Zero Theology: Escaping Belief through Catch 22s, by John Tucker

Zero Theology: Escaping Belief through Catch 22s, by John Tucker August 29, 2019

Editor’s Note:  Here is the promised review of the book mentioned in the previous post.  Written by Dennett-LaScola Pilot Study participant, then known only as “Wes the Methodist”, it demonstrates another way that the thinking of a clergy person who does not hold supernatural beliefs can evolve.  Thanks to Alexis Record for writing another thoughtful book review and for agreeing to keep “Wes’s” real identity a secret until the review was published. /Linda LaScola, Editor


By Alexis Record

What did I just read?

It was difficult to wrap my mind around John Tucker’s Zero Theology: Escaping Belief through Catch-22s, and my review will likely do it every injustice. It attempted to pull this reluctant reader out of a belief/non-belief paradigm. (Where I live, mister!)

Usually when a book has the word theology in the title and quotes heavily from Christian Scripture, I have no problem predicting its conclusions. However, instead of offering up a platter of traditional claims to be accepted or rejected by a passive audience, Zero Theology changes the game entirely by transcending this belief model and replacing it with what Tucker labels “the liberated religious life”.

It’s like when my son invited me to play chess after being introduced to it by a friend. The pieces were so familiar to me that I intuitively knew each one’s unique moves. I quickly got handed a queen and a pawn and told, “You are the mommy and the doggie.” The squares on the board became meaningless, and my knowledge, unnecessary. The kicker? It turned out the queen piece was the doggie. I threw up my hands in defeat. I was now simply along for the ride.

I started getting something out of my experience with Zero Theology when I ceased to try and be convinced by it and simply strove to accept the thoughts and lives of the people it described.

Zero Theology comes down to our relationship with absolute grief.

Mark Twain once said,

“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”

There’s something powerful, almost empyreal about living in the shadow of such heavy knowledge. It involves rising above a myopic focus on quotidian concerns and embracing the existential struggle on a grand scale. Tucker would call circumstantial grief “suffering within life” and absolute grief “suffering about life.”

The goal of Zero Theology is to remove those beliefs that keep us from embracing this absolute grief.

 “The zero in Zero Theology refers to the number of comforting beliefs required for liberated religious living.” Page 15

What horrible doctrines would disappear from the religious landscape if death and suffering were not so vehemently explained away or covered beneath the theological rug? These belief barriers, or “mattresses” as the author calls them like those between the princess and the pea, include faith in a divine being called God, belief that life has meaning or an “after,” and hope that evidence will confirm one’s faith. The liberated religious elevate their thinking above these things and choose the religious life anyway.

Questions like, “Is God real?” become meaningless. Belief of disbelief in God is part of the paradigm to be rejected and risen above. There’s no systematic theology dictating religious thought.

 “Theology would be better conceptualized as a kind of poetry that responds to the conditions of the world.” Page 83

Enter my near-constant internal dialog of, “Wait, then what exactly does a liberated religious person believe about… oh shoot I’m doing it again.”

Tucker utilizes Catch-22s to help break his audience out of their default belief/non-belief settings. Examples include:

“The religious need is only met when you no longer need it.”


“The only God that satisfies is the God that does not satisfy.”

My brain performed here like a blunt instrument. I will always prefer neat logical boxes over wrestling a wild koan. Each Catch-22’s introduction felt like a repetitive Markov chain of deepities. I keep reading to understand, yet often the more I read, the less I understood. Sometimes I could only achieve an understanding when I gave up trying to reason it out. (There’s a term for what I’m describing. I know it.)

I had so many questions of the text.

  • What is meant by “religious?”
  • Is the transcendent religious life necessarily Christian?
  • Despite the author’s background as a pastor, wouldn’t his ideas fit much better in eastern religion and philosophy?
  • What does life as a liberated religious person look and feel like in real world examples?
  • If this religious life is defined by “absolute courage, wonder, gratitude, and love,” how are those things not attained by the Muslim, Zen Buddaist, Christian, or secular life?

I suppose I’m not accustomed to merely learning how something works, I want to know how it’s the better option. Yet Tucker stubbornly refused the role of salesperson over educator.

