Thursday, April 15, 2010

Natural Religion

After the Biblical Fall the Old Testament drama unfolds as a protracted struggle between two Gods. In every age the majority of Mankind have worshiped Mother Earth, Matter or the recurring cycle of vegetative life. She has many names; in the Bible one of the most common is Astarte. In our day "Astarte" exacts an acceptance of things as they are, an attempt to flow with the stream of Nature. The Bible called this "whoring after other gods".
Blake called it Natural Religion or Druidism. He meant by Natural Religion the worship of the principle of fallen life; those most conformed and faithful to it become the rulers of this world. Natural Religion involves choosing to remain at the level of the material, which Blake called vegetative life.
The believer in Natural Religion closes his mind to the reality of spiritual development; he turns his back upon the Spirit. Unable to endure the tension of struggling and waiting for spiritual evolution he erects a golden calf. He either acquiesces in or actively contributes to the brutishness and horror of a life that "lives upon death".
The Bible and Blake's poetry alike are filled with gory images of this ultimate horror, which comes from identifying life with the merely natural. T.S.Eliot said in The Sacred Wood that Blake's poetry is unpleasant, as all great poetry is unpleasant. It is "unpleasant" basically because Blake, like the Bible, insists on calling a spade a spade. Nowhere is Blake closer to the Bible than in his constant reiteration of the ultimate horror of unredeemed life, celebrated in page after page of minute particulars.
Blake and the Bible both insistently remind us that Nature is fallen , and that one flows with this fallen Nature to one's destruction. Abraham and Moses knew a higher God: he was above Nature; he was Spirit. He called men to rise above the natural and to become sons of a God opposed to everything Astarte stood for, to live by the laws, not of earth, but of heaven.
The children of Abraham tried to put this God first, but rarely with notable success. Instead at every opportunity they turned away from Jehovah "under every green tree", back to Nature. This inevitably led back to Captivity in the  iron furnaces of Egypt/Babylon/Rome, etc.

(For more of this subject go to Chapter Six )

2 comments:

arkdward said...

Blake reviled Wordsworth's nature worship as atheism. It elevates fallen nature. The popular idea of nature adoration is a misguided sentimentalism devoid of properly exalted Human Energies. I think that is where Blake is coming from.

-Mark Geier

Larry said...

Right on, Mark. Years ago I was on the verge of commiting myself intensively to Blake; I had a valued friend who had studied romantic literature. He told me that Blake was the only one of them who had anything to say-- an immoderate opinion of course, but it contains truth. Wordsworth and the others were nature poets; Blake was a religious poet; none of the others had the kind of commitment to Truth that Blake had.