• Teaisnice
    9
    It can be hard to see how human prayers could affect what God does. For one, God, perhaps, would be unchanging and unaffected by anything other than himself. Secondly, God would be infinitely knowledgeable and, thus, already aware of our needs. And he would be infinitely benevolent and powerful, too; so he would already have the will and ability to make the world as good as it could be overall.

    One might suggest that in making petitionary prayers where you asked God for something, he might
    give it to you so as to reinforce your relationship with him. One of God’s aims would always be to make the world as good as possible overall. And part of what would make the world better are human relationships with God because such relationships would be a great good, such that their existence would add value to the world. So God would want to cultivate such relationships. One way for God to reinforce our relationship with him when we’d initiated it would be to give us what we asked for. Blessing us that way would incentivize us to continue to seek a relationship with God. If that’s why God would give us what we asked for, then whether he gave it to us would depend almost strictly on whether we had initiated a relationship with God.

    But a couple of things seem off about this. One, it does not seem to be that giving us anything we ask for is what God would do. Rather, it seems like God would give us only the things we ask for which are in accordance with the overall good of the world. But if that is so, why would God need a petitionary prayer from someone in order to initiate those things? Wouldn't God do what is in accordance with the overall good no matter what? It seems that that would necessarily be his will. So wouldn't the only adequate petitionary prayer be something like 'Your will be done'? Second, if God's will is to bring about the overall good, it just seems lucky if you happened to pray for the right thing. If this is correct, and the view above is correct, then one's relationship with God would seem to be based on luck. For one who just happened to pray for a specific thing that God already wills to do, he or she would see their petition "fulfilled" and be on track for a relationship with God based on chance. It does not seem like there are cases where God wouldn't have given you something you asked for if you hadn't initiated a relationship with him. It seems too strange to say that a human would affect God in this way. God knows what you want because he is omniscient. God can make that happen because he is omnipotent. And God would create an overall good world in which God would cultivate relationships with its inhabitants because he is omnibenevolent. Additionally, if God knows that giving you want you want (so long as it is in accordance with his will) will help cultivate a relationship with you, then he will give you want you want without you praying for it.

    1. God necessarily acts to bring about overall good in the world.
    2. Part of what brings about overall good in the world are human relationships with God.
    3. God will necessarily cultivate relationships with humans.
    4. God knows everything that everyone wants whether they pray for it or not.
    5. God giving one what they want helps them cultivate a relationship with him.
    6. IFF what one wants aligns with the overall good of the world, God will necessarily give one what they want.
    7. Therefore, IFF what one wants aligns with the overall good of the world, God will give one what they want whether or not they pray for it.
  • DingoJones
    1.7k


    8. Therefore prayer is useless. God only answers the prayers for things he was going to do anyway, and only to those who already have a relationship with god would pray, leaving the only remaining reason to answer the prayer (cultivating that relationship) not applicable.
  • prothero
    294
    I too do not believe that god intercedes to alter the laws of nature of behalf of those who engage in petitionary prayer. "The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike". I do think that prayer is useful to those who engage in it, for it alters the petitioner not the universe.
  • 180 Proof
    1.1k
    It can be hard to see how human prayers could affect what God does.Teaisnice

    :roll:

    We plan, God laughs.

    When I was back there in seminary school
    There was a person there
    Who put forth the proposition
    That you can petition the Lord with prayer.
    Petition the lord with prayer.
    Petition the lord with prayer.
    You cannot petition the lord with prayer!
    — Jimbo the Lizard King

    The monk bought lunch, baby. :wink:

    Far away, across the field
    The tolling of the iron bell
    Calls the faithful to their knees
    To hear the softly spoken magic
    spell
    — By the way, which one's Pink?

