Source: Superstition In All Ages (1732) By Jean Meslier
How many subterfuges and mental gymnastics all the ancient and modern thinkers have employed, in order to avoid falling out with the ministers of the Gods, who in all ages were the true tyrants of thought! How Descartes, Malebranche, Leibnitz, and many others have been compelled to invent hypotheses and evasions in order to reconcile their discoveries with the reveries and the blunders which religion had rendered sacred! With what prevarications have not the greatest philosophers guarded themselves even at the risk of being absurd, inconsistent, and unintelligible whenever their ideas did not correspond with the principles of theology! Vigilant priests were always ready to extinguish systems which could not be made to tally with their interests. Theology in every age has been the bed of Procrustes upon which this brigand extended his victims; he cut off the limbs when they were too long, or stretched them by horses when they were shorter than the bed upon which he placed them.
What sensible man who has a love for science, and is interested in the welfare of humanity, can reflect without sorrow and pain upon the loss of so many profound, laborious, and subtle heads, who, for many centuries, have foolishly exhausted themselves upon idle fancies that proved to be injurious to our race? What light could have been thrown into the minds of many famous thinkers, if, instead of occupying themselves with a useless theology, and its impertinent disputes, they had turned their attention upon intelligible and truly important objects. Half of the efforts that it cost the genius that was able to forge their religious opinions, half of the expense which their frivolous worship cost the nations, would have sufficed to enlighten them perfectly upon morality, politics, philosophy, medicine, agriculture, etc. Superstition nearly always absorbs the attention, the admiration, and the treasures of the people; they have a very expensive religion; but they have for their money, neither light, virtue, nor happiness.
Some ancient and modern philosophers have had the courage to accept experience and reason as their guides, and to shake off the chains of superstition. Lucippe, Democritus, Epicurus, Straton, and some other Greeks, dared to tear away the thick veil of prejudice, and to deliver philosophy from theological fetters. But their systems, too simple, too sensible, and too stripped of wonders for the lovers of fancy, were obliged to surrender to the fabulous conjectures of Plato, Socrates, and Zeno.
Among the moderns, Hobbes, Spinoza, Bayle, and others have followed the path of Epicurus, but their doctrine found but few votaries in a world still too much infatuated with fables to listen to reason. In all ages one could not, without imminent danger, lay aside the prejudices which opinion had rendered sacred. No one was permitted to make discoveries of any kind; all that the most enlightened men could do was to speak and write with hidden meaning; and often, by a cowardly complaisance, to shamefully ally falsehood with truth. A few of them had a double doctrine−−one public and the other secret. The key of this last having been lost, their true sentiments often became unintelligible and, consequently, useless to us. How could modern philosophers who, being threatened with the most cruel persecution, were called upon to renounce reason and to submit to faith−−that is to say, to priestly authority−−I say, how could men thus fettered give free flight to their genius, perfect reason, or hasten human progress?
It was but in fear and trembling that the greatest men obtained glimpses of truth; they rarely had the courage to announce it; those who dared to do it have generally been punished for their temerity.
Thanks to religion, it was never permitted to think aloud or to combat the prejudices of which man is everywhere the victim or the dupe.