Faithful Catholic priest-become-atheist psychologist shows how he did—and how you, too—can unlearn childhood prejudices and superstitions, and really enjoy the modified Golden Rule.
This book could have been titled The Book of Tolerance. The psychologist author recognizes that every child learns a lot of traditions and beliefs when too young to evaluate them. Such prejudices are quite deeply ingrained into the subconscious. They are often very difficult to overcome even in our adult years of further experience and education. (Dr. Uhl was already in his 30’s when he finally got free; many people never get free.)
Each person grows up and learns to analyze and think critically at different speeds. Even in the same family one sibling may remain opinionated and prejudiced, stuck in the past, while another thoughtfully unlearns childhood myths and becomes a broadminded adult.
Therefore, tolerance of such differing rates of learning and unlearning is necessary for civilized peace in a pluralistic society; this includes family and friends! Such patient understanding is less difficult when one follows the new Golden Rule: Treat others as you would reasonably want and expect them to treat you if your roles were reversed.
The practical details of the most important journey of life are found in the little book, Out of God’s Closet: This Priest Psychologist Chooses Friendly Atheism. A generous sprinkling of earthy humor richly seasons this revolutionary book for enjoyable spiritual nourishment.
“Stephen Uhl’s book is both profound and simple. Profound in that it deals with some of the most important concepts facing the world today; simple in that is clear and persuasive. Dr. Uhl is able to speak from an unusual perspective. He is a former Roman Catholic Priest, and has moved very carefully and thoughtfully to an agnostic/atheist position. His insights are remarkable, and many of us who are increasingly doubtful about the existence of the supernatural, and worried about the effects of a belief in the supernatural, will find the book a very solid grounding for our currently vague concerns. An excellent and thoughtful exposition of important and even crucial ideas.
— Philip E. Johnson, Ph.D., Author, Educator
“Have you ever wondered about mysterious supernatural mysteries and have been dissatisfied with so many of the pat answers given by believing theists? “We’re not supposed to know now, but someday we will.” “You just have to have faith.” “Pray for grace, then you’ll be able to accept that which you don’t now understand.” Here is acceptable proof for the thinking person that the best classical arguments for supernatural mysteries are full of holes filled with superstition. Reading this book will leave you wiser. It will either reinforce your beliefs and make you feel good, or shake up your thinking and allow you to explore your convictions and do even more thinking. Out of God’s Closet stresses the truth that we all learn facts and unlearn nonfacts at different rates, according to our very personal insights and experiences. The book ends with the hope that the understanding of these differences will help unite a pluralistic society that reflects such different insights and developmental rates. Then, really following a modified Golden Rule, we will continue more joyfully to help each other benefit from our experiences in this real world together.”
— Ila Deluca, National Secretary, Final Exit Network
“An exploration of the good, the bad and the ugly of religion, from an ex-priest’s point of view. Uhl shares his transition from Catholicism to secular humanism with much wit and authority. A former priest, he’s not afraid of deconstructing much-treasured beliefs and systems that religions adhere to. The author questions how religion harms a society rather than helps it, and also poses a loaded query to people of faith if one has faith does it mean losing control of one’s reason? Uhl answers this question and others, pouring over bloody biblical events performed in the name of God. He also declares that the repetition of prayer and memorization of biblical verses can dull one s thinking, thus religion can contribute to mental laziness. The author explores how religious guilt can undermine self-confidence, especially when it comes to children, who aren’t equipped to process such lofty ideas. Eventually these children end up feeling guilty about needing God’s grace and may end up avoiding any real responsibility. Uhl tells his story, which focuses on how religion can interfere with personal happiness, with clarity. He combines biblical story, personal anecdote and empirical data in such a way that he demands to be taken seriously. The author shares from his personal experience with such honesty that the book is a breath of fresh air in a religious culture otherwise saturated with fundamentalism. His analysis on the Bush administration’s toxic combination of patriotism and God is a logical response crying out for a reasonable America, a country without extremism. Though Uhl is full of conviction, his writing is never preachy, and his manner of thinking neither cynical nor lofty. Most importantly, he encourages readers to think for themselves. A profound conversion story told with clarity, insight and wit.
— Kirkus Discoveries
A different title for this fine little book might have been The Therapy of Belief. For that title would have been ambiguous and perhaps attracted readers who need therapy done on their beliefs that might mistake this book for a treatise on how their beliefs are therapeutic for what is wrong with them. Dr. Uhl, an experienced psychologist, had to come to terms with what his former profession as a Roman Catholic priest may have done to people: instill in them shame for their normal urges, a sense of guilt for being an inquisitive human, and a constant readiness to self-blame arising out of the presumption that weekly confession is necessary because of our sinfulness. He left the clergy to become a psychotherapist, and then became an author in order to try to repair old errors. In part the book is something of an autobiography, in that it traces Uhl’s development through priesthood, through a period of increasing doubt and internal conflict, and out of the priesthood to a professional life as an atheistic psychologist. Having been on both sides of the belief fence, Uhl undertakes to help bring believers, doubters and nonbelievers to better understand one another and become united in their common humanity. The work is punctuated with humor, carefully chosen to illustrate how we have differing perceptions. In fact, the jokes are so appropriate, it almost seems as if the text were written to identify the serious point of the jokes. Uhl’s book is incredibly timely. We have just learned of Sister Theresa’s doubts that tormented her all during her life as a nun. New York Times Magazine carried a feature article that probes the reasons why the majority of humans are what we would regard as religious fanatics. A plethora of books have recently appeared, denouncing religious belief and believers as delusional fools. Uhl’s book stands out from these others as respectful, as offering a therapeutic analysis of how one man came to regard his profoundly held commitment to the religious life as mistaken, and how he acted on that judgment. Uhl does not prescribe for others, but he does show how various forms of religious belief make for a life beset with guilt, shame, and blame. Uhl recognizes that working through the tangle of beliefs, attitudes, and feelings that are evoked by religion is a difficult and arduous process, and he offers patience and understanding at every stumbling point. In this way, Out of God’s Closet is a gentle, respectful, understanding guide to a level of self-knowledge that few ever attain.
— Richard T. Hull, Ph.D., Executive Director Text and Academic Authors Association