Out of God's Closet

by Stephen F. Uhl, Ph.D.

[MCCALL'S MAGAZINE, KIDS IN LINEN CLOSET]Image by George Eastman House via Flickr

On Mothers Day, 1967, my eight siblings and I circled the huge table at Mom's place. No one there knew my hypocrisy when I, the family priest, blessed that heavy table as requested. No one yet knew my secret.

Mom had given me a very early priestly vocation. My oldest brother would run the family farm, and I would be the family priest. Period.

Twelve years of seminary and almost nine years of priesthood went swimmingly--until one fateful morning in meditation I saw how St. Thomas Aquinas' "causality proof" failed. He concluded: 'Since an infinite regression of secondary causes is impossible, there must be an uncaused First Cause, God.'

Seeing how gratuitous his assumption was, my faith began to waver.

My agnosticism then grew during two challenging years. Debating if I should leave the priesthood, I feared I might be kidding myself when admitting I was agnostic; childhood imprintings die very hard! However, my totally desperate but conditional prayer when facing an unavoidable high-speed head-on collision convinced me I didn't really believe. While recuperating from that October accident, I headed for a responsible June exit.

I had fully intended to break the news at our Mothers Day gathering, but I just could not bring myself to shatter that day's joy. Next day, in the privacy of Mom's kitchen, I forced myself to tell her. What a shock! But she painfully accepted what she could not change. Later that week when I was leaving, she was carrying bed clothes from her storage to my car; laughing through her tears, she said "I thought I was finished setting my kids up in housekeeping."

That same week I told my siblings. Their reactions ranged from completely sympathetic understanding to shocked disbelief. My youngest brother asked, “How can you be a good, moral man if you don't believe in God or the Church?" My answer was, and is, simple: 'I follow my highest power, my reason, my conscience; this leads to the Golden Rule and keeps me true to my self and those around me.'

During two years teaching public school mathematics, I married a fellow teacher. Now I could afford to get the doctorate in psychology.

My psychology practice thrived; I enjoyed helping clients shuck guilt based on outdated beliefs and childhood superstitions. I enjoyed teaching the practical morality of a modified Golden Rule that the way to be happy is to help make others so without destroying oneself. Living this Golden Rule made me a better psychologist, contributed to a great marriage of almost 40 years, and produced outstanding neighbor relationships.

Discovery of cancer scared me; I promptly started an intimate family letter. Learning my cancer was not aggressive, I expanded that letter into the book, Out of God's Closet: This Priest Psychologist Chooses Friendly Atheism. The book shares my exciting journey and shows readers how this natural life becomes a reasoned, responsible thrill outside of God's musty closet.


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