No one dreams about another life when he is very much absorbed in objects which he meets on earth.
In the eyes of a passionate lover, the presence of his mistress extinguishes the fires of hell, and her charms blot out all the pleasures of Paradise. Woman! you leave, you say, your lover for your God? It is that your lover is no longer the same in your estimation; or your lover leaves you, and you must fill the void which is made in your heart. Nothing is more common than to see ambitious, perverse, corrupt, and immoral men who are religious, and who sometimes exhibit even zeal in its behalf; if they do not practice religion, they promise themselves they will practice it some day; they keep it in reserve as a remedy which, sooner or later, will be necessary to quiet the conscience for the evil which they intend yet to do. Besides, devotees and priests being a very numerous, active, and powerful party, it is not astonishing to see impostors and thieves seek for its support in order to gain their ends. We will be told, no doubt, that many honest people are sincerely religious without profit; but is uprightness of heart always accompanied with intelligence? We are cited to a great number of learned men, men of genius, who are very religious. This proves that men of genius can have prejudices, can be pusillanimous, can have an imagination which seduces them and prevents them from examining objects coolly. Pascal proves nothing in favor of religion, except that a man of genius can possess a grain of weakness, and is but a child when he is weak enough to listen to prejudices. Pascal himself tells us “that the mind can be strong and narrow, and just as extended as it is weak.” He says more: “We can have our senses all right, and not be equally able in all things; because there are men who, being right in a certain sphere of things, lose themselves in others.”
Meslier’s argument here is one I made many times when I was first coming around to my atheism: why is it that all these people who claim to believe in divine oversight and retribution, act as if they don’t? It doesn’t take tremendous analysis to figure out that they don’t actually believe it at all. From there it’s impossible not to notice that most of the other things believers claim they believe – don’t add up. The christian who pulls out into the freeway is cautious and tries to avoid a collision, instead of smiling at the semi-trailer bearing down on them. Yet, if they believed they were going to eternal bliss, why do they flinch and try to survive?
One the main fault-lines of religion is the gap between what its adherents say they believe and how they act according to those beliefs. If I believed I was under irresistible real-time surveillance by a supreme being who’d torture me for eternity if I made a simple mistake, I’d probably sit quaking on the couch until dehydration killed me.