Believers and unbelievers alike will find Zero Theology a hard concept, yet both groups can find some appeal. To confront the reality of absolute grief in the face of an absent and silent God is the atheist reality, but also the reality of Jesus on the cross. Some of these ideas I wish believers would embrace, especially leaving room for dissatisfaction, doubt, and uncertainty. For unbelievers, expect a considerate and accurate description of the atheist position not often offered by those who consider themselves religious. We may disagree with Zero Theology’s conclusions, but for once we’re not a threat.

The liberated religious life struck me as thoughtful and relaxed–not pushy but also not easily upset or unsettled by the twists and turns of life. It consumes less time being bogged down with worry or disappointment, scientific discoveries or biblical contradictions, because these things are all expected and embraced.

“The first step in a religious journey is to not take the first step.”

This is the first Catch-22. But for the religiously curious, maybe Zero Theology can be a second step.


Bio: Alexis Recordis a feminist, humanist, ex-Christian atheist, and mother to children with disabilities. She devoted the first 30 years of her life to Christian study and service due to indoctrination, and is working to repair the years the locusts have eaten.


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  • carolyntclark

    Sounds like there may be a mix of quantum philosophy there ?
    Seems to be a grueling exercise, one that must forever remain unsatisfied. Rational thought and common sense made reaching my own personal godless epiphany quite simple I’m content and at peace accepting my minor spot for a brief second in the grand cosmos. I admire the perseverance of great minds seeking truth, but I’m glad to not be one of them.

  • mason

    Alexis, First I must offer you kudos for making a sterling effort to try and make some sense out of what I consider, after reading the previous article, comments, replies, and your review, nonsense … especially when the author’s assertions ride heavily on nonsense, irrational, & the illogical. Reason, logic, dictionary meaning of words, are clearly the adversary.

    “I keep reading to understand, yet often the more I read, the less I understood.” I’d be very concerned for anyone who didn’t have the same experience.

    “My brain performed here like a blunt instrument. I will always prefer neat logical boxes over wrestling a wild koan. Each Catch-22’s introduction felt like a repetitive Markov chain of deepities. I keep reading to understand, yet often the more I read, the less I understood. Sometimes I could only achieve an understanding when I gave up trying to reason it out.”
    “in nonsense is strength”
    ― Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

    IMHO I don’t think a brain performing like a blunt instrument was the problem, but a rational, reasoning brain was trying to make sense out of doublespeak & nonsense. I’ve met people who took too much LSD and still after many years their conversation is much like the Catch 22’s. Maybe a person can fry their brain synapses on quantum philosophy/theology much like what can happen with LSD?

    Looks like you still had the same questions I and others had after reading John’s article, like what does he mean by religious? Transcendent? The Catch 22 list also struck me as rogue koans gone wild.

    “The goal of Zero Theology is to remove those beliefs that keep us from embracing this absolute grief.” Well, I’ve evidently already been immune from that so …

    I think the most effective case made by Zero Theology is that when one discards their belief in theism they should toss out the baby and the bathwater.

    “The first step in a religious journey is to not take the first step.” Since John won’t define religious … what is implied, those who avoid even the first step in religion remain as they were born; an atheist? If the religious journey is no religion, then real religion is no religion, whatever religion means? Of course I write, “The first step avoiding a religious journey is not to take the first step.” That sure reminds me of many atheists I know who had the good fortune to not waste any of their life in religion thanks to freethinker parents. “The best parent is no parent” (What the hell! Is this stuff contagious?

    I’ve read enough of Kirkegaard and the other strung out philosopher/theologians to know that Mark Twain had the best take on all this. “Religion was invented when the first con man met the first fool.”

  • carolyntclark

    John, When you started this exhaustive effort 25 years ago toward a “liberated religious life”, you said it was to reconcile the God /no-God, theist/atheist conundrum.
    Your radical perspective has turned conventional concepts inside out and upside down..You obviously think you have developed something that has merit and is worthy to be shared.

    I’m curious and respectfully ask what practical effect the new mindset has on your life ? Is the “new John” observable to the people who know you best ? Has it better met your needs, resulted in greater peace ? Has it altered your attitude, your behavior, your relationships ? Has it made a difference in your work in dealing with people ? Inquiring minds want to know.

  • mason

    John, seriously, can you say in good conscience you’d want a child, a teenager reading the book? Challenging typical thinking and engaging in logical fallacies are quite different.

