Quora is a neat webpage for asking questions and providing answers. With tags and categories you can direct your question to a specific group of people (anyone following that topic). You can also go on and search topics for questions. As with any internet forum, there are trolls, but Quora does a good job of steering them away. As a whole, Quora questions tend to be answered by real people.
Two weeks ago, I asked “How is an Atheist comforted in times of tragedy?” and have gotten back some thoughtful answers. I am hoping to post more questions, but I am well-aware of how ugly internet debates on religion can get. Here are some guidelines I’m developing for such an interaction.
- Be Responsible: Quora allows for anonymity, but encourages people to identify by name and to claim an expertise. I use my real name. In the Religion topics, I self-identify as “United Methodist Pastor”. I’m accountable at all times to myself, my profession, my Church and my God.
- Be positive: I think I can best represent the faith by not being argumentative. Also Quora allows you to “Thank” someone for their post. I believe it is more Christian to show appreciation than to sling criticism. There are times for engaging and debating, but I find the internet too full of venom.
- Seek to learn: Given that all-out debate is so often fruitless, I’m taking the approach of using the forum to better myself. My interest in this question stemmed from a comment made in Disciple study about what to say at the funeral of a non-believer. I know what I would say, but I wondered, “what would be of use?”
- Diffuse any potential antagonism: I added a disclaimer on the end of my question: “***I ask this in all sincerity and appreciate any honest answer.” This little gesture has seemed to disarm people in a good way and several people have made note of it in their answers. This suggests to me that there are too many Christians looking for a fight on the internet. Or there are too many Christians getting suckered into venomous debates over religion on the internet.
- Stick to the words: A couple of answers were quite sharply written. It would have been easy to read too much ‘heat’ into them. But on face-value those comments aren’t as harmful as they initially seemed.
- Don’t over-correct: Some answers grossly misrepresent the Christian faith and the intentions of religious people. In the end, I decided to assume that that was our problem (the Church’s) not their problem. There is so much I don’t know about the answerers’ lives. We have burned people at the stake.