Mental Reservation

Q. When is a lie not a lie?

A. When it’s mental reservation.

I never heard the expression mental reservation until I read the Dublin diocese report,  but I’ve seen it in action many times.  It isn’t something the Catholic church hold a monopoly on, although they seem to have reduced it to a new level of dishonesty.

Mental reservation is a way of telling lies while being able to claim that you’ve been  completely honest. For instance, Cardinal Desmond Connell was comfortable with telling journalists that diocesan funds are not used to pay off the victims of clerical abusers, and he was very pleased with the subtlety of his language.  He took great satisfaction in explaining that he didn’t say such funds were not used in the past, and if the journalists happened to be hoodwinked by his clever use of language, why that was just their own misfortune for not being as slippery smart as Des.  Likewise, the diocese explained to a priest representing Marie Collins that they said they had cooperated with the police investigation, but not that they had cooperated fully.  That was mental reservation, you see, holding back the word fully, and thinking it but not actually saying it.

This kind of linguistic game-playing is common among the likes of  Connell and his fellow bishops who have the luxury of debating abstract moral propositions that carry no personal consequences for them, as they share a glass of port in their seminary or their palace.  The detachment from reality that they grew up with transfers into a detachment from real people’s lives and an indifference to their suffering.

I doubt if this kind of thinking is confined to seminaries.

By the same token, we saw Bill Clinton, a former Rhodes Scholar, insist that he did not have sexual relations with that woman, when most guys in his position would be more than happy to think of what he got up to as just that.

If you’re old enough to remember the Australian Spycatcher affair, you might recall Sir Robert Armstrong producing the magnificent phrase “economical with the truth”. No doubt Sir Robert, now Baron Armstrong, became well-acquainted with abstruse,  detached word-play during his time at Eton and Oxford, where he absorbed the languid, dishonest and ruthless demeanour of his class.

The world loved the patent absurdity of Armstrong’s phrase, and laughed at it, because we all understood what he meant.  Economical with the truth. Every parent knows  who took the sweets, or put  a football through the window.  It was Mister Nobody.

And just as deceitfulness is not unique to princes of the church and Old Etonians, there is not always a formal training in evasion and equivocation.  Sometimes, a Mr Nobody  is born with the native cunning to lie, evade and deceive as we saw with Bertie Ahern and his treatment of the Tribunals.


There are two big differences.

Neither Baron Armstrong nor Bill Cinton nor Bertie Ahern, for all his faults, claim to wield any moral authority, or to lecture the population at large on how their private lives should be conducted.  And likewise, Armstrong, Clinton and Ahern had to give some account of themselves to the civil power, however inadequate that account might have been.

The Catholic clergy,  on the other hand, owe their primary allegiance to a foreign State, the Vatican,  and furthermore claim to be the ultimate authority on what is ethical and what is not.

Therefore, when you examine it in the context of the Vatican’s snub to the Commission, and the Papal Nuncio’s refusal to acknowledge its letters, you would have to conclude that mental reservation as practised by the Catholic clergy is just one more calculated finger of contempt towards the people of this country.

Now let me ask you this.  How long are you prepared to live with someone who holds you in contempt?

65 thoughts on “Mental Reservation

  1. You need to look at the Finance Vote for Education. Or better all together get in contact with your TD. And ask why is it PU, Maynooth and the Milltown Inst are in receipt of part of that Vote. I will give them Mental Reservation where it will hurt them most, the bastards.

  2. A former editor, running a journalism school in the UK, insisted that all journalists should have this inbuilt instinct.

    “When your talking to a politician, he advised, you must be asking yourself why is this fucker lying to me. If your not asking yourself that question then you have no business here.

    Likewise when your talking to Bishops.

  3. As pointed out in today’s Irish Times, the mental reservation has a long and “honourable” tradition in Irish history. One needs only to think of the antics of John Charles McQuaid’s good friend Dev regarding the Oath of Allegiance in order to enter the Dail in 1927. Come to think of it, he founded Fianna Fail too, didn’t he?

