Blake's religious outlook

Blake and formal religion

As a consequence of his philosophical views, Blake rejected formalised religion. He saw the Christianity of his day as being a distortion of true spiritual life:

  • It changed spirituality into a system of moral laws which bound people in shame or in fear of punishment
  • This made them obedient to society's laws and rules
  • Organised religion was, therefore, an agent of social control, instead of a source of life and liberation
  • It bound its adherents to the will of those in control.

Blake felt that what should have been a message of love and brotherhood had become one of cruelty.

Blake's perspective on God

Blake had some interesting perspectives on God, which sometimes varied from biblical and church teaching about the Creator:

  • Like other Dissenters, Blake rejected the concept of a transcendent God ‘out there'. Instead, he is focussed on the presence of Christ's Holy Spirit as a principle of each person's inner life, and the reality of divine inspiration / imagination
  • He rejected the Old Testament stereotype of God as being vengeful and punitive. He felt people used this idea to justify their own revenge, bloodthirstiness and desire for land and power
  • Blake went further in rejecting completely the accepted view of God as a transcendent ruler, who takes offence and requires appeasement through sacrifice
    • Traditional Christianity taught that God's justice required the sinfulness of human behaviour to be ‘paid for'. This was achieved when the sinless Son of God, Jesus was crucified on a cross as a sacrificial substitute for humanity.
    This approach to the sacrifice of Christ was abhorrent to Blake. He believed it was a ‘mind-forged fetter' made when people ‘fell' into their separate selfhood (see Blake's view of the ‘Fall' of Adam and Eve) and began to interpret the world solely from the point of view of experience. That is, they developed a view of God that was actually an image of themselves – jealous, possessive and tyrannical.

Blake's poem To Nobodaddy expresses these attitudes about God:

Why art thou silent and invisible
Father of jealousy
Why dost thou hide thyself in clouds
From every searching Eye

Why darkness and obscurity

In all thy words and laws
That none dare eat the fruit but from
The wily serpents jaws?
Or is it because Secrecy gains females loud applause?

Adam and EveIn the last three lines, Blake is referring to how he saw the account of the Fall of humankind in Genesis (Genesis 2:15-18 Genesis 3:1-13, where God forbade the eating of fruit from the Tree of knowledge of good and evil in Eden. A serpent tempted Eve to eat it in defiance of God's ban). Blake rejected this view of a God whose will is law and who binds people with prohibitions.

Blake's view of the ‘Fall' of Adam and Eve

According to Blake, the Fall of Adam and Eve was not a fall into sin. (See Big ideas from the Bible > Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, Second Adam for the traditional Christian understanding of this account). It was a fall into a distorted way of seeing God, the world and the self:

  • This distorted perspective resulted in the development of the image of a God in humankind's image, who was thus perceived as being vengeful, punitive and bloodthirsty
  • It caused people to see themselves as being separate, isolated selves who needed to be protected, rather than as part of a unified creation
  • This self must also ‘fight its own corner' and put itself first, rather than live in harmony with others.

Fallen sexuality

Blake also believed that the ‘fall from grace' brought about a separation between the sexes - interior division where there should be unity (as he stated in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1793)). The effects of this are to:

  • Distort human sexuality
  • Make it possessive, jealous and devouring
  • Sex, therefore, has to be surrounded by prohibitions and inhibitions
  • These deny the potential for true joy in sexual experience.

Blake held that fallen sexuality was ‘set right' by Christ, who repudiated a religion based on obeying laws (this is Blake's interpretation, rather than being entirely consistent with the Gospel accounts). Blake believed that the repression of sexuality caused personal unhappiness and social ills, such as prostitution, which in turn led to poverty and venereal disease. Instead, he believed in ‘free love', although there is no sign that he put his beliefs into practice in his life.

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