    Deaf, dumb, and blind, you just keep on pretending ... but why? :confused:

    Turn on the radio, nah fuck it turn it off
    Fear is your only god on the radio
    Nah fuck it, turn it off
    Turn it off, turn on the radio, nah fuck it turn it off
    Fear is your only god on the radio
    Nah fuck it, your saviour's my guillotine, crosses and kerosene
    — Rollin' down Rodeo ...

    'Cause ya know why all the world's jails and churches, don't ya? :brow:

    When you believe in things
    that you don't understand,
    Then you suffer,
    superstition ain't The Way ...
    — Stevland Morris

    ... or like another (older, better) "good book" says:

    The Way that can be spoken is not the eternal Way

    :death: :flower:
  • username
    19
    I would agree with the original argument however I would not add on the 8th line as @DingoJones did. I don't know if you are a Christian or not dingo but regardless, I think it's important to look at the way that Jesus prayed if we are to understand the value of prayer or the answer to this question. In the two most famous instances of recorded prayer from Jesus we have the Lord's Prayer and his prayers on the Mount of Olives before his crucifixion. In both cases we see one similarity. In the first he says, "Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven," clearly saying that what we should truly want is only what God wills. In the second case, he ends his pleading to God for his life to be spared by saying, "but not as I will, but as you will," clearly pointing to the knowledge that what he wants is not important in changing God's plans, and that God’s plan is what is truly good. Prayer was not intended for God to give us what we want but as a way to converse with God. This is something that is often misconstrued by the church I believe. But this is also why I agree with how this argument is constructed. Premise 6 clearly states that the only time we are guaranteed to receive anything from God is when we ask for something that directly aligns with his will. In all other cases we should not expect to have our prayers answered with a yes. Stating the 8th premise is essentially asserting that the only reason to pray is if we are going to get the things we want out of it, otherwise it isn't worth our time. That is the most one sided and selfish version of prayer I've heard of. The point of prayer has nothing to do with human wants but is rather supposed to be a form of worship and a way to realign people with what God wants for them (through his perfect will). It's a way to ask God what he wants and try to carry that out instead of asking him to do a bunch of favors for us.
  • DingoJones
    1.7k


    When you pray, does god respond with confirmation or commands? In what way does he do that exactly? (A voice? A feeling he creates in you?)
  • username
    19
    @DingoJones My conception of prayer does not necessitate that God "respond" in the way that you describe. I definitely feel that in my life personally prayer has been a way that I have been able to find clarity about certain decisions but as I don't know your religious background I can't assume that that kind of thinking would hold much value for you. I think the assumption that God responds to all prayers in some tangible way is another misconception about prayer and another way that prayer is misconstrued in a selfish way. As I stated before, prayer is not for the person but should be a way to worship God, in this sense that you are acknowledging his power and that he has control over the situations you are in. I think that is highlighted by the examples from the life of Jesus that I mentioned earlier.
  • DingoJones
    1.7k


    So prayer is just thinking about god, essentially?
  • username
    19
    @DingoJones I mean I guess that is one way to think about it; I think it's a little more of an action though. I think the value in it is very similar to something you could get in counseling. Oftentimes we push down the things that are troubling us deep down and even when we think about them we don't really have to address them, but similar to how talking through those thoughts with a counselor can provide some clarity, I think that active prayer to God can provide an even greater and more powerful form of clarity in the form of spiritual wisdom.
  • DingoJones
    1.7k


    Interesting. How do you know god has anything to do with it? It sounds like its your own thoughts that are helping, an act of meditation.
  • username
    19
    As someone that has a very analytical mind and who is usually able to clearly think through things on my own without prayer this is a question that I struggle with. Most of the time it comes down to the success rate of prayer in my own life for helping me work through my problems and the beliefs about God that I have come to hold through my own reasoning. I also don’t doubt the spiritual and psychological positives of meditation. I think that can be great too. I just have seen the best results in my own personal growth through contemplative prayer. It’s something that at times can be hard to describe to others who haven’t experienced it the same way.
  • DingoJones
    1.7k


    I understand, thanks.
  • Gregory
    983
    All i know about are Catholics. THey are always saying the rosary, trying to force themselves to be good. Someday a "Minotaur of conscience" (to use Nietzsche's phrase) will get them and spoil the idea that they are holy/special. "Get rid of goodness and you will naturally be good" says a classic Daoist text.

