Jean Meslier

On this date in 1664, Jean Meslier was born in Mazerny in the Ardennes, France. Meslier became the village priest in Etrépigny, where he served for 40 years. He is noted for leaving, on his deathbed in 1729, a several-hundred page manuscript titled Testament: Memoir of the Thoughts and Sentiments of Jean Meslier, which denounced Christianity and all religion, calling it the “opium of the people.” He was an early exponent of communal values and an advocate of radical equality. Though the manuscript was suppressed by the church, it was circulated illicitly.

Meslier is the originator of the quote, often attributed to Denis Diderot, that the world will be free when “the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.” French philosopher Michel Onfray said of Meslier in his Atheist Manifesto (2005), “For the first time (but how long will it take us to acknowledge this?) in the history of ideas, a philosopher had dedicated a whole book to the question of atheism. … The history of true atheism had begun.” 

Voltaire published an “extract” of Meslier’s magnum opus in 1761, selectively edited to make it seem as if Meslier was a deist like Voltaire instead of the atheist he proclaimed himself to be. The memoir was not published in its entirety until 1864. As of this writing, no full translation is known to have been completed. Despite its incompleteness, Meslier’s work was influential in the French Enlightenment and widely read by 19th-century American freethinkers. D. 1729.

Freedom From Religion Foundation