A Prayer for the New Year

“To pray for particular favors is to dictate to Divine Wisdom, and savors of presumption; and to intercede for other individuals or for nations, is to presume that their happiness depends upon our choice, and that the prosperity of communities hangs upon our interest.” – William Paley

I’ve been thinking a bit about prayer recently. It’s always confused me, frankly. What is it for?

Let me explain. Suppose you believe in an omnipotent, omniscient God; and suppose you want something from this God — say, a new car, or (if you’re less materialistic) strength, or a sign, or serenity, or more time, or even just general blessings. But isn’t it the case that God already knows what you want? And if he knows what you want, and you still don’t have it, doesn’t that mean God probably doesn’t want you to have it? In other words: why do you think praying will change God’s mind?

Or suppose you want deliverance from something — from stress, from unemployment, from a disease, whatever it is. Again: why do you think praying will change God’s mind?

Or maybe you’re not praying for yourself, but for a friend, a relative, a stranger. Suppose someone you love is terribly sick, and you pray to God that He will save them. But God is all-powerful, isn’t He? Isn’t He the cause of the disease, really? Couldn’t He have already cured them, if He wanted? If God has decided someone should suffer, why should He care what you think? Aren’t you really saying, “Please, God! Don’t hurt my loved one any more!”? And doesn’t that imply that God is less merciful and forgiving than you are?…

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A Sufficiently Advanced Religion: Magic, the Ringworld and Clarke’s Law

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. — Arthur C. Clarke’s 3rd Law

Do you agree with this statement?

I think that it’s true, in a certain limited sense, if you take “magic” to mean “something without rules, that can make anything happen.” I suppose it’s conceivable that technology could someday reach something like that point. I think that’s the meaning Clarke intended.

comingbackI also think it’s true in a very deep sense: technology, sufficiently advanced, really is magic. Magic — real magic — is a very powerful engagement with the world, spiritually and physically. It’s a way of finding that sweet spot where your personal goals and the patterns of the universe merge and align. Technology is really the same thing.

But Clarke’s Law is profoundly false if you think of technology as most people do: a non-spiritual exercise, in which the world is played with, manipulated as if it were nothing but raw material, rigidly bound by scientific law — and our own will. That has nothing to do with magic.

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Carl Jung’s Shadow on the Stairs

A couple of days ago, not long after breakfast, my oldest daughter, who is 8, was coming upstairs to ask me a question when I heard her give a little shriek of surprise. In my house, kids are shrieking and screaming and laughing all the time, so I didn’t think twice about it. But then she came up, all a-twitter, and told me she’d seen an apparition behind her on the stairs.

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Do Evil Spirits Exist?

Note: this post was written in 2006, and it’s fine as far as it goes. For my more recent thinking on the existence of evil spirits, see Powers of Darkness.

Do Evil Spirits Exist?

A month ago, if you’d asked me this question, I would’ve said “Definitely not.” Two weeks ago, I would’ve answered “Definitely.” Today, I’m pretty sure that both answers are true.

How can that be?

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