Monday, November 11, 2013

Prayer

From guest blogger, Enrique.

So we’ve covered a lot concerning various attributes the Judeo-Christian God would have but less so about practices/beliefs that occur. It seems to me that nearly every (I don’t know every one) religion incorporates the act of prayer, or supplication, to one’s deity. My question is this, even if we were to accept the big three-omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence-is prayer consistent with this conceptualization of God? My initial feeling is that if God is in fact omniscient than any and all prayers would be utterly redundant. If prayers are a supplication to God, than whatever desire the prayer might express would already be known by God. These prayers are offered to God with the hope that he’ll act in some fashion on them. His omnipotence would be able to address any and all problems. Whether or not he actively addresses these prayers, as a noncorporeal entity acting on the corporeal (?), we can presume his omnibenevolence would be a factor in his actions. Furthermore, if he is in fact an omniscient AND omnibenevolent deity then his actions have already and will continue to be what is “best”.  Why should prayer be incorporated into a Judeo-Christian religion when it seems that these same religions’ beliefs of God reduce any prayer into a self-supplication not one relevant or prudent to God. 

7 comments:

Alexander Laird said...

Enrique, I agree with you that prayer is a big issue for the religious camp. While some may reduce its importance to simply the psychological and moral effect it has on the person praying, I think that most do think that it actually can cause God to grant wishes. This seems to me to stem from the fact that most of these people think that we humans have free will. If we do have free will, then God might reward those who pray and not those who do not pray. So to convince this type of person, you might instead want to return to the contradiction between God's characteristics and free will. As we know from our class discussions, this contradiction is also very serious. Free will shares in common with prayer the very same conflicts with God's characteristics that you have mentioned, among others.

Andrew Josten said...

I like this argument, but I think the Christian could have a response. An omniscient god already knows what you are going to say. An omnibenevolent god is going to do what is best regardless of what you say. So prayer wouldn’t be giving him any information or influencing what actions he is going to take, and prayer would seem to be pointless. One response a Christian might make is that God just wants you to pray to him. The Judeo-Christian God, (and the muslim God too) is described as wanting praise, wanting to be worshiped. This would justify prayers like “You’re so great, God. I love you so much, God”. Supposedly, even though God knows how you feel, he wants to hear it, or requires that you say it. As for prayers in which you ask something from God, a Christian might try to justify these as follows. God wants to have a “personal relationship” with you – this is a common claim among Christians. He wants to be your pal or father figure and that involves communicating your desires to him. He already knows them, but it’s part of the relationship that you say them anyway.
However, many Christians do not view supplicating prayer as just doing some kind of social gesture to maintain your relationship with God. When they say “God, could you please cure my cancer?” or “God, could you please not let tornadoes destroy my house?”, they are actually trying to influence God, and they think that there is a chance they will succeed and get him to do something he might not have done had they not asked. Is there any way that they could be right about this, that prayer can actually have an influence? Here is one possibility. They could say that prayer is a morally good thing to do – God likes the relationship it fosters, or something like that. Therefore, as a benevolent being which rewards good actions, God will have to take your free willed act of prayer into account in how he treats you. You build up moral favor with God by praying and the benevolent thing for him to do is to reward you by answering some of your prayers, and in that way, prayer can influence God’s actions. Rather than his perfect benevolence requiring one course of action regardless of what you ask, your asking is an act which changes what the perfectly benevolent course of action will be.
How could we deny this? One route would be to deny that we have free will. If we don’t have free will, then it seems like we might not be praiseworthy or deserving of reward for our prayers, so they don’t present him with anything that would change what the perfectly benevolent course of action would be. Or we could provide some other reason why prayer would not be relevant to what the benevolent course of action would be. I’m not sure what else we might say. Maybe you have some ideas.

Rashad said...

