Jean 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.
Earlier, we read that Meslier’s ‘first proof’ against religion was that religions were clearly human inventions. Next, Meslier gives his ‘second proof’: the vanity of religions:
…it is obvious… that all religions, and principally the Christian religion, base their mysteries… on what they call faith, i.e., a blind, though firm and confident, belief in some divinity [and also] some laws and divine revelations. This is also why there is no religion that does not urge all its followers above all else to be firm in their faith…
…Their faith, according to what they say, would be worth nothing if it relied on the experience of the senses or on human reason. The most… powerful motive to believe in the most incomprehensible and the most incredible things is to have nothing but their faith… Thus they hold the maxim that it is necessary to renounce all the lights of reason and all the appearances of the senses to hold their mind captive in the obedience of faith.1
Moreover, religion is a source of eternal troubles and divisions:
[Religion] is a deadly source of eternal troubles and divisions among men, because it is not through reason but rather through stubbornness and obstinacy that they are all bound to their religions… [this is] why they will never agree.
…Indeed, we see no wars as bloody and cruel as those that are waged on the motive or pretext of religion because then everyone is carried blindly away by zeal and fury and tries to make of his enemy a sacrifice to God…
Now, it is not believable that an all-powerful, infinitely good and wise god would ever want to use such deceitful ways… as this to establish his laws and orders or make his will known to men…
Likewise, it is not believable that a god who loved unity and peace… would ever have wanted to… set as a foundation of his religion so fatal and deadly a source of eternal troubles and divisions among men as is this blind belief, which is [so] deadly…2
Next, Meslier makes a point that is central to my arguments against religion:
Now, the arguments and proofs that our Christ-cultists draw [in defense of Christianity] can equally serve to establish and confirm a lie and imposture as the truth. [All religions], as false as they may be… claim to be based on similar motives of credibility and to have a pure and truthful doctrine. [Also], There is not one that does not claim to have miracles and prodigies done in their favor.3
Our Christ-cultists would not like to say that all the so-called miracles of the pharaoh’s magicians were clear and convincing proofs of truth or that they were done by holy people. So they have to recognize, in spite of themselves, that these kinds of signs or effects can come equally from vice as from virtue, from error as from truth, and that they can be done and have been done by swindlers and impostors as well as by honest men; and, consequently, they are not sure and decisive proofs or evidence of the truth of any religion.4
Meslier then applies these points to the Historical Jesus:
We could say, for example, that it would be more reasonable to believe what Philostratus relates in his eight books of the Life of Apollonius than what all the evangelists together say about the miracles of their Jesus Christ, because at least we know that Philostratus was eloquent and articulate [and well known]. This cannot at all be said about Jesus Christ or about those who wrote his life because they were… ignorant men, the dregs of society, poor laborers and fishermen who did not even have the sense to tell things in succession and in order and who very often even contradicted themselves in their narratives.
And with respect to what they described, the life and actions: if he really performed all the miracles they say, he surely would have become famous and illustrious by all his wonderful actions and he would not have failed to attract the glory and admiration of the people… (Ibid, pages 83-84.))
Next, I’ll discuss Meslier’s aptly-titled section ‘Uncertainty of the So-Called Holy Scriptures, Which Were Falsified and Corrupted.’
Next post: What Do You Mean, “Common Sense” Atheism?