Sign in to follow this  

Jean Meslier - Atheist - wikipedia article, wrote a "testament" denounces all religion argues superiority of atheist morality

Recommended Posts

Jean Meslier · Atheist/Agnostic

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Jean Meslier (1664 – 1729), was a Catholic priest who was discovered, upon his death, to have written a book-length philosophical essay promoting atheism. Described by the author as his "testament" to his parishioners, the text denounces all religion, and argues the superiority of atheist morality.

Jean Meslier



* 1 Life

* 2 Thought

* 3 Praise from Michel Onfray

* 4 See also

* 5 Notes

* 6 External links

[edit] Life

Jean Meslier was born January 15, 1664, in Mazerny in the Ardennes. He began learning Latin from a neighborhood priest in 1678 and eventually joined the seminary; he later claimed, in the Author's Preface to his Testament, this was done to please his parents. At the end of his studies, he took Holy Orders and, on January 7, 1689, became priest at Étrépigny, in Champagne. One public disagreement with a local nobleman aside, Meslier was to all appearances generally unremarkable, and he performed his office without complaint or problem for 40 years.

When Meslier died, there were found in his house three copies of a 633-page octavo manuscript in which the village curate denounces religion as "but a castle in the air", and theology as "but ignorance of natural causes reduced to a system".

[edit] Thought

In his Testament, Meslier repudiated not only the God of conventional Christianity, but even the generic God of the natural religion of the deists.[1] For Meslier, the existence of evil was incompatible with the idea of a good and wise God.[2] Religions, to him, were fabrications fostered by ruling elites; although the earliest Christians had been exemplary in sharing their goods, Christianity had long since degenerated into encouraging the acceptance of suffering and submission to tyranny as practised by the kings of France: injustice was explained away as being the will of an all-wise Being.[3] None of the arguments used by Meslier against the existence of God were original, in fact, he derived them from books written by orthodox theologians in the debate between the Jesuits, Cartesians, and Jansenists: their inability to agree on a proof for God's existence was taken by Meslier as a good reason not to presume that there was compelling grounds for belief in God.[1]

A materialist, Meslier denies the existence of the soul; he also dismisses the notion of free will. In Chapter V, the priest writes, "If God is incomprehensible to man, it would seem rational never to think of Him at all"; Meslier does think of him, however, for several hundred pages more, in which he calls God "a chimera" and argues that the supposition of God is not prerequisite to morality. In fact, he concludes that "[w]hether there exists a God or not [...] men's moral duties will always be the same so long as they possess their own nature".

Church of Étrépigny.

In his most famous quote, Meslier refers to a man who said:

«Il souhaitait que tous les grands de la Terre et que tous les nobles fussent pendus et étranglés avec les boyaux des prêtres.»

"He said he wished that all the great men in the world and all the nobility could be hanged, and strangled in the guts of priests."[4]

Equally common is the version quoted by Diderot: "And [with] the guts of the last priest let's strangle the neck of the last king," (French: "Et des boyaux du dernier prêtre serrons le cou du dernier roi.")[5]

Voltaire often mentions Meslier in his correspondence, calling the atheist "a good priest", telling his daughter to "read and read again" Meslier's only work, and saying that "every honest man should have Meslier's Testament in his pocket." However, he described Meslier as writing "in the style of a carriage-horse". Various edited abstracts of the Testament were printed, condensing the multi-volume original manuscript and sometimes adding material not written by Meslier. Abstracts were popular because Meslier's Testament is very long, and it is not written in a style easily understood by the uneducated; it is also too relaxed to serve as propaganda, as the author was convinced that reason and common sense - certainly not violence - were the solutions to fraudulent religion. Voltaire published his own version in expurgated form as Extraits des sentiments de Jean Meslier (1762).[2] Voltaire's edition changed the thrust of Meslier's arguments so that he appeared to be a deist - like Voltaire - rather than an atheist.

Another book, Good Sense (French: Le Bon Sens) [6] published anonymously in 1772, was long attributed to Meslier, but was in fact written by Baron d'Holbach.[7]

The Testament of Meslier has been published as Testament: Memoir of the Thoughts and Sentiments of Jean Meslier, the first English translation of the complete work by Michael Shreve (Prometheus Books, 2009) ISBN 1 59102 749 7.

[edit] Praise from Michel Onfray

In his book "In Defense Of Atheism" contemporary atheist philosopher Michel Onfray describes Meslier as the first person to write in support of atheism:

"For the first time (but how long will it take us to acknowledge this?) in the history of ideas, a philosopher had dedicated a whole book to the question of atheism. He professed it, demonstrated it, arguing and quoting, sharing his reading and his reflections, and seeking confirmation from his own observations of the everyday world. His title sets it out clearly: Memoir of the Thoughts and Feelings of Jean Meslier; and so does his subtitle: Clear and Evident Demonstrations of the Vanity and Falsity of All the Religions of the World. The book appeared in 1729, after his death. Meslier had spent the greater part of his life working on it. The history of true atheism had begun."[8]

Prior to announcing Meslier as the first atheist philosopher, Onfray considers and dismisses Cristóvão Ferreira, a Portuguese and former Jesuit who renounced his faith under Japanese torture in 1614 and went on to write a book entitled The Deception Revealed. However, Onfray decides that Ferreira was not such a good candidate as Meslier, since Ferreira converted to Zen Buddhism.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this