What, you say?
Atheists, of all people, surely don’t have a problem with guilt. They can cuss, smoke, and masturbate to their hearts’ content, not feeling morally supervised by disapproving and invisible eyes. They can read any book they want. That’s definitely a kind of freedom. Indeed, it is freedom.
But look again.
One good reason to believe in God, and not be an atheist, has to do with the real problem of what to do with guilt if you aren’t a theist. I’m not talking about small private sins, what to do about them. I’m talking about ones that seriously affect others.
Here’s the problem: If you believe that God is absent from the universe, then that means that suddenly you’re responsible for the whole world, and the direction that it is going. From climate change to how kind you are to your coworkers, to be an atheist means it’s all on you. Theists have outsourced this global problem of responsibility, and when they fail they ask forgiveness of God and quickly return to tiptop. But you, as an atheist, are your own last court of appeal, and if you’re temperamentally a hard judge of yourself, and you see evil in the world and do nothing about it (or even contribute to it), and you have a sense of conscience, you might find that you literally have nowhere to go for absolution. There’s never a moment, if you’re a person with a sense of decency, of being able to abandon your post.
If you are an atheist, in other words, you must carry the full burden of your actions. That means that if you commit adultery, for example, you have to live with the pain that you’ve caused another person for the rest of your life. Beyond apologizing to your spouse, there’s no getting right about it. Atheism thus might well lead you, over time, to become somebody who is very good at emotional splitting and cognitive dissonance, because repeatedly recalling your past actions, and feeling regret for them anew, simply would make your life too painful to think about.
There’s a reason absolution has a central function in so many religions. People feel the burdens of responsibility and guilt, and feel emotionally blocked by them, and desire sure and powerful forgiveness to move forward. But to be an atheist means forfeiting this source of consolation and psychological cleansing. What the atheist gains at one end (guilt free sensual and intellectual indulgences while in private) he or she would appear to lose at the other end (full responsibility for the pain caused to other people in one’s interpersonal and public actions).
Alas, no rest for the wicked (theist or atheist), but perhaps at least a tad less emotional labour and turmoil for the theist who has given the steering of the world over to God, and feels forgiven by divine love?