What is the Monday Meslier?
Every so often, on mondays, I’m going to select and examine a chunk of the 1729 Testament of Jean Meslier (wikipedia).
I first stumbled on Meslier when I was looking on Project Gutenberg for any works by Voltaire, and the search engine returned a pointer to Meslier’s Testament because it had been published with a forward by Voltaire. I still get
goose-bumps at the idea of being an author, and having a forward for one’s book written by Voltaire. That, as they say, is “big time.” It’s also a bit dangerous – Voltaire had his own ideas and his own agenda and, while he was a rationalist par excellence and one of the sparks of the enlightenment, he was not an atheist. Meslier was.
Meslier’s historical significance is interesting. His Testament was one of the first explicitly atheistic tracts of its sort, and he resorted to the clever dodge of posting it posthumously. “HAHA! You can’t kill me because I’m already dead!”
The Testament is huge and detailed and amounts to an impassioned hammering on every point of religion that you can hammer on in 600+ pages of manuscript. Upon his death, he left instructions that the manuscript be published, whereupon it was embraced by Diderot and Voltaire, who published their own versions and extracts from it. Voltaire, being Voltaire, had to get in a little damning with faint praise, describing Meslier’s writing as “in the style of a carriage-horse.” It is true, we cannot all be Voltaire, and Voltaire made sure everyone had no doubt regarding that.
Meslier’s Testament also inspired the Baron D’Holbach, who wrote his own atheistic tract “Common Sense” and arguably inspired Richard Dawkins’ “God Delusion” centuries later. His point-by-point religion-bashing ought to be familiar to skeptics and atheists to this day. A “carriage-horse” indeed, he hauled the goods and delivered them.
This was “free thought” indeed. I can imagine the pain Meslier felt during his 40+ years as an abbe representing a religion he had come to despise. Accounts of his life say that he was humble and kind and frugal; I picture him drafting and re-drafting his Testament as he encountered the various stupidities of the faith he no longer held. He can’t have been a happy fellow.
So, welcome to the Monday Meslier. There are many passages of the Testament that I particularly enjoy and I think you will, too. One of the expressions you may have heard,
Meslier “…wished that all the great men in the world and all the nobility could be hanged, and strangled with the guts of the priests.”
Diderot lifted that one, so did D’Holbach, and Mary Wollstonecraft, and many, many others. My 1st edition of Paul Wolff’s 1970 “In Defense of Anarchism” has, written in the cover, “May the last lawyer be hanged in the guts of the last cop.” I fantasize that may have been penned by the author – it’s possible.