Jean Meslier

Jean Meslier 2sIn existographies, Jean Meslier (1664-1729) (IQ:170|#310) (FA:63) (GA:3) (CR:96), pronounced "John Mes-lee-a" (Ѻ), was a French “ultra-intelligent” (Ѻ), "clear headed" (Buchner, 1884), thing philosopher, and closet extreme atheist, semi-ranked as the world's first true atheist (Onfray, 2009), a Catholic priest (abbe) by profession, who was discovered, upon his reaction end (death), to have penned four duplicate copies of a hand written tome entitled Testament, wherein he denies the existence of the soul, classifies "spirit" as non existent (§70), denies afterlife (§72), rebuts the Cicero letters analogy / Paley watch analogy (see: typing monkeys) (§83), dismissed the notion of free will, denounces all belief in and associated with god, and all religions, Christianity in particular, and in which, in the latter portions of which (§65+) he expounds on a matter, force, motion, and being theory upgrade replacement for the god void; therein touching on things such as the nebular hypothesis (§71), among other interesting ground-breaking views.
Good | Evil
The following are Meslier’s discussion of how there exists a necessary confused mix of good and evil in godless nature:

“The very necessity of evil that, according to the present constitution of nature, will necessarily follow from good itself and from the suppression of all vices and viciousness.”
— Jean Meslier (1729), The Testament (§94, pg. 573)

“Consequently, it is an inevitable necessity, following the present constitution of nature, that there be evil of one kind or another. As a result, when evil did not come, as it does now, from the vice, malice, or viciousness of men and beasts, it would be necessarily and inevitably come from the excessive multitude of men and animals of all species that there would be on earth, who could not survive or have enough to eat without tearing each other apart and eating each other.”
— Jean Meslier (1729), The Testament (§94, pg. 573)

“The world is necessarily a mix of good and evil in there has to be good and evil, seeing that the natural order of generations and productions that are successfully made in nature cannot subsist or continue without this untoward mix of good and evil and without a great number of productions coming to an end every day to make way for new ones, which cannot happen without good for the one and evil for the other, i.e., without birth and growth for the one in destruction for the other.”
— Jean Meslier (1729), The Testament (§94, pg. 574)

“Consequently, it could not want to do evil when it could always do good without a mix of any evil. And so, since the world is, as we see, necessarily a confused mix of good and evil, it evidently follows that it was not made by an infinitely perfect being and, consequently, there is not god.”
— Jean Meslier (1729), The Testament (§94, pg. 574)

Matter | Thinking & feeling
In §91: “The Thoughts, Desires, Will, and Sensations of Good and Evil are only Internal Modifications of the Person or Animal that Thinks, Knows, or Feels Good or Evil”, Meslier engages in an attack on Cartesian-themed views of Malebranche (The Search after Truth) and Fenelon (The Existence of God), and one point of which he first cites Horace and laughing at humorous work rule:
“Could you, my friends, contemplating this work, hold yourselves back from laughing?”
— Horace (c.19BC), Art of Poetry (5)
An image of a stone with feelings from the Stones Have Feelings Too! (Ѻ) Card deck set, as a representation of the view of Meslier that feelings derive from matter as contrasted with the view of Francois Fenelon that a “feeling stone” (see: rock vs human) is something that children will laugh at.
Then he cites how Fenelon said the following about "laughing children" (see: laughing children rule) and people who would attribute feelings to stones: [1]
Matter cannot think or feel and the people, even children, cannot be persuaded otherwise. People and children are far from believing that matter is capable of thinking and feeling in anyway, so that they could not help laughing if you told them that a stone, a piece of wood, a table, or their dolls felt pain or pleasure and joy or sadness.”
Francois Fenelon (c.1690), On the Existence of God
Meslier rebuts this logic as follows: [1]
“Now that is a lovely argument for a person of such rank, merit, and erudition! People and even children could really have a reason to laugh and make fun of those who to amuse themselves would like to make them believe that stones, tables, boards, furniture, or dolls had knowledge and sentiment because they know, indeed, that these sorts of things cannot know or feel anything. But, their laughter would not come, as Fenelon would like to make them understand, from the fact that these kinds of things are only matter or made of matter, but because they would see that these things are not ‘animate’ and do not have life like animals and consequently they cannot think or feel.”
Here, this is good rebuttal logic. The children can understand that while a stone and a human and a human are both types of matter, the difference between them is a difference of "animation" properties, a human being carbon-based being animate thereby, and a stone being aluminum and silicon based being inanimate thereby. Meslier concludes:
“It would be crazy to have compassion for things that were not intimate and did not feel good or bad, which is why we do not bother to have pity or compassion for a dead body we see cut into pieces or rotting on the ground. We do not bother to have pity or compassion for sheets that we twist around mallets at the launderer or wood that we see split and thrown in the fire to burn; we do not bother to have pity or compassion for these kinds of things because they are ‘inanimate’ and do not feel good or bad.”
Meslier's Testament influenced thinkers including: Baron d’Holbach, Denis Diderot, and Voltaire (Ѻ), the latter of whom considered his atheism “too extreme” (Palmer, 2013). [1]

