Saturday, July 21, 2012

Poetry, Politics and Religion

Of the primeval Priests assum'd power,

When Eternals spurn'd back his religion;
And gave him a place in the north,
Obscure, shadowy, void, solitary.

Eternals I hear your call gladly,
Dictate swift winged words, & fear not
To unfold your dark visions of torment.

-- Blake. "Urizen"

I missed a posting on William Blake's 250th birthday a few years ago. Sadly, because I cut my poetic teeth on Blake. I respected his poetry and vision so much that my second son's middle name derives from the poet. Due to a very busy schedule and some anxiety about the future, I couldn't get off the floor to say thanks to a person whose work formed much of my adolescent psyche.

Much of Blake's poetry was directed at what he deemed the demonic side of the Enlightenment. Locke and
Hume were targets of his sarcasm and venom.

These memories are roused by this response to Mitt Romney's speech a few years ago on mormonism and religion. Like many US politicians who espouse a return to religious morality, Romney assumes that the nation itself was founded on these principles.

Geoffrey Stone writes:

To be sure, there were traditional Christians among the Founders, including such men as John Jay, Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams. Most of the Founders, however, were not traditional Christians, but deists who were quite skeptical of traditional Christianity. They believed that a benevolent Supreme Being had created the universe and the laws of nature and had given man the power of reason with which to discover the meaning of those laws. They viewed religious passion as irrational and dangerously divisive, and they challenged, both publicly and privately, the dogmas of traditional Christianity.
Stone's message here is important. As he says, the common understanding that is gaining steam in popular culture is that the US was founded by Xtians. Stone's points show the misunderstood and superficial historical record on this.

Newt Gingrich, for example, has been showing up on the talking-head sphere with a CD and book, "Rediscovering God in America: Reflections on the Role of Faith in Our Nation's History." In conjunction with Romney's attempt to align his Mormon heritage with evangelicalism, it behooves us to keep the historical record in mind.

Without a doubt, the Deist religious view espoused by the so-called founding Fathers was of the form that Blake attacked to his dying breath. For the poet, those who espoused rational light and clarity only did so to blind us to the darker recesses where the starving children and dead bodies huddled and were buried. For Blake, humans could only be spiritually healthy when they balanced reason with imagination and the emotions.

A more nuanced historical view than the one presented by Romney et al is that even their religious views are built against a background of Enlightenment assumptions. These politicians may mouth anti-enlightenment rhetoric when they rant against secularism, the Republican foreign policy agenda assumes Enlightenment principles.
This point itself may be one of those things that liberals and conservatives either like to forget and perhaps don't even know. The dividing point between the two does not emanate from a complete difference of world view but rather from a shared world-view parts of which each party emphasizes at the expense of others.

The importance of Blake and other of those who rebelled against the dictatorship of Reason is that there must be a regeneration of vision, a new world, where love and forgiveness are placed at the highest pinnacle--far ahead of reason and prudence.

1 comment:

  1. humans could only be spiritually healthy when they balanced reason with imagination and the emotions....i agree as well with a way forward being one where love and forgiveness take presidence over reason...if we keep doing what we have always done how can we expect difference...and lets be honest they will say whatever gets them votes...and pushes their agenda..which has little to do with seems..