“Know, then, my friends, that everything that is recited and practiced in the world for the cult and adoration of gods is nothing but errors, abuses, illusions, and impostures. All the laws and orders that are issued in the name and authority of God or the gods are really only human inventions….” “And what I say here in general about the vanity and falsity of the religions of the world, I don’t say only about the foreign and pagan religions, which you already regard as false, but I say it as well about your Christian religion because, as a matter of fact, it is no less vain or less false than any other.”
These are not the words of Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, or any other outspoken contemporary atheist. In fact, they are the words of a quiet, modest parish priest named Jean Meslier, who died in early 18th-century France and left behind his copious Testament as a legacy for his parishioners. This obviously controversial work, which influenced such noted thinkers as Baron d’Holbach and Voltaire, and is viewed by some historians as anticipating both the French Revolution and Karl Marx, is now available in English for the first time. In impassioned tones but with analytical precision, Meslier presents a methodical deconstruction of Christianity and the governments that support it, along with a thoughtful defense of the fundamental human rights of liberty, equality, and the pursuit of happiness. He reveals himself not only as a materialist and unbeliever but also as a man of revolutionary sentiments who firmly opposes the governments of his day, which he maintains keep the common people in ignorance, fear, and poverty through religion. Moreover, he urges his former parishioners to wake up and inform themselves about the truth of their governments and religion. This fascinating document, which is an early forerunner of many later critiques of religion, is must reading for freethinkers, skeptics, and anyone interested in the history of religion and dissent.