Influences | Library
Meslier’s library contains works of: Michel Montaigne, Lucilio Vanini, Jean la Bruyere (1645-1696), a French philosopher and moralist, Etienne la Boetie (1530-1563), French political philosopher and best friend of Montaigne, among others. [3] In his Testament, he cites Montaigne mostly, but also: Lucretius, Rene Descartes, indirectly, the "Cartesians", and Nicolas Malebranche.

Matter | Motion
Meslier, in §65 of his Testament, after 360 pages of loose ridicule themed talk, finally begins to talk about the deeper subject of matter and motion as the replacement for god:

“The system of the natural formation of things, made by the matter itself of which it is composed, contains no contrast or contradiction and, consequently, it can be assured that it contains nothing impossible. We only have to suppose, e.g., that matter is eternal, that it is what it is of itself and that it moves by itself, which assumption is very simple and natural, and we see clearly enough that there is nothing impossible in this assumption. Firstly, we see that matter exists and that it is not an imaginary and chimerical being. Secondly, we clearly see that a certain portion of matter is capable of division and that all matter is capable of movement and even that matter really is moved: we cannot doubt any of these things. So why could we not suppose that matter is indeed eternal and that it does indeed move by itself, seeing that we see nothing offensive in this and we do not and even cannot see anything that could have created it or given it movement.”
— Jean Meslier (1729), The Testament (§65, pg. 362-63)

Here, although the conjecture that “matter moves by itself” is a violation of the principle of inertia (aka the first law of motion), we do note that Newton himself grappled with this same issue, in respect to animals have “self-motion” or whether a mechanical cause may be sought:

God who gave animals self motion beyond our understanding is without doubt able to implant other principles of motion in bodies which we may understand as little. Some would readily grant this may be a spiritual one; yet a mechanical one might be shown.”
Isaac Newton (c.1674), Philosophical Query Notes

Meslier continues:

“Finally, we cannot doubt that being in general has its existence and movement from itself. From what could it have received the one or the other? Certainly, it could only have received it from what exists. Now, matter itself is this being in general that can have its existence and movement only from itself. And only supposing this, we have a clear principle that cannot only straightaway remove all difficulties, contrasts, and absurdities that necessarily follow from the system of creation but also at the same time can open an easy way to enter into the physical and moral knowledge and explanation of all things of nature. Only the idea of a universal matter that moves in different directions and that by different configurations of its parts can always be modified in thousands upon thousands of different ways, clearly shows us that everything that exists in nature can be made by the natural laws of movement and by the configuration and combination alone or modification of the parts of matter.”
— Jean Meslier (1729), The Testament (§65, pg. 362-63)

Here, we see good conjecture, particular for this period of time in history.

