What does it mean to believe in God?

In Chapter 3 of Chaves’ book, “American Religion, Contemporary Trends,” he discusses how the statistic that up to 91 percent of Americans in 2014 believe in God or a higher power, was broken down and asked among survey takers. In the General Social Survey (GGS) there were four out of six boxes that people could check that would indicate they believe in God or a higher power. Those statements were:

  • I don’t believe in a personal God, but I do believe in a Higher Power of some kind.
  • I find myself believing in God some of the time, but not at other.
  • While I have doubts, I feel that I do believe in God.
  • I know God really exists and I have no doubts about it.

While I read these statements, I questioned how the people that checked one of these four options define God or a Higher Power in their lives and what it means to them to believe in one. For someone to believe in God or a Higher Power, is there some sort practice or participation in something that would fulfill and show that belief? If someone has a belief, but no action to support that belief is it discredited by society? For instance, if someone says they believe in God but they do not go church or subscribe to a certain religion, does that mean when other people look at this person they think they are to doubt their belief? It might seem reasonable to say that even if someone does not go to church they can still believe in God, but looking at it through a sociological perspective, doesn’t society base belief off of action instead of pure thought?

It is interesting to think about the complexity of how each individual’s situation might be who checked on those four boxes.