The Character of Atheism
Jean Meslier (1678-1733) was a Roman Catholic priest who served as Vicar of Bue in Champagne, France for thirty years. Voltaire (1694-1778), the French deist who vigorously opposed Christianity and sought to fashion his own naturalistic religion, described Meslier as “the most singular phenomenon ever seen among all the meteors fatal to the Christian religion.”
In a recent essay, A. J. Mattill Jr., a contributing editor for The American Rationalist (a small journal published bimonthly out of St. Louis), gushes over Meslier, applauding him as one of the great champions of skepticism.
As a preliminary matter, we must make two observations.
First, if Meslier was any sort of symbolic luminary at all, he must have been a “meteor,” i.e., a phenomenon that provides no significant or lasting illumination, and who appeared as but a “glitch” in the galaxy of literary history. The priest was most obscure. I have consulted several sources—from The Encyclopedia Britannica to The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church—and I cannot find a solitary reference to the gentleman—not even an allusion to his name! Apparently he is considered illustrious only by the atheists.
Second, what is this insanity about Meslier’s influence being “fatal” to the Christian religion? It is not even legitimate hyperbole to suggest that any skeptic has proved “fatal” to Christianity—or, for that matter, the whole of them combined. Voltaire himself was not (though he boasted he would be), and he was much more of a significant influence than Meslier.
But consider for a moment this rogue whom skepticism extols so highly. When Jean Meslier died at the age of fifty-five, three handwritten manuscripts were discovered in his home. Authored and signed by Meslier, these documents were titled, My Testament. The writings contained a series of confessions by the priest—combined with a vicious attack against the Bible. The documents revealed that his entire life had been a sham.
Supposedly, his religious faith was abandoned as an adolescent, but, wishing to obey his father, he pursued the vocation of a priest.
Here is a portion of his confession, directed to the members of his parish, as reported by Mattill (1999, 3).
I was nevertheless compelled to teach you your religion and to carry out that false duty that I had committed myself to as the vicar of our parish . . . I had the displeasure of finding myself annoyingly obliged to act and speak totally against my own feelings, to entertain you with foolish nonsense and vain superstition that I hated, condemned, and disliked in my heart. I, however, declare that I never did it without great pain and extreme repugnance. This is why I hated so much the vain functions of my ministry, particularly all those idolatrous and superstitious celebrations of masses, and those vain and ridiculous administerings of sacraments that I had to carry out. I cursed them thousands and thousands of times in my heart, when I was obliged to do them, and particularly when I had to carry them out with a bit more attention and a bit more solemnity than usual.
Aram Vartanian, writing in The Encyclopedia of Unbelief, says that Meslier was “[f]rustrated and incensed by the hypocritical role he felt condemned to play during his lifetime” (emphasis added).
Two observations are in order.
First, one can only wonder if the direction of Jean Meslier’s life would have been altered had he known genuine Christianity, as opposed to the corruptions of the apostate Romish system (cf. 1 Timothy 4:1ff). Those who pervert the primitive Christian arrangement—as designed by God and revealed in the New Testament—thus paving the way for unbelief, will have a heavy responsibility to bear in the day of judgment.
Second, what does it say about the character of atheism when the skeptics virtually “canonize” a man whom they concede to be a life-long hypocrite, and who was able to express his true convictions only posthumously?
Consider the following scenario. Carl Sagan was an atheist who spent the whole of his adult life opposing God and casting reflection upon his Son. Now that Sagan is dead, suppose there were discovered among his possessions a manuscript in which he secretly professed his faith in Christ, and apologized for his hostility toward things sacred. Does anyone imagine for a moment that the Christianity community would be ecstatic—applauding the gentleman and making of him a causa celebratio? Not hardly!
But such is the difference between the character of Christianity and that of infidelity.
- Matthill, A. J., Jr. 1999. The American Rationalist, June/July.
- Vartanian, Aram. 1985. Then Encyclopedia of Unbelief. Vol. 2. Gordon Stein, ed. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books.