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I understand that questions based on counting religious texts as fiction are off topic here. What about answers (such as this one) which count a religious text (in this case the Bible) as fiction? I suppose they are considered inappropriate, but what are we supposed to do when we see one? Can we flag a moderator to have it removed? Is "not an answer" the right reason for flagging, or is it "rude or abusive", or do we need a custom reason?

Edit. I posted this question after reading the old question which this allegedly duplicates. The old question concerned questions about religious texts, and it was decided that such questions could be closed as being off topic. I did not see anything there about answers that cite religious texts as fiction, and the remedy "vote to close as off topic" does not apply to answers.

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    @anaranjada The question isn't as clear as it could be, but how could it be on topic if it's not asking for fictional examples? – user14111 Apr 27 '16 at 7:06
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    My take is that we should avoid trying to disqualify or remove answers unless they are genuinely offensive or terrible. This is neither, in my opinion. When in doubt, leave it alone and let people express their feelings via voting. – Wad Cheber Apr 27 '16 at 7:08
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    I think we should delete that answer immediately. It clearly and distinctly falls foul of our existing policy on 'religious works as fiction' – Valorum Apr 27 '16 at 10:54
  • As to what your actions should be, a flag would be the most appropriate course of action to bring it to a Moderator's attention so that they can delete it. – Valorum Apr 27 '16 at 10:55
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    @user14111 - The rule of thumb is "Religious works aren't considered fictional". It's pretty clear that this applies across the board, to both questions and answers, hence why I closed this as a dupe. – Valorum Apr 27 '16 at 23:05
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    @Richard It's pretty clear "that religious works aren't considered fictional" applies to answers as well as questions. What's not quite so clear, and was clearly the point of my question, was what action should be taken. "Vote to close" does not apply to answers. Which leaves: downvote, flag as not-an-answer, flag as rude-or-offensive, flag-for-custom-reason, post a comment suggesting to the owner to delete the answer, ignore. – user14111 Apr 27 '16 at 23:24
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    @user14111 - Given the potential for offense to be caused, flagging for a moderator (and or marking the answer to be deleted) seems the most appropriate course of action. – Valorum Apr 27 '16 at 23:36
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    @user14111 - if an answer was based on a book that was clearly non-SFF, it would and should get flagged as "NAA". Same story with any offtopic material, religious included. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Apr 28 '16 at 14:49
  • I'm at a loss why this has been re-opened. Are you expecting the result of this to be any different? – Valorum Apr 30 '16 at 19:32
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    @Richard: OP is not asking whether it's allowed. They are assuming it is not allowed and asking what to do about it when it happens. – Kevin May 11 '16 at 5:10
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    The whole question of whether they should be treated as fiction is avoided when you consider the fact that this entire site is fiction/fantasy. But that makes me wonder... would a fan-fic about a religious text be considered off-limits? – TylerH May 11 '16 at 13:13
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    @user14111 Maybe you should unaccept Richard's answer since it's no longer the highest-voted and thus no longer such a good reflector of community consensus? – Rand al'Thor May 11 '16 at 19:35
  • @Randal'Thor - What's kinda weird is that my answer does still represent the concensus view (e.g. that they should be mod-flagged and deleted), and yet has still managed to get downvoted :-) – Valorum May 11 '16 at 22:22
  • ASR's answer now has triple the score of Richard/Valorum's, so it appears to reflect community consensus whether it's accepted or not. – Rand al'Thor May 23 '16 at 9:50
  • @Randal'Thor - Interestingly, more people agree with my answer (21 vs 20), but more people also disagree with it (19 vs 3), despite the fact that it's semi-identical to AncientSwordRage's answer. – Valorum May 31 '16 at 14:06
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Paraphrasing Beofett's answer here

Any answer which states (or even strongly implies) that a religious work is a work of fiction should be immediately flagged for moderator attention, pending deletion.

