In my world, religion isn't simply true — it's manifestly true.

Generally, prayers are "correct" if they ask for a clearly identifiable and somewhat plausible object, or effect, or event. More detailed rules at the end of the post.

Most "correct" (see above) prayers get answered - positively. If you didn't know any better, you'd swear your $DEITY was a Star Trek Computer + Replicator.

  • \$DEITY, $CUSTOMARY_PRAYER_STUFF, Please grant me Tea, Earl Gray, Hot.

    DONE. Though, maybe I'll pour the tea on your head since you didn't pray for tea in a cup. The $DEITY is... easy to amuse and has a sense of humour of a 5 year old, at times.

  • \$DEITY, $CUSTOMARY_PRAYER_STUFF, Please grant me a tea-making machine that I don't have to refill with tea packets.

    NOT done. Implementation isn't specific enough.

  • \$DEITY, $CPS, Please grant me and my wife 15 kids.

    DONE. I'll amuse my divine self at your attempts to scrape together more than 5 consecutive minutes of sleep in the next 20 years.

  • \$DEITY, $CPS, Please grant me courage

    DONE. Biochemical balance adjusted. Though, I'm tempted to VTC your prayer as too broad, as you didn't specify how much and for how long.

  • \$DEITY, $CPS, Please grant me immortality

    NOT Done. Not specific enough and not really plausible.


    NOT Done. Nice try, though.

  • \$DEITY, $CPS, Please give me the 12 gauge auto-loader; the 45 long slide with laser sighting; phase plasma rifle in 40-watt range and the Uzi 9mm.

    DONE. Good luck to that dude to cut you off in traffic earlier

  • \$DEITY, $CPS, Please kill that a-hole who cut me off.

    NOT done. Too generic.

  • \$DEITY, $CPS, Please kill that a-hole who cut me off, driving a truck with license plate I-DRIVE3; by blowing up his truck's gas tank with a lightning hit.

    DONE. The level of specificity is good enough.

Oooooupsie! Anyone can pray for offensive wishes. Both to help them do harm on their neighbour, and to do said harm directly. As long as the wish is specific and plausible, it's almost guaranteed to be granted.

So... you have two choices:

  1. Be an angel.

    Remember Earthling Prophet R. A. Heinlein, with his "An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life". Read his Holy Book of "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress".

    And hope you don't inadvertently tick off anyone without meaning to (nearly impossible, if you go ahead and live a real life).

  2. Try to wish for defensive prayers.

    Now, here we run into a bit of an implementation issue.

    As we saw above, really generic defensive prayers (invulnerability, immortality) won't get granted for lack of specifics and/or plausibility.

    Generic/conditinal prayers won't work as well ("please make sure nobody pissed off at me today orders a prayer against me" - FAIL. "please make everyone like me today" - FAIL. "please prevent me from getting into any accidents" - FAIL. "please prevent my car from having lightning bolt strike its gas tank" - Granted. The $DEITY is curious if you remembered that one can ALSO pray for a meteor to fall on your head. Or a brick. Or for an RPG to shoot your car with).

So... what can be done to increase one's survival chances in such a society, where if someone wishes you harm, you are pretty much guaranteed to be D.E.D. as soon as they want to?

Extra prayer rules:

  • Prayers resulting in mass deaths won't be granted (say, anything killing >10 people total). So, no wishing for nukes or such, as a weapon or as an event.

  • Prayers asking to change prayer rules, and other such meta prayers, won't be granted.

  • Prayers that include SQL statements (ANY, ALL, and other such words being a tell-tale) won't be answered.

  • Prayers that read like a computer program with variables and controls statements might be rejected. "Please kill with a falling brick the first person who prays for my death today" won't work. You gotta name the person explicitly enough.

  • Accidental prayers won't be answered. "I wish my wife's head fell off", after a much-loved wife threw out your favourite sweater with holes, won't be granted, since $DEITY knows you didn't mean it and would instantly regret it.

  • One unorthodox way of increasing your prayer's chance of being answered, is to amuse the $DEITY somehow. But that's dicey - their sense of humor is... unpredictable, ranging from subtle irony to far less sophisticated.

