Monday Meslier: 146 – Christianity Extended Itself But by Encouraging Despotism, of Which it, Like All Religion, is the Strongest Support


Jean Meslier Portrait

Jean Meslier

If we read history with some attention, we shall see that Christianity, fawning at first, insinuated itself among the savage and free nations of Europe but by showing their chiefs that its principles would favor despotism and place absolute power in their hands.

We see, consequently, barbarous kings converting themselves with a miraculous promptitude; that is to say, adopting without examination a system so favorable to their ambition, and exerting themselves to have it adopted by their subjects. If the ministers of this religion have since often moderated their servile principles, it is because the theory has no influence upon the conduct of the Lord’s ministers, except when it suits their temporal interests.

Christianity boasts of having brought to men a happiness unknown to preceding centuries. It is true that the Grecians have not known the Divine right of tyrants or usurpers over their native country. Under the reign of Paganism it never entered the brain of anybody that Heaven did not want a nation to defend itself against a ferocious beast which insolently ravaged it. The Christian religion, devised for the benefit of tyrants, was established on the principle that the nations should renounce the legitimate defense of themselves. Thus Christian nations are deprived of the first law of nature, which decrees that man should resist evil and disarm all who attempt to destroy him. If the ministers of the Church have often permitted nations to revolt for Heaven’s cause, they never allowed them to revolt against real evils or known violences.

It is from Heaven that the chains have come to fetter the minds of mortals. Why is the Mohammedan everywhere a slave? It is because his Prophet subdued him in the name of the Deity, just as Moses before him subjugated the Jews. In all parts of the world we see that priests were the first law-givers and the first sovereigns of the savages whom they governed. Religion seems to have been invented but to exalt princes above their nations, and to deliver the people to their discretion. As soon as the latter find themselves unhappy here below, they are silenced by menacing them with God’s wrath; their eyes are fixed on Heaven, in order to prevent them from perceiving the real causes of their sufferings and from applying the remedies which nature offers them.

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Borgund Wooden Church (Stavkirk), 13th c.

I visited Norway in 2008 – it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. At one point, I drove through several of the towns that had the old wooden churches, dating from 100 years or so after the time when Norway became christian. I asked my friend, Per, about it over beer and smoked salmon, later, and he explained it happened the way it usually did: some king got his head spun with silliness, or found its embedded authoritarianism useful, and gave the people the choice of converting, or dying. That’s been the most successful approach for christianity – that and propagandizing the young, who are still too credulous to be skeptical of the nonsense the grown-ups are spouting.

The Christian religion, devised for the benefit of tyrants, was established on the principle that the nations should renounce the legitimate defense of themselves. Thus Christian nations are deprived of the first law of nature, which decrees that man should resist evil and disarm all who attempt to destroy him.

Of course, the biggest renunciation christianity encourages is self-determination and the value of one’s own life. When you convince your “flock” that nothing matters except serving the whim of god, it’s pretty easy to convince them of just about anything else. The divine right of kings is the ultimate “I will pay you friday for a cheeseburger today” scam.

How does it exalt one to believe that life is meaningless and is just a test for the real game, in which you’re either tortured or rewarded based on the whim of some cryptic overlord? How does it make people happy to know that their friends who’ve made minor mistakes will be tortured forever, or that they have doomed themselves by accidentally touching the wrong thing at the wrong time, or whatever foolishness the priests say?

Comments

  1. says

    This time I don’t agree with some of Meslier’s points.

    Grecians have not known the Divine right of tyrants.

    Before Christianity people might not have known this exact term, but the principle was always there. Christianity didn’t invent the idea that God wants the king to govern people. The idea existed long before that. Egyptian pharaohs are a good example. Pharaoh was considered a son of God, thus entitled to rule by birthright. Another example: the idea of karma. If you are poor and suffering in this life, that means you did something bad in your previous life and this is the punishment you deserved. The king who lives in luxury? He must have behaved very well in his previous life and now he gets the rewards. And don’t even start thinking about disobeying the wealthy elite and rebelling against karma.

    Thus Christian nations are deprived of the first law of nature, which decrees that man should resist evil and disarm all who attempt to destroy him.

    Really? During the last few centuries Christian nations have been involved in a lot of wars. Invading another land, fighting back when somebody sends troops or drops bombs in your land…

    some king got his head spun with silliness, or found its embedded authoritarianism useful, and gave the people the choice of converting, or dying.

    Yes, this is correct. But this is also an oversimplification, which lacks any nuance. Europe was Christianized over many centuries, it was a long process, which wasn’t the same everywhere. First there were some poor Christian suckers, who were oppressed by the strong guys, they often died as martyrs. Later there were kings who found the new religion useful, converted and forced their people to convert as well (refuse and the king will kill you). Then there were also missionaries, who actually converted people the kind way (by talking and without threatening to kill them if they refuse). And then there were also crusaders, who invaded foreign lands and forced local pagans to convert (this is how my ancestors were converted).

    There are various reasons, why some religions spread and others died out:

    – Monotheism. When Romans conquered pagans or Egyptians, they had no motivation to convert these people. Two polytheistic religions are compatible with each other. The conqueror can 1) assume that their victim’s gods are the same and only called in different names; 2) accept that there are even more other gods. With monotheistic religions it is different. It is obvious that conquered people believe in a different god, so the winner has an incentive to convert them.

    – Pressure to convert others. “All nonbelievers go to hell after death” or “God wants me to go to holy war against infidels and convert them, and I will be rewarded by my God with virgins, cool afterlife or whatever else” as part of the religious teachings. A kind and loving person is obliged to save infidels from hell by converting them. A jerk is just going after some gold and virgins.

    – Claiming human values as religious ones, fulfilling human emotional needs. Love, care for others, empathy, spirituality. Christianity has done some amazing marketing by claiming that they invented morals and only Christians can be good and loving people. Eastern religions do this too. Meditation, spirituality, peace, promise of happiness…

    – Adaptability, versatility, which means that everybody regardless of their social class finds something for her in the religion and is able to bend the commandments according to her needs.
    1. Christianity first spread among the poor and oppressed. A poor person likes hearing that all their suffering will be rewarded in afterlife. Early Christian martyrs were in positions where they were weak and couldn’t fight against oppression anyway, so they liked the idea that not resisting is a good thing according to God.
    2. Kings and tyrants liked the idea that God wants them to be kings.
    3. Wannabe tyrants liked the idea of going to holy war (crusade) to convert infidels and steal a lot of gold from them in the process.
    A religion has to be adaptable and good for cherry picking (lots of contradictory Bible verses allow each person to pick their favorite).

    I could come up with more factors, which are important for successful religions, but this comment is already getting long.

    A religion prospering or dying out isn’t as simple as a king being happy about divine right of kings (or whatever else you call it). Almost every single religion has some variation of this. Shaman and ruler might be one and the same person and gain authority by speaking through god’s mouth. King might be God’s son. The whole royal dynasty might be descendants of a God. Rulers might invent something like karma. Or they might claim that God simply wants them to rule (divine right of kings). Every fucking religion has this anyway. Therefore other factors get important as well.

    Of course, the biggest renunciation christianity encourages is self-determination and the value of one’s own life. When you convince your “flock” that nothing matters except serving the whim of god, it’s pretty easy to convince them of just about anything else. The divine right of kings is the ultimate “I will pay you friday for a cheeseburger today” scam.

    This is common for all religions, not just Christianity. All priests try to convince their flock that serving gods matters most in life. And it just so happens that gods want whatever priests want. There were always some preachers who kept on reminding their flock about the importance of religious offerings… Yet somehow gods never ate anything and never took any gold from the priests.

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