What, for you, separates faith in God from superstitions? I realise that your faith in God does not produce fear, which is one obvious difference. But what gives you confidence that your concept of God is not produced by similar mental mechanisms to the ones which produce fear?
Why Does Jonny Ask Such a Question?
Jonny is not being cute, nor is his question hypothetical. Jonny was once a Christian fundamentalist but is now an atheist; his question is genuine and deserves a genuine response.
And Jonny is not alone in his challenge; I have found that no one keeps me more honest in discussion than well-informed atheists.
Let me begin by saying that I do not HAVE faith in God, meaning that I do not FEEL that there is a God, nor do I look around at nature and say, ‘Hey, there must be something behind all this!’ This last response is called ‘natural revelation’ and is prized by some Christians, but I do not find it impressive or useful. To me, it is much the same process as discovering gods and spirits in the weather, lakes, and skies.
I believe there is a God only because Jesus talks so much of the Father. This, of course, changes the question to: How is faith in Jesus different from superstition?
How is Faith in Jesus Different from Superstition?
I do not have ‘faith’ in Jesus the way many believers and unbelievers think of faith; I trust Jesus based on the portrait of him I find in writings from the memories of his earliest followers, but this changes the question to How is faith in the Bible different from superstition?
Well guess what? I do not have ‘faith’ in the Bible either. I believe the books of the Bible were written by people who felt they were in touch with something higher. Perhaps some of them were—perhaps all of them were—but I don’t know that. What I do know is that those earliest followers, who tell about Jesus, were powerfully energized. What they said about him rings true; his personality stands out clearly for us to see. What he had to offer was something they needed and it is something I need.
However, this admirable man was killed and should have melted into the obscure mists of history with no more than a vague mention or two. His followers should have disappeared. This failed leader should have had no lasting impact. But something happened and it was a game changer: Jesus defeated death, and this validates his promise of our eventual victory over death.
Why I Believe in God
At this point my atheist friends can no longer walk with me. I cannot prove this resurrection and it seems to defy our experience, but it is my reasonable opinion that it occurred–based on the impact it had on Jesus’ followers. If they were wrong about the resurrection, then I have nothing more, but after much searching I find no reason to think they were wrong.
This is only my opinion, but we all hold important opinions based on evidence that is reasonable but not absolutely verifiable—economic theories and political theories are examples, and they are not considered superstition or blind faith.
This clears the way to answer the question, How is faith in God different from superstition? But let me rephrase it as How is belief in God different from superstition?
I believe in God simply because Jesus tells us about him. The resurrection causes me to pay attention to what Jesus says, and he says a lot about the Father.