    I hope that's not too harsh
  • ovdtogt
    667
    It can be hard to see how human prayers could affect what God does.Teaisnice
    8. Therefore prayer is uselessDingoJones
    . Wrong...

    It is not meant to affect what God does. It is meant to effect what you do.
  • philorelkook
    9

    You bring up a few interesting points.

    For one, you ask, “Why would God need a petitionary prayer from someone in order to initiate those things we ask for which are in accordance with the overall good of the world?”

    In response, I’d like to raise this question: what if petitionary prayer actually does serve as the turning factor in God deciding to do a certain good, but because of God’s omniscience, he already knew that you would pray for it, even way before you prayed for it, and simultaneously knew that he would grant you your request? Maybe God does grant petitionary prayers sometimes, as a sort of reward for the person who prays them.

    And if the person did not pray the petitionary prayer, God wouldn’t necessarily punish them, but he might choose a different type of action that would still result in the same amount of net good that would’ve resulted if the person did ask God for something directly. For example, say that Christian really wants to go to College X. He prays that he is accepted to College X, and as a reward for his petitionary prayer, God grants his request. Christian is accepted into and attends College X. Let’s assign the arbitrary numerical value of 93/100 to denote the net good out of Christian’s experience at College X, in terms of his personal and academic happiness and success. In an alternate situation, Christian really wants to go to College X, but Christian doesn’t pray that he is accepted to College X. Christian isn’t accepted into College X, but he is accepted into College Y. He attends College Y, and this college experience also yields a 93/100 net good. Each of the two situations led to the same amount of net good – God just chose Christian’s preference of good, as a small reward for his petitionary prayer.

    It’s important to note that God is omniscient and Christian has free will. Christian still has the free choice to decide where he wants to go to college, and he freely decides if he prays about it. But because God knows about Christian’s petitionary prayer in advance, he knows what he will decide in advance. If Christian changes his opinion last minute and decides not to pray, well then God already knew about that too. So just because God knew what Christian would do does not mean he chose what Christian would do.

    In a different light – even if this answer above does not work, and God doesn’t need petitionary prayer at all in order to give him permission, so to speak, to initiate certain things – what if petitionary prayer has functions outside of just asking for something?
    Maybe God’s intention with petitionary prayer is to grow his relationship with his followers – not in the sense that he grants them what they wish for, so their relationship grows in that way. But in the sense that he wants Christians to feel like time spent in prayer is time well spent, regardless of the type of prayer, because they are talking to God and partaking in fellowship with him. Maybe God’s chief purpose of petitionary prayer is to actually reveal things to the person praying – to give them insight or ideas about what they should do, or how to handle a certain situation.

    In this way, petitionary prayer would have a valuable function outside of just influencing God to take action.

    Hope these thoughts make sense. I’d be curious to hear your response.
  • 180 Proof
    1.1k
    I do think that prayer is useful to those who engage in it, for it alters the petitioner not the universe.prothero

    :chin: :up:
  • Pfhorrest
    2k
    What is the effective difference between prayer, meditation, and therapeutic journaling? All of them seem in practice a kind of internal dialogue trying to sort out your mind.
  • TheMadFool
    5.9k
    7. Therefore, IFF what one wants aligns with the overall good of the world, God will give one what they want whether or not they pray for it.Teaisnice

    What about people praying for world peace or a cure for cancer or the like. These are unequivocally aligned with the overall good of the world and yet remain unrealized even to this day despite the earnest prayers of millions.

    If anything this brings to light how, everything considered, improbable it is that god will answer prayers for personal benefit.

