How is Faith in God Different from Superstition?

In response to my recent post on Fear and Superstition, my friend Jonny Scaramanga at Leaving Fundamentalism challenges me with an important question:

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?

God and Superstition

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.

Image Credit: Morguefile
Your observations and comments are welcome below.
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45 Responses to How is Faith in God Different from Superstition?

  1. nikkogilbert says:

    Interesting blog. I like the way u say that u have no proof to any of the events yet u still have faith, that’s a reasonable answer. I would guess that if u found out ur belief was untrue then u wouldn’t be disappointed. Correct me if I’m wrong here.
    If u believe something that much why not devote ur life to it.
    Myself I believe Jesus existed I however do not believe he was more then u and I. No son of god or what not. Just an inspirational man who cared for his friends. And I guess the stories that have risen was the best way for the men at the time to understand it. What I have learnt is who ever he was, he seems to be non judgmental and that’s what modern religion lacks. They judge and condem people for things u can’t change. For example homosexuality, Christians will argue til the blue in the face that its a choice, a sin etc etc, but there judging something with out knowing the facts. This man Jesus I believe would never do that. He would except u for who u are because he would know u are born the way u are. Born just as u should be. Peace and long life. Nikko.

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    • Hi Nikko,

      If I found out I was wrong about this I WOULD be disappointed, but I would not be devastated. And I agree with you that if it is true it is worth devoting one’s life to it and I have done that.

      You are right on target in saying that Jesus is non-judgmental, unlike many Christians today. Your example of homosexuality is a good one, but let me assure you that not ALL Christians judge homosexuality like you describe. You may be interested in the blog of Justin Lee at http://gcnjustin.tumblr.com/. He is founder of the Gay Christian Network and is a leading voice among gay Christians.

      I have not said much about homosexuality here because it is a fairly new blog and it takes a while to get around to all the important topics, but I do support gay Christians and marriage equality as well.

      Thanks for your comment!

      Like

      • nikkogilbert says:

        Tim, thx for replying. I am starting to see who are the true Christians now. Christians like urself who actually do “love thy neighbour” with out judgement or hatred. It’s refreshing to learn. Although I kinda knew it was the case. Just u don’t come accross to many. It’s interesting because this other Christian guy I had a debate with was form in the belief that u are not a real Christian unless ur a born again Christian. I find that odd considering that Christianity is built around Jesus Christ (why else is it called CHRISTianity). So in my eyes ur a Christian if u devote ur life to Jesus but this particular guy disagreed. His blog was full of hatred, condemning homosexuals, claiming u would die of cancer or some other disease for mocking etc etc. The most disturbing parts were he has 3 children who will be forced into this view of his, plus he preaches at a youth centre again drumming this barbaric view to them. You may have guessed I am gay myself. So his nasty blog didnt bode well with me. He is one of those the bible says this the bible says that kinda guy. Anyway I guess my view is as mentioned before, as long as ur harming no one, believe what u want. I may believe Jesus was just an ordinary man like u and I but at the same time u believe he was the son of god. Both views are fine because we are not hurting anyone.

        It’s quite funny considering the hateful god a lot of Christians portray however I’ve always stuck by this opinion to the whole god topic “if god exists, then why would he care if u worship him or not, as long as ur a good person, that’s all that should matter”. As u know I’m pagan, I don’t believe in a god per say, I see the sun as the symbol of masculinity (some call it god) and the earth as Mother Earth or symbol of feminism (some call it goddess), its the view of balance u know male female, good evil, light dark etc etc. I’m rambling now but my point is I look after the earth where I can, I donate to charity, I help people if they require it, respect people as long as try cause me no harm. So I ask these hateful Christians this question: if there is a god, why on earth would I be punished for not believing in him yet doing all the good I do. There answer is normally: ur being corrupted by the devil, u think ur doing good but the fact u don’t believe in god says other wise. To which I reply: that makes no sense what so ever.

        Thx Nikko – thought I better come up for air lol.

