The Catholics: From celebrating Mass to appearing on atheist billboards

The following Q&A with Stephen Uhl is from Linda LaScola’s Feb. 12 Rational Doubt column, which has been focusing on “Clergy Doubt.” She is co-author with Daniel C. Dennett of Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind and Preachers Who Are Not Believers. She’s also a co-founder of the Clergy Project. Uhl, a Ph.D. psychologist and former Catholic priest, is a major FFRF supporter and author of Out of God’s Closet.

1. What caused you to start seriously doubting your faith?

I had always trusted Mother Church and her teachings. One of those official teachings was that the human mind, without the aid of faith, could prove God’s existence. So when, in morning meditation, I saw that the official teaching of the church was based on an unwarranted assumption, I realized that the church teaching was not as infallible as that church claimed.

2. How did you initially react to the doubts (e.g., discuss them with others, keep them to yourself, do religious or secular reading, do something else)?

As best as I can now recall, after many decades have passed, I mainly kept the doubts to myself at first. But as the doubts got strong enough for me to think of likely making a lifestyle change, I then discussed with my spiritual adviser/confessor and with the abbot.

3. What caused the doubts to start becoming stronger than your beliefs?

Once the complete blinders of faith were discarded/punctured, the more I looked at my own and others’ lives and circumstances, the more clearly I could see that what I had believed for three decades was “not necessarily so.”

4. How did the doubts affect your preaching, teaching or other responsibilities or your interactions with your congregation and your family?

Whether in the classroom during the week or in the pulpit on weekends, I stayed away from most all dogmatic matters of faith while sticking to natural “golden rule” sorts of things. So I thereby avoided hypocrisy in these situations.

5. How did you come to the realization that your doubts were overcoming your beliefs, that you were no longer a believer?

Faith is blind and complete or it is inadequate to keep a reasonable person from ditching it altogether.

6. How did you think of yourself at that time (e.g., agnostic, atheist, spiritual but not religious, nonbeliever, “different” believer, something else?

I guess “anxious agnostic” would describe me for a while. But I think the anxiety soon became directed towards the practical details of leaving the monastery and dealing with survival details with minimum scandal for those who knew what I was doing. Philosophical agnostic but practical atheist would be the best personal descriptor for me.

Freedom From Religion Foundation