  4. Bock, I will introduce this concept of advanced lying to Skandinavia.” Mentalreservation” If it was not used in tragic circumstances them it would be amusing, but used by well fed men with funny hats and clothes from the dream factory it is down right nauseating, especially to cover criminal activity were children were exploited. How many more reports like this can Ireland produce before these parasites are shown the road to Rome?.

  5. I think we might need a reservation at the mental hospital for Desmond Connell.

    If this is how he values truth, what’s the point of his religious beliefs at all? How does he know that this jesus character wasn’t just taking the piss too ? Oh yeah, when I said that you’d live forever if you follow my rules, what I really meant was that you’d live forever…wondering why you believed me when you could have been out having sex all the time. Oh wait, you were. Never mind.

    I bet Desmond Connell has been burying the bishop, as it were, for many years. Since we can’t believe a word he says now, because he might be mentally reserving on us, we’ll just have to assume the worst. How many little ones did he bugger then – seriously, how would we know? Do you think he’d file away the evidence? Lying fucking scumbag.

  6. Interesting Panorama programme on the BBC last week. It investigated prosecutions under the”Joint Enterprise” laws. In other words the crime of turning a blind eye. As this originated back in the 1800`s I am sure it would still apply in this juristriction. In short while we all know that the Roman Catholic church has mental reservations about seeking justice for those raped by its priest and religious, there is no impediment to the state in bringing prosecutions against all those complicit in these abhorrent crimes. Unless the DPP and minister for justice suffer from mental reservations as well.

  7. I love your reading of the Church as a religious 5th column undermining Irish society… that’s an insight that could readily be developed a lot further and open a lot of people’s eyes… good writing, keep it up.

  8. The church will die out with the older generation. Also priests are a dying breed since gay men no longer have to hide in the closet of the priesthood.

  9. This mental reservation is a good one alright, and news to me – despite preparing little children for the sacrament of penance for years.
    Very remiss of me!
    Those same little children would never have accepted that excuse!
    We have two lovely sayings in Ieland now to wriggle out of a LIE – mature recollection and mental reservation!
    FF and RC – a match made in …. surely not Heaven?

    I was surprised to hear that hundreds of Limerick priests and “people” (are priests not people?) are standing full square beside your bishop.
    What a carry on.
    What on Earth and in the name of GOD will move the people to say – for Christ’s sake, lads, cop on and just go away would ye?

  10. Audrey, remember abusers and rapists love power and the feeling of subjugating others – this is actually not (or not much) to do with sexuality at all, in my opinion. Natural sexuality – including the gay kind – is about the dance of attraction, attention, negotiation and fulfilment of desire (sometimes leading to love, sometimes away from it) between two mature adults, neither of whom have too much of a power edge over the other. The church will thrive so long as the younger generation keeps discovering the temptations of power.

  11. Bock having just read the link on the death of Peter McCloskey. Needless to say I am numbed and horrified, but sadly not surprised. What is of interest to me is the links between the legal profession and the church.and state. Isn`t it interesting that Denis Maloney Belfast solicitor, Papal Knight, defender of child rapists (Brendan Smyth for example)has been appointed to the council of state by Mary McAleese. McAleese and Maloney apparently were legal advisors to the church for many years in the north. How deep does this corruption go.

  12. Bock, could you clarify where you see I’m makng a connection between gay men and child abusers? :) I made no connection between the two.
    Of course I don’t think being gay has anything to do with being a child abuser.
    I’m just of the opinion that in the past if a man was gay joining the priesthood would be a good closet and that’s no longer needed as it’s more acceptable to be gay in the general population.
    I would think a lot of pedophile rapist priests wouldn’t mind whoever they got their hands on, be it boys or girls.. just that altar boys were more available to them. Not gay, not straight, but pedophiles.