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  2. Hi Nikko,

    Yes, I have met a LOT of Christians like the one you describe; they think that if you do not believe their specific way you are going to hell (which I do not believe exists), even though you consider yourself a Christian also. Nikko, your question , “If there is a god, why on earth would I be punished for not believing in him yet doing all the good I do?” is really charged! This will set them off big time, but I think it is a good question.

    It did not occurr to me that you were gay, but then I don’t guess at things very much and I don’t think, ‘I wonder if that guy is gay?’ because it doesn’t matter to me. Sometimes a friend will tell me at some point that they are Canadian; another friend at some point will tell me their gay. One is no more shocking than the other.

    Like

    • nikkogilbert says:

      Yeah it did set him off lol but he never gave me a decent answer, just quoted passages from the bible. Which in my eyes is silly considering I don’t believe in the bible so quoting passages from it mean nothing to me. I was asking him as another human being why it should matter but ur right it is a good question, one they can’t answer. You on the other hand don’t believe the same as them so I would take a guess here that you would be interested in there honest opinion. (Just to put it in perspective of my belief and my view on death and there after) See I believe in reincarnation, as urself, I don’t believe in hell however I also do not believe in heaven per say. I believe in karma, so what u put out comes bk. now life after death, it was quite funny a memory just came to me ill share shortly. But yeah life after death, I see that when we die it is only our bodies, our soul is never ending, it goes to a resting place (could be compared to heaven but slightly different), it is there it reflexs on its last life, u review ur life’s lessons and if u learnt them, and once that process is complete u get reincarnated in a new baby born. I believe in evolution and I also believe the soul evolves as well. We may have started as a lower life form (I see all life as equal but at the same time the soul of animals is less evolved or as intelligent as humans, but there life is worth no less) and over time ur soul evolves to a point it is reincarnated as a human soul. Now my point to this was, Do I believe that if u do not believe in reincarnation or karma then it won’t happen to u? No. I believe no matter what u believe, the cycles of life are the same.

      Before I finish up my story I remembered. This is an example of a very badly informed priest. Now my in laws are catholic, so as a result when my nana in law died they had a church service, in which I attended (I didn’t get smited as I entered hahaha), normally I don’t enter church’s but out of respect I attended to pay my respects. Now as I sit there being told this and that about catholic belief in death etc, I suddenly here the priest say “unlike pagans who do not believe in life after death, and believe we just die” at that point, quite angered at that statement as u could imagine and me being overly out spoken stood up and questioned his opinion, I also voiced that pagan belief had nothing to do with my nana in laws funeral, that his preconceived opinions and misinformed knowledge was not needed nor wanted by the family. At that point I asked him to reframe from bad mouthing other beliefs and just do the funeral with respect. I then say down, some family members looked at me in disgust but they know I am out spoken and I felt the priest opinion was not called for at a funeral. He was there to do the funeral not disrespect or misinform about other beliefs. After the service I went to the priest and quite firmly informed him of his errors in his knowledge of pagan rituals and beliefs and walked off leaving a fairly shocked priest behind.

      If my long replies are not suited for ur blogs being they can be off topic, feel free to email me on puremagick3@hotmail.com.au I would be more then happy to compare and discuss life and stuff. Peace and long life. Nikko

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      • I enjoy our discussions Nikko, though I may not respond to them at length. The story of the funeral was kind of humorous, though I don’t think I would have dared interrupt one!

        I will email you as you suggest…

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  3. Lana says:

    Great topic. I would say the telological argument impresses me the most, but its not enough to convince me. The idea that God came in flesh to us is very appealing. Ultimately God is my best guess for this universe. But there’s more. I can’t conceive of how else these miracles happen. There’s this person who was declared dead, and came out of his coffin in the temple. HE’s personal friends with my friends, who are missionaries and credible. He was raised from the dead. Do I dismiss his story? If I do, then I’m confronted with another and yet another? Despite how atheism is appealing to me, there’s not enough evidence that God doesn’t exist for me to go there. I empathize with agnostics much more.

    Like

    • Very honest and reasonable thoughts, Lana. I have no difficulty with agnostics, nor do I think Jesus has any problem with them. How can one demand certainty when a person is unsure?

