Most people are familiar with catch-22s. These are paradoxes that establish conditions that can only be violated. The term was coined by Joseph Heller in his famous book Catch-22. While the book has multiple examples of catch-22s, the central one is stated as follows:
There was only one catch and that was Catch–22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to (Heller, p 46).
As I was rereading this catch-22, the thought occurred to me that perhaps religious claims should always and only be expressed in a similar way. In my previous blog, I distinguished the light that shines through clear glass from the light that shines through stained glass. Straightforward, non-paradoxical claims are the kind of claims that are at home in clear glass contexts. They are claims that can be verified or falsified. They can be immediately believed in or doubted. When religion makes these kinds of claims, it is playing on science’s turf and distorting itself in the process. The additional problem is that these religious claims are usually made as oppositional alternatives to other straightforward claims. This creates conflict like the one between religion and science. Efforts to harmonize these claims miss the point and fail to realize that the whole harmonizing enterprise is already playing by clear glass rules.
In ZeroTheology, I suggest that catch-22s are the linguistic equivalents of stained glass light. They are not playing by clear glass or scientific rules. It is not clear what believing or doubting them means. They are traps that cannot be escaped. In ZeroTheology, the inability to escape these religious claims means that one can only transcend them or give into despair. What else should we expect from religious claims? They are not the safe claims made by observers in the clear light of day. A religious claim involves one’s whole being. Everything is on the line. In ZeroTheology, I provide ten examples of religious catch-22s. I also show that the notion of paradoxical claims has a long tradition in Christianity and that some traditional theological claims are better understood as catch-22s than as straightforward propositional claims.
Unfortunately, theologians have usually chosen the clear light of straightforward claims and this has led to the untenable and anxious edifice that is orthodoxy. In my opinion, most theologians attempt to ease the anxiety of doubt by arguing that theology’s untenable claims are tenable when instead they should be getting out of the explanation business altogether. In ZeroTheology I offer escape from the belief/doubt paradigm and the anxiety that accompanies it. But it does require you to risk the despair of Absolute Grief in order to gain the possibility of transcendent living.