    “the God /no-God, theist/atheist conundrum.” You say you’re not trying to convince anybody of anything and that is patently disingenuous. You are clearly trying to convince theists and atheists alike they are in a conundrum that only exists in your mind.

  • John Tucker

    I had a lengthy reply but it was too much. What I can say is that Christianity probably makes me a more compassionate and courageous person than I would otherwise be. I cannot tell myself any autobiographical narrative that does not include it in both negative and positive ways.

    I often feel like Simon of Cyrene in that I didn’t ask for the cross, it was given to me by historical accident. I think and hope that my journey leads me to be less judgmental and anxious. As Alexis clearly understood, I am not arguing that everyone should be a Christian or even religious. I am talking to Christian believers primarily and trying to get them to get out of denial so they can live a more fully human life (which may not make them happier but will make them more real). Any message to nonbelievers, a group Alexis acknowledges that I understand and respect, is secondary. I suppose it is possible that there are people who gave up a religious life unnecessarily because they assumed it was about beliefs they no longer hold and the book may help them with that. If that is not you, if you feel freedom and joy while also feeling responsibility for the world, then I have nothing you need and regard you as a healthy complete co-person who probably wants the same kinds of things I do.

  • mason

    The definition of a catch-22 is a situation in which there is no good solution or resolution possible because of the way in which the factors of the solution relate to each other. An example of a catch-22 is the idea that you have to have money to make money.

    John, … Do you seriously want a child or a teenager reading this nonsense?

    The first step in a religious journey is to not take the first step. (that’s atheism with a religious journey misnomer)
    The religious need is only met when you no longer need it.
    The only acceptable evidence for God is evidence that is unacceptable.
    The only God that satisfies is the God that does not satisfy.
    Mystery is only possible when explanation makes it unnecessary. (yep, all the scientists are wasting their time)
    You can only feel safe when you are in danger. (you’d tell your daughter, if you have one, that?)
    You can only be grateful when you have nothing to be grateful for. (of course, gratitude has never required an object)
    You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
    Repentance is most needed when it is least necessary. (rapists, thieves, liars, will like that)
    Forgiveness is only possible when it is impermissible.

    Good only is acceptable as evil.
    Pleasure only satisfies with pain.
    Respect is only possible with contempt

    catch-22 noun, often capitalized
    ˈkach-ˌtwen-tē-ˈtü , ˈkech-
    plural catch-22’s or catch-22s
    Definition of catch-22
    1 : a problematic situation for which the only solution is denied by a circumstance inherent in the problem or by a rule
    the show-business catch-22—no work unless you have an agent, no agent unless you’ve worked
    — Mary Murphy
    also : the circumstance or rule that denies a solution
    2a : an illogical, unreasonable, or senseless situation
    b : a measure or policy whose effect is the opposite of what was intended
    c : a situation presenting two equally undesirable alternatives
    3 : a hidden difficulty or means of entrapment : CATCH

    John, my objection to your work is you are clearly using 2a : “an illogical, unreasonable, or senseless situation” when people who are bravely struggling intellectually to get out of the nonsense of theism aren’t going to benefit from such a tactic. Offering people who are struggling to honestly determine what they believe or don’t believe senseless sentences, is senseless. Maybe the theologian philosophers who are already over their heads in nonsense will enjoy the additional nonsense. Also equating the atheist with the theist is the use of false equivalency in the worst sense.

    “Zero Theology allows us to view religion in a whole new way that negates the limitations of thinking in terms of belief or non-belief. This approach will likely cause consternation among believers and non-believers, as well as much-needed food for thought.” Quite the accurate prophesy by Linda.

  • John Tucker

    While I suspect you are no longer communicating in good faith since you haven’t read the book and are ticked off that another atheist read it and found it legitimate, I will give you one more go. Philosophy by comment section is bad philosophy and I have engaged in it more than I should have. I have obviously touched a nerve with you since anyone who really thought my book was worthless would have moved on long ago.

    I think that paradox communicates something that no straightforward statement can communicate. I don’t think religious people should make straightforward claims because that leads them and others to the false conclusion that religious beliefs explain the world. Scientific claims can and should be straightforward because they are supposed to explain the world and people should know what believing them or rejecting them means.