      By the way, I really enjoy your blog. I am subscribed and I read every post. Have a great day! ~Tim

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  4. Pingback: Christian Fear and Superstition | Jesus Without Baggage

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  7. Sorry, I am late to the party but I found this post through the pingback / repost from September.

    I agree with Lana that the Teleological Argument is the most persuasive argument for God. The mathematical precision that went into the design of the universe, the beauty of nature, the human longing for meaning and purpose, the human desire for connection, the innate human concept of a moral law across cultures are all items that point to an intelligent Creator rather than random chance.

    I have found in discussions with atheists (as well as my one mind) to separate the concept of a Creator from Christianity. I believe that there are two separate arguments and the arguments in favor of a Creator can be more easily made independent of the Bible or historical revelation (the latter of which are meaningful for Catholics :-).

    The arguments in favor of Christianity are equally fascinating but can be somewhat independent. Logically, it is possible to believe in a Creator but not in Christianity (which is obvious from Jewish and Muslim traditions, not to mention Deism). However, I think it is a harder case to make that Jesus was a great prophet but not divine. I follow that C.S. Lewis line of argument that Jesus either was divine or he was crazy. Looking at his life and the writings about him it is hard to find a middle ground between the two.

    Peace,
    W. Ockham

    Like

    • Hi Ockham! I also have a somewhat teleological bent. But to me the strongest case for God is what Jesus tells us about him in the gospels. Yet your argument for separating the question of the creator from Christianity in discussions makes good sense.

      I agree with you in that I find the record convincing that Jesus was something much more than a great prophet. I don’t think he was delusional, nor do I think he was a fraud (liar), which is Lewis’ third option. The resurrection is what makes the difference to me.

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      • The Resurrection being the key difference for me also. I find it interesting that the historicity of the Resurrection is the biggest turning point in history but very few people actually look at the evidence in favor or against it. People either assume it’s true because it’s what they have been taught or assume it’s false because it is such an outrageous claim. Hats off to the Lee Strobel’s of the world who actually examine the evidence and go where the evidence points. It is truly a life-changing process (at least it was for me).

        Like

  8. sheila0405 says:

    It’s the witness of Jesus’ followers that make me follow Him, too. Jesus’ followers gave their lives for their belief. They, to me, are eyewitnesses to what happened.

    Like

  9. michaeleeast says:

    True. We listen to what Jesus says.
    This is the whole point of believing in Jesus.
    And Jesus says to love the Father, love our neighbors, and love our enemies.

    Like

      • gallbladder says:

        no views but a question when i looked up definition of FAITH it said TRUST what do you view other people’s definition of FAITH is ….. so I may get a further understanding of the difference and what you are talking about thank you

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        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          GB, I think it is best if we understand faith as trust, but many Christians understand faith as believing something even though it has little support. It is more like the phrase–take a ‘leap’ of faith.

          When I say I have faith in Jesus, it means that I trust what Jesus tells me about the loving Father and the proper way of relating to people with a concern for their well-being.

          Like

          • gallbladder says:

            do you mean like “blind faith” ? Faith is taking that first step even when you don’t see the Whole stair case MLK

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        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          I think ‘blind faith’ is a good term for it GB, except that many people have blind faith, not when they can’t see whole staircase, but when they really aren’t sure there even is a staircase. Often they do it because someone promises them there is a staircase or perhaps the person desperately wants there to be a staircase.

          This type of faith is not trust–it is wishful thinking. One might act on some level of ‘trust’ in the authority of the person urging them to act on faith, even when it goes against their own good sense, but religious authorities who urge people to believe as they do are often persons of blind faith themselves.

          I think it is important for people to believe things that makes sense to them, not things that are just wishful thinking, or things that are urged on them by other people. And people should question their faith, and their reasons for it, to see whether it makes sense.

          This was a very good question!

          Like

          • michaeleeast says:

            Yes. Our faith must make sense to us.
            It is not good enough to coerce belief.
            We must witness our experience of God.
            And if we have no experience of God we should not be teaching others.

