He who first proclaimed to the nations that, when man had wronged man, he must ask God’s pardon, appease His wrath by presents, and offer Him sacrifices, obviously subverted the true principles of morality. According to these ideas, men imagine that they can obtain from the King of Heaven, as well as from the kings of the earth, permission to be unjust and wicked, or at least pardon for the evil which they might commit.
Morality is founded upon the relations, the needs, and the constant interests of the inhabitants of the earth; the relations which subsist between men and God are either entirely unknown or imaginary. The religion associating God with men has visibly weakened or destroyed the ties which unite men.
Mortals imagine that they can, with impunity, injure each other by making a suitable reparation to the Almighty Being, who is supposed to have the right to remit all the injuries done to His creatures. Is there anything more liable to encourage wickedness and to embolden to crime, than to persuade men that there exists an invisible being who has the right to pardon injustice, rapine, perfidy, and all the outrages they can inflict upon society? Encouraged by these fatal ideas, we see the most perverse men abandon themselves to the greatest crimes, and expect to repair them by imploring Divine mercy; their conscience rests in peace when a priest assures them that Heaven is quieted by sincere repentance, which is very useless to the world; this priest consoles them in the name of Deity, if they consent in reparation of their faults to divide with His ministers the fruits of their plunderings, of their frauds, and of their wickedness. Morality united to religion, becomes necessarily subordinate to it. In the mind of a religious person, God must be preferred to His creatures; “It is better to obey Him than men!” The interests of the Celestial Monarch must be above those of weak mortals. But the interests of Heaven are evidently the interests of the ministers of Heaven; from which it follows evidently, that in all religions, the priests, under pretext of Heaven’s interest’s, or of God’s glory, will be able to dispense with the duties of human morals when they do not agree with the duties which God is entitled to impose.
Besides, He who has the power to pardon crimes, has He not the right to order them committed?
Meslier saves his best for last: “He who has the power to pardon crimes, has He not the right to order them committed?” That’s basically the “Divine Command Theory” offered by some apologists like William Lane Craig. In Plato’s Euthyphro, that comes down to “what is pious is that which is loved by the gods” – in other words, pure authoritarianism.
Socrates: But, as you say, people regard the same things, some as just and others as unjust, about these they dispute; and so there arise wars and fightings among them.
Euthypho: Very true.
Socrates: Then the same things are hated by the gods and loved by the gods, and are both hateful and dear to them?
Socrates: And upon this view the same things, Euthyphro, will be pious and also impious?
Euthyphro: So I should suppose.
Socrates: Then, my friend, I remark with surprise that you have not answered the question which I asked. For I certainly did not ask you o tell me what action is both pious and impious: but now it would seem that what is loved by the gods is also hated by them. And therefore, Euthyphro, in thus chastising your father you may very likely be doing what is agreeable to Zeus but disagreeable to Cronos or Uranus, and what is acceptable to Hephaestus but unacceptable to Here, and there may be other gods who have similar differences of opinion.
Here Socrates introduces the idea of divine conflict: what if the gods don’t agree? Just as people don’t agree, if you assume that what the gods want is the right thing, you’ve got a big problem.
Christianity is, of course, polytheistic – though they try to pretend it’s not: there is a great powerful opposition to god, who also has godlike powers, and does wrong. How can we say which god decides who’s right and wrong? What is acceptable to satan is probably not acceptable to god, and vice versa. If I believed any of it, I’d go with the anti-authoritarian.
The morality of christianity has always befuddled me: the idea that someone who is not the party wronged can forgive a sin – third party forgiveness – seems ridiculous. Although, in practice, it’s actually what humans do in many ways. Back in 2011, someone broke into my studio and stole a bunch of photography gear, and I was wroth. The state police managed to catch the idiot (hint: don’t offer stolen 8×10 view cameras for sale on craig’s list!) and the culprit did a plea-bargain and, basically, society forgave him his crime against me, for a much lower price than I would have exacted. In terms of principles, christianity tells us that if Hitler had repented before he killed himself, he would have been completely forgiven for the holocaust, but would have been guilty for committing suicide. That’s like robbing a bank, getting caught and being brought in for trial, being found guilty of parking in the handicapped spot, fined $20, and let go. God’s morality is pretty, uh, immoral.