Last week (recall), I noted that in Ursule Le Guin's purportedly happy cite, Omelas, there is -- like in Plato's True City -- a religion without priests; earlier in the year (recall), I noted the absence of religion altogether in Book 1 of her Earthsea. As Matt Lister noted in his comments religion is central in Book 2 of Earthsea, "The Tombs of Atuan." The Tombs is both an unsubtle polemic against priest/priestess-craft and a subtle treatment of the reality of an invisible world full of dangerous and only partially controllable powers. Le Guin echoes the great Enlightenment thinkers in polemically showing how priest-craft and indoctrination can lead to endless cruelty against the politically weak, especially when the priests/priestesses themselves serve and deploy worldly even imperial power (and fail to believe in their own gods). But she also warns against the seductions of relying exclusively on one's knowledge of nature.
In The Tombs, Le Guin daringly shows the transformation of a true believing Priestess, Arha, who ends up recoiling from her own cruelty when she spies on her most potent enemy, who is in her power, and interprets a gesture by him as him understanding his own foolishness. (The nature of true foolishness is an important sub-them in this novel and many other Le Guin stories [recall The Dispossessed]). We learn in the novel that her enemy -- a man named Ged, who is capable of controlling invisible powers because he has access to the true names, that is generative definitions, of things -- had, in fact, been a true fool. He had trusted his own powers to win a great prize. (I won't share the relevant details of the story.) He thought of his power and independence as freedom, but this a false freedom.
Through Arha's actions Ged, who represents the natural hubris of all experts, learns that "alone, no one wins freedom." At the end of the novel, Arha, in turn, discovers that even as a collaborative project, "freedom is a heavy load, a great strange burden for the spirit to undertake. It is not easy. It is not a gift given, but a choice made, and the choice may be a hard one." So we may sum up the moral of the story -- and like all children's stories it's didactic -- that true freedom is a joint and difficult, even risky project which presupposes uncertain choices.
True freedom, thus, has two contrasts: one is our submission to tradition, priestly power, and worldly greatness in which we fail to think for ourselves; the other, more interesting contrast in the story is, a false understanding of freedom in which we see ourselves as isolated individuals, using our knowledge to control our environment to our particular ends. These ends may be noble or base, but because they fail to incorporate the chosen perspectives of others, they are fundamentally fragile. (This would not be so on an isolated island, of course. But that's to turn freedom into self-imprisonment.) Even the greatest expert requires the collaboration and assistance of others to survive.
In Earthsea, Le Guin insists that our freedom is grounded in our choice to trust others (this is symbolized by the exchange of true names). That's inherently dangerous because it makes us vulnerable to betrayal and other hurts. If one chooses freedom, there is no insurance against some such vulnerability because even if the incentives are properly aligned, all institutions rely on the good will and good faith of others. Because vulnerability is so scary, it is no surprise that people willingly choose not to make further choices and knowingly live on illusions that can never be gratified.