Discussions on the History of Conscience and Ethics
Jean Meslier's Mon Testament
Following is the first installment of Herve Gourmelon's translation of Chapter Two of Jean Meslier's Mon Testament.HGourmelon (translating from Jean Meslier)
Thoughts and Feelings of the Author About the Religions of the WorldThe root of all the pains that overwhelm you, and all the deceptions that keep you in the dark and under the vanity of superstition, as well as under the tyrannical laws of the rulers of this world, is nothing else, my dear friends, but that detestable policy of men. Some of them want to dominate their peers, whereas the others want to earn a reputation for their sanctity or even their divinity; they both made a clever use of not only force and violence, but also of all kinds of ruses and artifice to beguile the people, in order to achieve their goals more easily.
As a consequence, after taking advantage of the weakness, the credulity and the ignorance of the weakest and the most ignorant, those sly, cunning politicians easily had them believe whatever they wanted. Consequently, they made them accept with respect and submission, willingly or not, all the laws they wanted to establish. By those means, some got honored and respected, or even worshiped as deities, or as people of extraordinary sanctity, elected by some deities to tell their will to the rest of the world. The others, using those contrivances, became rich, powerful and redoubtable, all the more so that when they had grown powerful enough to be feared and obeyed, they openly and tyrannically subjected their fellow men to their laws. With this aim in view, they also used the quarrels, the dissensions and the animosities that often arise between individuals, for most men very often differ in their moods, their minds and inclinations; they cannot get on very long without disagreeing and quarreling. And when those dissensions occur, those who are the strongest, the boldest, and possibly the most malicious never fail to profit by those chances to achieve their goals and become more easily the rulers of all.
This, my friends, is the true root and the real origin of all those ills that trouble the human society and that make men miserable in life. This is the root and the origin of all the mistakes, all the impostures, all the superstitions, all the fake deities and all the idolatries that have unfortunately spread all over the world. This is the root and the origin of all that is held up as holiest and most sacred, in what you are told to call reverently "religion." This is the root and the origin of all those allegedly holy and sacred laws that you are told to obey so strictly, under the pretexts of devotion and religion, as laws edicted on behalf of God himself. This is the origin of all those pompous, but vain and ridiculous, ceremonies, that your priests pretend to lead with ostentation, in the celebration of their fake mysteries and their bogus divine worship. In a word, this is the root and the origin of all that you are made to pay respect to and worship like deities, or like divine objects. This is also the root and origin of all those magnificent titles and names of lord, prince, king, monarch and potentate, who all, under the pretext of governing you as sovereigns, oppress you as tyrants. Pretending to act for the public good, they rob you from all the best and the most beautiful things you have; and, putting forward the fact that they got their authority from some deity, they get to be obeyed, feared and respected as gods. Finally, this is the root and the origin of all those other vain titles of noble, gentleman, count and so on, which swarm in this world, like an author says. They are nearly all like greedy wolves who, pretending to use their rights and their authority, trample you underfoot, mistreat you, plunder you and steal all the best you have.
This is likewise the root and the origin of all those allegedly holy and sacred characters of order and ecclesiastical and spiritual powers that your priests and bishops claim to have (up-)on you: on a plea of bestowing the spiritual good of a purely divine grace and favour upon you, they subtly rob you of goods that are incomparably more real and more secure than those that they pretend to grant you. On the pretext of willing to drive you to heaven, they prevent you from enjoying your life on earth in any way; and finally, pretending to keep you away in some other life from the imaginary pains of a hell that does not exist — and neither does that other eternal life that they try to keep alive in your hopes and fears, vainly for you and uselessly for them — they compel you to suffer in this life, which is the only one that you can claim to, the pains of a real hell.
And since the strength of those kinds of tyrannical governments only subsist on the very principles and means that established them, and since it is dangerous to resist and struggle against the fundamentals of a religion, as well as to try and shake the fundamental laws of a state or a republic, one must not be astonished if the wise and enlightened people comply with the general laws of a state, unfair though they may be, or if they obey, apparently at least, the rites and the principles of a religion that they find established. Although they acknowledge sufficiently the errors and the vanity of that religion, and reluctant though they may be when it comes to submitting to it, it is nevertheless far more useful and advantageous for them to live quietly, keeping what they can, rather than putting themselves in danger trying to counter the flow of common errors, or trying to resist the authority of a sovereign that wants to rule everything.
