By Rev. John Tucker
I have been trapped in the clichéd, superficial, proposition based form of Christian religious life in North America for some time. I have also been familiar with Joseph Heller’s Catch–22 for many years but it was not until a recent reading that I had an insight that provided me with a way out of this propositional, religious trap.
The insight was that religious claims, as opposed to scientific or ethical claims, should be expressed only as Catch–22s because these paradoxes do not make straightforward claims about the world that can be believed or rejected. Catch–22s are a form of paradox which establishes conditions that cannot be escaped. Because of this, one cannot find hope in a Catch–22. This means that our only options are despair and transcendence. One cannot obtain freedom without risking despair. This is the only kind of risky invitation we should expect from any religious path that is worth living.
As I reflected upon this insight, I realized that in some respects, common or traditional religious language has always used Catch–22s, though this has gone unnoticed. I persisted in an investigation whereby I translated theological claims into Catch–22s. I felt a freedom that comes when one realizes that the only way to escape a larger trap is through triggering a smaller trap. This paradox lies at the heart of the book I have written, ZeroTheology.
I call this freedom ZeroTheology because I make zero straightforward, comforting claims about the world. Another way of saying this is that ZeroTheology makes zero theological claims about the world other than the ones that can be expressed as Catch–22s.
In a ZeroTheology world, those currently trapped in the belief paradigm, which divides people into believers and unbelievers, could converse as friends because their proposition based disagreement would disappear. My goal is not to correctly align straightforward comforting religious beliefs with some proposed metaphysical structure of the universe. My goal is to live a free and transcendent life.
ZeroTheology is not for everyone. It is only for those courageous enough to risk despair.
ZeroTheology consists of ten Catch–22s. Each catch will be put forward and then an expository section will follow. Some sections will read easily while others will require more attention and patience. This is the way religious enlightenment works. It comes in fits and starts. It is freely given and only available to those who work at it.
The Catch–22s are meant to throw you off balance. I am trying to flip you out of the belief paradigm into something new. This new paradigm does not attempt straightforward theological answers for confronting the griefs of life. The Catch–22s make this fact explicit and encourage people to look to connecting relationships and fulfilling practices that are intrinsically rewarding rather than to instrumentalist beliefs or propositions that deceptively promise escape. Catch–22s are not like propositions that can be believed or doubted. They are paradoxical traps that can set us free.
The preceding text has been adapted from the preface and introduction of Zero Theology: Escaping Belief through Catch-22s. It is available for purchase from the publisher and also on Amazon. You can also learn more on the ZeroTheology blog.
Rev. John Tucker serves as Superintendent for the Crater Lake District in the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.