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So in the sandbox, Sandbox for Proposed Questions, I have a question about violence and religion posted.

In the comments a concern was raised about answering the question for fear of offending someone.

Is this a valid concern, i.e. should the question be scrapped? Obviously the intent of the question is not to offend. I simply want to look at how these two seemingly exclusive concepts manage to overlap, I don't believe it is opinion that this concept is a reality.

Honestly it sort of bothers me that hypersensitivity doesn't allow us to even have the conversation so I am inclined to ask it, but I was wondering what everyone else's feelings on the subject were.

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I don't think a topic should be off-limits just because it's a topic that people can get offended by. Consider that SE's religion sites sometimes get questions on topics that might be offensive to people who aren't members of that religion, yet those questions are important to those sites. For example, Mi Yodeya has a question asking if Christianity meets the formal definition of idolatry, Christianity.SE and BH both have questions that make truth claims offensive to non-Christians, and I suspect that if I took a look at Islam.SE I'd find some questions that offend Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and others there. And I imagine that if we looked at some of the non-religious sites like Politics and Skeptics, we might find some hot-button questions there too.

So I don't think the answer is "don't ask", but I also think it's important to ask such questions with sensitivity. Don't make religious assertions (truth claims) if you don't need to (and you usually don't need to); use descriptive rather than prescriptive language, and focus on the question as it relates to the world you're building, which is probably different in some important ways from the world we all actually live in.

On the specific question you're talking about, I agree with this comment -- I think as a question about how religion works it's over-broad, but that's also not directly in our scope. If you recast it as a worldbuilding question -- I want to produce these effects, I want it to seem realistic to my readers/viewwers/players, how do I do that? -- then I think it would be fine.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks monica, and on your final note I have edited the question in the sandbox if you want to take a look. $\endgroup$ – James Dec 30 '14 at 19:29
  • $\begingroup$ As a sidenote: My problem with the original question sort of was that freely answering it would have required statements about reality that would be somewhat comparable in effect with religous assertions – which was strongly related to the question to be too little about worldbuilding and too much about reality.. $\endgroup$ – Wrzlprmft Jan 3 '15 at 0:56
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I read the discussion in the comments, and I have to say, I thought it was rather interesting, because I ran into a similar situation this past fall, where my team was prohibited from participating in an athletic competition on a religious holiday because the school administration thought that members of that religion might be offended.

In both scenarios, there is no evidence that people will be offended. True, perhaps not a lot of people have seen your question in the sandbox, but it would be pre-mature to not post something like this on the off-chance that it will offend hypersensitive folk. Nobody has complained so far; given how the question is written, there's nothing to suggest that anyone will complain.

As to the question itself . . . I see nothing wrong with it. You wrote:

If you look at religions in world history they are often a source of conflict.

I'm no history buff, but I can name quite a few wars off the top of my head that have been motivated by religion. What you state is a fact (although perhaps "often" is a tad too strong): religions can cause conflict. If you had written something along the lines of:

If you look at religions in world history they are the prime source of conflict

I can see people getting offended. A little bit. But what you say next is far from offensive:

With a few exceptions religious dogma generally preaches peace. I do not believe that religion itself is the cause of violence as religion is directed in the end by people, and in the end people are the source of violence.

But far too often religious belief is used to promote violence.

If there's something that worries me at all, it's that last line. "Far too often" could be interpreted different ways, and hypersensitive folk may take that to mean "A majority of the time." Is that what you mean? Of course not. But will someone take that the wrong way? Odds are that one or two will, but that's really nothing to stop you from posting the question. If you can tweak the wording a little for that, you should be just fine. As it is, I can see you're bending over backwards to make sure nobody takes you the wrong way.


I should note that I'm an atheist, so my opinions might be swayed here. Heads up.

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    $\begingroup$ As a christian, though not a particularly sensitive one, I would agree with this answer. The example question acknowledges that religions are complex beasts, not to be oversimplified, and states a fact that some wars have definitely sprung up around them. For a question that's balanced as this one is, I think the value of the community response is worth the small chance of offense. $\endgroup$ – Emmett R. Jan 1 '15 at 18:19
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    $\begingroup$ Given that most religions like to emphasize peace and goodwill towards your fellow man, once probably qualifies as the "far too often" that religion incites violence. $\endgroup$ – gatherer818 Jan 9 '15 at 23:11
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There isn't really an objective answer to this, so it will depend on what the preferences of the community are. That being said, I don't think the idea of restricting questions just because they might offend a few people is well supported on Stack Exchange sites. These sites cater to an audience that values the free exchange of information; that's kind of the whole point of having a Q&A site.