  13. I think Audrey is making a perfectly valid point and it’s an important issue in this discussion. The average age of priests in Ireland is 63, and mandatory retirement age is 75. So in twelve years’ time around half of today’s priests will be gone, and they are not being replaced. So the workforce of the church is declining dramatically. This can only mean fewer masses and fewer churches. It is likely to coincide with a decline in church-going by the population, for many reasons, so the demand for church ‘services’ will decline in parallel to the capacity to supply them. The church is in decline; possibly (and hopefully imo) in terminal decline. In the past, the church has relied on gay men to fill its ranks (in one study of the priesthood, the authors concluded that 30-50% of priests are gay or have unresolved issues about their sexual orientation). Gay men do not feel the same social pressure to join this closet today, so this supply line is drying up too, especially since Herr Pope has decreed that gay men cannot become priests, even if they are celibate (which gay man would choose to join this club?).

    The irony here is that the decline of the church is almost entirely its own fault, caused by a rigid hierachical control system and its unwillingness to tolerate diversity and difference. The church is failing for reasons that sound very unChristian. Some sweet justice, perhaps, to those who suffered at its hands.

  14. I’d be interested to see your reference to the original study. Going on past experience, I have no doubt you can produce it.

    However, people’s sexual orientation has nothing whatever to do with child abuse and I don’t want to confuse the two issues. If anything I’d trust gay men to look after my children sooner than I’d trust heterosexual strangers.

  15. The Murphy report describes the way Dublin Archdiosesan personel dealt with complainants of child sex abuse as “overbearing and underhand”. That’s the feeling I get from the RC church generally. The atmosphere, or so-called ethos, in our schools is the same. Sneaky clerical bullies controlling state institutions and funds, fiercely guarding their power and control.
    The report also tells of grooming. Paedophile priests would go and ingratiate themselves in families’ homes, and then make moves on a child. But I believe the grooming starts long before the charmer appears on your doorstep. If you are a RC parent you have been softened up to comply with priests, to defer to them, and you have been inhibited from contradicting or challenging them since your own infancy.
    Were you not trained to kneel down before these people, close your eyes, open wide and feed from their hands?
    Were you not patronised into calling them Father? Are you not already groomed into submission? Are you not already hypnotised into accepting the breakdown of your reasoning, virgin birth, reversible death and an edible creator?
    Our pastors are just that – shepherds. The similarity of dress between Bo-Peep and a bishop is no coincidence. We are their flock. They dip us, milk us, fleece us, devour us. There is nothing we shall want.
    The priestly knock on your hall door is end-game, not opening gambit.

  16. I’ll try to dig up the reference – it’s from an Australian study, but I couldn’d find it quickly on Google. In the meantime, Wikipedia backs up the general point here, quoting an estimate of 33%:

    I fully agree that there is no direct link between homosexuality and child abuse. But in fairness, Audrey didn’t even imply the connection – she just pointed out reasons for the declining number of priests – so there’s no dispute.

    I see in today’s Telegraph, comments from a Vatican cardinal that gays cannot go to heaven. While this is true, since nobody can go to a place that does not exist, one would think that the obviously self-loathing gay cardinal might have the common sense to know when to shut up and lay low for a while. It’s not a good time for the church to be drawing attention to itself.

  17. Cynical Joe, I’d be interested to see if you can dig up anything to prove that’s there’s no heaven. You sound very certain. :)

  18. What about Santa Bock, surely you don’t believe there’s no Santa. Especially this time of year.
    Maybe heaven doesn’t exist. Maybe it’s beyond existence as we know it.

  19. I haven’t time to read that. Are you saying that “beyond existence” is meaningless?

    Let’s get back to the point of the post please, which is about mental reservation.

