is atheism good

The author of this post asks at the beginning of the post

Is religious faith normal, natural, or desirable? Does it serve an important function in the life of man, or is it, rather, an aggregation of pernicious superstitions, designed to soothe timid souls and blind man to truth by retarding his development?

I think religion is not desirable and serves no important function in life. It divides, rather than unites humanity.

Unlike this author who thinks Jean Messlier’s critique of religion and the Jesus character is bitterness, I think it was accurate.

And Messlier is right when he writes

The nations where this fiction is established, are they remarkable for the morality of their conduct?…We see haughty tyrants, courtiers, countless extortioners, unscrupulous magistrates, imposters, adulterers, libertines, prostitutes, thieves, and rogues of all kinds, who have never doubted the existence of a vindictive God, or the punishments of hell, or the joys of Paradise.

And all one need do is look at those countries or leaders who claim to be such ardent believers in deities to confirm the sentiments of Messlier.

And in proposing abolishing privilege, Messlier is not the first. Lycurgus did this in ancient Greece with success. People ate in common, it was worthless to have gold and such things. I don’t see how making such a suggestion not criticizing religion translates to bitterness and resentment. It is probably true that Messlier didn’t like his profession but that is not a reason to discredit his ideas. And that the communist experiment in the Soviet Union and that country led by Un failed is not reason to dismiss communism.

To say of him

His opinions about religion epitomize all the myopia common to materialism and atheism. He forgets the profoundly inspirational qualities of faith; he ignores religion’s storehouse of literature, myth, and consoling rituals; and he entirely forgets the critical importance of religion in passing on a culture’s moral values.

is to me uncalled for and untrue. Messlier was a religious man writing about religion. To claim his ideas are myopic is either to be unacquainted with his ideas or to desire to deliberately mislead. Religion is not the only repository for myth and art besides no one denies that a lot of literature we have has been religious but that doesn’t mean that in its absence the same wouldn’t be possible. And in his tract, Messlier is not concerned with promoting chimeras. It is his purpose to attack these chimeras that hold populations captive to priesthood and superstition.

I think, unlike his interlocutor, Messlier had a great understanding of human nature. He writes

We may be asked if atheism can suit the multitude? I reply, that every system which demands discussion is not for the multitude. What use is there, then, in preaching atheism? It can at least make those who reason, feel that nothing is more extravagant than to make ourselves uneasy, and nothing more unjust than to cause anxiety to others on account of conjectures, destitute of all foundation. As to the common man, who never reasons, the arguments of an atheist are no better suited to him than a philosopher’s hypothesis, an astronomer’s observations, a chemist’s experiments, a geometer’s calculations, a physician’s examinations, an architect’s designs, or a lawyer’s pleadings, who all labor for the people without their knowledge.

If this doesn’t show at least an awareness of human nature, then I don’t know what does. And I think it is the height of arrogance to say

Had he understood the nature of man more deeply, he would have understood that only philosophers and saints can be induced to do good by appeals to reason alone; for the average man, only the fears of eternal damnation will keep his baser instincts in check. Religion is the best unsleeping sentry created by history.

Contrary to the above false assertion, Messlier writes

Religious opinions, according to daily experience, produce much more evil than good; they are injurious, because they very often agree with the passions of tyrants, fanatics, and priests; they produce no effect, because they have not the power to balance the present interests of the majority of men. Religious principles are always put aside when they are opposed to ardent desires; without being incredulous, they act as if they believed nothing. We risk being deceived when we judge the opinions of men by their conduct or their conduct by their opinions. A very religious man, notwithstanding the austere and cruel principles of a bloody religion, will sometimes be, by a fortunate inconsistency, humane, tolerant, moderate; in this case the principles of his religion do not agree with the mildness of his disposition. A libertine, a debauchee, a hypocrite, an adulterer, or a thief will often show us that he has the clearest ideas of morals

The OP concludes, about Messlier’s Testament,

It is, perhaps, the best admonition against the danger of living an unfulfilled life that has yet been produced.

I however think it is one of the best tomes against religion ever produced, accessible to the public, clear and concise in its argumentation and above all else a great gift to his parish and humanity as a whole.

Be the judge, but as for me, I agree with Messlier.

About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

22 thoughts on “is atheism good

  1. I’ll give Messlier a look-see. Sounds like my kinda fellow. Always learn new things and of new writers from you, my friend. Thanks.