    However, there's the issue of how distinct the individual is from the world. Isn't the world just made up of individuals? Doesn't the happiness of each individual, however that maybe achieved, constitute what you call the overall good? If yes, then god should answer our prayers whether it was for a brand new TV or world peace. If no, then that would mean the overall good is not the same as individual happiness which seems odd because the world to which the overall good applies to doesn't and can't experience the good or bad except in terms of the individual human beings that constitute it.

    I guess I'm saying the overall good doesn't make sense if it's contrasted to the individual good in a way that tries to prove that only prayers for the overall good will be/should be answered to by god. It's like someone saying I'll help the Jedi but not Luke Skywalker or Yoda or Mace Windu. Sorry for the poor analogy but it gets the point across.
  • Pfhorrest
    2k
    This really just comes back to the Problem of Evil. If there was a truly good, omnipotent and omniscient God, then he would have already given us world peace and a cure for cancer -- or rather, there never would have been war or cancer to begin with as he would have prevented them in the first place. And yeah, everyone would have everything they want individually, too... because what makes cancer and war bad is that individual people suffer from them.
  • Devans99
    2.5k
    The problem of evil is a real show stopper for theologians, they wrap themselves in terrible logical knots trying to circumvent it.

    The best I can think of is some form of 'tough love' - that life's harsh experiences actually combine to make us better people in the long run.
  • Devans99
    2.5k
    If all you've ever experienced is pleasure and you've never experienced pain then you place less value in pleasure than someone who has experienced pain too.

    So we all have to get our fair share of pain on this earth, else we won't appreciate heaven.
  • Pfhorrest
    2k
    If all you've ever experienced is pleasure and you've never experienced pain then you place less value in pleasure than someone who has experienced pain too.Devans99

    That depends on how the human mind works. It doesn't have to be that way (if there were a God, he could make people to always just feel good all the time), and it doesn't seem to be that way for all people in the actual world. When I was younger I seemed to be better able to appreciate pleasures than I am now as a traumatized adult who's been through a lot of pain.
  • Devans99
    2.5k
    But maybe God is omnipotent within the bounds of common sense / logic? So he can do anything logical but cannot for example, square a circle.

    One of the laws of common sense that constrain God's actions could be: 'in order to appreciate a maximum, one has to have experienced a minimum'?

    Leading to you have to have experienced pain else you won't get full benefit from heaven.
  • Ciceronianus the White
    980
    It strikes me it would make more sense, and show greater respect, if we propitiate, rather than petition, God (or the gods). The ancient pagans were wiser than we are in dealing with the divine. Instead of begging for favors, they assured their receipt by doing what pleased those whose favor was sought--killing certain kinds of animals in a certain manner, performing certain rituals, saying certain words, etc. They had no illusions regarding the gods; they didn't think they were all-good or all-knowing. Instead, they knew full well that above all they were dangerous if not given their due. One accommodates the divine rather than worships it.
  • 180 Proof
    1.1k
    :clap: Dionysus vs the Crucified!

    (I knew it :joke: )
  • Ciceronianus the White
    980

    Yes, I think Nietzsche correctly noted the difference between the pagan perspective and the Christian perspective, though Dionysus isn't the god I'd appeal to in making the distinction. The pagan view of prayer and in other things is very practical, grounded in our experience of life in the world, not in our rejection of it. Of course one propitiates the gods; any sensible person would.
  • 180 Proof
    1.1k
    The pagan view of prayer and in other things is very practical, grounded in our experience of life in the world, not in our rejection of it. Of course one propitiates the gods; any sensible person would.Ciceronianus the White

    We no gods, no masters types - "pagan" or otherwise - have never been a "sensible" bunch I guess.
  • Ciceronianus the White
    980

    Most of the old pagans probably accepted there were masters wherever there were people. Gods as well, I think. I don't think the existence of God was a subject of much debate, then, except in Athens.
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