  20. No, more than existence is meaningless.
    BTW. Watching Nightly News with Vincent Browne tonight where they discussed the recent Murphy report into clerical child abuse makes me hope there’s a hell for these evil bastards.
    One of the guests on the show mentioned one paeophile priest who was told of a child who was abused by another priest and sought out this child under the pretense to offer comfort.. and raped this child also. How absolutely evil.. seems like there was a paedophile ring going on.

  21. The Murphy report was not an inquiry into child abuse.

    It was an inquiry into how the Dublin diocese handled complaints about child abuse.

  22. I haven’t read the report but I would imagine that if they’re reporting on how complaints of child abuse were handled they would mention the complaints themselves.

  23. that is true, but as I said, the inquiry was about how the bishops handled the complaints.

    Focussing on the abuse distracts from the cover-up by the church leaders, which is the main thrust of the report.

  24. yea. I think one of the church leaders – Dr. Donal Murray will get his comeuppance soon. Dr of what! – PHD in protecting evil sickos.

  25. Diarmuid Martin said on radio this morning that Desmond Connell’s statement that he had cooperated with the Commission, was not a case of “mental reservation” which has a very specific definition. Connell’s avoidance of the word “fully” was described by Martin as being “economical with the truth”.

    So we now have “mental reservation” (good and permissable) and “being economical with the truth” (bad and not allowed).

    And we still don’t know how many angels fit on the head of a pin.

    Ah shit! Why not just play it for laughs:

  26. Sorry to backtrack, but just want to point out to Audrey that the concept of heaven that she apparently holds dear was invented by humans, a very long time ago. In the meantime, there have been a few important scientific discoveries that have disproven most of the rest of the stuff those humans wrote, such as the age of our planet and how humans came to be here. Given the choice between believing a very specific, and rather fanciful, story about what happens after we die, or admiting that I don’t know, I’ll go with the ineffable. The probability that the specific heaven story is right, given the track record on other matters, is so vanishingly small as to be irrelevant. And if you argue that we shouldn’t take things too literally, and that heaven is really some vague eternally blissful state-of-being, then why don’t you just admit that you don’t believe in heaven either and have a different and equally unprovable theory?

    Of course, religious people can’t accept that the tradtional dogmatic version of heaven could be wrong, largely reflecting their inability to handle ambiguity and their need for simple certainties. This is driven by a psychological fear of the unknowable and their inability to admit to themselves that much of what their parents told them to believe was utter hogwash. But life is full of uncertainty, and it’s never to late to deal with that reality. You’ll never be so happy as the day you admit to yourself that your religious belief system makes no sense.

    Back to the subject – if gays can’t go to heaven, what about child abusers and those who covered up their crimes? Why don’t we have a vatican pronouncement on that?

  27. Cynical Joe, where did you get all that from what i said. I would go with the unprovable theory also as I don’t think it’s anything you can prove. What I meant by the joke was that I can’t be certain it doesn’t exist.
    You point out scientists have made important discoveries in the meantime, such as the age of our planet.. true, there are some scientists that also look at scientific findings such as the laws of gravity that are so precise to make them work that it’s like writing a specific code on a tiny part of a string of code that stretches for a million miles and they take that as indication of a creator.

  28. Audrey; Yeah sorry, I may have read too much into your question earlier. But my essential point remains; admitting that we do not know the answers is not the same as admitting that the specific religious theory of heaven is just as likely as there being no heaven or there being another version of heaven. Many religious people I have debated seem to think that just because I cannot prove that there is no heaven, this means that their version is as valid and likely to be true as all other options. This is a huge logical fallacy – akin to saying that since we don’t know who murdered a victim, that the probability that a particular person did it is the same as the probability that all other potential suspects (known and unknown) did it. Without clear evidence, the likelihood of a specific story being more true than all others collectively is extremely miniscule (it has already vanished).

