Overview of a Goodness-based Faith
The most important contention of this book must now be stated. Supreme goodness is the only true foundation for faith and practice, and everything in Christianity, and every other faith and philosophy, must align with and serve it or lose moral depth, spiritual credibility, and power…. In this way, by centralizing and prioritizing its ethical dimension, serving and celebrating goodness, I believe that Christianity expresses its true identity. I want to assert with all the passion and evidence I can muster that what Jesus began is a superb, lived faith, strongly concerned with the needs of the present world and its people. But it needs to recover that beginning and find in it a way to a return from exile for people who are alienated by Conservative Christianity and left wanting by what is incomplete in Liberal Christianity….
As I pursued this changed angle of approach, a coherent, integrated pattern emerged, centred in a glowing, summoning reality that, in the words of a prayer I loved in my pre-exilic days and still cherish in memory, passes all understanding; and as I wrote these words the memory of a hymn came back for the first time in very many years: “The King of Love my Shepherd is, His goodness faileth never.”
To qualify as Christian a movement must be Christ-filled; to be Christ-filled it must be God-filled in Christ’s way; and to be God-filled in Christ’s way it must know and cherish the experience of a sublime and all-surpassing goodness as the ultimate context of our human existence….The world with its many avoidable evils needs a far better activation of the reality Jesus reveals than it has ever had, a force for good more powerful and durable than ever the Kremlin and Washington DC, and certainly more powerful than the richest corporations. (pp. 201-2)
Given the habit of the mind to project, nothing is more surprising than the rise of personal analogues for whatever makes animals multiply, rains fall, crops grow, injuries heal, and so on. As long as the purely provisional, metaphorical character of such naming is remembered, there is no problem. As the late I.T. Ramsey, the British philosopher of religion and bishop of half a century ago, so aptly remarked, God-talk is significant stuttering, but always just stuttering, as all acts of naming anything so deeply mysterious must be. They are never an identikit in words with exact similarity to the reality to which they refer.
A provident, beneficial environment or history is indeed mother-like, father-like or benignly king-like for those who benefit from it, and those who perish pen no hymns of praise. Trouble comes when we lose sight of the poetry of the deep, rich, strange beneficence we encounter, and take the metaphors too literally. That is a handy step for those who desire conformity and control but it is soul-destroying for many others….
For me with my love of astronomy, a similar, perhaps even richer, sense of wordless awe arises when I contemplate the starry heavens. It is not in the least diminished because science has revealed so much about the universe, or told us things like the fine-tuning of the Big Bang, black holes and the existence of earth-like exoplanets. The sheer, mind-baffling size of the cosmos and the marvellous beauty of the galaxies, the Horse Head nebula in Orion, or Saturn’s gorgeous rings through my telescope, cause in me an experience that is mystical in the classic sense. I am speechless, marvelling at the ultimate good that there is this reality at all, and that I and all others are alive to glimpse it. How can we fail to be drawn speechlessly to something so wondrous? For some of us such events are so powerful that only silence and tears can do even minimal justice to them….
And that is the clue to the way Christianity must now understand its central theological beliefs and be free of the strangling effect of outdated doctrines. All but one of its theological beliefs belong at heart to the realm of poetry, metaphor and symbolism, not literal truths. The one exception is this: there truly is a rich, ultimate reality, pervasively present and available in the universe and in human life, and it is truly, literally, supremely good. (pp. 203-4)
Praise for Honest to Goodness
“The twentieth century was one in which deconstruction held sway. Some Christians held ever more tightly to earlier ideas. Many saw Christianity as irrelevant or worse. Some modified Christianity to disconnect it from what was being deconstructed and relate it to the new situation. Prozesky insightfully and movingly recounts his own path through these options and beyond them to calling all to a total commitment to the good, which in his case is deeply inspired by the historical Jesus. Conservative and liberal Christians, atheists and those who are spiritual but not religious, and members of other faith communities will all profit from his appreciative analysis and sensitive criticisms. Following his journey is a moving and even gripping experience. Learn from his journey and think for yourself.”
—John B. Cobb Jr., Center for Process Studies and Process & Faith
“Martin Prozesky invites us in Honest to Goodness to join him on his amazing ‘ethically spiritual and spiritually ethical’ journey. He navigates the worlds of conservative, liberal, and progressive Christianity. These worlds are reimagined and refashioned through the lens of ‘good’ or ‘goodness.’ We do well to hitch a ride with him and alight enlivened and enlightened to continue our own journey.”
—Cornel Barnett, Pastor, Presbyterian Church (USA), retired
About the Author
Martin Prozesky is a research fellow of the University of the Free State and an emeritus professor of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, in South Africa. He studied theology at Rhodes and Oxford Universities and at the former Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He has been a visiting professor and researcher in Claremont, California, at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Southern Methodist University and Trinity College, Oxford. His previous books and papers were published in Britain, the USA and South Africa.