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          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Well said Michael!

            Like

          • gallbladder says:

            Faith ie Trust , I am not debating just quoting your words ” it is important for people to believe things that make sense to them ” so it all depends on your prespective you just gave an arguement for and or against atheist and believers thank you have a good day

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          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            And you have a good day as well, GB.

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          • gallbladder says:

            Good Morning i was wondering if you might consider a some time addressing your wiews on Prayer vs meditation ( if you already have and I missed the blog can you direct me to it thanks ) , are they similar ? do they share the same purpose ? are they different ? in one of your future blogs (I will not debate ) Many people may be interested and are they an aid to ” Experiencing GOD ” that you spoke of thank you Have a good day

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          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            You bring up an important discussion, GB. I have not posted anything on this topic because I focus primarily on the most damaging aspects of Christian baggage as I see them. This does not include ideas about prayer or meditation.

            I don’t use prayer in order to manipulate events or conditions, but some people take great comfort in doing so. I believe prayer and meditation are good ways to discover and improve ourselves. I have never learned the practices of Buddhist meditation, but I have often wanted to.

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          • gallbladder says:

            thank you for your reply what does damaging aspect of christian baggage cover so I may understand what topics you will be covering as I read your Blog ……..there are many levels of meditation takes practice I find early morning is best or before bed really aids in sleep ihave taught some people with insomnia but some people have learned to do it with the Dalai Lama DVD I sent you a You tube ( Email private) if you want to try it for fun Enjoy Thanks

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          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Thanks, I will check out the YouTube link you mention.

            You can get a good idea of what I consider the six major religious baggage issues among Christians at https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/key-baggage-issues/. There are other lesser issues, of course.

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          • gallbladder says:

            Sorry I have some confusion here I read the six points about the goals of Jesus without baggage Can you follow the teachings of Jesus ( how to treat one another ) , Just as you can follow Buddha teachings without the “God Experience” ? So in your opinion is “GOD” nesessary to follow the principles ? What is the Goal ? to live your life by the principle so mankind can live in Harmony ? or is following the teaching to Connect with GOD ? Can you Clarify ? thank you

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        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          GB, I believe in the Father who loves us because Jesus talks about him so much. However, I don’t claim to know details about his being and attributes.

          I believe the goal in life is to live a life that reduces harm and suffering and promotes peace and harmony in all relationships as much as possible. The teachings of Jesus also suggest an eternal life of peace and happiness after death.

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  11. pablo says:

    Faith is Superstition. Superstition (putting your trust in an outside source) comes from the ego, from being afraid that things won’t work out, that we will get hurt, we will die.We needed protection, when we could not protect ourselves from harm. A very serious matter for our ancestors. So we evolved this “faith” in a power greater than ourselves to “help” or aid us when we were in need. Because many ,many times (by luck or skill by the person) it worked! while other times it did not. The survivors gave credit to their “faith” to (a) God or Gods or Jesus. It is part of our nature of being a human being. You can see this in countless of different civilizations throught history. And regarding Jesus, If the impact of the resurrection was so big in his followers why do it in secret?, why not make an impressive showing in public where everyone could see? such a display of power would not go unnoticed *everyone* would have become a believer immediately (What Jesus wanted: followers and have faith in him to go to Heaven)

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  12. Shirley Youjest says:

    You of great faith show great stupidity

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  13. Alan G Phillips Jr says:

    One of the things Jesus did so well in His ministry was confront and combat the conventional wisdom and superstitions of His time. Our Lord and Savior was never a blind conformist or naive apologist for all the accepted myths of His era.

    Jesus was the ultimate “myth-buster.” Let me illustrate with two brief examples.

    First, he confronted a common Jewish myth about generational curses. When his disciples presumed a blind man’s malady was a result of past parental sins being divinely visited on him, Jesus challenged their diagnostic myth (John 9:1-12), challenging the simple correlation between physical misfortune and disability or illness.

