Atheist Freethinkers

Serge Deruette



Serge Deruette

Serge Deruette, Doctor of Political Science at ULB (Université Libre de Bruxelles) is professor of political science, political philosophy and the history of ideas, notably at UMONS (Université de Mons). He is especially interested in the thought of Jean Meslier on whom he has published, among others, two contributions in Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century (1992). With his book Lire Jean Meslier, curé et athée révolutionnaire (Reading Jean Meslier, Priest and Revolutionary Atheist) published by Aden in 2008, he has made an important contribution to elucidating the importance of Meslier's thought in the history of ideas, while at the same time introducing this important thinker to a wide public.

Synopsis of Presentation

"No Heaven, No Possessions"
Priest Jean Meslier (1664-1729)
Theoretician of Atheism Serving the People

Serge Deruette at the podium, 2010-10-01
Serge Deruette at the podium, 2010-10-01
Photograph : J. Jarry

It is with great pleasure that I present to you the first real founder of atheism, Jean Meslier. He advanced a complete, coherent and constructed theory. He is the long ignored and little known founder of atheism.

Born in France in 1664 under the reign of Louis XIV, Meslier was for forty years the priest of two small villages in the Ardennes. When he died at the beginning of the summer of 1729, without ever renouncing his vows, he left behind a testament in which he exposed and explained all the reasons why not to believe.

That is not all. His testament, written at the very beginning of the Enlightenment, offers:

Thus, Meslier was the first to propose a complete break not only with religious thought but also with cartesian dualism; to promote the idea that the world is what it is, in and of itself; that the soul (using the language of the time, an individual's thoughts and feelings) is material and that matter itself has its own movement.

Meslier was the first thinker in the history of ideas to unite atheism, philosophical materialism, communist egalitarianism and the revolutionary will to change society into a single concept of the world and life. He was the first atheist to bring atheism out of its elitist shell and claim it as a liberating way of thought for the masses. The first systematic theoretical thinker on atheism to launch a complete and radical attack against religion, all religions and all superstitions, beliefs constructed in order to manipulate the people. He was the first communist atheist thinker – and, therefore, the first atheist communist – in world history. The first systematic and consistent materialist since Antiquity, the most profound and the first to undeniably link materialism to atheism. He was the first to consider religion as being the product and the proof of oppression and exploitation. He was one of the first to see private property as the cause of inequality and domination, and to understand that all wealth comes from work. He was also the only thinker to promote revolution in France before the Revolution.

I will try to answer all of these questions. They are not without interest for us, given Meslier's importance as an innovator and trailblazer in the sphere of atheism as in so many other areas.