Understanding actions, intentions, the judgment upon them,
and the gift of prayer

According to the Qur'an, more important than actions are the intentions behind them. Therefore it may be valuable to attempt to construct a theory of actions and intentions.

One could argue that there are no good or bad actions per se. Actions are "judged" by their outcomes, tempered by their intentions. In fact, the judgment on an action is equivalent to the outcome that proceeds from it. The blame or credit that may be attached to the doer of the action is dependent upon the intention(s) behind the action.

An action consists of some kind of motion by a person, directed by an intention and using some combination of means (a part of your body, a weapon, an automobile, a computer, a national army, or innumerable other things).

Every action will eventually dissolve into positive and negative outcomes. In some cases the positive outcomes will outweigh the negative and in some cases the negative will outweigh the positive.

The more powerful the means used, the larger the outcome of the action will be, both positive and negative.

Say my intention is to hurt somebody - usually a bad intention. The outcome of my action will differ depending on whether I use a verbal insult, an open-handed slap, a balled fist, a wooden beam, or a gun. Or an F-16 fighter jet. So the judgment on my action will be more severe for an attack with a gun than for an attack with an open hand, because the outcome will be more severe.

Now if my intention was good, say to protect myself or others from an imminent attack, I may not have to suffer the judgment for my action, assuming I choose a reasonable, and not an excessive means to perform the action.

But if my intention was bad, say to allay an unreal fear of attack on my part, or to take something away from the one I attacked, then I will suffer judgment based on the consequences of my action, which will depend on the means used. If I use a gun, I am liable to kill or paralyze my victim. This kind of action will have wide consequences, because the victim has his own potentials and relationships in the world that will all be affected by my action. But even a slap or other less physically harmful form of attack may have great negative repercussions that I cannot fathom.

Sometimes the real intention of my action is not entirely clear to me. For example, I may spread some rotten gossip about someone, thinking that I am doing a good deed by warning others about them; when in fact I am acting out of self-doubt and hurt.

Or I may buy an expensive gift for my child thinking that it is to show her that I love her, when in fact it is to try to make up for the fact that I often neglect her. In this way, I may end up teaching my child that gifts are a proper substitute for attention and love.

Sometimes I know deep down that I am doing something wrong, but I cover over that feeling with a pious good intention. It would help to go to the Goddess/God in prayer and meditation, to ask the Goddess/God what is really going on with me. The Goddess/God is always there to help me interpret my actions before I take them, if only I seek His/Her guidance.

This is a great benefit of prayer. The  GoddessGod will always make your motives clear to you if you ask for that in prayer. Understanding your motives and not acting on bad motives is a great way to avoid the judgment for bad actions.

The actions talked about so far have been actions vis-à-vis other people. But a major source of worry about whether one's actions are good or bad are those actions that you do with yourself or by consent with others. These are usually actions motivated by appetite - for eating, drinking, intoxication, and sex. Here, too, the same principle applies.

The judgment of the action depends on its outcome, tempered by its intention. If you indulge in actions to escape problems, those problems will grow and fester, and you will have to face them eventually after they have become more severe. But if you indulge in appetites to give yourself pleasure, and there are no negative consequences of your actions, then how can there be a judgment on them?

Again, the important thing is to know your motivations and be aware of the potential outcomes of your actions.

You can also ask the Goddess/God to show you how to enjoy the pleasures while reducing or eliminating the risks of negative outcomes. After such prayer, you may soon find yourself encountering information on that very subject, like healthy diet information, safer sex information, etc. Or you may find the guidance within yourself in your own common sense. But you should always go back to the Goddess/God again and again for confirmation and clarification.


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