I think I understand your issue, lol; so here goes. I would disagree that prayer is a self-supplication not relevant or prudent to God. Prayer is self-supplication indeed. The way prayer is relevant to God is through the theistic idea of “meeting God half way.” James 4:2-3,6-8 of The New International Version Bible states:
“2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures…
.6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”
7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”
There is also evidence of this in the Quran. Surah Taha; 13-14 states:
"And I have chosen you,
so listen to that which is inspired to you.
Verily, I am Allah!
There is none worthy of worship but I,
so worship Me
and offer prayer perfectly for My remembrance."
Surah al Baqarah; 2:153-154 states:
"O you who believe!
Seek help in patience and prayer.
Truly! Allah is with the patient."
I could go all day posting scriptures from these religions and others like Hinduism about prayer to God(s). Hinduism even prays to gods as there are various levels of gods: community/village deity, ancestral deity, family deity, and personal deities.
Prayer is the act of humbling oneself before God and speaking what is one’s heart. Yes God may already know and can do, but just because God knows and can do does not mean God will do. And if God does not do, this does not mean God is not being benevolent. It means God is being just. Just means fair. One has to meet God half way by confessing; it is one giving oneself over to God and taking ownership through that confession. God doesn’t have to give a person anything, and if God chooses not to do so, God is still omnibenevolent. As it is mentioned, God knows and behaves in a way that is “best.”
Also, when thinking about prayer in Islam, not only is for asking things of God, but prayer also serves as a reminder of God for Muslims. This reminder is called Dikhr. The idea for Muslims is that one goes about all day and can easily forget about God. This is why one of the Five Pillars is Salat, prayer. Pray 5x a day to be remember God.
Hopefully, I helped clear this up and have illustrated how prayer is relevant to God.

Natalie N said...

I think the omniscient God could only know what your prayer would say if the prayer actually happens. This also goes back to the discussion we already had about if we even have free will or the ability to not do something if God already knows that it is going to happen, since if anything but what God knows will happen occurs, then God would be wrong and not omniscient. Prayer as it is now seems to be something that has developed from the original practice of sacrifice and worship into the act of asking God for things. I find it interesting that many religious people believe in free will and don't believe that God intervenes in daily life, except for in the case of miracles, yet they still pray to God that they get the Christmas present that they asked for or win their football game.

Andrea Manthei said...

I went to private school for a long time and we focused on prayer-a lot. So I started to wonder same thing. Why do we have to pray? I was told for a long time that prayer is how we communicate with God, to build a better relationship with him as our loving creator. Prayer can be a public or personal conversation with god. And even though we don’t get a verbal answer right away, he does hear them and respond whether it be in a short time or long time. We should have faith god hears the prayers and he answers them in ways that are the best for us, whether its what we want or not.
As years went on, I began to think that prayer is more a psychological tool of religion; that its something we do to reassure ourselves through the tougher times that some diety is looking over us, protecting us. If god knows what we want and what we’re going to ask for, why then does it matter that we do? I agree with what Andrew suggested. Prayer builds the relationship between creator and creations. Even though god knows what we want and what we’re going to ask for, its different when the request is actually submitted. When the creation asks for help, it can be seen as humbly accepting that they cannot do everything by themselves. On the other end, giving god praise can show how thankful the person is for god’s answer to their prayer or circumstance. Prayer is an acknowledgement of circumstances.
So, prayer would be consistent with a god that has a personal relationship with its creations. And in the Christian religion, this is a prominent feature of god. I still think its more of a psychological tool for religion, like many of the other rituals belonging to the religion. But how you receive the sacrament of Holy Communion, which is more so left up for interpretation between subsets of the Christian faith, is different from prayer because it’s more explicit in scripture.

isaac scott said...

I think Rashad pretty much nailed it. From his post it looks like one can bring up a objection to Enrique's argument by stating that prayer can be compatible with omniscience and omnibenevolence. It could be the case that what is best, is that one asks for what they want and asks under the correct circumstances: honestly, humbly, with good intentions, etc. If one asks under the correct circumstances and receives that which they asked for, then it was the best thing for that person. Whether this is correct or actually works or not, is not the issue. If prayer works in this way, it would not go against God's omniscience or omnibenevolence.

Caitlin C said...

I would say that if God is omnipotent the reason for prayer would be to strengthen one’s relationship to God. I think prayer is a very personal thing that people do to help them feel less alone and closer to God. I also think that it helps people work through their problems in a different way than talking to an average person. Although God doesn’t respond (at least verbally) to prayers people still find ways to find solutions to their problems or appreciate how great their life is without the response of another person’s opinions on the topic at hand.