Monday Meslier: 161 – The Morals of the Gospel Are Impracticable


Jean Meslier Portrait

Jean Meslier

The votaries of Christ would like to make us regard as a miracle the establishment of their religion, which is in every respect contrary to nature, opposed to all the inclinations of the heart, an enemy to physical pleasures.

But the austerity of a doctrine has a tendency to render it more wonderful to the ignorant. The same reason which makes us respect, as Divine and supernatural, inconceivable mysteries, causes us to admire, as Divine and supernatural, a morality impracticable and beyond the power of man. To admire morals and to practice them, are two very different things. All the Christians continually admire the morals of the Gospel, but it is practiced but by a small number of saints; admired by people who themselves avoid imitating their conduct, under the pretext that they are lacking either the power or the grace.

The whole universe is infected more or less with a religious morality which is founded upon the opinion that to please the Deity it is necessary to render one’s self unhappy upon earth. We see in all parts of our globe penitents, hermits, fakirs, fanatics, who seem to have studied profoundly the means of tormenting themselves for the glory of a Being whose goodness they all agree in celebrating. Religion, by its essence, is the enemy of joy and of the welfare of men. “Blessed are those who suffer!” Woe to those who have abundance and joy! These are the rare revelations which Christianity teaches!

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“The austerity of a doctrine has a tendency to render it more wonderful to the ignorant.”  I love how Meslier writes.

As a child I remember asking why god made pigs so tasty and told the jews not to eat them. Meslier’s right: the world is full of people who make themselves unhappy to please their imagined gods – what they’re really doing is demonstrating their own self-hatred. There’s a delicious bit in a story by G.K. Chesterton that I should post about as a sunday sermon: we encounter a character whose faith is so profound that he must make himself miserable, no matter that he is wealthy and powerful, so does he give it all up to live in an unheated cell? Of course not! He tortures himself by overindulging.  If god makes pigs tasty, he’s doubly a trickster: once for playing a mean trick on the pigs and twice for telling his chosen people not to eat them.

Comments

  1. lorn says

    I always figured that back in the day the combination of trichinosis infected pork and a dearth of fuel to cook over in the desert environment meant that a group of people suffered from the disease. It isn’t pleasant:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trichinosis#Signs_and_symptoms

    Somewhere along the line someone tracked the disease back to the pigs but because they had no understanding of parasitism and how cooking the meat prevents it the message that got passed around was to simply avoid all the otherwise tasty and nutritious pigs.

    This sort of over-generalization is common. An acquaintance of mine couldn’t use a stove for most of his early life because he had badly burned himself as a young child. Ironically, he could cook over a hot plate, a much less stable and a far riskier proposition, but couldn’t work a stove. His girlfriend, a grad in psych, worked with him and he gradually overcame his fears.

    The point here is that humans learn, but we often learn the wrong lessons. That lack of knowledge leads to gross overarching assumptions that can get locked into the social matrix of cultures and groups to become dysfunctional monuments to ignorance.

  2. says

    lorn@#1:
    I always figured that back in the day the combination of trichinosis infected pork and a dearth of fuel to cook over in the desert environment meant that a group of people suffered from the disease. It isn’t pleasant:

    I’ve read a couple theories, so now I don’t think I know what was the real reasoning (or if there was any at all, other than just controlling people)

    Apparently trichinosis was long thought to be a likely cause, but there have been excavations from that region/time period of other people who did eat pork and their bones (and the pig bones, I guess) apparently don’t indicate that there was trichinosis in the area. It’s plausible that the ancient jews at some point encountered trichinosis so badly that that they just established it as a general rule and never re-evaluated that rule. Another theory I read is that pigs are expensive to keep for food and having pigs as food tends to create stratified societies (and things like potlach) and the ancient jews may have decided as a general rule to avoid all that. Another theory I encountered is that it was an easy axis for social control: basically just a way for the priesthood to enforce their will on the population, regarding a matter that was interesting and noticeable but which only mildly affected them (i.e.: a tribal signal, like hairstyle, or whatever, “oh we’re the ones that don’t eat pork.”)

    This sort of over-generalization is common.

    It’s a survival trait. One thing that stuck with me from psych 101 was that adrenaline increases your memory transcription, briefly – so experiences that are important or traumatic are more likely to be remembered. Which makes a lot of sense.

    The point here is that humans learn, but we often learn the wrong lessons. That lack of knowledge leads to gross overarching assumptions that can get locked into the social matrix of cultures and groups to become dysfunctional monuments to ignorance.

    Yes. And religion may be one of those things. Isn’t the the root of superstition? It doesn’t take much to get from “this is the lucky shirt I was wearing when I won the big game” to “this is the robe a pope wears.”

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