Sunday, November 21, 2010

Blake's Humanism

With idols no longer possible what's left to worship? The answer depends upon your experience. With all the idols gone the true God remains, for those who can meet him (her, it). For others the highest possible may be the Human Form, and here Blake settled before he came to see Jesus as God. He began by worshiping the Human Form, the Highest and Best Imaginable, and in 1800 he recognized this Highest and Best in Jesus. In terms of conventional theology Blake was a humanist before he became a committed Christian. In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell he loudly proclaimed his humanism: "God only Acts and Is, in existing beings or Men". And a few pages later:

The worship of God is: "Honouring his gifts in other men, each according to his genius, and loving the greatest men best: those who envy or calumniate great men hate God; for there is no other God."

According to Kathleen Raine it was "the central doctrine of the Swedenborgian New Church that God can only be known in human form". Blake illustrated this with his quatrain at the end of "Auguries of Innocence":

"God Appears and God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in Night,
But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of day."

Finally in his "Annotations to Berkeley's Siris", which he read about 1820, he wrote "God is Man and exists in us and we in him" (E664). He was still a humanist, but his humanism had gained a strong Christian dimension. Blake's argument against the conventional images of God, from beginning to end, hinged upon their sub-human nature. The biblical writers frequently ascribed to their God attitudes and behaviour beneath the moral level of any self respecting human. God cannot be less than man; therefore the appropriate response to such an image is derision, especially in the face of the common credulous awe.

The spiritually open person, free of the common credulous awe and capable of a clear eyed gaze at the Bible, no longer finds it possible to view all the biblical images as portraying a God worthy of worship. Furthermore when one looks freely at the actions of political and religious leaders of Christendom of the past 2000 years, it becomes clear that they were often worshipping something other than the true God. Finally the actions and attitudes of our contemporaries and even our own point to domination by a vision that is something less than the Highest and Best. In his poetry Blake documents these three observations with voluminous detail. They led to his ultimate evaluation of the universal false God. The name he settled upon is refreshingly biblical and authentic:

"To the Accuser, who is
The God of this World
Tho' thou art Worship'd by the Names Divine
Of Jesus and Jehovah, thou art still
The Son of Morn in weary Night's decline,
The Lost Traveller's Dream under the Hill."

(Gates of Paradise)

See also the chapter on God

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