This is very similar to the fundamental rights of man espoused in the Declaration of Independence, which states that “all men are created equal” because they are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” (Declaration 10-20). Blake also believed that all life was inherently holy; Damon says that his religion “became all-inclusive when he declared that every thing that lives is holy. This was a natural conclusion from the ancient belief that all things were created from the divine substance” (344).
This becomes especially important and vital to us in an age where terrorist attacks are becoming increasingly common (witness the bombings at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and the Oklahoma City building and increased security on international airline flights), the debate over abortion has led some anti-abortion activists to begin shooting doctors who perform abortions (such as the shooting of Dr. David L. Gunn in 1993), and the major nations of the world have nuclear weapons enough to kill every person on the earth multiple times. Blake’s views on religion are also particularly relevant to the modern world. As Appelbaum said of Blake, “Blake replaced the arid atheism or tepid deism of the encyclopedists and their disciples with a glowing new personal religion” (Appelbaum iii). Besides rejecting “arid atheism” and “tepid deism,” Blake also attacked conventional religion.
In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell he wrote “Prisons are built with stones of Law, Brothels with bricks of Religion” and “As the caterpillar chooses the fairest leaves to lay her eggs on, so the priest lays his curse on the fairest joys” (“Proverbs” 19; “Proverbs” 20).
Rather than accepting a traditional religion from an organized church, Blake designed his own mythology (based primarily upon the Bible and Greek mythology) to accompany his personal, revealed religion. Blake’s personal religion was an outgrowth of his search for the Everlasting Gospel, which he believed to be the original, pre-Jesus revelation which Jesus preached. As Blake said, “all had originally one language and one religion: this was the religion of Jesus, the everlasting Gospel. Antiquity preaches the Gospel of Jesus” (Damon 344). Blake’s religion was based upon the joy of man, which he believed glorified God (Damon 344).
One of Blake’s strongest objections to orthodox Christianity is that it encourages the suppression of natural desires and discourages earthly joy; in A Vision of the Last Judgement, Blake says that “Men are admitted into Heaven not because they have curbed & govern’d their Passions or have No Passions, but because they have Cultivated their Understandings. The Treasures of Heaven are not Negations of Passion, but Realities of Intellect, from which all the Passions Emanate Uncurbed in their Eternal Glory” (Damon 344). Blake also believes that the religion of this world is actually the worship of the entity that St. Paul calls “the god of this world” in II Corinthians 4:4: Satan. It should be noted here that Blake does not conceive of Satan as an incarnate horned quasi-deity, but rather as Error and the “State of Death”; Blake also explicitly says that Satan is “not a Human existence” (Damon 355). Blake believes that orthodox Christians, in part because of their denial of earthly joy, are actually worshiping Satan, which is to say that they are in Error (Damon 344-345; Damon xi).
Since the 1960s, more and more Westerners have joined faith movements which promote individuals deciding on their own ethics and beliefs, or to find their own way to salvation. Examples of these groups include some Eastern religions, such as Buddhism, and certain liberal Christian movements, such as Unitarian-Universalism (which can also be a non-Christian faith, depending on the individual follower). As more people begin to question traditional, dogmatic Western religion, Blake’s vision of individual revelation and a personal mythology makes powerful sense to many people. Blake cautions us, however, against deluding ourselves with our personal mythologies in his poem “The Little Black boy” from Songs of Experience. In “Black Boy,” Blake describes a young black male, who is just becoming aware of the societal differences between himself and a white boy (“English child”) and uses his mother’s mythology (which he makes his own) to relegate the solution of the problems of racism to an imagined afterlife where I’ll shade him from the heat till he can bear To lean in joy upon our father’s knee (Mack 784).
Even more compelling to a modern audience (but definitely less important to Blake) is his emphasis upon science as a tool of understanding. The last line of his unfinished epic poem The Four Zoas is “the dark Religions are departed & sweet Science reigns” (Damon xi). Many modern individuals would accept science while failing to attempt to create a personal mythology, and this is not at all what Blake is looking for. Does Blake provide a solution to the ills of this world? Is this solution as relevant to modern times as it was to his own? Emphatically, yes to both questions. The similarities between our own age and Blake’s are striking.
Blake had the Industrial Revolution; we are living in the age of the Information Revolution, which is, with the Internet, entering a new phase which will enable information to be distributed on a scale never before possible. Blake lived in a time when greedy upper-class capitalists exploited the working class for personal profit; we are living in an age in which the nuclear family, with its one working parent and its one parent staying at home to raise the children, is becoming less common and feasible even as the cost of living rises. Blake lived in an age where Deism, a faith which denied any possibility of direct experience with God, had captured the minds of the more intelligent people of the West; we live in an age of doubt, searching, rejection of traditional dogmatic religion, and science with no mystical experience. Certainly Blake’s vision of a personal mythology actualizing an individual, revealed religion can offer as much to our society as it did to Blake’s. However, whether Blake’s offering will save our television-oriented, fast-food, pop-culture society is another question altogether.