Shedding a Little Obscurity on the Dazzlingly Self-Evident
It goes without saying that many aspects of religion would appear to defy conventional logic. On their own plane they are true, but when applied to another plane they don't so much become false as absurd. Thus, any reasonably intelligent person -- and Hitchens is an unreasonably intelligent person -- can pretty much pick apart exoteric religion if they are so inclined. A child can do it, really. I myself used to do it all the time. I was one of those people who welcomed the door-to-door Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons into my home just to mess with their heads.
The "content" of science is the relationship between our senses and the external world. But the content of religion is the relationship between God and man. If you treat the one like the other and expect religion to be bound by the same kind of logical rigor as science, you are bound to be confused. Pursuing this fruitless line of inquiry falls under the heading of using one's intelligence for a stupid end. Much finer and more subtle minds than Christopher Hitchens have always been well aware of the contradictions and inconsistencies, and had no difficulty reconciling them in the appropriate way.
The relationship between God and man is, among other things, interior, protean, and multiple. In other words, there are many ways to form a relationship with God, which, in a way, is not that different from the diverse ways we can form a relationship to the external world. After all, we can see it, smell it, touch it, taste it, hear it, etc. Just so, there are diverse ways we may know God, only one of which is through revelation. Or, to put it another way, God is only known through revelation, bearing in mind that revelation does not consist only of certain sacred texts. To cite one obvious example, the uncreated intellect that is able to comprehend the truth of revelation (or the truth of anything, really) is as much a revelation -- more so, in fact -- than revelation itself. They are simply two sides of the same Word that courses through the arteries of being.
I only caught a few minutes of the debate, but one of the predictable problems was that the two men were operating on entirely different planes. The theologian understood God and religion in one way, while Hitchens (dis)understood them in an different way. In a word, the two were using entirely different paradigms, or operating systems, to try to apprehend the phenomena under scrutiny. The same thing can and does happen in fields other than religion.
To cite one example that comes readily to mind since it pertains to my own field of psychology, a psychoanalyst and a behaviorist will have virtually nothing to debate, since their paradigms, and the assumptions underlying them, are so radically different. The psychoanalyst believes that the source of our emotional pain and conflict is unconscious -- that there is an "unthought known" realm of consciousness "beneath" the ego, which shapes and directs conscious thought and behavior. Various schools of psychoanalysis might even be compared to different religions, in that they all try to map this invisible domain in different ways -- there are Freudians, Kleinians, Kohutians, Jungians, and many others.
If one were so inclined, one could easily dismiss psychoanalysis based merely on the fact that the people who posit this thing called the "unconscious" cannot even agree amongst themselves on its characteristics, and often contradict one another. However, this would be very short-sighted, since the the unconscious -- like God -- is "interior, protean, and multiple." By its very nature, people are going to have different views and theories of it, since it is subjective and holographic, not objective and atomistic. Just because people cannot agree on its exact nature, does not mean that it does not exist. If we were to use the same criteria with regard to quantum physics, we would have to say that the subatomic realm doesn't exist either, since there are so many different models and theories pertaining to it, and no existing way to even harmonize quantum and relativity theories (i.e., the macro and the micro realms).
So psychoanalysts cannot agree on the nature of psychic reality. Comes now the behaviorist, who says that the unconscious doesn't exist at all. In fact, even consciousness is a dubious construct. Rather, there is only observable behavior. Mental illness is really just painful or dysfunctional behavior. Change the behavior and you change the man. End of issue.
Right away, you can see that the atheist Hitchens debating the theist Roberts is exactly like a behaviorist debating a psychoanalyst. In fact, I remember having such a debate with an atheist during my internship at Camarillo State Mental Hospital around 20 years ago. Naturally I won the debate, although the behaviorist had no way of knowing it, since his mind was limited to the plane of observable behavior. How can he have any knowledge of that which he a priori excludes? Again, it is like the dog who cannot understand Beethoven or the atheist who cannot understand religion. Same sensory apparatus, different planes.
Now, Schuon makes an excellent point in this regard, writing that "The man who rejects religion because, if taken literally, it sometimes seems absurd -- ... such a man does not know the one essential thing, despite the logic of his reaction: namely, that the imagery, contradictory though it may be at first sight, nonetheless conveys data that in the final analysis are coherent and even dazzlingly evident for those who are capable of having a presentiment of them or of grasping them."
Thus, religion can be simultaneously "illogical" and nevertheless "dazzlingly evident." How can this be? First of all, one must resist the temptation to resolve the contradictions within religion on a lower plane than that from which they arise. Again, pointing out apparent inconsistencies is so easy that a 13 year old can do it, but to the extent that you win this kind of argument, you lose.
Rather, any inconsistencies must be resolved on a higher plane, the plane of esoterism. Rather than trying to comprehend the center from the periphery, or the principle from its manifestation, this approach tries to understand the periphery from the center -- the center being the Absolute, or God. The other day we used the analogy of people taking photographs of the Matterhorn. Each photo will necessarily be a little different, despite the fact that there is only one Matterhorn (and one Schuon standing in front of it... funny, he doesn't strike me as the sort of person who would have been interested in visiting Disneyland).
The physicist David Bohm used an even better analogy. Imagine a rectangular fish tank with a fish swimming around in it. There are two video cameras trained on the tank at right angles to one another. The resulting images are projected on to two separate video monitors in a different room. Looking at the two monitors, one would see what looks like two different fish. Nevertheless, there would appear to be some correlation between their movements. What might not occur to the person is that the images on the screens are two-dimensional projections of a three-dimensional reality; while they appear separate, they are in fact unified at a higher dimension.
This is precisely how I would understand O, which revelation is here to illuminate -- dazzlingly so, I might add. For example, scripture is a lower dimensional representation of a reality with more dimensions than three or four. Two "four dimensional" stories can easily be reconciled in five dimensions. And before you dismiss this as speculative or overly abstract, I would redirect your attention to the unconscious and to the dream, which are also hyperdimensional and operate free of the demands of aristotelian logic. (See for example here, here, and here.)
Well, that's about all I have time for now. For a while, you can probably expect my posts to appear a bit later in the day, although today I surprised myself and got off a blast by the usual time.