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.