Moreover, in big states and governments, as in kingdoms and empires, it is impossible for the sovereigns to provide for everything. Therefore, to maintain their power and authority in such big expanses of land, they make a particular point of establishing officers, administrators, governors and lots of other people, to uphold their authority, so that nobody actually dares to make it his responsibility to resist, nor even to contradict openly such an absolute authority, without putting himself into serious danger. This is why the wisest and the most enlightened are reduced to silence, although they can clearly see the disorders and abuses of such an unfair and odious government. Add to this the particular views and inclinations of all those who own the big, the medium and even the smallest charges, either within the civil state, or in the ecclesiastical state, or those who aspire to own them. Certainly none of them is sincerely trying to work for the public good of all, rather than working for his own profit and making his own pile. None of them gets involved in those charges but by some views of ambition and interest, or by some other views that flatter one's flesh and blood. Those who set their heart on getting the jobs and charges in a state will not be those who will oppose the pride, the ambitions or the tyranny of a prince who wants to dictate his laws over everything: on the contrary, they will foster his bad passions and his evil purposes, hoping to improve their position and getting bigger in the favour of his authority. Neither will those who set their hearts on the benefits or the dignities of the church be those who will oppose it, since they will get those positions using the very favor and the power of those princes, or they will maintain their dignities by doing so. Therefore, far from trying to turn those princes away from their evil intentions, they are the first who approve them and flatter them in everything they do. Neither will those be the ones who will blame the established errors, or uncover the lies, the delusions or the impostures of a fake religion, since their dignities, with the power and the revenues that they ensure, are based on those lies and errors. Rich misers will not oppose the injustice of the prince, neither will they publicly blame the errors and abuses of a fake religion, since they most often got their lucrative employment within the state, or their rich benefits within the church, from the favors of the prince. They will rather strive to pile up riches and treasures than to destroy errors and public abuses, which they all profit by. Neither will those who enjoy the pleasure of a sweet life be those who will oppose the abuses that I am talking about; they prefer by far to profit quietly by the pleasures and sweetnesses of life, than to risk suffering persecution for wanting to resist the flow of common errors. The hypocritical devout persons will not oppose them either, since they only like to cover themselves with virtue and to use a specious pretext of piety and religious zeal, in order to hide their most awful vices, and to reach with more accuracy the goals that they are aimed at, always seeking for their own interests and satisfactions, and deceiving the others with their nice virtuous looks. Finally, neither the weak nor the ignorant will resist those evil purposes, because, having no power or knowledge whatsoever, they cannot possibly uncover all those errors and impostures that they are entertained with; neither can they resist the force of such a flow of errors, which undoubtedly would wash them away if they tried to counter it. Besides, there are such tight links of subordination and interdependence among all the conditions and states of all people, and there is nearly always so much envy and jealousy, so much perfidiousness and treachery, even among close relatives, that they cannot trust each other; therefore, they cannot do or make anything without the risk of being uncovered and betrayed by somebody. It would not even be secure to trust a friend, not even a brother, in such a serious matter as wanting to reform such a bad government. So that, since nobody can nor will resist so many errors and impostures and the tyranny of the great of the earth, nobody needs to be surprised if those vices rule this world so powerfully and so universally. Now, this is how abuses, errors, superstition and tyranny have established themselves in this world.
One might think at least in such a case that religion and politics should not agree with each other, and that they should have totally opposite views and purposes, since it seems that the goodness and the piety of a religion should condemn the harshness and the injustice of a tyrannical government. From another point of view, the cautiousness of a wise policy should condemn and repress the abuses, the errors and the impostures of a fake religion. This is indeed the way it should work; but it definitely does not happen every time. Thus, although it seems that religion and politics should be completely opposed and contradict each other in their principles and their maxims, they nevertheless get on very well, once they have entered into an alliance and made friends. One could say that they are as thick as thieves, for then they defend and support each other. Religion backs up the government, terrible though it may be; conversely, the government backs up religion, dumb and vain though it may be. On the one hand, the priests, who are the ministers of religion, strongly recommend to everyone to obey magistrates, princes and sovereigns, as established by God to rule the others, under pain of curse and eternal damnation; on the other hand, princes have their people pay respect to priests, and give those priests good salaries and revenues, and maintain them in the vain and abusive office of their fake ministry. They compel the people to regard as sacred and holy everything those ministers do and everything they order the others to do or to believe in, under that beautiful and fallacious pretext of religion and divine cult. There again, this is the way abuses, errors, superstition, delusion and deceit have established themselves in the world, and how they remain in spite of all the misfortunes that they cause to the poor peoples, who moan under such painful and heavy yokes.
Perhaps you will think, my dear friends, that in such a number of fake religions in this world my intention was at least to exclude from that number the Catholic religion, which all of us profess, and which we say to be the only one which teaches pure truth, the only one which acknowledges and worships the true God as it should, and the only one who leads men on the true way to salvation and eternal happiness. But open your eyes, my dear friends, open your eyes and get rid of everything that your pious and ignorant priests, or your mocker, self-seeking doctors, show zeal in telling you and in having you believe, under the fake pretext of the infallible certainty of their would-be sacred and divine religion. You are not more beguiled nor more abused than those who have been abused and beguiled the most. You are not less in error than those who have been the deepest in it. Your religion is not less vain or superstitious than any other; it is not less fake in its principles, nor less ridiculous and absurd in its dogmas and maxims. You are not less idolatrous than those whom you are not afraid to blame and condemn for their idolatry. The ideas of pagans and yours only differ by their name and appearance. In one word, everything your doctors and priests preach with so much zeal and eloquence about the splendour, the excellence and the holiness of the mysteries that they make you worship, everything they tell you so solemnly about the certitude of their alleged miracles, and everything they recite with so much self-confidence concerning the magnificence of the rewards of heaven, and touching the dreadful castigations of hell, are nothing but delusions, errors, lies, fictions and impostures. They were made up in the first place by sly and cunning politicians; then, some seducers and impostors carried them on; next, they were admitted and believed by ignorant and coarse peoples; and finally, they were maintained by the authority of the greats and sovereigns of the earth who favored abuses, errors, superstitions and impostures, and who allowed them by their laws, in order to keep a tight rein on the bulk of men. This is how, my dear friends, those who have governed or still govern keep their peoples under control, take advantage presumptuously and with impunity of the name and the authority of God to get feared and respected, rather than to have their people worship and serve the imaginary God whose power they scare you with. This is how they abuse the specious names of piety and religion to make the weak and the ignorant believe everything they want them to believe; and this is how they establish on the whole world a detestable mystery of lies and injustice, when they should all be striving to establish the reign of peace, justice and truth, which would make all the peoples happy on earth. I say that they establish everywhere a mystery of iniquity, since all the hidden motives of the most subtle policy, as well as the maxims and the most pious ceremonies of religion, are indeed nothing but mysteries of iniquity. I say "mysteries of iniquity" for all the poor peoples, who are the unfortunate dupes of all those tricks, as well as the playthings and victims of the power of the greats.
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