We live in a secular age; the reality of God has been largely barred from the consciousness of most people. It is a significant experience for only a minority of the population. Of course many people understand that everyone has a God of some sort--his ultimate concern. But the biblical God, the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is not a live issue in the minds of very many people today. Our foremost modern psychologist, C.G.Jung, quite properly placed God in our unconscious and encouraged us to seek there for him. Jung understood very well Blake's statement that "all deities reside in the human breast" (end of Plate 11 of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell).
The secular currents so powerful today were already flowing strongly in the late 18th Century in England. The prevalent deism
put God back behind the present scene, a long way behind it. Strictly
the Divine Architect, having made the world like a clock, wound it up
and left it to run on its own. He also left the deists to their own
devices, and they were happy in this new freedom. They felt that they
had learned to control their destinies without divine assistance.
Blake lived in the midst of these currents, but he opposed them
emphatically. Unlike the deists he experienced the immediate presence
and pervasive reality of God in his life. He completely filled his
poetry and pictures alike with metaphysical images because his mind
dwelt almost exclusively upon spiritual themes. The material realm
interested him only as a shadow of the eternal. He abhorred the
materialism by which the deists lived. He might have been happier and
more at home in the Middle Ages.
But he was also a very
modern man. He understood better than Jung that an external objective
God is an unknown quantity, a projection of unsophisticated minds:
"Mental things are alone Real....Where is the Existence Out of Mind or
Thought? Where is it but in the mind of a Fool?" (Vision of the Last
Judgment, page 565)
The only God anyone can know is the
image of God projected upon his mind or enclosed in his consciousness.
Since time began, men have shared their visions of God with one another.
All religions began in this way. The Bible makes most sense as an
infinitely fascinating compendium of the visions of God
shared by Moses, Isaiah, Paul and the other writers. This unfolding and
composite vision has shaped western culture down to the present moment.
Blake thoroughly surveyed this passing scene, not just
the Bible, but every other religious document he could get his hands on,
and related them all to his own direct and immediate visions. Over his
lifetime he may have taken more liberties with God than any
systematic thinker ever did. He could do this because he so fully
realized that all of these visions of God had come forth from human
breasts like his own. Moses, Isaiah, and the others were his eternal
brothers, and he joyously engaged with them in the eternal war, the
intellectual war, which he called the "severe contentions of friendship" (J. 91:18)