Thursday, September 13, 2007

Philosophical Paradoxes of Prayer

There are a number of philosophical paradoxes involving prayer to an omnipotent God, namely:

  • If a person deserves the recipient of the prayer to give him the thing he prays for, why doesn't he receive it, even without prayer? And if a person is not deserving of it, then even if that person does pray and request it, should it be given just because of his prayer?
  • Why should it be necessary to pray with speech? Doesn't the recipient know the thoughts of all people?
  • If the recipient is omniscient (all-knowing) then doesn't that mean that they would know what we are going to ask for, even before we pray?
  • How can a human being hope to change the mind of the recipient of the prayer? Why should human prayers affect those decisions?
  • Do human beings actually have the ability to praise an omniscient and omnipotent entity? Praising is difficult to do without describing, yet how can a finite human being know anything about the entity's ultimate nature? This question was the subject of heated debate among many religious philosophers; one such debate took place in the 14th century between Gregory Palamas and Barlaam of Calabria.
  • The prerequisite of asking for a favour is faith in the recipient of the prayer. But asking to change an aspect of creation seems to be expressing a dissatisfaction with the way things are - and hence not trusting the "plan"

Many of these questions have been discussed in Jewish, Catholic and Muslim writings from the medieval period onward. The 900s to 1200s saw some of the most fertile discussion on these questions, during the period of Neo-Platonic and Neo-Aristotelian philosophy. Discussion of these problems never ceased entirely, but they did fall mostly from the public view for several centuries, until The Enlightenment reignited philosophical inquiry into theological issues.


No comments: