Monday Meslier: 158 – Religion Gives License to the Ferocity of the People by Legitimizing It, and Authorizes Crime by Teaching That it Can Be Useful To The Designs Of God


Jean Meslier Portrait

Jean Meslier

“Never,” says Pascal, “do we do evil so thoroughly and so willingly as when we do it through a false principle of conscience.”

Nothing is more dangerous than a religion which licenses the ferocity of the people, and justifies in their eyes the blackest crimes; it puts no limits to their wickedness as soon as they believe it authorized by their God, whose interests, as they are told, can justify all their actions. If there is a question of religion, immediately the most civilized nations become true savages, and believe everything is permitted to them. The more cruel they are, the more agreeable they suppose themselves to be to their God, whose cause they imagine can not be sustained by too much zeal. All religions of the world have authorized countless crimes. The Jews, excited by the promises of their God, arrogated to themselves the right of exterminating whole nations; the Romans, whose faith was founded upon the oracles of their Gods, became real brigands, and conquered and ravaged the world; the Arabians, encouraged by their Divine preceptor, carried the sword and the flame among Christians and idolaters. The Christians, under pretext of spreading their holy religion, covered the two hemispheres a hundred times with blood. In all events favorable to their own interests, which they always call the cause of God, the priests show us the finger of God. According to these principles, religious bigots have the luck of seeing the finger of God in revolts, in revolutions, massacres, regicides, prostitutions, infamies, and, if these things contribute to the advantage of religion, we can say, then, that God uses all sorts of means to secure His ends. Is there anything better calculated to annihilate every idea of morality in the minds of men, than to make them understand that their God, who is so powerful and so perfect, is often compelled to use crime to accomplish His designs?

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Meslier’s language is carefully chosen, as always. Religion variously: “licenses”  “excites”  “encourages” “justifies” “authorizes” crimes, revolutions, massacres, regicides, etc. His intent is clear; there is a distinction between the excuses that religious leaders make for their actions, and what they can possibly claim about the will of god.

The Christians, under pretext of spreading their holy religion, covered the two hemispheres a hundred times with blood.

The crux seems to me to be that religion is merely a justifying nebulousness over top of things humans already wanted and planned to do. If that’s the case, then we should not simply say “religion caused these things” but rather a more nuanced argument: “religion was used as an excuse for these things.” If that’s true, then we need to look for more complicated causes behind human actions. Simply saying something like, “islam is a religion that encourages violence, therefore islam is bad” avoids doing the hard thinking.

Comments

  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    Simply saying something like, “islam is a religion that encourages violence, therefore islam is bad” avoids doing the hard thinking.

    I had intended a minisnark about testosterone, but tanked that idea when I looked it up:

    Behavioural research on testosterone is, if anything, inconsistent. Highly inconsistent.

    Humans understand a lot of stuff pretty well, but (mostly) not human behavior.

  2. says

    Pierce R. Butler@#1:
    Humans understand a lot of stuff pretty well, but (mostly) not human behavior.

    I think you’ve probably detected that as an overall concern of mine running through many posting threads on this blog. It does not seem to me that people understand what they do, often. We tend to get cause and effect backwards: global warming caused by lack of pirates, religion causes political violence, etc. Our brains are good at simplifying the insanely complex world around us. And that’s the problem.

  3. Brian English says

    I read somewhere once that you can’t explain a variable with a constant. It was in the context of the arguments that the Quran causes Islamism/terrorism and requires all muslims to be bloodthirsty and this explained the violence we’re seeing in the Mid-East and in Europe.

    The constant being the Quran (it probably hasn’t changed much in while, sort of constant), but the variable is Wahabism, Islamism, terrorism justified by Islam. This hasn’t always been the same, and has ebbed and flowed and most muslims aren’t violent, even if they say the Quran is infallible and must be obeyed (which they might). So, there is other ’causes’ for Islamism and simlar. I’d look at the interference in the Mid-East by foreign powers, the repression of locals by local powers, and so on…

  4. says

    Brian English@#3:
    Do you have ninjas watching my editing queue?

    I’ve got a couple postings planned, in that angle. Obviously, from my comment on Meslier here, I’ve been thinking along those lines.

    I actually feel like it’s “religious thinking” to simplify cause and effect down to religion. I.e.: the people who say “islam is a religion of hate” are accepting the premises of the religion, at the same time as they are saying it’s wrong. Which is a bit bizzare.

  5. bmiller says

    Great post, Marcus (as always). The “religion does this or does that” meme is a common one on “liberal” and “atheist” sites, and I always like to ask: Is religion some kind of independent force separate from human beings or societies? Who is the active agent in the “Islam caused the terrorist bombing”?

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