Theopedia: shifting lines in the sand

Should we edit our creeds when we discover that people who don’t think just like us can agree with them?

A while ago (mid 2006) I became a contributor to Theopedia. It’s an online encyclopedia of theology, run as a wiki project where articles are contributed and edited by the public.

In order to be a contributor/editor at this site, one must endorse the statement of faith, which lays out a set of basic theological convictions. I accepted this statement, meaning that there was, in principle, no barrier to contributing. One of the things I did shortly after signing up was to edit the entry for “annihilationism.” It really needed to be done, as a number of other members said, because the existing piece was, to put it gently, something of an anti-annihilationist hack job. It is significantly better now (although by no means fully fair). I also offered to re-write the terrible entry on “hell,” which one of the admins encouraged me to do. I haven’t yet, although I’ve done some reasearch and writing for that entry, which I planned to add to the site when it was ready. In addition I wrote an article on Divine Command Ethics and one on John Locke.

In the meantime, some people were unhappy about the insistence on fairness in the article on annihilationism.  I should not be concerned about fairness towards people who hold that view, apparently. Noises were being made about the site not “supporting” annihilationism, although as I pointed out to people, I was not writing endorsements of annihilationism at all, simply a fair presentation of the reasons that people give for supporting it and for opposing it. Besides, the statement of faith in fact permits people who hold my point of view to contribute.

Until now, that is. Now that it has dawned on people that the evangelical statement of faith that was at the site was actually compatible with annihilationism (and why wouldn’t it be?), they have decided that the boundary lines must be re-drawn and the circle shrunk. The statement of faith at Theopedia has now been changed, the old statement about the eternal state has been deleted, and a new one has been added, which says “We believe that Jesus will return, bodily and visibly, to judge all mankind — receiving true believers to Himself and condemning the rest to eternal torment in Hell.”

Here’s the kicker. The statement of faith now comes with a disclaimer:  “We, the board, reserve the right to make changes to the statement to guard the truth.”

If you are going to edit your creed every time you discover a person who doesn’t share all the details of your beliefs, then the concept of a basic creed is lost on you. What you need is a badge that says “want to know the truth? Just ask me!”

Make changes to guard the truth? Is truth some sort of moving target? This was simply a move that excluded those who do not share the personal point of view of the board from contributing. One of the admins told me in reply to my concern – “we reserve the right to draw a line in the sand.” Of course, A line was drawn when the statement was written. I had no problem with this. The problem is when existing lines are shifted. The terms were changed when people began to realise in horror that when a reasonable description of evangelical faith is offered (as they once had at their site), people who do not think the same way as them can actually share in it. Oh the humanity. This is the way our basic creeds are meant to be: Establishing only the essentials, and permitting discussion and disagreement beyond the essentials. If you are going to edit your creed every time you discover a person who doesn’t share all the details of your beliefs, then the concept of a basic creed is lost on you. What you need is a badge that says “want to know the truth? Just ask me!”

Theopedia has discredited itself in my eyes, and if you’re a user of that site, just bear this in mind: The fact that it’s in writing doesn’t make it informative. Ironically, you’ll probably find plenty of people at this site who would complain about “mainstream media.”

Glenn Peoples

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11 thoughts on “Theopedia: shifting lines in the sand

  1. That’s too bad. It’s wasted potential really, because the actual format of the site as a wiki is great. I’m all in favour of minimal standards so that it remains a Christian resource, but to see a small number capture it (even if they started the site) and control it like that… it really defeats the purpose of the Wiki format (quite apart from it being absurdly unfair to change the rules after people already started contributing after they agreed to the old version of the statement of faith).

    Theopedia, you’re only contributing to your own irrelevance by doing this.

  2. No argument there, Doug!

    When I signed up and when I added comment I received a reminder about the statement of faith, to make sure that those who contributed ought to be doing so.

    How’s this for cynical: I got a reply from one of the site admins, telling me that they could keep the content that I contributed, because when I contributed I received a reminder that this would be so. Yes, the same reminder that was part of an agreement including the reminder about affirming the statement of faith that existed at the time (a statement that contained no proviso about the right to change the statement of faith – a proviso now added).

    So when it comes to benefiting me by enabling me to contribute there, the terms of the new agreement are in force. When it comes to benefiting them by enabling them to use my contributions, the terms I actually agreed to are simply ignored and it makes no difference that I agreed to a combined contract that is now void.

  3. Geoff, that is a very worthy sounding project. The doman name would be pretty important. theology.geek.nz is a bit too idiosyncratic. theology.net.nz is a definite possibility. It’d be even better if it were just a .net or .com address. http://www.theologywiki.com/ has been bought by squatters (bastards!). perhaps http://www.theolopede.com? http://www.theology.net.nz may be the way to go, but localized URLs aren’t ideal.

    But yes, in principle that’s something I’d really like to see happen and to be a part of, based ont he wikipedia model, with a VERY rudimentary statement of faith and a strict, ruthlessly strict, unbelievably strict, committment to bipartisanship (within that very rudimentary statement of faith).

  4. Well, theology.net.nz could do for a start, and then we could add to it.

    We just need some people to submit articles… I can set it up and host it no problem.

    I’ll drop you an email.

  5. Wow, it’s amazing that they can’t see that providing accurate information about something is not an endorsement of that thing. Even if they are hostile to the position, they should have accurate information concerning it if they’re going to host an article about it in the first place.

  6. I guess I won’t be making regular contributions to the annihilationism page anymore…

    It’s a shame; for a little while, the page actually gave a somewhat fair description of both sides of the issue :/

  7. “We, the board, reserve the right to make changes to the statement to guard the truth.”

    Welcome to religion. Glenn. If you’re after people with open minds and robust intelligent intellectual discussion you really are going to have to ditch this whole “god” thing.

  8. Eric, I anticipate a robust defence of those comments in the near future. I’m certain you, a man of reason, will not disappoint.

    Or perhaps you didn’t notice that in the particular protagonist/antagonist conflict mentioned in this blog post, both the closed minded partisan side as well as the one calling for bipartisan fairness are religious people? Or is this one of those moments where a skeptic seizes on a universal phenomenon, common to religious and irreligious squabbles alike, and pretends for a moment that it’s a problem that’s only possible within the halls of believers?

    And I wonder if this is the moment for me to say that if you want to get away from such silly double standards, you should adopt the whole “god” thing?

    Really, some people make it too easy…

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