    When they think about this for a nanosecond, most semi-intelligent religious people then change their story and claim that they never said heaven was all pearly gates and clouds and angels, but rather that it’s an ephemeral and blissful state-of-being yada yada. This lack of conviction really annoys me – most religious people, if you ask them one or two questions, will quickly display a complete lack of belief in whatever it was they are supposed to believe in, and then get really upset when you point this out to them. It’s such a pathetic lack of courage. Either you believe it or you don’t – but for fuck sake, please spend ten miutes out of your life thinking about it before you sell your (non-existent) soul to a corrupt and morally bankrupt authoritarian regime that’s busy buggering your little boy in their spare time.

    OK, feel better now. Nothing personal, you understand…

  29. It’s an utterly spurious line of reasoning but a useful way of legitimising fairy tales.

    This morning I received an interesting email from Mr Darwin with a link about requests to debate creationism.

    To quote from the article, “I would not invite a creationist to a debate on campus for the same reason that I would not invite an alchemist, a flat-earther, an astrologer, a psychic, or a Holocaust revisionist.”.

    In other words, it isn’t science, and neither is a belief in the existence of Heaven. It’s a belief and nothing more, without evidence to support it. The onus is on the believers to bring forward proof if they have any, not the other way round.

  30. CJ – Yea, well I guess people don’t like their reality fucked with when you question their beliefs. I couldn’t care less what anyone wants to believe to be honest, I don’t have evidence to disprove their beliefs and if I did I don’t know that I’d want to burst their bubble – whatever makes um happy. When there’s nothing personal in a mental position you take then it’s easier to not get annoyed or take it as a threat to the self.. as you’re not invested in any opinion of it one way or another.
    Anyways who cares really whatever happens to you when you die as it makes no difference to your life. I would take a guess that whatever level of consciousness you have when you’re alive you take that with you.

  31. Except that it does matter when other people believe nonsensical fairytales, especially when they organise a society around these beliefs. In Ireland today, you are not free to criticise religion; you are not free to choose what to do with your (female) body; you can’t even choose to end a marriage that easily; as a young child, you are not safe in the hands of a religious person; it is extremely impractical to try to send your child to a secular school. There is all kinds of subtle discrimination against people who are not catholic, whether they are Jewish, Muslim or whatever.

    In other words, you freedoms and your rights are curtailed because of the fairytale beliefs of the majority in Ireland. So it matters, a lot.

    I’m still trying to figure out what you meant by saying “I would take a guess that whatever level of consciousness you have when you’re alive you take that with you.” I’d be interested to understand why you would guess this – as opposed, say, to thinking that you might revert to the level of consciousness you had when you were not alive (i..e before you were born). It just sounds like woolly, wishful thinking to guess that you’ll still be conscious after you die – why not just face up to the overwhelming probability that you will not be conscious, since your brain will be dead, and get on with enjoying what is left of your life? Saying you don’t care what other people believe is just conflict avoidance dressed up as tolerance. I don’t give a shit what people believe in their spare time either, but I will fight for my right not to have my life fucked up by someone else’s crazy insecurities.

  32. CJ I’m not talking about organising a society around beliefs. I’m just talking about people’s personal beliefs that they are entitled to have in my opinion. I agree with every thing you’ve said in terms of how our society is run. The church has way too much influence.. but I think it will die out in next 50 years or so.
    I have no idea what level of consciousness I had before I was born and I’ve no idea what level of consciousness I will have when I die. It makes no difference to my life if I’ll stay conscious after I die to be honest, nothing I have any control over anyways but personally I do believe in a creator.. it’s not anything I believe in, it’s something I feel.

  33. Bock – no.. I just mentioned in a comment earlier to CJ at 8.29pm that some scientists read into formulas for scientific laws as proof of a creator and ( I think you were writing at the same time) – then you also mention that you received an email earlier today on creationism.