  • Somewhat irrelevantly, prayers may be affected by how well you follow the commandments. BUT... commandments are few, and pretty trivial to follow. NOT your Biblical 10 commandments league. Things like "don't steal" (who needs to when anything you want can be prayed for). "Don't call $DEITY 'dude'". "Don't drive pink animals or pink cars".

  • Information request prayers may or may not be granted. To be granted, they have to be specific and plausible and fit other rules (e.g., wishing for a piece of paper with a recipe of pot pie in a restaurant X is granted. Wishing for the recipe itself won't work since "a recipe" isn't an object or event, just information. Wishing for the name of a person who wants to kill you won't work. Wishing for the name of the person who did something specific might work, but is dangerously close to "No SQL queries" prohibition).

  • $\begingroup$ Why the $ symbol ? $\endgroup$
    – Vincent
    Jul 10, 2015 at 2:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Vincent - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sigil_%28computer_programming%29 $\endgroup$
    – user4239
    Jul 10, 2015 at 2:16
  • $\begingroup$ The $name indicates a place-holder, like a parameter in a function. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Jul 10, 2015 at 2:17
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Yes but we are not programming here. Programming is meant to be read by machine. I find it annoying but I guess it's your call. $\endgroup$
    – Vincent
    Jul 10, 2015 at 2:20
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Odds are the world would end rather quickly...for humans at least. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Jul 10, 2015 at 14:08

8 Answers 8


Like any usable weapon, your kin and allies and eventually a society will address misuses. The brother of the deceased can pray for a report on what happened and why and by whom. This might get worked out well enough over time that a bureau will get a list of all prayers made, just like you can look through Google searches, but including particulars.

Payback will be handled by the same experts, who have refined their punishment “spells”/scripts over generations.

Your examples imply a simple last-command-effects with no priorities. So praying to not get caught is pointless, as the police detective will pray that you do, and the dedicated force of constables/chant-singing-monks will instigate a denial-of-service campaign against your further use of prayer.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Exactly - it doesn't even have to be this sophisticated. - If you pray to kill someone, he will have family, friends or simply good righteous people investigating every murder. And they will find out and they will punish you instantly without fail.... Organized crime will also grow lower, because blackmail and extortion become really unpredictable and hard. The important thing is to not be alone, if no one will miss you, you are easily killed by prayer. So it is important to socialize and be on good terms with many people who will pray if you disappear.... $\endgroup$
    – Falco
    Jul 10, 2015 at 9:31

I would guess, that most jerks would be eliminated early in life and so the survivors would tend to be (more) polite and considerate of others, karma and golden rule to the nth degree! Also they wouldn't really need to even invent weapons, if I can say "Please kill Grog with rock on head", why do I need an MP5? If I can say I want a sirloin stake for diner, I don't need to hunt or gather or really do anything! All I'd need to do is try to avoid practical jokers who might ask for me to wear a pink leotard and dance swan lake.

Now if this was something where the deity just showed up yesterday and started granting these wishes, life would be very interesting for a few years, starting with the death of almost every single famous person still alive, including every single politician on the planet. My guess is most of them would be dead before we even realized that our wishes/prayers really were coming true.

Personally I would stop posting anything on the internet the moment I figured it out, but it might already be too late!

So my best attempt, would be "Please let me know with a bell sound when harm is wished upon me" and "I wish to find a piece of paper detailing any harm wished upon me 15 minutes early". These might give me enough time (if granted) to fix and counter the harm being sent.

  • $\begingroup$ The last paragraph is explicitly against the rules $\endgroup$
    – user4239
    Jul 10, 2015 at 15:13
  • $\begingroup$ @DVK I thought that might be the case, but otherwise you might as well just enjoy life since you have no control of other people. Most people should be happy since the only worry that is valid is making someone mad enough at you to wish you harm. $\endgroup$
    – bowlturner
    Jul 10, 2015 at 15:17

I think people would soon get into the habit of praying repeatedly all through the day.


Please ensure that the bus I am currently boarding reaches my desired bus-stop on schedule, with me in it and in good health.

Then when you get near the bus-stop:

Please ensure that I am able to get off the bus without doing damage to myself or others.