    Language evolves and when words arise in natural and organic ways they lack essential definitions but their meaning hangs together in overlapping usages. Definitions, unless introduced in a technical and intentional way, usually come after a word already functions in the world. This is fairly basic philosophy of language that goes back to Frege, Wittgenstein, Ryle, Austin, Davidson, and Rorty. I’m not even counting Derrida and deconstruction. I think it goes even further back to the Socratic dialogues where Socrates mistakenly thought that words had essential meanings. Notice that he never finds these essential meanings which is why Plato had to introduce Eternal Forms.

    My book does a little of both. I recognize the messy ways words get used and I introduce technical and intentional definitions to help analyze complex issues.

  • No Nook version?

  • carolyntclark

    “If you feel freedom and joy while also feeling responsibility for the world, then I have nothing you need and regard you as a healthy complete co-person …” ..I believe you’ve just described all the atheists I know.

  • ElizabetB.

    I’m thinking you and John are each trying to rescue fundamentalists… in wildly different ways…. : )

  • carolyntclark

    come to think of it, most of the people I know, believers or not, seem pretty free and joyous and behave with a social and global conscience.

  • ElizabetB.

    Whew. Just finished reading. Love the last chapter. Will have to let it all settle before writing anything. Just, Thank you

  • ElizabetB.

    Wish I could say the same! Life in Trump country is pretty tough. (Just now we had a robo call from Donald J Trump — tickets to the rally ahead of the NC special election the R’s are behind on)
    I’m happy to hear about places like this!!!

  • ctcss

    I think you may be correct. After looking at the preview on Amazon, and reading the review here, as well as some of the back and forth posts, I get the feeling that the people being addressed are those who don’t have a sense of peace and balance about religion, whether they are believers or non-believers. I tend to agree with John in that fundamentalist mentality, wherever it may be found, is a problem. I liked Linda’s comment that nuance was being expressed by some religious people, but was puzzled by what seemed to be her thought that this was an oddity that she had never expected to encounter. Quite frankly, I can’t imagine engaging successfully in religion without having a more nuanced, peaceful, and balanced approach to it. Religion (at least from what I can tell) is about thoughtful consideration of the subject being taught and lived.

    So in John’s work, I see an attempt at getting people to actually think by confronting them with puzzling concepts that are not easy to resolve, apparently trying to rescue them from just emoting or reacting. And Mason also seems interested in getting people to think (as in desiring that they leave fundamentalism behind and to pursue something better), but then he sort of contradicts himself by desiring that they throw out the baby with the bathwater, which is basically advocating a non-thinking approach to religion.

    IMO religion is more than just the negative extremes of human thought (or non-thought) about it. Personally, I wouldn’t want to be without it, but that’s because I find it to be helpful and comforting, rather than troubling. But that has come about by thinking through the things expressed within it. (Which is also why I don’t have a problem with the Bible, despite the often negative comments about it by others.) However, part of my comfort comes from not having a lot of the often troubling theological concepts often lamented about on these sites. Which means I am looking at things somewhat differently than others may be doing, thus the differing conclusions despite reading the same things.

    Which gets back to John trying to help others think differently. And also gets to why I enjoy teaching Sunday School. And why the story of Jonah is not so much about the improbable rescue of a person by a whale, but about the need to be willing to rethink things (and to continue to rethink things) until the light bulb actually starts to turn on. And why Jesus taught people about the kingdom of heaven using parables about surprisingly mundane subjects, along with stories containing surprising elements that demanded further thought by the hearers. And why he was constantly exhorting people to repent (which means to rethink, to reconsider.)

    Approach matters. Which is why being willing to think more deeply makes all of the difference.

    Just my thoughts.

  • mason

    John, I have read Zero Theology on Kindle $9.99.

    It’s given me an even greater appreciation for the elegant beauty and uncomplicated manner by which the Non-belief paradigm opens the prison doors of theism and allows a person to break free of religious theology and live a rational happy life with Zero Theology. So, a sincere thanks! (An elegant solution, often referred to in relation to problems in disciplines such as mathmatics, engineering, and programming, is one in which the maximum desired effect is achieved with the smallest, or simplest effort.)

