We may be asked if atheism can suit the multitude? I reply, that every system which demands discussion is not for the multitude.
What use is there, then, in preaching atheism? It can at least make those who reason, feel that nothing is more extravagant than to make ourselves uneasy, and nothing more unjust than to cause anxiety to others on account of conjectures, destitute of all foundation. As to the common man, who never reasons, the arguments of an atheist are no better suited to him than a philosopher’s hypothesis, an astronomer’s observations, a chemist’s experiments, a geometer’s calculations, a physician’s examinations, an architect’s designs, or a lawyer’s pleadings, who all labor for the people without their knowledge.
The metaphysical arguments of theology, and the religious disputes which have occupied for so long many profound visionists, are they made any more for the common man than the arguments of an atheist? More than this, the principles of atheism, founded upon common sense, are they not more intelligible than those of a theology which we see bristling with insolvable difficulties, even for the most active minds? The people in every country have a religion which they do not understand, which they do not examine, and which they follow but by routine; their priests alone occupy themselves with the theology which is too sublime for them. If, by accident, the people should lose this unknown theology, they could console them selves for the loss of a thing which is not only entirely useless, but which produces among them very dangerous ebullitions.
It would be very foolish to write for the common man or to attempt to cure his prejudices all at once. We write but for those who read and reason; the people read but little, and reason less. Sensible and peaceable people enlighten themselves; their light spreads itself gradually, and in time reaches the people. On the other hand, those who deceive men, do they not often take the trouble themselves of undeceiving them?
Meslier’s not right all the time, and this is one of those times. Remember, he was a member of an elite – the clergy in France were rich and powerful, just under (and often with a revolving door) the nobility. Like many atheists even today he derided the common person’s ability to understand.
“What use is there, then, in preaching atheism?” – One does not preach atheism. One discusses truths, and if the listener comes to understand those truths, they will discard their belief in gods.