  34. When I was writing the comment – CJ – Yea, well I guess people don’t like their reality fucked with when you question their beliefs. I couldn’t care less what anyone wants to believe to be honest, I don’t have evidence to disprove their beliefs and if I did I don’t know that I’d want to burst their bubble – whatever makes um happy. When there’s nothing personal in a mental position you take then it’s easier to not get annoyed or take it as a threat to the self.. as you’re not invested in any opinion of it one way or another.
    Anyways who cares really whatever happens to you when you die as it makes no difference to your life. I would take a guess that whatever level of consciousness you have when you’re alive you take that with you.’ -Your comment wasn’t there even though it now says it was posted earlier.

  35. Audrey: I’d love to repsond to your comment –

    “personally I do believe in a creator.. it’s not anything I believe in, it’s something I feel” –

    but I have no idea what that sentence means, or how someone might live with that degree of internal contradiction. You feel something, but you don’t believe it (or do you?). My suggestion – think about it for a while. Use reason, not feelings or unfounded beliefs. Reason will set you free.

  36. Ok thanks CJ.. I’ll keep that in mind. reason, logic, analysis, scientific method.. I’ll think about it for a while longer and let you know when I’m free.
    Like I said it’s not a belief for me, it’s something that’s known/felt. There is a vast amount of intelligence that created life on this planet that has nothing to do with thought.. there is intelligence beyond thought.

  37. Audrey: I suspect you have been thoroughly brainwashed to think that you ‘know’ these things. Hence the need to stand back and reason your way out. You cannot ‘know’ the unknowable. And so far in human experience, the answers to these questions are unknowable.

  38. CJ – In terms of rational thought … i still dont understand how a bunch of chemical reactions which is what we are can produce such thought, we are a physical body, but we are more than just our bodies…..i guess you have to feel it to realize it. I understand a lot of people have been soured against religion and rightly so. religion is hypocritical. But I’m not talking about religion.

  39. Correction – lol How are their beliefs supported and not mine? It takes as much faith to be an atheist. It’s not proven one way or another. Even logic agrees that you cannot get something out of nothing. It’s beyond our comprehension. It’s beyond being conceived of. So if it’s untestable and can’t be proved then it has to do with faith or belief. Using reason, not feelings or unfounded beliefs as CJ suggests doesn’t make a difference to proving or disproving anything. And of course it’s unfounded. It’s not testable. But I respect people’s right to not believe or to not know, however don’t tell me to use logic or reason as if i’m somehow illogical having faith in something that’s not proven.

  40. Audrey, your logic in this discussion is all over the place. An atheist is not someone who believes there is no God, he/she is someone who does not believe that there is a God. This is an important distinction, the result of which is the affirmation that an atheist does not have faith in a belief, rather he/she does not see any valid arguments for believing in a God, be that a triune Judaeo-Hellenistic concept, a flying spaghetti monster (whose believers call themselves Pastafarians), or a giant tea-cup revolving around Saturn.

    Having faith in something that’s not proven is, formally seen, illogical. If you could logically argue to the existence of God, then you wouldn’t need faith.

    It’s nice that you “respect people’s right not to believe or not to know.” Actually, you might like to consider the question of “rights” from the other side of the fence. How far should a secular, pluralist society accord “rights” to religious groups which threaten the basic human rights of others, especially children, and whose highest leadership and administrative levels collude and work actively to suppress knowledge of crimes committed and supply succour and support for people who have committed serious crimes? (And I’m not talking about scientologists here.)

  41. Having faith in something unproven is the complete opposite of logic. It’s the abandonment of critical thinking.

  42. Frantheman – ‘An atheist is not someone who believes there is no God, he/she is someone who does not believe that there is a God.’ That’s great logic trying to make your point. Even with your explanation of atheism I stand by what I said – I think it’s takes as much faith to accept that because there are no valid arguments for a god you choose to not believe there is ‘A’ god. If it’s unproven you are choosing to have a belief that there is a god or there is no such thing, or no valid arguments for believing in a god, either way it’s not illogical.
    Your statement saying if something’s not proven its formally seen as illogical, seems very illogical to me. Before the earth was proven to be round and everyone accepted it to be flat, if there was someone that believed it to be round would he be seen as illogical?. What if it was never proven that the earth was round, what if we never got advanced enough to know. I’m not asserting anything using that fact, I’m using it as an example of your theory on what’s illogical.