    The further I read into the book, the more this thought of how elegant the non-belief paradigm is; a reality I’d never noticed before. And for that alone it was worth reading Zero theology, and it’s not an easy read.
    I read through the Wittenstein (lots of Wittenstein) beetles, elephant, mattresses, Jesus, Apostle Paul, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Abraham, Holy Spirit, many many Bible quotes etc. etc. I was surprised to find such a plethora of using the theological in this book about Zero theology.

    At least half the book or more contains quotes by other philosophers, theologians, with philosophical/theological stories and examples like the image of the rabbit and the duck and of course, and the intro with the Catch 22’s . I think those who read and appreciate authors like Wittenstein, Kierkegaard, will also appreciate your work. Evangelicals will no doubt put you on their apostate list if your already not one it.

    Here’s are some quotes from the book in quotes, and my opinion comments in parenthesis.

    “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.” (You claim you’re not trying to convince anyone of anything, but you clearly are in the book, and here you say so. You want people to not embrace belief or non-belief, be atheist or believer, but walk the “tightrope” of the liberated religious life. Which the more I read about it impressed me as a very complicated and stressful way of attempting to exist.)
    “Both believers and unbelievers require that religious claims be presented as straightforward claims that can be judged as either reasonable or unreasonable. The belief paradigm dictates this requirement.” (This is true as are all things for the non-believer rational person. I’ve have never talked with a single believer in person (& I’ve talked with hundreds) who hasn’t conceded their beliefs are completely irrational.)

    “The liberated religious, on the other hand, are content with Catch-22s because these non-reasonable paradoxes are the only kind of claims that can lead to transcendent living.” (Rather dogmatic and sounds like this is promoting the only new and true religion available for only The Liberated Religious. It also reminds me of Homeopathy: a claim that a substance that causes the symptoms of a disease in healthy people would cure similar symptoms in sick people, but with Zero Theology the substance is non-reasonable information for the brain.)

    “If you want religious enlightenment, you cannot go searching for it. If you do not want religious enlightenment, you will not go searching for it.” (Religious enlightenment, IMHO, occurs when a person realizes all irrational religious tales are man made scams created by manipulative ancient men; otherwise the religious enlightenment is an oxymoron.)

    “The liberated religious life can only be had by those who think that because they neither need nor want belief they are disqualified from living the liberated religious life.” (There’s that dogmatic “only” again. The Liberated Religious Life group is a very exclusive group. Any idea how many are trying it? Are any of your family of friends on board with this? I’m able to share with anyone how hundreds of my apostate friends are doing since they embraced the non-belief paradigm.)

    “In the belief paradigm, one’s religious beliefs are evaluated on two criteria. The first criterion is whether the belief is true or not. Does the religious belief correspond with the way things really are? This approach works in science because there are agreed-upon criteria and agreed-upon processes that allow competitive parties to determine winners and losers. In religion, there is no agreement between differing religious communities and only tenuous agreement within a religious community. Science has some idea of the elephant in the room and has tools to measure aspects of it. These measurements are available to anyone who learns how to use the tools.” (This is my favorite quote from the book)

    “This imagined scenario suggests that both conservatives and progressives underestimate the power of context. Conservatives tend toward a transcontextual absolutism that is blind to the role their own context plays in forming their convictions regarding ethics. Their failure to recognize even thinner contexts prevents them from seeing connections across cultural contexts that create the possibility of cross-cultural relationships that require the making of judgments. Their relativism keeps them insisting that there really is no such thing as a human community and that all we have are different ethical spaces that are more or less commensurable. They commit a sociological form of fideism.” (So who is your target reader?)

    “This matters in Zero Theology because I am trying to break out of the belief paradigm where people are divided into believers and unbelievers (or sheep and goats, or ducks and rabbits). I have already suggested that believers and unbelievers are both trapped in the same belief paradigm and I have suggested that the liberated religious perspective is a way out.” (Are you still trying or do you feel you have broken out of the belief paradigm onto the “tightrope” of the religious liberated life? That’s very dogmatic and judgmental about believers and non-believers. The nearly 1,000 participants on The Clergy Project speak of finding great freedom, liberation, new world view, when they embraced the non-belief paradigm and discarded the belief paradigm. Liberated religious, but religious, but zero theology, but on a tightrope sounds so stressful??? Who wants to live this kind of tension filled life on a tightrope. Even tightrope walkers don’t stay on a tightrope.)

