I recall an online conversation I had with a skeptic about spiritual things. To gain some clarification, I asked if he was an atheist or agnostic. His response? “I’m free!” Now, although this in no way answers the question, it does illustrate what people think about religion. It’s some form of mental slavery that you must liberate yourself from. Then you can be free to live your life however you wish. And freedom is a very important thing!
But whenever we talk about freedom, we need to ask two questions: 1) Free from what? and 2) Free to do what? Thinking of the American Revolution, our founders wanted to be 1) free from England’s rule and 2) free to govern themselves. So our enlightened skeptic friend claimed he was free, meaning, I suppose, that he was 1) free from God/religion/dogma/whatever and 2) free to do whatever he wanted.  It’s a powerful statement, if you assume that religion is nothing more than a form of slavery. But is it?
The divine ball and chain
I’ve heard many of the New Atheists compare God to a divine tyrant. And I’ve heard many people refer to their spouses as the “ball and chain,” again using the prisoner/slave metaphor. So let me adopt this analogy for myself.
Imagine I want to be free from my wife. I no longer wish to be married. I want to be single again, to live the bachelor life. What exactly am I free from? Marital fidelity. Commitment. Being responsible for and accountable to another person. Having to compromise and making joint decisions about everything.
What am I free to do? Pursue other women. Live for myself. Basically, do whatever I want whenever I want. Even better!
But what else am I free from? My wife’s love. Her support. Her affection and care. Companionship. Her eyes and her smile. Her great cooking (and awesome chocolate chip cookies). Doesn’t seem such a good idea now, does it?
So before I make any rash (stupid) decisions, I need to consider the cost. Is my “freedom” worth losing a relationship with the most wonderful person in my life? The one that gives me the greatest happiness, joy, and fulfillment? Obviously not.
A biblical example
Let’s look at a biblical example of someone who wanted to be free: the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). He sought freedom from his father and his rules so he asks dad for his birthright and leaves. He makes some friends, he parties it up. He’s free! But when his money runs out, so does the fun. The real world hits. And he starts remembering how good he had it back home. He had food. A roof over his head. And he realizes that even his father’s servants have it better than he has it now. So he decides to beg for his father to take him back as a servant.
But he doesn’t.
He takes him back as a son. Because that’s how good his father is.
The son wasn’t as free as he thought he was, was he? He was free from his father’s rules and authority, but he became enslaved to poverty, homelessness, and loneliness.
Free from God
What does it mean to be free from God? You don’t have to follow His moral commands. You’re “free” to sin as much as you want. However, instead of freedom, the Bible describes sin as slavery (see Romans 6). And like being “free” from my wife would actually remove a great many positive things from my life, what about severing our relationship with God, the very source of goodness?
But now, this life isn’t so bad. The atheist may enjoy a good, happy life. So how is a God-free existence so terrible? As the Creator, God’s goodness is built into this world. This side of eternity, we all get to enjoy God’s goodness (known as common grace), both believer and unbeliever alike. But what about the next life? After death? That’s when things change.
When most people think about hell, the first things that comes to mind are fire and brimstone. Maybe devils with horns and pitchforks. But the true horror of hell isn’t the temperature; it’s the utter and complete separation from God (2 Thess. 1:9). From His goodness. From love, joy, peace, and justice. The same way that separation from my wife may seem pleasant at first, I’d actually be losing far more than I would be gaining. The same goes for our relationship with God. The prodigal son took his dad’s money and purchased a lot of worldly pleasures with it. But when it ran out, and so did the good times. And even those who are “free” from God are still living off of His goodness.
But while a life apart from God may seem nice now, it won’t be so pleasant later.
Truth and freedom
So the atheist is only fooling himself when he says that he’s free. He’s completely dependent on God for any happiness that he has in this life. But more importantly, he’s missing the entire point of religion. It doesn’t matter if a religion makes you happy. It only matters if it is true.
And as Jesus taught, only when you follow Him will you know the truth (John 8:32).
And the truth will set you free.
 The irony is that if atheistic naturalism is true, there’s no such thing as free will. The naturalist is “free” to do only what he has been physically determined to do. Check out Tim Stratton’s article on it: The Self-Refuting Nature of Naturalism.