Besides, the SE system does have a built-in method of dealing with offensive content, which tells us something about what Stack Exchange intends to be considered offensive. The description of the offensive flag says

This question contains content that a reasonable person would deem inappropriate for respectful discourse.

I don't think the question you're considering asking comes even close to falling under that description. So I don't think you should hold back from posting it on the grounds that it would be inappropriately offensive.


And referring to the question in question: the objection raised in the comments was not even that the question would be offensive, it was that the answer that one person had in mind might be offensive to a small minority of participants in the site. I certainly wouldn't consider that any reason not to post the question. If that one person is uncomfortable posting their answer, then they're free not to post it.

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    $\begingroup$ Most of my previous experience on SE has been on more technical sites...its tough to offend people on the software recommendations or home improvement sites. THATS THE WRONG KIND OF PAINT RARRRR!!! Yeah...hahaha, doesnt have quite the impact of religious discussions. $\endgroup$ – James Dec 30 '14 at 19:33
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    $\begingroup$ I've seen my OS/Console/Whatever of choice is best wars nearly come to blows so I think you'd be amazed what some people can take offence at! $\endgroup$ – Tim B Dec 31 '14 at 1:19
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    $\begingroup$ @TimB to be fair, among this crowd I could easily believe that it'd be more dangerous to ask a question about a world where emacs won the console wars than one about a world where religious conflict is the norm! (Hm, now I hope a question about the console wars pops up some day....) $\endgroup$ – David Z Dec 31 '14 at 2:43
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Like Monica said, go take a look at Politic SE and count the questions that are not offending anyone... It is very hard to ask a question without getting in the left/right debate for example. Even trivial statement can get the people to downvote a message because they share a different view. There is no way to clearly know in advance that something will offend someone. Unless you are being provocative deliberately.

If I can give some advice:

In the best of your abilities, you should make sure your not talking about any religion in particular. You should avoid saying that some religions cause people to be more violent that others.

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As the one having raised the concerns leading to this question, I think I should explain myself a little bit more than I could in the comments:

My problem with the original question (the current one is fine, see below) was that it was about some of the mechanisms of religions in general. As such, truthfully answering it would require me to make some general, negative observations about real religions, which at least apply to a relevant subgroup of religions and thus might upset people. Moreover, to back-up these observations, I would need real-life examples, which are in a clear danger of upsetting adherents of the respective religions. I will leave it at that, because going into more details might already be offending.

Of course, I could actively censor myself and not use any examples (except for dead religions) and refrain from making general observations. Censoring myself is pretty bad on its own and it would also mean that I could not answer the question to my best abilities.

If I wouldn’t censor myself, I would expect my answer to gather offensive flags or cause heavy discussions that we probably do not want here.

Now, some of you argue that potentially offensive content is everyday business on the religion sites or Politics. That’s correct, but all this is in places you have to expect it: If I visit Christianity, e.g., I have to expect to be exposed to Christian opinions. On Worldbuilding and many other sites, this is not the case. On the other hand, on religion sites, answers are expected to come from the point of view of the respective religion (if I am not mistaken). If I would answer certain questions on such a site freely (and thus from another point of view), they would probably be deleted. Moreover, I do not think that on any other site some question on religious mechanisms would be asked, so this could really go further than existing content.

There is an unwritten rule for conversations in groups for which religious heterogeneity is to be expected (and which are not expected to be open for such questions), not to raise the topic of religion, because otherwise quarrel could ensue. In my opinion, there are further reasons to follow this rule, which I cannot explain here, however, without braking this rule. And that’s despite me usually being the one who is annoyed of hypersensitivity. On the other hand, if somebody does address the topic of religion, they have to expect that I freely speak my mind and if they are offended, it was them who raised the topic.

All that being said, the updated question is fine in my opinion as it is now about a specific fictional religion and not about religions in general.

As a sidenote, I find it acceptable to close or avoid a question based on the answers it might receive, as long as they are actually answering the question.

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I think in any subject area, anything said comes down to 'intent'. If your question, comment, or answers come across with the intent to offend, then it should be down-voted.

However, if it has the possibility to offend due to your ignorance of the subject, because you are typing (where tone doesn't always come across well), you should spell out very clearly that you are genuinely curious, but also genuinely ignorant of the issue, and don't have any harmful intention.

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