"I think that a ban on questions on religious works is appropriate. It leaves us open to too much controversial debate, potentially offended visitors, and the likelihood of duplicated content with other SE sites (i.e. the ones dedicated towards those specific religions)."

If you feel like you want to go further, you always have the option of downvoting and/or leaving a comment explaining our general policies.

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    On the other hand, when people simply ask for "the first story" for something, then I think it's fair game since even non-fiction accounts count as a story. We have precedence for it in our answers. – FuzzyBoots May 1 '16 at 3:38
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    @FuzzyBoots - It's never fair game to refer to someone's religious text as fictional. You can, of course, refer to it as being inspirational of a fictional work (for example, there are clear linkages between passages from the Bible and the ending of The Matrix). – Valorum May 1 '16 at 8:20
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    Eh, I wasn't saying it was "fictional". But yeah, given we're on a site for science fiction, I suppose I could see where that could cause issues. Which makes me feel guilty that I scored a bunch of points for citing an Indian manuscript for the first story of time travel... – FuzzyBoots May 1 '16 at 13:20
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    This seems like kind of a crazy policy, but I guess it might be worth it to avoid some individuals being offended to the point of explosion. I mean, granted, for any particular religious work there are a lot of people who look at it as 'true' and therefore non-fiction, but for any religious work, the majority of people consider it a work of fiction. – DCShannon May 6 '16 at 0:04
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    "Harry Potter is my religion. In order to not offend me, all Harry Potter questions and answers should be removed!" How do you counteract this argument? – Oriol May 11 '16 at 16:14
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    @oriol - I'd counter it by pointing out that it's not your religion. – Valorum May 11 '16 at 16:33
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    It was an example. More precisely, how you can know if some book is considered religious by someone? – Oriol May 11 '16 at 16:46
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    @oriol - You have to use common sense, something that is sadly (and ironically) not all that common. – Valorum May 11 '16 at 16:51
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    @Oriol I agree that this seems open to interpretation, and I thought about how we treat things like "Jedi", which is becoming very popular as a declared religion, when I wrote the answer Richard linked. That's why I think the "book store test" is valid: if you could reasonably expect books on the topic to be found in most bookstore's "religion" section, then it is a religion. This solves the "Harry Potter is my messiah" issue, as well as the Jedi issue. However, anyone claiming either of those two as their religion is either trolling, or likely not easily offended by discussion of the books. – Beofett May 13 '16 at 12:30
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    @Beofett - Except that "Jedi" isn't a real religion. Its primary use in real life seems to be to act as a parodical construct to argue against real religions being granted rights, in much the same way that someone might call themselves a Pastafarian. Those very few individuals who seem to consider themselves genuine adherents, ironically state that their religion isn't actually based on the books and films, merely inspired by them. – Valorum May 14 '16 at 12:36
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    @beofett - my contention is that serious Jedi (by their own admission) don't view the books as holy writ, nor do they contend that the books aren't fiction. – Valorum May 14 '16 at 14:12
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    @Richard That is false. Apparently Panagiotis Marinis still worships Zeus (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hellenism_(religion)#Claims_of_continuity). The point you should be making is that these minorities are small enough that they likely won't cause a political controversy and if they do the negative utils will be small compared to the utils of the ease of utilizing SE for everyone else while offending them. Claiming that people don't exist is a poor mechanism because proving a negative is hard and there are many people. – Thoth19 May 16 '16 at 9:45
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    @Richard You make two points here. Only one of them is relevant. Your first point is false, as I pointed out, and your second is what I said above. Continuing to rehash this is pointless. – Thoth19 May 16 '16 at 11:13
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    A religion must meet the common sense test. I'd argue that one of those criteria should be "actual adherents". – Valorum May 17 '16 at 14:39
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    @Wildcard - For what it's worth, I personally consider all religious works to be fictional. I'd still argue to the hilt that we should be respectful of other people's beliefs. The flipside is that I'd expect believers to be respectful of others too. – Valorum Jun 17 '16 at 0:21
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There're a few things to consider here:

Offensive content should be flagged to the moderators.

