Amazing Atheists: Jean Meslier (1664-1729)

by Luke Muehlhauser on September 22, 2009 in Amazing Atheists

meslierJean Meslier served as a Catholic priest for 40 years, but after his death was discovered to have written the very first book-length philosophical essay promoting atheism. The 633-page essay, his Testament, viciously denounces all religions, and argues that atheist morality is superior.

Remarkable for its era, the Testament denies not only the God of Christianity, but also the God of natural theology and deism. Not only that, but it advocates materialism, and denies the existence of the soul and free will.

In 1729! Wow! I must echo the praises from Michel Onfray:

For the first time… 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… Meslier had spent the greater part of his life working on it. The history of true atheism had begun.

I first heard about Meslier years ago, and have been waiting ever since for the first English translation of his Testament. Well, it was finally published, today. Here it is: Testament: Memoir of the Thoughts and Sentiments of Jean Meslier.

meslier_testamentThere is also a play about his life, entitled Meslier: Love, Lies, Death and Dogma.

Previous post:

Next post:

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Torcant September 22, 2009 at 7:50 am
urbster1 September 22, 2009 at 7:50 am

Wow, this is so cool! I had never heard of this guy so luckily unlike you I don’t have to wait years to read it! Thanks for sharing :)

  (Quote)

Haukur September 22, 2009 at 8:02 am

Reminds me of Plethon. Feel like renouncing Christianity? Don’t feel like being persecuted for it? Just leave a tome to be discovered after your death!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gemistos_Plethon#N.C3.B3moi

  (Quote)

ToggleSwitch September 22, 2009 at 8:32 am
IntelligentDasein September 22, 2009 at 11:49 am

Thanks for the book suggestion Luke! I am going to amazon this.

  (Quote)

Ben September 23, 2009 at 5:07 am

Very interesting.

  (Quote)

Anaximenes September 23, 2009 at 7:16 am

Not content with Onfray’s commentaries or the watered-down Voltaire/d’Holbach-attributed paraphrase “Superstition In All Ages”, I have been waiting for a proper translation of Meslier’s Mon Testament for years.

  (Quote)

lukeprog September 23, 2009 at 7:51 pm

Torcant: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17607/17607-h/17607-h.htm

Torcant, Superstition in All Ages was attributed to Meslier, but it was written by Baron d’Holbach. See here.

  (Quote)

Nirmala October 12, 2009 at 8:40 am

Michel Onfray wrote the introduction.

  (Quote)

blacklung October 14, 2009 at 10:21 am

indeed, this is the first english translation based on Meslier’s own text, not Votlaire’s bastardized version of D’Holbach’s personalized text… finally.
and it’s true… michel onfray wrote an intro that must be worth reading.

  (Quote)

Bebok October 28, 2009 at 6:42 am

It’s really hard to say if he was the first one to dedicate a whole book to the question of atheism. For example, in 1689 Polish noble Kazimerz Łyszczyński was executed after having written a treatise “De non existentia Dei”.

  (Quote)

lukeprog October 28, 2009 at 7:37 am

Bebok,

Thanks! You got any other candidates?

  (Quote)

Bebok October 29, 2009 at 5:37 am

Well, there were ancient texts like “Peri theon” by Protagoras (5th century BC), “Peri theon” by Theodorus the Atheist (4th/3rd BC), or “Concerning Atheism” by Clitomachus (2nd BC), but it’s impossible to reconstruct their content. We have “De natura deorum” by Cicero, but it’s rather a history of theism considering some atheist thinkers. Łyszczyński is the first atheist writer of modern era I know. Anyway, Meslier’s book is the first one that survived integrally.

  (Quote)

Leave a Comment