  43. Audrey, we seem to agree that there are things that we do not understand. Our point of departure is when you then jump the conclusion that you must have faith or belief in some theory to explain these things. A perfectly good alternative is to say that the answer is ‘unknowable’ – that there cannot be an answer – and stop there. In an ironic way you are being too logical – striving to find an explanation that is almost good enough to explain something that is not knowable.

    Imagine for a second that you are a cockroach. You will see (hopefully) that it is not possible for you to imagine what this is truly like. You can imagine perhaps what it is like for Audrey to feel like a cockroach, but you can never know what the actual experience of being a cockroach is like. It is unknowable. Now ask yourself this – why can the cockroach not play a Mozart concerto on a grand piano? Because a cockroach cannot know what this experience is like. In a similar way, mere humans cannot know the origins and scope of the universe and understand the paradox of consciousness. We are but a small tangent on an evolutionary tree, on one small planet, in one small galaxy. We may think we are special, but we are not.

    It is humbling but very liberating to acknowledge that we cannot know some things and that we do not need absurd theories to explain the unknowable. This faith that you speak of is just a yearning for understanding, when no understanding is possible. I wish more people could experience the intellectual freedom that this simple conclusion affords.

  44. People — Someone please tell me what all this has to do with mental reservation, which is the topic of the post? There’s a very interesting thread called Scientific Method, which is probably a more suitable home for this discussion.

  45. Audrey: “Before the earth was proven to be round and everyone accepted it to be flat, if there was someone that believed it to be round would he be seen as illogical?” It would depend on the reasons that person gave for believing that the earth was round. Historically in fact, back to the ancient Greeks, a large number of educated thinkers, from Pythagoras onwards, following basic scientific methods, argued that the earth was round:

    But let’s get back to logic. In terms of formal logic I grant you a point in that it is problematical to logically argue to proof of a negative. A statement, for example, “there are no black swans”, is always subject to refutation on the discovery that, in fact, a black swan exists somewhere. Nonetheless, regarding the existence of God, the logic works in another direction, in that there are no logical arguments/proofs for the existence of a God which are not open to serious challenge on the basis of rational, logical thinking. Even Thomas Aquinas was aware of this when he carefully called his five classical arguments for the existence of God “ways” and not “proofs.”

    Arguments for the existence of God generally fall down, from the logical point of view, on the basis of internal self-reference with regard to their own definition of terms; they are nothing more than rational legerdemain. The best example of this is the Anselmian argument: God is a being, greater than which nothing can be thought to exist – but something which exists is obviously greater than something which does not exist – therefore God exists. Very clever, except that it’s a completely closed loop. It’s like saying 1=1.

    This is why the Abrahamic religions are all based on a revelation of some sort – and, particularly in the case of Christianity and Islam, posit a “faith” response on the part of those to whom “God” reveals his/her existence/nature. The question is whether this faith is reasonable. Atheists, or agnostics with atheistic tendencies (which is how I would define myself, given the problem with logical proofs of a negative, which I outlined above) argue that none of the arguments concerning the reasonableness of the various versions of faith proffered by believers are particularly convincing.

    Let’s be quite clear about this; an atheist does not have to prove anything – the burden of proof is on the theist. And, contrary to what many think, doubt has a long and illustrious pedigree. If you are really interested in going into this issue seriously, you could do a lot worse than begin with “Doubt – A History,” by Jennifer Michael Hecht (New York, 2004, ISBN 978-0-06-009795-0). It’s an immensely readable, balanced, erudite work, just the kind of present to ask Santy for.

  46. Thanks for writing this, it’s the best description of ‘mental reservation’ i have found.

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