I can see for others they might be an edge case. I don't want to upset but I have about another 2 or 3 of these questions that I would like to ask. I might take mercy on the site and delay them - i don't want to dominate the site with a minority interest.

  • The Buddhist Bible question has at once one of my top upvoted and top downvoted answers (17-2 ATM) – yuttadhammo Oct 6 '14 at 21:39
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Sometimes such questions are good and useful

Sometimes such questions are useful (so a blanket ban might go too far).

A "comparison" question might be useful, for understanding (specifically) Buddhism; for example:

OTOH (looking at other christianity-tagged topics) I see less purpose in Is Jesus considered to be a buddha? You could consider closing that, on the basis that it breaks this rule:

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. Chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page.

We are already able to close bad questions

We can close questions which are:

  • Too subjective
  • Off-topic (if they're more about another religion than about Buddhism)
  • Duplicate

I see that people have already, rightly, closed some questions for these reasons.

Sometimes you might want to close a question temporarily, demand that it be improved (or edit it yourself) before allowing it.

Moderators can moderate answers too

Moderators can "protect" questions.

The main objection in the OP seems to be that this type of question tends to attracts bad answers, which leads to arguments. So perhaps you could achieve your objective by extra-strict policing of the answers:

  • Deleting answers which you consider off-topic: e.g. if you allowed some-or-other question because it's 75% about Buddhism and 25% about Christianity, feel free to delete any answer that's 25% about Buddhism and 75% about Christianity.

  • Extra-strict editing of answers by all moderators, to ensure answers are not controversial (including removing any parts of an answer that are "a bit tongue in cheek").

Deleting answers, and non-trivial editing of answers can really only/mostly be done by moderators.

Also note that just as a moderator can close a question until the author has improved the question, moderators can also delete (i.e. hide) any really problematic answer until the author has improved the answer (the author can still view and edit their answer while it's deleted, and then flag it for reopening).

And moderators can moderate comments

On some sites, moderators are strict about whether comments are on-topic.

  • Comments are only meant to be for suggesting improvements to (or criticizing) an answer
  • Other comments are off-topic: comments aren't intended for dialog, and off-topic comments are deleted
  • Existing comments can be sent/converted to a chat room
  • +1 for the tongue in cheek part ;) – Andrei Volkov Oct 6 '14 at 17:00
  • Hey, what's wrong with a little cheek? – yuttadhammo Oct 6 '14 at 20:07
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    @yuttadhammo There's nothing much wrong, that I know of, assuming it's neither ignorant nor wicked. :-) Andrei seemed concerned (i.e. he posted the OP above), rightly or wrongly, I'm not sure why: maybe something you can discuss, either on meta or in the moderator chat room. I wanted to say here that if the problem with this class of topic is "bad answers", then making sure that the answers are good (whatever 'good' means) might be better than banning the whole class of question. – ChrisW Oct 6 '14 at 21:18
  • Roger dodger... – yuttadhammo Oct 6 '14 at 21:28
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    @yuttadhammo One problem with this particular piece of little cheek is that it's slightly off-topic. It adds to the answer, but if you wanted only the most straight-laced answer, being on-topic is something else to watch for. A "defence of Buddha vs Jesus smackdown" wasn't IMO the purpose of this comparative religion question about the existence of a bible. Assuming you want to say it, it might be better to move that portion of your answer into the Is Jesus considered to be a buddha? topic instead. – ChrisW Oct 6 '14 at 22:16
  • See, I don't get that... the question was about the existence of a concise bible. And a big reason for why the bible is so short is that there are only so many ways you can say "believe in God and He will move mountains for you" before you just give up and call it a day. The teachings of Jesus, while at times admirable, aren't anywhere near the level of depth or breadth of those of the Buddha; hence a difference in length. I continue to defend the smackdown. – yuttadhammo Oct 6 '14 at 22:55
  • Thinking about it, the real problem with the paragraph in question was that it was opinion-based - it isn't an accepted fact that the Buddha was enlightened and Jesus wasn't. I've replaced the offending paragraph with something more appropriate. – yuttadhammo Oct 7 '14 at 2:29
  • @yuttadhammo Cool (I already upvoted your answer so I can't upvote it again). Apart from the number of teaching years another difference is the number, quality, etc., of the disciples and biographers. And (I'm not sure why: possibly the risk of persecution by Jews as a false prophet) Jesus doesn't seem to me to speak openly/freely. Re. your new version I don't know about the "objective truth of requiring less teaching"; you could alternatively put it the other way round, and say that a religion with less scripture requires more faith (but I'm not complaining about what you've written now). – ChrisW Oct 7 '14 at 3:09
  • Thanks :) True, but quality of disciples would be opinion-based... yeah, I'll try to finesse the "objective truth" thing, but there is some point to be made about the correlation between emphasis on wisdom/understanding and length of teachings, I think. – yuttadhammo Oct 7 '14 at 3:14
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According to this answer, a topic makes the 'Hot Questions' list when:

  • It's recent (QAgeInHours is small)
  • It's an upvoted question with many answers (AnswerCount and QScore are large)
  • Answers are upvoted (AnswerScore is large)

Therefore this theory from the OP is wrong:

These arguments attract views and clicks, resulting in such question bubbling up to the top. The question then appears on Hot Network Questions list, getting even more views.

It's not "controversial" topics with clicks and views which make the Hot Network Questions list: instead it's the highly-upvoted questions, with many answers and/or highly-upvoted answers.

These (highly-upvoted) are perhaps not the type of question which you'd want to ban.

However, this answer suggests that you might choose to be extra-careful (or extra-strict) with answers to any questions which make the Hot List, because they advertise the tone/content of the site.

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    Looking at the formula, AnswerScore (per age) seems the most important factor... Weird, I thought I saw a different correlation: the stupider the question, the more views it attracts - but somehow that's not in the formula... :D – Andrei Volkov Oct 6 '14 at 22:17

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