    “The Resurrection of Jesus is the other miracle that I have placed in the absolute miracle category. As opposed to the raising of Lazarus (John 11) or the twelve-year-old girl (Mark 5), it is not about relieving the circumstantial grief of a lost loved one, but about the possibility of confronting the existential angst over mortality with the possibility of absolute peace. Circumstantial peace relies on the possibility of escaping death. Absolute peace is the peace that confronts and even blesses the role death plays in our lives. It is about fulfilling the Catch-22 Jesus gave his disciples: you can only gain life by giving it up. This is not a claim about the world that forces people to believe or disbelieve. It is a way of living the path of the liberated religious life. It is a teaching meant only for the living.” (How can you claim to be living the Zero Theology liberated religious life when your writing, and I assume speech, is so ubiquitous with the theological?)

    In her review Alexis wrote, “My brain performed here like a blunt instrument. I will always prefer neat logical boxes over wrestling a wild koan. Each Catch-22’s introduction felt like a repetitive Markov chain of deepities. I keep reading to understand, yet often the more I read, the less I understood.” (I enjoy koans, but I had much the same reaction of reading more understanding less, until I remembered much I was reading was acknowledgedby the author as “unreasonable.”)

    I’ve always been a tad jealous of people, like some close friends, some writers and celebrities, and my first wife (deceased) and my dear wife now) who were raised by freethinkers and never had religious indoctrination fed into their credulous child brains. Yet, they are wonderful, ethical, decent human beings having been raised by freethinkers/atheists. Some had parents who attempted to indoctrinate them with religious but they never believed any of it. I really admire them!
    Now after reading Zero Theology, I’m even more jealous as after age 30 I’ve been playing catch-up for all I missed out on as a believer; something that’s very common for former Evangelical or fundamentalist type believers. I wonder how those who attempt the new un-Cola religion, with neither a non-believing or believing paradigm mindset will fare, … or if such a mindset is even possible. All humans are born non-believing.

  • mason

    That’s a very keen observation ElizabetB.

  • mason

    My toss out baby & bathwater is meant to embrace non-belief and don’t try to hang on as an apologist for Christianity, the Jesus myth, via cherry picking, which is what some people who say they no longer believe do. It’s their choice and just my opinion. But I’ve seen how chaotic people can make themselves trying to let go, but hang on at the same time.

  • carolyntclark

    I’ll read Mason’s review tomorrow…more time. For now I will just comment on something John said last evening … from one paragraph, not out of context
    Thinking about it, it strikes me as being very sad, and explains the quest for Z.T.

    “I often feel like Simon of Cyrene in that I didn’t ask for the cross, it was given to me by historical accident. I think and hope that my journey leads me to be less judgmental and anxious.”
    ” I am talking to Christian believers primarily and trying to get them to get out of denial so they can live a more fully human life (which may not make them happier but will make them more real).”
    ” if you feel freedom and joy while also feeling responsibility for the world, then I have nothing you need and regard you as a healthy complete co-person who probably wants the same kinds of things I do.”

  • ElizabetB.

    Great picks…. a little chunk of the conservative/progressive quote has gone missing….
    So glad you read it!

  • carolyntclark

    Thanks for this, Mason. It sounds like a desperate painful effort to force incompatible pieces to fit together. I frequently say about my own experience,
    once you remove the idea of God from the equation, the pieces fall into place. The solution is simple and it works because it is true.

  • carolyntclark

    Is the author reveling that he feels judgmental and anxious, wants to live a fully real and human life, seeks to feel free, joyous and worthwhile. ?

  • carolyntclark

    “trying to let go, but hang on at the same time.”….I think that sums up Z.T. perfectly.

  • ElizabetB.

    Time is short, so these are first-impression thoughts —

    Thank you for working on the in-between territory!! Your metaphorical frameworks — princess & pea, mattresses, stained glass — are an imaginative pleasure : ) — and I loved being introduced to Wittgenstein, beetles, duck/rabbits.

    So far I can’t put my finger on what makes your approach so different from books like Geering’s & Maguire’s “Christianity without God” (2 separate books), and others similar… maybe because they seem from a “settled” viewpoint, whereas ZeroTheology, to me, deals with the in-between.

