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Good Catch! Zero Theology: Escaping Belief through Catch-22s by John Tucker - A Book Review

The book, J. Tucker, Zero Theology: Escaping Belief through Catch-22s (Cascade Books, 2020) is structured around a set of 10 paradoxes.  These paradoxes are named as catch-22s from references to the famous book by J. Heller, Catch-22.  This paradox approach is in service to the author’s general advocacy for rejection of propositional religious beliefs, which the author believes are distractions from a proper human stance of facing existential reality and transcendence as the best way for humans to move forward with their full lives.  

The author’s focus is on the benefits and harms of human languages and concepts for liberation, and obstruction, to understanding reality and leading a good life.  The book’s intended audience is Protestant Christians in the U.S.  Beyond the 10 catch-22s, the author makes no other theological claims.

The current human cultural condition is expressed through the metaphor in the child’s folk story, “The Princess and the Pea” in which the metaphorical, painful reality (the pea) is separated by many layers of comforting religious claims (the mattresses) to distract humans from the existential reality.

The title “Zero theology” refers to the necessary removal of these comforting, traditional, religious claims.  The only claims about reality can be in the form of catch-22s, best expressed as paradoxes. Humans must face the existential anxiety of death freely and soberly, without false mitigating comforts.

While not emphasized explicitly as universalist in scope and perspective, the author’s argument is intended to be universally applicable to all humans and to all religious traditions.

The book includes a minimal index and a helpful bibliography. There are only a few footnotes. The table of contents is flirtatious and requires careful rereading to aid understanding of the argument.  The emphasis on the role of religious languages and concepts is refreshing. The book forces the reader to think more carefully about the content of faith and links to practice.

The book is clearly written and engaging.

Quakers: There is no Quaker reference.  The context is understood as U.S. Protestant, Christian culture and theology.


  • How do Quaker language and Quaker concepts help and hinder the education of Quaker youth?
  • How does paradox help understanding the deep reality of our lives?



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