    Next, Jesus confronted His followers’ superstitions when they saw him walking on the Sea of Galilee. The disciples were afraid and said, “It is a ghost” (Matthew 14:26) and yelled out in fear. Jesus calmed the source of their tall tales about phantoms, telling them, “Be of good cheer! It is I, do not be afraid” Matthew 14:27, NKJV). Their superstitious fear about the ghosts of Galilee was challenged right on the spot with the command “do not be afraid.” Jesus enabled them to replace their misguided ghost terrors with the truth of his peaceful presence.

    Jesus criticized common assumptions during his life and ministry in the service of God’s truth. Isn’t it time that true Christ followers today embrace their Savior’s willingness to challenge conventionalism, even in their own times?

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      “One of the things Jesus did so well in His ministry was confront and combat the conventional wisdom and superstitions of His time.”

      Well said, Alan! And the two examples you cite are good ones, though, of course, there are many other examples where Jesus challenged common assumptions and superstitions as well.

      Like

  14. John says:

    I cannot see the point of people believing
    I n some middle east fable as religion
    Why not believe in the white boy Columbus ? The Jesus thing is pure white
    Nusery rhyme like ; the cow that jumped over the moon.

    Like

    • Chas says:

      The most convincing evidence for the existence of God is the existence of the molecule DNA. It would not be credible to believe that such a simply-based molecule, capable of creating a near-infinite number of lifeforms, could have arisen by chance. I cannot see why Dawkins is incapable of understanding this fact. ‘There are none so blind as those who will not see!’

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  15. tonycutty says:

    My take on the superstition vs God argument is not likely to answer Jonny’s question, but it is the way I have always seen it. And maybe it hinges on a different definition of ‘superstition’ to his.

    I have never believed in the mechanistic sort of ‘superstition’ that my mother still espouses: that if you walk under a ladder, injure a black cat, or spill the salt, then that’s [insert relevant time] – of bad luck for you. Whatever ‘bad luck’ means; nice and vague, isn’t it?

    No, to me, God is in control. Definitely on a level I don’t understand – like why some people get terminal illnesses and others do not, or why bad things seem to happen to good people – but still He is in control. And He’s a Person. So, instead of an instant ’cause-and-effect’ of ‘walk under ladder -> bad luck will happen soon’, it is more that God controls things and He actually makes conscious decisions on things, what with Him being a Person and all. And so, if God is in control, the deterministic effect of walking under a ladder has first to pass through the personality-decision matrix first. And in any case He’s not into ‘luck’ of any kind; bad luck especially.

    I am probably the least superstitious person you will ever chat with – but I firmly believe in a God who intervenes on behalf of His people, of whom I am one.

    That’s not superstition, that’s family.

    [PS – I go out of my way to walk under ladders]

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Tony, I like it that you go out of your way to walk under ladders; it is a great demonstration of actually challenging superstition. I think your approach to superstition vs. God is a reasonable one, but I agree with you that it is not likely to convince those who think that faith, or belief, in God is superstition–just as my approach will not convince them either.

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  16. todd says:

    how shallow your existence must be to demand “proof” from God. if you told your child that you opened a savings account with a $1000 in it for him and that child said i don’t believe you, i DEMAND to drive to the bank and SEE the cash, would you FEEL that child TRUSTED you? all of this mystery is designed to fuel your free will choice to LOVE GOD. we evil humans trust each other constantly. we trust the airplane designer, the pilot, the baggage guy that closed the door, the architect and builder of the home you live in, even the fast food you eat doesn’t have poison or urine in it, but lack the ability to trust God for the breath in lungs and blood in out veins, even the power to heal a cut. maybe no one ever told you it’s ok the believe in God and have doubts, it’s called a lament, i’m in pain and don’t understand. the eternal answer to your questions “Y” are simple, EVERYTHING that happens to us is too draw us closer to God. FAITH is the belief in things unseen, it’s OUR JOB to keep moving closer. i pray for you keep things simple, Romans 1:20…

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Todd, I think I understand your objections but I DO trust God–because I trust Jesus who tells me about God. And I don’t consider my trust to be superstition.

      Like

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