The fact that I personally may have left some loopholes in my examples above is because I am a stranger in this world. This would be taken care of in the actual world because natural selection would eliminate people who couldn't formulate good prayers.

  • $\begingroup$ Both of those example prayers would not be granted under the rules outlined. Too generic/broad. $\endgroup$
    – user4239
    Jul 10, 2015 at 15:16

Become a hermit.

Personally I'd wish for a house on the moon, and if that was outside the scope of prayers I'd simplify by prayers, piece by piece, until I had everything required to get to the moon and build a house/infrastructure to survive. Then I'd wish for the ability to move the moon, and if that was too much I'd again simplify my prayers until they reached the point where they were accepted, and build some giant engines on the moon.

Then I'd fly off on the moon, into the wilderness of space, and leave Earth behind, living off wishes. Sure it may be a lonely existence, but at least I won't be a slave to the whims of others prayers.

Really I'd just need to make sure nobody knew it was me who stole the moon, as I suspect wishing for 'the moon to reappear' would be outside the scope of a prayer, so I'd be free!

Once I'm exploring, I'd just mess about with wishes I guess, use them to stock up on food, make repairs, etc, maybe get the latest TV shows etc.


Insight: If you substitute the words "pray for" with "do something about", then many of the rules in the real world apply to yours.

So, in the real world you stop people from stealing your stuff by

  1. living in a society where people teach their kids that stealing is wrong and
  2. having heavy doors with big locks.

In your world, you have people

  1. pray for their kids, that they'll treat people properly, and
  2. you have them pray for decent body armour.
  • $\begingroup$ #1 prayer would not work. Not specific enough. $\endgroup$
    – user4239
    Jul 10, 2015 at 15:15
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ When you bring up children in the real world, you don't just say to them "treat people properly". You actually teach them lots of specific rules about what to do in all sorts of situations. Perhaps the same could apply in your world? $\endgroup$
    – Kramii
    Jul 10, 2015 at 15:51

I feel like the real trick here is anonymity.

Since "that a-hole who cut me off" isn't specific enough, and they need to identify the user with a license plate number, your main character here needs to trick the people who want to hurt him/her by being utterly unidentifiable.

This would require a particularly crafty character. If he tries to remove the license plate from his truck, someone might specify "The truck with no license plate", so he would have to pre-meditate, perhaps place a license plate underneath the truck which would identify to $DEITY sufficiently and cause any unwell-wisher to mess up their prayer.

The character can either hide their identity through magical or mundane means -- perhaps they have a spell that makes them look different, perhaps they're wearing a wig. Either way, most people probably aren't trained to call out "That guy who looks like he has red hair".


So an expanded Death Note, then?

Well, I suspect many would retreat into seclusion, and as others got closer they would pray, "Please make this person my servant, obedient to me in everything including praying to you."

Eventually you'd end up with tribes of controlled people, perhaps waging wars over resources.


We have to consider the history of this world. Let us suppose there was a time when the primitive inhabitants weren't aware of there being a god and simply didn't pray. Maybe they didn't even have language at that point.

As soon as they discovered how to speak and how to pray they would start to ask for things. At first these would be simple things because they are a primitive people. They might ask to have a successful hunt for example.

Any member of this race who didn't get the hang of the system would simply be eliminated by natural selection.

As time went on, the survivors would learn how to handle things. They would keep their children under careful protection until they were able to pray properly. Maybe they would have to be gagged so as not to speak childish prayers.

As the society became more sophisticated, people would start to realise there are rules to these prayers. Scientist-priests would experiment by trying out different forms of prayer to see what effect they had. They would become experts in manipulating the system.

My answer

Get the best education you can. This world would definitely have the equivalent of a University of Prayer. One of the most important classes would be Formal Logic and its relationship to Prayer Logic.

Answer edited in accordance with justified criticism.

  • $\begingroup$ This still doesn't seem to actually answer. You say "you will deal with it by learning how to pray more effectively", but that's really what the question is, what CAN you do to pray more effectively. Merely being familiar with prayer logic doesn't say what that logic would be. $\endgroup$
    – user4239
    Jul 10, 2015 at 19:56

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