In §65 "It is Useless to Resort to the Existence of an All-Powerful God to Explain the Nature and Formation of Natural Things", he continues as follows:

“I know well enough that it is not easy to imagine what it is precisely that makes matter move or what it is that makes it move in such and such a manner or with such and such force and speed. I cannot imagine the origin and efficient principle of this movement, I admit. Nevertheless, I see nothing offensive, no absurdity, no complication in attributing it to matter itself. All that they can say against this is that the large or small bodies do not have in themselves the force to move themselves because, they say, there is no necessary connection between the idea they have of their bodies and the idea they have of their movement. Being able to imagine and show with reason that matter has the force to move itself, however, is not a proof that it does not have it. But, on contrary, the obvious absurdities and contradictions that follow from the supposed principle of creation are, as I have said, convincing proofs of the falsity of that principle.”
— Jean Meslier (1729), The Testament (§66, pg. 365)

The following is another related quote:

Matter and energy moves itself. It has no exterior mover.”
— Jean Meslier (1729), The Testament (§#, pg. #) (Ѻ)

The following (§66, pgs. 366-67) is good logic:

“Just as we do not see, for example, a necessary connection between the natural construction of our eye and the sight or vision of some object, so to do we not see a necessary connection between our will and the movement of our arms and legs. We do not even know the nature or employment of the hidden springs that re used to move our arms and legs. However, this does not stop all these springs from working when we want to move; we see every day that those who know the construction of their bodies the least [e.g. children or animals], are often the ones who move their limbs more easily and adroitly. There has to be, therefore, a natural bond between our will and the movement of the parts of our bodies, even though we do not know what it consists of or how it works.”

History of a Human (History of the Universe)
A origin of a human diagram compared to the origin of the universe (Ѻ), which Meslier uses to laugh at the theist “but what was in the beginning” rebuttal argument.
Meslier digresses on the brain as follows:

“There is also no doubt about the connection that exists between he movement and shaking of the fibers of our brain and our thoughts. We do not see a bond between the two or how there could be; that does not mean, however, there is not any, since our thoughts depend on the movement or shaking of the fibers of the brain and the movements of the ‘animal spirits’ that are in our brains.”

Next, he cleverly uses the ignorance of human birth analogy to rebut the theist ignorance of origin objection:

“Let us take an example of our own origin and our own belief. I assert, in fact, that the most skillful philosopher and the subtlest mind in the world could never develop a true idea of his origin and birth if he had never seen or heard about the generation and birth of humans or any other animal. Would he figure out, e.g., using only his natural reason that he was conceived and formed little by little in the belly of a woman? And that he came out afterward in such and such matter at the end of nine months? Certainly not. He could never imagine this. And would never even think that a woman had suckled him if he had never seen or heard of such a thing.”

Then he cleverly jumps to:

“And if this so skillful philosopher or subtle mind, thinking only about the ideas of other things he learned or saw done, pretended to deny his real origin and attribute it to something else that he could imagine, on the pretext that he could not perceive a necessary bond between the belly of a woman and the formation and generation of a man, would we not laugh at him? Would we not make fun of him? Yes, surely. Yet this is what they do when they deny the eternity of matter and deny that it has the force of its movement of itself, on the pretext that they do not see a necessary connection between the idea of matter and its movement.”

Then concludes:

“So, although the idea we have of matter may not reveal to us and show us clearly that it has the force to move itself, it does not follow that it does not actually have it, in view of the fact that it moves.”


Meslier, in his §67: “Being Cannot Have Been Created; Time Cannot Have Been Created. Likewise, Extension, Location, and Space Cannot Have Been Created and, Consequently, No Creator”, and §68, engages into what seems to be a Parmenides vs Heraclitus like argument that “being” is the at the bottom of all things; the following are opening quotes:

Matter is what it is of itself, it moves itself, and is the first cause of all things.”
— Jean Meslier (1729), The Testament (§67, pg. 369)

“I believe that there is no one, as skeptical or as mad as he may be, who does not know and feel and even is not convinced that there is at least some difference between pleasure and pain, between good and evil, and also between a good piece of bread that he might eat in one hand and a stone that he holds in the other.”
— Jean Meslier (1729), The Testament (§67, pg. 369)

