Testament of Jean Meslier: Why Politicians Use Religion

by Luke Muehlhauser on April 24, 2010 in Reviews

meslier_testamentJean Meslier (1664-1729) 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.

I’m blogging my way through the book. See the index for all posts.


Meslier quotes the Cardinal de Richelieu:

The princes work at nothing harder than at finding pretexts to make their demands plausible, and since religion makes more of an impression on minds than anything else, they figure they can get much farther ahead when they can cover up their plans with it. It is behind this mask that they have often hidden their most ambitious claims.1

He also quotes Montaigne:

Plato said flat-out in his Republica that for the benefit of men it is often necessary to hoodwink them.2

Meslier writes:

…the first inventors of these… pious deceptions… were content at that time only to say that they had the honor of being the… interpreters of the will of the gods… But many who came afterward carried their ambition much farther… they wanted to be made gods themselves…

At one time this was common enough for Roman emperors….

[And] it was not only emperors, but also many others of lesser status… who had the insane vanity and ambition to want to be… considered gods. Among others they speak of a certain Psaphon, a Libyan… who wanted to pass for a god, so he thought of this trick that worked well enough for a time: he gathered a bunch of [parrots] from different regions and taught them with great care to often repeat the words, “Psaphon is a great god, Psaphon is a great god.” Then, after the birds were released and set free, they scattered into all the provinces or neighboring areas, on all sides, and they started to say and repeat in their chirpings the words he had taught them, twittering, “Psaphon is a great god, Psaphon is a great god.” As a result, the people, hearing these birds speak in this way and unaware of the deceit, began to worship this new god and to offer sacrifices to him…

I could cite many other examples of men who were stricken with a similar madness or recklessness, and it appears that from the very beginning of the belief in gods came only from the fact that some vain and presumptuous men wanted to lay claim to the name and quality of god in this way.3

  1. Political Reflections, vol. 3. []
  2. Essays, 2:12. []
  3. Testament, pages 51-53. []

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Beelzebub April 24, 2010 at 4:10 pm

What he would have thought of L. Ron Hubbard.


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