If it's obviously offensive or you, yourself find it offensive then please flag it as such. This is the flag option to select:

Rude or Abusive flag options

Things I would flag as this is explicitly saying that a religion is fictional. Subtly implying it as such is not for instance offensive to me, but I would 100% accept a flag from someone saying they were offended by such implications. I'd much rather listen to the community speaking up about it than impose what I thought the community wanted.

The other side of the coin is that, answers that use a non-fiction source are simply poor answers in some case. First though, let's be clear on which meaning of fiction I'm refering to:

  1. Literature in the form of prose, especially novels, that describes imaginary events and people. synonyms: novels, stories, creative writing, imaginative writing, works of the imagination, prose literature, narration, story telling

  2. something that is invented or untrue. "they were supposed to be keeping up the fiction that they were happily married"
    synonyms: fabrication, invention, lies, fibs, concoction, untruth, falsehood, fantasy, fancy, illusion, sham, nonsense;

I would say the majority of religious texts may come under the category of Stories, or Narration implying they are invented or untrue is likely not the intention of the original author. The accepted answer on the related meta post uses the idea of whether it would be in the sci-fi or fantasy section of a book shop. While it's not an exhaustive criterion, it's probably easier than trying to understand the intention of the original author in some cases.

By either metric most answers that treat religious texts (regardless whether they're Judeo-Christian, Islamic, Hindu, Shinto, Buddhist, Druidic, Pagan, Ancient Roman, Ancient Greek etc....) are simply not providing a good answer, and I'd expect them to get the same response as using Time Cube as a scientific source on Physics.SE - it's just not on topic. Downvote and move on.

There is one exception though. If a question is asking for the behind a work of fiction, answers citing religious texts should be considered valid.

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    Would you 100% accept it if I started flagging Harry Potter posts saying that Harry Potter is my religion and I am offended by it being treated as fiction? I hope not. What criteria would you use? I don't think common sense, proposed by Richard, is well-defined. – Oriol May 12 '16 at 20:00
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    @oriol I'd 100% accept you were offended. I don't think there's an easily defined measure for what is, or isn't offensive. – AncientSwordRage May 12 '16 at 20:29
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    Fair enough. Then I just hope everybody will behave properly and won't flag all posts as offensive to their religion, unless it's really the case. – Oriol May 12 '16 at 20:34
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    Hm. Sometimes a religious text contains something that is supposed to be fictional. For example, most of Jesus' parables are not to be taken literally (or at least most Christians I have ever heard address the subject believe that); they're just illustrations of a point. This is somewhat of an odd situation, since the telling is believed to be an actual event, but not the parable told. What about those? Are those forbidden as well just to avoid the risk? Or would it be acceptable if the answer made clear that the text itself gives strong indication that the story is fictional? – jpmc26 Jun 23 '16 at 22:35
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    While I do mostly agree with your answer, I highly doubt that you’d delete all Harry Potter questions simply because one person had based a religion upon them, even if that person were entirely sincere. I wouldn’t, anyway. – Adamant May 16 '17 at 6:38
  • @Adamant the fiction predates the religion though... – AncientSwordRage May 16 '17 at 7:12
  • It just looked like you were implying that if someone were offended on the basis of their religion (for whatever reason), you’d delete the offending content. I agree that it shouldn’t be deleted (and that that’s one of the reasons). – Adamant May 16 '17 at 7:17
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Treating religious texts as fiction is a surefire way to start wars. Let's not do that. Also, it does not adhere to the "be nice" policy of Stack Exchange.

Answers that treat religious works as fiction should be flagged for moderator attention, to be deleted as soon as possible.

However, the example used does not do that. It merely shows that the idea of blighted lands is much older than last century fiction.

As such, that answer should not have been deleted. Edited for clarity at most.