He then introduced us to his being views, via what seems to be a Cartesian like “I think therefore I am” (1637) argument, as follows:

“We know and feel with all certainty that we are and we think; we can in no way doubt this: so, it is certain and evident that being exists. For if it did not exist we certainly would not exist; and if we did not exist, we certainly would not be able to think. There is nothing more clear evident than this. Supposing this, it is necessary to recognize the existence of being. Not only this, but it is also necessary to recognize that being has always existed and, consequently, that it was never created.”
— Jean Meslier (1729), The Testament (§67, pg. 369-70)

He concludes:

Being is the first principle and first foundation of all things. For, it is evident that all things are not really and truly what they are except that they have being and that they are themselves participants in or proportions of being. It is clear and sure that no thing would exist if being did not exist: it is like the same thing.”
— Jean Meslier (1729), The Testament (§67, pg. 370)

“There is not creator.”
— Jean Meslier (1729), The Testament (§67, pg. 370)

The next section follows as such:

“All things in the end are reduced to material being, i.e. to matter itself.”
— Jean Meslier (1729), The Testament (§68, pg. 372)


Meslier, possibly under the influence of Epicurus, seems to have replaced god, in his mind, not only with matter and force, but also with chance:
“In the end, we know that ‘chance’ can sometimes make something good, beautiful, and perfect enough; but, we should not think that an all-powerful, infinitely perfect god would or could ever allow any evil or flaw in his works.”
— Jean Meslier (1729), The Testament (§77, pg. 468)
This, however, seems to be one example of a rare use of the term by Meslier.

Quotes | On
The following are quotes on Meslier:

Meslier’s Testament is the most singular phenomenon ever seen among all the meteors fatal to the Christian religion.”
Voltaire (1766) [2]

Meslier’s war cry [Testament, 1729], never before heard in the history of western thought, offers one of the first true atheist moments, if not the first. Prior to him, they call the agnostic an atheist who, as Protagoras, concludes that when it comes to god one can conclude nothing; the pantheist who, such as Spinoza, affirms its existence consubstantial with nature; the polytheist, like Epicurus, who teaches its multiplicity; the deist, in the way of Voltaire, for whom god creates the world en bloc, but does not care about the details; or whoever’s idol does not correspond to the strict criteria established by the church. Now, the atheist clearly says that ‘god does not exist’. This is what Meslier clearly writes: ‘there is no god’ (chapters 59, 74, 93, 94)—that is clear and distinct, blunt, and straightforward.”
Michel Onfray (2009), “Preface: The War Song of an Atheist Priest” (pg. 19) [3]

“What is Meslier’s philosophy? He invented modern materialism. Without friends, without sophisticated conversations, without libraries, salons, or correspondence with the intellectual bigwigs of his time, without spiritual emulation, but by nature, alone and solitary, cloistered deep in his country., Meslier formulates the French materialism that la Mettrie and Helvetius, d’Holbach and Diderot will pillage later. Meslier doesn’t enter on the details of materialistic physics. He doesn’t cite Epicurus. Lucretius isn’t in his library, Diogenes Laertius neither.”
Michel Onfray (2009), “Preface: The War Song of an Atheist” (pg. 20) [3]

Meslier’s Testament denounced all belief, all god and all religion with a frenzied anger that makes Richard DawkinsThe God Delusion seem like a work of reasoned scholarship.”
— Nick Spencer (2014), “Why Aren’t More Americans Atheists?” [4]

Meslier meteor
A rendition of Meslier's anti-theology work according to Voltaire (1766), the first translator of his work.
Quote | Guts
The following are variants of the famous "strangled with guts" quote oft attributed to Meslier:

“This reminds me of the wish that was once uttered by a man who neither knew science nor had education, but who obviously was not lacking judgment for appraising correctly all the obscene grievances and despicable despotisms which I am incriminating here; his wish and the manner in which he expressed his thought show that he was quite sharp-witted and had penetrated deep enough into this abominable mystery of malice of which I am talking, as he recognized so well the initiator and promoter. He wished that all the great and noble of the earth be hanged and strangled with the guts of the priests. This expression will not fail to appear brute, uncouth and shocking, but one will have to admit that it is frank and naive; it is brief but expressive, as it says enough with few words what such people deserve.
— Jean Meslier (1729), recollection of a man’s wish, in Testament (§2) (Ѻ)

