Faith Matters: The case for faith

  • The Rev. Ted Thornton of Northfield, retired Episcopal priest, is providing pulpit supply for Trinitarian Congregational Church through the end of April, when the church appoints an interim minister. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • The Rev. Ted Thornton of Northfield, retired Episcopal priest, in the Trinitarian Congregational Church in Northfield. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • The Rev. Ted Thornton of Northfield, retired Episcopal priest, in the Trinitarian Congregational Church in Northfield. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • The Trinitarian Congregational Church in Northfield. Staff photo/Paul Franz

Episcopal priest, retired
Published: 3/11/2019 4:02:07 PM

(Each Saturday, a faith leader in Franklin County offers a personal perspective in this space. To become part of this series, email

Thirty years ago, I officiated at an out-of-state wedding. The event required an overnight stay, so I was put up with friends of the bride’s family. I found myself wishing I’d camped outside instead. As I sat at his kitchen table, my host heaped scorn on the religious vocation of his guest and on religion in general. The experience reminded me of Psalm 69:10: “Zeal for your house has eaten me up; the scorn of those who scorn you has fallen upon me.”

Christians still account for the largest numbers worldwide, but here in North America and in Europe their numbers are in free fall, and more and more they are becoming objects of ridicule by atheists and other so-called “Nones.”

In a recent Facebook post about atheists protesting the influence of God in public life, a reader commented, “Atheists believe there is no God. In other words, God doesn’t exist. Yet they are offended by God. So how is it they are offended by something that doesn’t exist?” Good question. Actually, it’s not the claim that God exists that riles atheists. What really bothers them is their fear that religious people pose a threat to their civil rights.

What I find interesting about extreme atheists and extreme believers alike is the arrogance and vehemence with which some argue their cases. Religion and the rest of life are just not that cut and dried. I’ve been a teacher of the world’s religions for more than 40 years: everything from Aboriginal “Dreamtime” and Native American traditions to the major religions. I’ve found inspiration and spiritual enrichment in every one of them, not just the Christianity of my birth and life. This is why I call myself a seeker as well as a believer.

We’ve seen often how readily evil comes by believers and non-believers alike who think they have a monopoly on the truth, then proceed to bludgeon the rest of us into doing things their way. The more authentic path — the path of genuine faith — is to acknowledge that life is ambiguous and that we human beings are chimeras: bundles of contradictory parts both inside ourselves and in our relationships with one another. Hence, our constant need for God’s mercy and forgiveness.

As for living in societies that officially espouse either theocracy or atheism, count me out. Consider the state-sanctioned death tolls carried out under the following atheistic regimes: Stalin, 30 million, Nazism, at least 6 million, Mao’s China, 60 million (many from starvation during the “Great Leap Forward”), Pol Pot’s Cambodia, 7 million. As I write, a fresh campaign of anti-religious persecution by the officially atheistic Communist state in China is underway: Bibles are being burned, churches are being closed, and Christians are being forced to sign documents renouncing their faith. As for living under theocracy, I could lose my head for publishing this article in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, or any areas still controlled by ISIS.

Finally, atheists have been around since the dawn of time. Their presence in settings where discussions of religion take place suggests they are perhaps more religious than they care to admit. John Gray, an atheist who is also one of its severest critics, writes at the end of his book Seven Types of Atheism, “A godless world is as mysterious as one suffused with divinity, and the difference between the two may be less than you think.”

Rev. Ted Thornton is a retired Episcopal Priest and teacher of Religious Studies, History, and Arabic. He worships and sings in the choir at the Trinitarian Congregational Church in Northfield.

About Trinitarian Congregational Church

Trinitarian Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, is a small, open and affirming church that seeks to love and honor all of God’s people. Traditional service is at 10 a.m. on Sundays, followed by a coffee hour. We have an active choir that sings two Sundays a month, September through June, under the direction of Heather Tower. Bible study and Centering Prayer happen at 3 p.m. on Wednesdays, after which adults are invited to socialize at Cameron’s Winery at 4 p.m. Our missions are local, regional, national and worldwide. Like us on Facebook: Northfield Trinitarian Church. 147 Main St. For further information, please call 413-498-5839. Website:

Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906


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