    For me, I think my “absolute grief” in moving out of the tradition I grew up in has been “the loss of any divine mind who knows us or cares about us.” But whereas I admire the paradoxes, I prefer what I’ve been thinking recently — that maybe I can think of my old communication with (mistakenly) a benign personal-type consciousness as instead a communication with reality taken as a whole – so I don’t need to feel orphaned, just conceive of it less anthropomorphically. As I think some process theologians say, the universe does “care about us” in the sense that we have arrived on the scene — evidence that it is “friendly” at least to that extent : )

    Rather than the paradoxes, I think I would like to use the beetle box to have traditional words from all wisdom traditions to refer to Jung’s archetypes.

    Such an interesting treatment of these issues. The values you express are so attractive — as about “Original Grace” —
    “This knowledge frees human beings to act not based on fear of judgment or promise of reward, but out of a general sense of being, which is to go on a journey that is its own reward, to feel absolutely safe, absolutely grateful, absolutely wondrous, and absolutely merciful.” – so nice. Thank you!!

  • ElizabetB.

    Carolyn, I think John is writing/thinking for people who are living in between the Western paradigms of traditional Christianity and Enlightenment reason, not at home in either — who haven’t had an “AHA” moment like some describe. I”m eager to read his answer…. til then, I think about these ideas —

    The liberated religious —
    “….experience grief for not being believers or unbelievers. They are tempted by each alternative and yet defined by the tension that both alternatives create. This tension forces them to define a new religious path….”

    “They are torn between their desire for the comforting beliefs of sincere believers and their desire for the freedom of unbelievers….”

    “Unlike believers and unbelievers who only see each other as opposite alternatives, the liberated religious recognize both of the other options and are tempted by both sides….”

    “When we choose the liberated religious path, the transcendent life is a foretaste of how life may be in a new paradigm.”

  • carolyntclark

    …”journey that is its own reward, to feel absolutely safe, absolutely grateful, absolutely wondrous, and absolutely merciful.”
    Except this lovely notion only applies to the minority of humanity who live in a place of security and time of plenty. It’s a select premise.
    The truth of the godless randomness of life is universal, for all time, all places, all people.

  • carolyntclark

    ““They are torn between their desire for the comforting beliefs”……and reality. For adults it seems like a no-brainer .
    I do remember the stress as a child of resisting the bubble-bursting fantasy…. over Santa.

  • ElizabetB.

    Well… ZeroTheology sees Original Grace, etc, in the face of suffering, during tragedy, death…. I should not have left that aspect out!!!

  • John Tucker

    Thanks Elizabeth for being open and not threatened.

  • mason

    Eliz … “Rather than the paradoxes, I think I would like to use the beetle box to have traditional words from all wisdom traditions to refer to Jung’s archetypes.” Personally I don’t think the use of the “unreasonable” paradoxes work, but of course I’ve been free of the God (religion) delusion for 48 years thanks to the elegance of non-belief.. Zero Theiolgy is like two books who accidentally got mixed together like the scientist in the Hollywood movie “The Fly” got transponded and mixed with the fly.

    Do you think the use of the irrational, unreasonable will assist anyone in freeing themselves of the cruel web of theology or just leave them more entangled and confused?

    How do you see the attempt at a zero theology effecting people? The read really gave me a fresh perspective of just how elegant non-belief is? How freeing. That term “elegant solution” had only occured to me in the traditional mathematical sense, but it occurred to me early on into reading ZT.

    What would the liberated yet religious do that’s any different than the Humanists of today? Good without theology. Isn’t that the Humanist creed.

  • John Tucker

    For those who may be interested, here is a link to a very good article that gets at Wittgenstein and the problems of conceptual confusions that lead to scientific reductionism and religious theism. You will need to think analogically and consider “solidity” as an analogue for “being religious.” For those without the time, solidity is an everyday concept that gains its meaning from how we use it when talking about objects (The table is solid). When science aims a microscope at objects like tables it becomes apparent that at the microscopic level, solidity seems to disappear. What the philosopher in this article is trying to communicate is that the scientific discovery does not invalidate or render meaningless our everyday concept of solidity. As he states, science can render concepts redundant, but it cannot prove or disprove concepts themselves. If a scientist says that we should stop using the word “solid” because it has been proven to be an illusion at the molecular level the scientist has overstepped and claimed too much. On the other hand, if someone claimed that solid is objectively true at both the everyday and molecular level that person would be in denial. Both parties would be wrong because both make larger claims than are warranted. Enjoy!