  • That question asked which work of fiction was the first. The person who answered then referred to the bible. You can certainly edit the hell out of the answer to make it less controversial, but that doesn't seem to be what the OP intended when they posted. – Valorum May 11 '16 at 22:24
  • @Richard Would you leave the answer if the OP had already made it as uncontroversial as possible? – Kevin May 16 '16 at 8:51
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    @Kevin - Personally I favour an absolutist approach. Religious works shouldn't be treated as fictional, period. – Valorum May 16 '16 at 8:57
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    @richard I agree, but they can provide examples of tropes or ideas used in fiction as well. – SQB May 16 '16 at 9:36
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There have been a spate of 'Earliest example' questions.

I think these are on topic for the site, as it is interesting to see how speculative ideas have emerged and changed over time as society and science has changed.

However some ideas may also have roots in religious texts. I'm thinking of this as an example. It is not commenting on the on the text in question, just mentioning that it contains an idea.

I think this is not going to be uncommon with such questions, many fantasy and scifi ideas may have roots in religious texts. They are some of the oldest texts that exist and they contain many fantastical ideas.

I also think it is perfectly valid as an answer and is not offensive unless a user explicitly cites it as fiction or untrue.

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    If the question is "what is the first example of x in any form of literature", then the question is probably badly scoped. We're not Literature:SE, nor should we try to be. If the question is "what is the first example of x in fiction", then we should avoid using religious texts as examples. Simple really. – Valorum May 11 '16 at 17:44
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    @Richard - Note that the question being discussed does not specifically demand fictional examples. It mentions some, but as its scope is understanding how representations change over time due to public consciousness, an older example that is likely to be well-known by a large number of people is a relevant factor, whether it's literal truth, complete fiction, or myth/legend (in the academic sense that doesn't attempt to distinguish whether true or false). – Jules May 17 '16 at 7:27
  • @Valorum, I agree with you, but "what is the first example of this common science fiction trope to appear in any form of literature" is not out of scope and could cite a religious text in an answer. But preferably it would also include the earliest sci-fi example of the trope, as well as the religious literature that possibly gave inspiration. – Wildcard Jun 17 '16 at 0:10
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    @Wildcard - And that would be absolutely fine. As long as the question is about a recognisably scifi (or fantasy) trope then that's also on-topic. – Valorum Jun 17 '16 at 0:16
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I would say this a really basic problem with a basic solution.

Story itself means a relation of events, there is no implication that it must be true or fictional. So, when someone is asking for the first occurence of whatsoever, the bible or a Cicero's text or a fantasy book are all at the same level of dignity; saying that the Ramayana (for example) is not a story is against logic itself.

"What has been the first work of fiction to"...well, no need to offende someone by taking the Qur'an as an example.


Side note: unless there is a specific .se for literature (I didn't check, honestly), all the questions that try to figure the first reference to something (and/or the inspiration for something) in a neutral way should be really appreciated on SF&F as they gives people a way to better understand where the things they like come from.

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    You may have noticed that we're only interested in fiction on this site, not stories. There was a literature:SE but it died in Beta. – Valorum May 17 '16 at 22:28
  • It might be making a comeback! Still needs more people to commit to it though. – Rand al'Thor Sep 23 '16 at 12:24
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Are stories from e.g. Gilgameš or Herakles considered as not religious? If so how those different from stories of Jesus of Nazareth.

