Monday Meslier: 98 – An Oriental Legend

At a short distance from Bagdad a dervish, celebrated for his holiness, passed his days tranquilly in agreeable solitude. The surrounding inhabitants, in order to have an interest

Jean Meslier Portrait

Jean Meslier Portrait

in his prayers, eagerly brought to him every day provisions and

presents. The holy man thanked God incessantly for the blessings Providence heaped upon him. “O Allah,” said he, “how  ineffable is Thy tenderness toward Thy servants.

What have I done to deserve the benefactions which  Thy liberality loads me with! Oh, Monarch of the skies! Oh, Father of nature! what praises could be worthy to celebrate Thy munificence and Thy paternal cares! O Allah, how great are Thy gifts to the children of men!” Filled with gratitude, our hermit made a vow to undertake for the seventh time the pilgrimage to Mecca. The war, which then existed between the Persians and the Turks, could not make him defer the execution of his pious enterprise. Full of confidence in God, he began his journey; under the inviolable safeguard of a respected garb, he passed through without obstacle the enemies’ detachments; far from being molested, he receives at every step marks of veneration from the soldiers of both sides. At last, overcome by fatigue, he finds himself obliged to seek a shelter from the rays of the burning sun; he finds it beneath a fresh group of palm-trees, whose roots were watered by a limpid rivulet. In this solitary place, where the silence was broken only by the murmuring of the waters and the singing of the birds, the man of God found not only an enchanting retreat, but also a delicious repast; he had but to extend the hand to gather dates and other agreeable fruits; the rivulet can appease his thirst; very soon a green plot invites him to take sweet repose. As he awakens he performs the holy cleansing; and in a  transport of ecstasy,  he exclaimed: “O  Allah!  HOW GREAT IS  THY GOODNESS  TO  THE CHILDREN OF MEN!” Well rested, refreshed, full of life and gayety, our holy man continues on his road; it conducts him for some time through a delightful country, which offers to his sight but blooming shores and trees filled with fruit.

Softened by this spectacle, he worships incessantly the rich and liberal hand of Providence, which is everywhere seen occupied with the welfare of the human race. Going a little farther, he comes across a few mountains, which were quite hard to ascend; but having arrived at their summit, a hideous sight suddenly meets his eyes; his soul is all consternation.

He discovers a vast plain entirely devastated by the sword and fire; he looks at it and finds it covered with more than a hundred thousand corpses, deplorable remains of a bloody battle which had taken place a few days previous. Eagles, vultures, ravens, and wolves were devouring the dead bodies with which the earth was covered. This sight plunges our pilgrim into a sad reverie. Heaven, by a special favor, had made him understand the language of beasts. He heard a wolf, gorged with human flesh, exclaim in his excessive joy: “O Allah! how great is Thy kindness for the children of wolves! Thy foreseeing wisdom takes care to send infatuation upon these detestable men who are so dangerous to us. Through an effect of Thy Providence which watches over Thy creatures, these, our destroyers, murder each other, and thus furnish us with sumptuous repasts. O Allah! HOW GREAT IS THY GOODNESS TO THE CHILDREN OF WOLVES!”


Here Meslier demonstrates one of the classical methods of philosophy: applying rules that we presuppose for one class (in this case humans) and exploring their consequences when applied to another class (wolves). The faithful have a bad tendency to sit back and assume that the gods are acting for them, but – in fact – they have no way of knowing that. The gods could just as easily have totally different plans – if the gods are ineffable we are left guessing. My favorite variant of this argument is that god probably made the universe the way it is because it likes black holes. Creationists who say “the universe is particularly friendly to human beings, therefore: god” apparently don’t realize that the universe is vastly more friendly to black holes.


  1. polishsalami says

    Introducing the viewpoint of the animal is an important leveller here.

    I always imagine a theist confronting an Australian crocodile and saying: “I have a soul! I’m the teleological endpoint of creation!” while all the time the croc’s primitive brain is like “……food…..must kill…..and eat…”.

  2. John Morales says

    Here Meslier demonstrates one of the classical methods of philosophy: applying rules that we presuppose for one class (in this case humans) and exploring their consequences when applied to another class (wolves).

    I’ve always liked that story — and its instantiated trope: the perspective shift.

  3. says

    @John Morales#2:
    Is “perspective shift” the technical term for it? Because that’s a perfect description of what’s going on.