“I would like — and this would be the last and most ardent of my wishes — I would like the last of the kings to be strangled by the guts of the last priest.”
— Jean Meslier (1729), attributed to Meslier by Denis Diderot (Ѻ)

Quotes | By
The following are noted quotes:

“Do not fool yourselves, my dear friends, open your eyes to this and in general everything that your pious morons or mocking, self-interested priests and scholars are eager to tell you and make you believe on the false pretext of the infallible certainty of the so-called holy and divine religion.”
— Jean Meslier (c.1727), Testament; dust-jacket (2009) quote

“All the religions that exist in the world are only human inventions and only error, abuse, vanity, illusion, fraud, lies, and imposture are spouted and practiced in the world by the cult and worship of gods.”
— Jean Meslier (1729), The Testament (pg. 69)

“If our Christ-cultists say that their Jesus Christ was born miraculously from a virgin who had known no men, likewise the pagans had already said that Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were miraculously born of a vestal virgin (see: virgin birth) named Ilia, Sylvia, or Rhea Sylvia. They had already said that Mars, Vulcan, Argus, and others were born of Juno, who had no knowledge of men.”
— Jean Meslier (1729), The Testament (pg. 129)

“If our Christ-cultists say that their Jesus Christ was seen by his apostles to rise up gloriously into heaven and that many souls of their so-called saints were seen gloriously carried away into heaven by the angels, so too had the Roman pagans already said that Romulus, their founder, was seen in all his glory after his death.”
— Jean Meslier (1729), The Testament (pg. 130)

“If a ram was miraculously found in place of Isaac when Abraham wanted to sacrifice him, so also did the goddess Vesta miraculously send a cow to be sacrificed in place of Metella, daughter of Metellus. Likewise, the goddess Diana sent a doe in place of Iphigenia when she was on the stake to be immolated, whereby Iphigenia was miraculously delivered.”
— Jean Meslier (1729), The Testament (pg. 131)

“If Moses made water spring from a rock by striking it with his rod, Pegasus the horse did as much when he struck a rock with his hoof and a fountain sprang up.”
— Jean Meslier (1729), The Testament (pg. 131)

“We can say that the truth, generally speaking, is so independent of everything we can think of or imagine that although there be no body or mind, no form or matter, no creator or creature, even no thing in the world, there would still at least be a truth because in this case, it would be true that there was nothing; so true is it to say that the first and fundamental truths of things are eternal and unchanging in themselves and entirely8 independent.”
— Jean Meslier (1729), The Testament (§69, pg. 380)

“I am not talking here about what we normally call ‘spirits’ or ‘spiritual substances’ because these so-called substances do not exist and are not even possible.”
— Jean Meslier (1729), The Testament (§70, pg. 383)

“This is the state to which each of us will be reduced after death: we will all return to the state we were in before we were born or before we existed, and just as at that time we thought about nothing, imagined nothing, and were nothing, so also after death we will think about nothing, feel nothing, and imagine nothing anymore.”
— Jean Meslier (1729), Testament (§73, pg. 430)

“Religion is a real nursery of fanatics, it is truly the theater where they play their parts the best.”
— Jean Meslier (1729), Testament (§73, pg. 431)

“Everything that is most beautiful and admirable in nature is made by the laws and forces of nature.”
— Jean Meslier (1729), The Testament (§77, pg. 465)

“A thing that always remains in the same state can be or do only the same thing always.”
— Jean Meslier (1729), The Testament (§81, pg. 494); cited as a truthful maxim, possibly in relation to principle of inertia

