An Avalanche in the Petitionary World: Philosophy of Religion and Saul Smilansky’s Cases

  • Jacek Wojtysiak The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Faculty of Philosophy
Keywords: petitionary prayer; philosophy of religion; theism; mystery of God


The article is a polemic with Saul Smilansky’s essay “A Problem about the Morality of Some Common Forms of Prayer.” According to Smilansky some petitionary prayers, especially prayers for one’s own good at the expense of someone else, are immoral. I agree that not every prayer is morally acceptable but at the same time I argue that Smilanksy’s justification of this thesis presupposes or includes some false premises. In particular I give four reservations about (or objections to) his argument: (i) philosophy of prayer should start not with the private beliefs of the philosopher but (if one does not have empirical knowledge about praying people) with a given religious orthodoxy or orthopraxis (the methodological reservation); (ii) a praying person (especially in a difficult life situation) does not consider the consequences of his or her prayer’s being answered (the psychological reservation); (iii) according to the Biblical model every petitionary prayer involves the conditional clause ‘if God wills’ (the theological reservation); (iv) in spite of a common opinion (represented by Smilansky) petitionary prayer is not action in the ordinary meaning of this word (the ontological reservation). I defend the last thesis using Charles Taliaferro’s distinction between the Petitionary World and the Non-Petitionary World. I also try to introduce my own criterion of the morality of petitionary prayer: such a prayer is morally good if it builds a positive relationship between a petitioner and God or other people and if it is spoken together with the supplement ‘God, your will be done!’


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