Monday Meslier: 187 – Priests, More than Unbelivers, Act from Interest


This one’s dedicated to Jim Bakker.

Jean Meslier Portrait

Your host, Jean Meslier

The apologists of religion repeat to us every day that the passions alone create unbelievers. “It is,” they say, “pride, and a desire to distinguish themselves, that make atheists; they seek also to efface the idea of God from their minds, because they have reason to fear His rigorous judgments.” Whatever may be the motives which cause men to be irreligious, the thing in question is whether they have found truth. No man acts without motives; let us first examine the arguments–we shall examine the motives afterward–and we shall find that they are more legitimate, and more sensible, than those of many credulous devotees who allow themselves to be guided by masters little worthy of men’s confidence.

You say, O priests of the Lord! that the passions cause unbelievers; you pretend that they renounce religion through interest, or because it interferes with their irregular inclinations; you assert that they attack your Gods because they fear their punishments. Ah! yourselves in defending this religion and its chimeras, are you, then, really exempt from passions and interests? Who receive the fees of this religion, on whose behalf the priests are so zealous? It is the priests. To whom does religion procure power, credit, honors, wealth? To the priests! In all countries, who make war upon reason, science, truth, and philosophy and render them odious to the sovereigns and to the people? Who profit by the ignorance of men and their vain prejudices? The priests! You are, O priests, rewarded, honored, and paid for deceiving mortals, and you punish those who undeceive them. The follies of men procure you blessings, offerings, expiations; the most useful truths bring to those who announce them, chains, sufferings, stakes. Let the world judge.

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I’m sure Bakker would be nothing new to Meslier, though perhaps he would be surprised and disappointed to see that people still fall for Bakker’s ilk. Of course, Meslier was consumed with guilt because he too was one of Bakker’s ilk. I enjoy Meslier’s many critiques of religiousity, but I don’t consider Meslier to be a great example: he didn’t reveal his true feelings until he was safely dead, his ‘flock’ kept getting fleeced and he didn’t do anything for them except to hold them down for their shearing.

Comments

  1. bmiller says

    Is not fear of death and the desire for eternal life in itself a matter of the passions? Is not fear of pain and punishment a matter of personal interest? Is not the joy of damning nonbelievers in the smug “knowledge” that one knows the “truth” passionate as well?

  2. says

    Of course, Meslier was consumed with guilt because he too was one of Bakker’s ilk. I enjoy Meslier’s many critiques of religiousity, but I don’t consider Meslier to be a great example: he didn’t reveal his true feelings until he was safely dead, his ‘flock’ kept getting fleeced and he didn’t do anything for them except to hold them down for their shearing.

    But what other options are there? Defying authorities while still being alive usually meant getting killed (or at least having a really miserable life). And even if you successfully avoided getting burned at the stake, guillotined, or ending up with a bullet in your skull, you still died in misery: no friends, no job, no income, no food… I see nothing glorious about living/dying as a martyr. It sucks. If somebody freely chooses to speak out and endure the resulting consequences, that’s fine. That’s a choice. But I cannot proclaim that whoever disagrees with the established authorities ought to speak out and become a martyr.

  3. says

    Ieva Skrebele@#2:
    But what other options are there?

    That’s the basic problem with authoritarianism. As long as you have enough people willing to go along with the authoritarian, then the authoritarian has the ability to force compliance.

    I don’t have an answer for that. It appears to have tormented Meslier. While he, perhaps, did not believe what he was preaching, he none the less did preach it. As Miles Vorkosigan says, “a policy of ‘death before dishonor’ results in nothing but corpses and the forsworn.”

  4. says

    I don’t have an answer for that.

    I suppose my answer would be to do some risk assessment/management and try some subtle defiance.

    I have a habit of collecting draft avoidance stories. An example of bold and audacious defiance would be Arndt Pekurinen. He openly refused to go to war and ended up being incarcerated and executed. An example of subtle defiance would be all those men who went to the battlefield and simply refused to fire their guns (or fired over the enemy heads). Consider the Battle of Gettysburg. When the battle was over, all the dropped rifles were recovered. And most of them were loaded. One of the rifles was loaded twenty three times without being shot. Some unknown good guy was pretty determined about refusing to obey there.

    Messing with your superiors in subtle ways is more likely to ensure you stay alive and, in my opinion, that is better than doing nothing.

    As for a modern example, it’s dangerous to be openly gay in a country where homosexuals receive capital punishment. It’s less dangerous in a country, where, instead, they get their career prospects slightly damaged. My solution would be to be subtle in the first scenario and bold in the second scenario.

    But I never blame people who choose to obey and do nothing. It’s only normal to want to stay alive and live in comfort. If you have a family to feed and no alternative employment options, it is necessary to stay silent and be obedient.

  5. says

    Ieva Skrebele@#5:
    I suppose my answer would be to do some risk assessment/management and try some subtle defiance.

    The way of the samurai is death; we need to realize that eventually the great leveller will come for us all (even now, Sithrak oils the spit!) and we may as well show the bastards how much toxic masculinity can hurt. Everyone who stands up – even if they know it’s futile – builds a path for those that may follow. Subtle defiance doesn’t mobilize the masses, unfortunately someone has to step forward and get struck down.

    Consider the Battle of Gettysburg. When the battle was over, all the dropped rifles were recovered. And most of them were loaded. One of the rifles was loaded twenty three times without being shot. Some unknown good guy was pretty determined about refusing to obey there.

    I’m familiar with that story; there was a similar rifle found after the battle of Borodino in the Napoleonic wars. My interpretation was that some poor soldier was so overwhelmed by the shock of the battle that he mis-loaded his musket so it wouldn’t fire – he just lost track of the step. Once you’ve got a ball down the barrel without any powder, the only way to get it cleared is to get it out with a screw, which is a long and involved process. It’s possible the guy just kept loading and didn’t realize his musket wasn’t firing: the primer (or the civil war soldier’s percussion cap) was going off but in the shock and roar of an entire line of rifle-men he might not have noticed. In other words I’m more inclined to credit it to incompetence. Your interpretation is possible – though incompetence is an easier explanation.

    Messing with your superiors in subtle ways is more likely to ensure you stay alive and, in my opinion, that is better than doing nothing.

    Sticking a dagger into their heart is also a subtle way of messing with your superiors.

    But I never blame people who choose to obey and do nothing. It’s only normal to want to stay alive and live in comfort.

    Me either. But, as Ray Wylie Hubbard says: you get more attention burning down the barn than taking out the trash.

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