“All the religions of the world are, as I said at the beginning of this writing, only human inventions, and that everything they teach us or make us believe are only errors, illusions, lies, and impostures invented by scoffers, swindlers, and hypocrites to deceive men, or by shred and crafty politicians to hold men in check and do whatever they want to the ignorant people, who blindly and foolishly believe everything they are told comes from god.”
— Jean Meslier (1729), The Testament (§96, pg. 577)

“To discover the true principles of morality, men have no need of theology, of revelation, or of gods. They need but common sense. They have only to look within themselves, to reflect upon their own nature, to consult their obvious interests, to consider the object of society and of each of the members who compose it, and they will easily understand that virtue is an advantage, and that vice is an injury to beings of the species.”
— Jean Meslier (1729), Testament (Ѻ)

“To claim that the souls of men will be happy or unhappy after the death of the body, is to pretend that man will be able to see without eyes, to hear without ears, to taste without a palate, to smell without a nose, and to feel without hands and without skin. Nations who believe themselves very rational, adopt, nevertheless, such ideas.”
— Jean Meslier (1729), Testament (Ѻ)

“After this, let people think, judge, say, and do whatever they want in this world; I do not care. Let men adapt themselves and be governed as they want, let them be wise or crazy, let them be good or vicious, let them say or even do with me whatever they want after my death: I really do not care in the least. I already take almost no part in what is done in the world. The dead, whom I am about to join, no longer worry about anything, they no longer take part in anything, and they no longer care about anything. So, I will finish this with nothing. I am hardly more than nothing and soon will be nothing.”
— Jean Meslier (1729), his final recorded words

“Know, my dear friends that everything that is happening in the world concerning the cult and the adoration of gods, is nothing but error, abuse, illusion, mendacity, and betrayal; that all the laws and ordinances published under the authority of god or gods are nothing but human inventions.”
— Jean Meslier (1729), Testament (Ѻ)

1. (a) Meslier, Jean. (1729). Testament: Memoir of the Thoughts and Sentiments of Jean Meslier (translator: Michael Shreve; preface: Michel Onfray). Prometheus Books.
(b) Meslier, Jean. (1729). Memoir of the Thoughts and Feelings of J... M... Prie... Cur... of Estrep... and of Bal... On an Exposition of Errors and of Abuses of the Behavior and of the Government of Men, where We See clear and Evident Demonstrations of the Vanity and Falsity of All the Gods and of All the Religions of the World in Order to Be Addressed to His Parishioners After His Death and in Order to Serve As Witness of Truth to Them, and to All Like Them. In His Testimony to the People (thereafter abridged as Testament). Self-Published: Four Hand Written Copies.
(c) Palmer, Michael. (2013). Atheism for Beginners: a Coursebook for Schools and Colleges (pg. 194). Lutterworth Press.
(d) Spencer, Nick. (2014). “Why Aren’t More Americans Atheists? Turns out it has nothing to do with Science. And everything to do with Politics” (Ѻ), The Big Idea, Aug 05.
2. (a) Palmer, Michael. (2013). Atheism for Beginners: a Coursebook for Schools and Colleges (pg. 194). Lutterworth Press.
(b) Meslier, Jean. (1732). Superstition in All Ages (translator: Anna Knoop) (Ѻ). Publishers, 1878.
3. Onfray, Michael. (2009). “The War Song of an Atheist Priest”, in: Testament: Memoir of the Thoughts and Sentiments of Jean Meslier (translator: Michael Shreve) (Preface, pgs. 17-24; quote, pg. 19). Prometheus Books.
4. Spencer, Nick. (2014). “Why Aren’t More Americans Atheists? Turns out it has nothing to do with Science. And everything to do with Politics” (Ѻ), The Big Idea, Aug 05.

Further reading
● Onfray, Michel. (2006). “Jean Meslier the Gentle Inclination of Nature” (translator: Marvin Mandell) (Ѻ), New Politics, Vol:X-4, Winter.
● Mainil, Pierre J. (2011). “Jean Meslier: Atheist and Communist Priest in the 18th Century” (Ѻ) (pdf), AFT Blog, Dec 25.

External links
Jean Meslier – Wikipedia.

TDics icon ns

More pages