11. Abraham, the Father of Faith

This is traditional iconography of Abraham, the Father of Faith.
Greek Orthodox Icon of Abraham

As Socrates is considered the father of philosophy in the West, so the patriarch Abraham is considered the father of faith for really the entire world. The three major monotheistic religions – Christianity, Judaism, and Islam – all claim Abraham as their forefather.1 

Abraham grew up in Ur, a city-state of southern Mesopotamia. After the great Flood of Noah, people began to multiply again and spread throughout the earth. Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Shem (from where we get the word Semite) became the ancestor of all of the Middle Eastern peoples, including the Jews and the Arabs. It was through the line of Shem that God would reveal Himself to the world. He would not do this all at once, but gradually over two millennia, until His revelation culminated in Jesus Christ, the ultimate revelation of God. After the Flood, this revelation began with Abraham. 

Faith and Reason

It is important at this point to properly juxtapose faith and reason. In our modern perspective, reason means something that is based in scientific facts alone or empirical knowledge. It has nothing to do with the realm of the spiritual. Faith, according to modern thought, is pure belief that is not necessarily grounded in any scientific fact and may even at times be opposed to science. In today’s secular world, faith tends to be viewed as irrational. 

In post 6, I explained how Socrates separated reason from superstition yet grounded reason in spiritual or divine principles. Socrates saw no dichotomy between reason and the spiritual. In fact, he taught that a spiritual foundation was necessary for sound reasoning. This was the belief in the West up until the Enlightenment when the two were separated and put in opposition to one another. 

I will try to explain over the next few posts how Abraham’s faith was not whimsical, but was indeed grounded in fact. It was rational. The kind of fact and the type of reality he based his faith upon was a spiritual reality, the type over which science has no jurisdiction. To use an analogy, a metal detector is great for finding buried coins, but it is useless for detecting radon gas in the basement. Likewise, science is a great tool, but only for understanding the physical world. It is not meant to go beyond that into the realm of what is called metaphysics.

Scientism

Today, we live in a world dominated by scientism. Scientism is defined as “the excessive belief in the power of scientific knowledge and techniques.” In other words, we moderns think that science can explain everything and has the answers to all of our problems. We view science as the highest and final authority that trumps all others. Even religious faith is explained via scientific principles. 

We should reject scientism but we should also reject fideism. Fideism is the practice of having faith that is not grounded in any fact or evidence and may even be contrary to evidence. The faith of Abraham, as well as the other Old Testament saints, was firmly grounded in the fact of God’s revealed truth. But how do we know this reality if it is spiritual? The only way that we can know spiritual reality is if it is revealed to us by God; it is beyond the reach of our scientific instruments.

And that brings us back to Abraham, for God revealed Himself to Abraham. The Bible said that he “appeared” to Abraham. This is a very important word that I will expand upon in the next post.

The spiritual realm is just as much a reality as the physical universe. God gave the ancient Greeks the ability to develop reasoning skills to a highly sophisticated level. God entrusted His revelation to the Jewish people, Abraham’s descendants in the Old Testament. Socrates based his philosophy in the divine, but God did not reveal Himself to Socrates; He merely guided him through things like dreams and oracles.

Although the Jewish people of the Old Testament were intelligent, they were never philosophically inclined. They did not develop reasoning skills to the level that the Greeks did. But they were entrusted with divine revelation, the “oracles of God” as St. Paul says in the New Testament – a privilege that no other nation had. These two separate streams, faith and reason, would eventually converge two millennia after Abraham in the Christian Church. 

“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.”2

-Pope John Paul II

Why do you think modern people in the West have such a difficult time reconciling faith and science? Please leave your comments below. Thank you!

Footnotes:

  1. Parrot, André. “Abraham”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 13 Mar. 2021, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Abraham.
  2. Encyclical Letter Fides Et Ratio, opening statement by The Supreme Pontiff John Paul II on the relationship between faith and reason, https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_14091998_fides-et-ratio.html, September 14, 1998

Bibliography and Sources:

Collins, Phillip Darrell and Collins, Paul David, An Examination of Epistemic Autocracy, From the 19th to the21st Century, iUniverse, Inc., New York, 2004

Crawford, Harriet, author and Harrison, Thomas, series editor, Ur: The City of the Moon God, Archaeological History Series, Bloomsbury Academic, New York, 2015

De Mieroop, Van, A History of the Ancient Near East, ca. 3000-323 BC, 3rd Edition (Blackwell History of the Ancient World), Wiley-Blackwell, Hoboken, N.J., 2015

Hahn, Ph.D., Scott, Kinship by Covenant: A Canonical Approach to the Fulfillment of God’s Saving Promises, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT., 2009

Kramer, Samuel Noah, The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character Revised ed. Edition, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1971

Time-Life Books, editor, Sumer: Cities of Eden, Lost Civilization Series, Time Life Education, 1993

Voegelin, Eric, Order and History, Vol. 1: Israel and Revelation, classic reprint hardcover, Forgotten Books Publishers, London, 2018

Zainab, Bahrani, Mesopotamia: Ancient Art and Architecture, Thomas Hudson publisher, High Holborn, U.K., 2017

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