We are assured that the dogma of another life is of the greatest importance to the peace of society; it is imagined that without it men would have no motives for doing good. Why do we need terrors and fables to teach any reasonable man how he ought to conduct himself upon earth?
Does not each one of us see that he has the greatest interest in deserving the approbation, esteem, and kindness of the beings which surround him, and in avoiding all that can cause the censure, the contempt, and the resentment of society? No matter how short the duration of a festival, of a conversation, or of a visit may be, does not each one of us wish to act a befitting part in it, agreeable to himself and to others? If life is but a passage, let us try to make it easy; it can not be so if we lack the regards of those who travel with us.
Religion, which is so sadly occupied with its gloomy reveries, represents man to us as but a pilgrim upon earth; it concludes that in order to travel with more safety, he should travel alone; renounce the pleasures which he meets and deprive himself of the amusements which could console him for the fatigues and the weariness of the road. A stoical and morose philosophy sometimes gives us counsels as senseless as religion; but a more rational philosophy inspires us to strew flowers on life’s pathway; to dispel melancholy and panic terrors; to link our interests with those of our traveling companions; to divert ourselves by gaiety and honest pleasures from the pains and the crosses to which we are so often exposed. We are made to feel, that in order to travel pleasantly, we should abstain from that which could become injurious to ourselves, and to avoid with great care that which could make us odious to our associates.
It seems to me that, here, Meslier lets religion’s claims off too lightly. If we were supposed to believe in this horrific vengeful god that would manipulate us for eternity after our deaths, we wouldn’t value this life at all – we’d sit on the couch, quivering like scared rabbits, hoping for a good quick death before we had a chance to accidentally break some divine ukase. With gods being as silly and capricious as they are, and there being so many of them, we’d best hedge our bets by doing nothing at all except for that which is compulsory.