Out of God's Closet: This Priest Pyschologist Chooses Friendly Atheism
by Stephen Frederick Uhl, Ph.D
Golden Rule Publishers, Oro Valley, Arizona, 2009, 190 PP, paper
Written by Larry Sakin
America is a schizophrenic place. For all our love of technical wizardry and modern conveniences, we still hold on to extremely traditional mores which make us puritanical in comparison with older societies. Our moral center is formed from a number of influences, but old-time religion plays a significant role in how we embrace life, and how other societies view us.
Stephen Frederick Uhl’s Out of God's Closet: This Priest Pyschologist Chooses Friendly Atheism is a treatise on religion in America and its ill-effects upon the human condition. Uhl draws from his background as a former Catholic priest turned atheistic family psychologist in his look at the crippling ‘don’t do as I do, do as I say’ attitude of the Christian church and its hierarchy. Uhl is unsparing in his criticisms of Christianity and religion in general showing his former brethren in the church to be one part humanitarian and three parts con men.
Out of God's Closet begins with a brief autobiography of Uhl, and his decision to join the priesthood based upon his mother’s familial connections with the church. Essentially, Uhl was raised to be a priest just as a number of his male progenitors were. This introductory section is brilliantly written. It shows Uhl to be a young man eager to please his mother even though he had no lingering doubt about the church throughout his seminary years. The vulnerability Uhl displays during his younger years will be recognized by young people today straddling the fence between full religious indoctrination and a life free of archaic rules meant to keep flocks of believers credulous.
As the chapters on Uhl’s personal journey towards atheism ends, Out of God's Closet examines the ersatz nature of all religions, rooted as they are in anachronistic customs that have no place in the real world of the twenty-first century. With a combination of well documented research and a biting wit, Uhl addresses the futile nature of belief, noting that belief acts more like a shield from adult responsibility than a place where one can find answers to difficult problems. As an alternative, Uhl suggests people adopt The Golden Rule; a belief-free set of paradigms that have had a place in our world for several hundred years. Uhl shows the Golden Rule doesn’t discriminate as the religious orders who constantly argue over which of their deities are the true universal forces. While Uhl’s presentation of the Golden Rule is admirable, he has some difficulty following it himself throughout the book. In several instances, Uhl makes unflattering judgments about religious people, which is the opposite of the main goal of the paradigms he sites: to treat others as you would like to be treated. So Uhl accidentally engages in a little ‘don’t do as I do, do as I say’ himself, tingeing his credibility.
This minor piece of flawed logic aside, Out of God's Closet is a tremendous achievement as a first work from this author. Uhl hits the right tones in creating an alarm bell to wake the reader from his stupor about the false hope of religion and the skewed vision it creates among the faithful. While it will certainly resonate with the choir of those who’ve already abandoned faith for reason, it will give much for those on the precipice of faith to think about as they move forward with their lives. It is a textbook for living life for the glory of oneself and one’s family, free from the onerous burdens of the rocks of ages. Out of God's Closet does what all good books are supposed to do. It elucidates and illuminates, entertains. Most of all, it makes you think about the moral compass used on our sojourn for truth, and questions the authority of those at the helm.