  • Because Gilgamesh was written as fiction (and meant to entertain) whereas the bible was written as an account of events and intended as a religious text. – Valorum Feb 14 at 0:46
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    @Valorum: Unfortunately, this is blurrier than you make it out to be. For example, Greek mythology was not written as fiction (at the time) but is widely treated as such today (see for example Disney's Hercules). Yet some people still believe in Zeus et al. today (though perhaps not very many people). – Kevin Feb 14 at 3:40
  • @Kevin - There are no extant Zeus worshippers. There are revivalists who claim to worship Zeus (and maybe they do) but I clump them into the same category as Church of the Jedi and other neo-religions. – Valorum Feb 14 at 7:40
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    @Valorum: Surely you're not using "is it Abrahamic?" as the criterion? – Kevin Feb 14 at 16:06
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Only if it's in an offensive way. There are hundreds of religions and some are blatantly jokes, some might be seen as a joke but are practised seriously, some are just dead-serious. A bunch of them are grey areas regarding seriousness. Not allowing for an answer to treat joke religions as fiction would result in a very silly answer.

I would flag for moderator attention, only if the answer is offensive. If the question is something like an identify this fictional story and someone suggests the Bible, that would be very offensive to Christians. But if the answer does nothing more or less than answer the question, and it treats religious texts as fiction it doesn't have to be offensive. Most Christians no longer believe the earth is 8000 years old, even though the Bible says so, there are parts of all great religions that are already widely regarded as fiction, why should we pretend we're stupid?

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    Pastafarianism may be recognised as a religion in some places, but even its most ardent adherent would be willing to admit that its purpose is to troll other religions. They don't actually believe, hence there is no scope for real offense. – Valorum May 16 '16 at 8:58
  • @Richard Yes, that's my point, if there are religions like that, then where do we draw the line? We should determine offensiveness, if sufficiently offensive, flag it, otherwise leave it be. – Kevin May 16 '16 at 9:12
  • @Richard I took Pastafarianism as an example because it shows that in some cases it would be very silly to flag, the story is clearly fiction. I can imagine there are less extreme cases, where lots of people think about it the same way as Pastafarianism, but it's followers actually take it seriously. What do you think does have a scope for real offense? Scientology, perhaps? I can honestly not grasp that there are people who believe in that crap, but the truth is, there are people who believe in it, should we pretend it's all real or should we exclude it entirely from our answers? – Kevin May 16 '16 at 9:20
  • As I said in an earlier comment, Scientology is a bit of an 'edge-case' because some of Hubbard's writings are considered historical while others are overtly fictional but supposedly inspired by real (historical) events. The best thing to do is to treat all the bits that they say are religious texts as religious texts. – Valorum May 16 '16 at 9:47
  • @Richard They claim that whole "alien-planet got too crowded so they shot some of their population into earth's volcanoes and that's where our negative emotions come from" to be religious text, right? Because to me, that's in the same ballpark as a flying spaghetti monster. Yet a lot of people could get offended by claiming it's BS. – Kevin May 16 '16 at 11:18
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    The problem is that while you, personally may find their religious stories absurd, everyone's religion is absurd to someone else. – Valorum May 17 '16 at 22:30
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    @Richard Do you not understand me or? You said yourself "Pastafarianism may be recognised as a religion in some places, but even its most ardent adherent would be willing to admit that its purpose is to troll other religions." yet you keep advocating all religions should be treated with respect..... I'm asking where you think the line is, because apparently there is a line. – Kevin May 18 '16 at 6:31
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    The line is that to enjoy the protection of our policy, a religion needs to be an actual religion, not a parody or the bizarre ramblings of a single individual based on their misreading of a clearly fictional work – Valorum May 18 '16 at 6:35
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    Although the original Starwars is widely known to be a cinematic trilogy, one has to wonder where George Lucas got the inspiration to write such a story. Personally, I believe it was given to him as a divine message from the God of the Galaxy. Although I agree that actors and actresses did portray the events in Starwars, the events themselves really happened, and I will be flagging all posts that refer to those events as merely fiction because they deeply upset me. Note that i'm not joking here. I truly believe these events happened and it does form part of my religious teachings as a Jedi. – J.J Jun 3 '16 at 14:48
  • FWIW, there is a court ruling about pastafarianism. – Wildcard Jun 17 '16 at 0:08
  • @wildcard mean while in Europe. – Oni Feb 14 at 5:55

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