  • ElizabetB.

    I’m part of a religious community, always trying to understand why, and happy for any clues! Thanks for more to keep mulling….

  • Machintelligence

    Offering people who are struggling to honestly determine what they believe or don’t believe senseless sentences, is senseless.
    I have yet to be convinced that word salad is food for thought.

  • ElizabetB.

    Maybe the major difference is how the liberated religious and humanists think about what they are doing — it’s not a question of what one believes or doesn’t believe, but an attitude toward everything. Obviously I haven’t really “gotten it” so can’t surmise! The discussion does make me realize that I truly am all-in to the “correspondence theory of truth”!! Like many people, I enjoy the shock of koans, but at the end of the day, I like definitions : ) — ZT has been a fun attempt to understand!

  • MelindaF

    Interesting. Especially as I just lost my husband 9 days ago and I am learning more about grief than I ever wanted to know. I might have a biased take though – full disclosure: Recently deconverted Christian.

    But, all I basically got, was some strange hybrid Zen Christianity without Zen’s beauty. In a nutshell, husband has been fighting metastatic cancer for a while. Spread to his brain causing some fairly debilitating effects. He chose to end his life on his own terms and in his own time. And being in the state of mind I am currently in – and I know…I have NOT read the book – there is nothing about those concepts that add to my life in any positive way. That simply makes these idea excess mental baggage. Something I do not need in any way.



  • ElizabetB.

    MelindaF, thank you for connecting… deep sympathy, and admiration for the relationship that shines through your writing. May the times of comfort during these days be profound, and the painful times tempered and overshadowed by the love that never really leaves us…..

    A book that I have loved is “Winter Grief, Summer Grace,” pulling from many traditions…. a favorite part is here —

    “When one you love has moved from life into Life,
    you begin a new relationship with them,
    one you can always cherish.
    Once you release them from earthly time,
    you can embrace them in eternity.
    When you release them from the physical dimension,
    you can hold them close in a dimension no less real: the spiritual one.
    For, even though they no longer walk beside you,
    they will be even closer.
    They will be within you.
    And you will not forget them, because you cannot forget them.
    They will be as near to you as your own breathing,
    and as much a part of you as your own dreaming.
    They will exist in you as love.”

    “Winter Grief, Summer Grace: Returning to Life After a Loved One Dies”
    James Miller

    Elizabeth B

  • MelindaF


    That you for the kind thoughts and the beautiful poem. I like it very much.

    All the best.


  • ElizabetB.

    Thanks so much for the reply…. if you get to a point that reading is helpful, below is Winter Grief, Summer Grace, and also a book my extraordinary cousin told us to read, a few days before she made this transition last October — “Walking Each Other Home: Conversations on Loving and Dying.” My cousin Sarah said it’s not about the physical — you just open your heart. I’ve read only parts, but one idea I liked in the “Love Is More Powerful than Death” section is —
    “When someone you love dies, the love continues. You just have to meet each other in a new way. If you can practice resting in loving awareness, you will be able to meet soul to soul.” (Ram Dass)

    Thanks again, always wishing you comfort

  • ElizabetB.

    Hi Mason! this is on Record’s ‘Zero Theology’ post and not Wednesday’s 1000-members post because I don’t want to write any non-Thumper notes there — but I’m so curious about the “Attention All Atheists” meme with its foreboding graphic…. … is it appealing? …. or the only pic that comes with the sentiment? or satire? or….
    signed, Always Curious in NC : )

  • ElizabetB.

    Oh! duh…. the foreboding landscape is what’s NOT the case. Sorry! & happy about the good news : ) !!!

  • Raging Bee

    I have obviously touched a nerve with you since anyone who really thought my book was worthless would have moved on long ago.

    So you’re bragging that you must be right, just because you “touched a nerve” (as in, insulted someone or hurt someone’s feelings)? That’s what almost every 69obnoxious 69ignorant 69troll says the minute they’re called out for their behavior: they validate themselves by their ability to insult people and get attention. You just flushed your credibility (if any) down the 69toilet.