  2. I too agree with Messlier, but I’d like to inject another dimension into this discussion. There is often a huge difference between what people choose to believe in a spiritual/cosmological context (theism, atheism, etc.) and how they behave in the name of their beliefs.

    While theocracy is the authoritarian imposition of religious beliefs upon a populace through the mechanisms of government, no such corollary exists for atheism. The philosophy of secularism simply states that no religious belief, or the lack thereof, can form the basis of government.

    Now, that was a truly good idea.

    Communism is an ECONOMIC system, not a POLITICAL system. That the Soviet Union incorporated it into a totalitarian regime was an arbitrary decision much like Nazi Germany’s merger of capitalism with fascism.

    This difference between belief and behavior is extremely difficult for religious fundamentalists – be they Christian or Muslim – because such a distinction runs contrary to their ideological standpoint which is quintessentially theocratic.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I hadn’t read any of Messlier’s work before, but I generally agree.

    Also, this idea that “for the average man, only the fears of eternal damnation will keep his baser instincts in check” is absolutely terrifying, and I think completely untrue. It ignores the natural phenomenon of human emotion that help us do good things and be our naturally social selves, like empathy and sympathy. Human beings are social creatures, and if anything, I think a stronger argument could be made that man’s yearnings to fit in and be part of a larger community (an important survival mechanism), not some fear of a fictional hell, are what make him behave himself.

    Liked by 2 people

    • troynbr2 says:

      And yet I watch the news… doesn’t seem like either philosophy is working. We’re still the same short-sighted selfish little bundles of Freudian Id we were during… well, since the beginning. Are we better behaved because we’re a global village now?

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’ve raised a valid point, but I don’t think we are a global village despite globalization. We’re more like a body with biased neurons that are only interested in transmitting messages to certain organs due to loyalties and confirmation bias. People are so stuck in the problems of the groups to which they belong–their nations, their political parties, their religions–that they aren’t bothering to think more globally. Maybe that’s something that will change with younger generations who are growing up in a more globalized world. It’s hard to say since it’s still such a recent development that someone can protest in China and someone in Mexico can know about it immediately.

        Liked by 1 person

      • makagutu says:

        I don’t know if philosophy isn’t working but I know there are problems everywhere to be overcome

        Liked by 2 people

    • keithnoback says:

      I’d go a little further – that idea is f-ing offensive. I’ve interacted with a lot of ‘average men’ and don’t count myself any better. Most of us average people don’t think twice about eternal damnation when we stop to help change a flat tire or breathe through our anger. And since when is capitulation to fear not a manifestation of ‘baser instinct’?
      Total bullshit.

      Liked by 4 people

      • makagutu says:

        I think it is offensive to claim that the fear of hell of hell is what is keeping men and women from butchering each other. I can tell this is far from true; a few years ago we had a terrible post election violence and my country people claim to be christian/ muslim up to 98%. Their religion didn’t stop neighbour from killing neighbour

        Liked by 1 person

    • makagutu says:

      you are right Nancy. Honour much more than the fear of hell is more powerful in shaping behaviour

      Liked by 2 people

    • Ron says:

      The only response to people claiming their religious beliefs are the what keeps them on the straight and narrow path is: Then by all means, please don’t stop believing!


  4. dfxc says:

    “I think religion is not desirable and serves no important function in life.”
    There has never been a human civilization–at least that developed as far as writing–that has not had “religion” as an asset of culture. You may believe, as Freud did in Future of an Illusion, that religious ideas have outlived their usefulness but to dismiss them as only ever pointless demands some alternative explanation for their ubiquity.


  5. Peter says:

    I have concluded that there are good atheists and bad atheists (using the terms good and bad in a loose manner). Likewise there are good and bad people in every religion.

    I have also concluded that atheism has good and bad aspects to it. Likewise most religions have good and bad aspects to them.

    So I suppose I tend to focus on:
    1. is atheism true? and
    2. is atheism a better guide for life than religions?

    I must I don’t know the answer. It is a bleak cloud indeed that has no silver lining.


    • makagutu says:

      Unlike you Peter, I resolved there is no one bad/ good. We all have potential for both.
      Atheism in my view doesn’t offer any guide on how to or not to live. That one must get from elsewhere


      • Peter says:

        Mak I agree with your comment. No-one is intrinsically good or intrinsically bad.

        However in practice some people contribute to the good of society and other people are net detriments to well being of society. But in both cases these people have the capacity to change.


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