14 February 2015

More God-thoughts (Blake, Whitman, Amos)

In past blog entries, I have written down thoughts about God. In the present blog entry, I will write more thoughts about God. I will quote from William Blake and Amos the prophet. And I will also mention Walt Whitman.

But first I must share the following picture. It is the back side of a greeting card that has notes scribbled on it, and some scraps of paper from a magazine are taped to it too. I hope that someone hangs it in an art gallery with a price tag of $20 million or more.

I almost never stop thinking about William Blake’s book The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, because it’s very important to me – the way that Blake defines God makes me reluctant to call myself an atheist; and the way that Blake reads the Bible illuminates that book so strongly for me that I am able to hold it as my favorite compilation. Here is a quote from one of the sections which Blake called ‘A Memorable Fancy’:

...Ezekiel said, The philosophy of the east taught the first principles of human perception: some nations held one principle for the origin & some another; we of Israel taught that the Poetic Genius (as you now call it) was the first principle and the others merely derivative, which was the cause of our despising the Priests & Philosophers of other countries, and prophecying that all Gods would at last be proved to originate in ours & to be the tributaries of the Poetic Genius...

Although the notion of an external, almighty, humanoid God is something that I find abhorrent, the above passage helps me to harmonize with any believer who says things like: “Praise the LORD!” or “Let all of our actions be for the glory of God!” because I interpret these outbursts as meaning: Let all of our actions glorify the poetic genius!

I appreciate that this way of thinking makes divinity a potential trait of any individual, yet it stops short of asserting that every human is always divine. I disagree with attributing divinity wholesale to all, because it negates any aims that we might choose to give to our existence; it leads to beliefs like “Jesus was God, but so is every common brute or torturer.” I prefer to create goals, to sublimate what we deem ignoble in our nature. I think also that it’s better to avoid resting satisfied with our achievements; I’d rather strive persistently for improvement. As it is written: All goes onward and outward.

I say that Jesus was God insofar as he manifested poetic genius; whereas, in all other respects, he was a regular, ‘sinful’ man. (Sin is simply what is required to remain alive – only the nonexistent can be sinless.) And those churchgoers who assassinated Jesus were despicably pious: Just to save their creeds, they snuffed out a human who was nearly as divine as Walt Whitman.

Church doctrines obstruct the divine because they disallow change, they roadblock new life. When churchmen declare the canon of scripture to be closed, saying: ONLY the books of the Bible are divinely inspired, and no more books may be added to the collection—this is like telling divinity: “You spoke through humans in the past, O God, but you may no longer do so; we declare your book finished, we have taken it out of your hands: from this day forward, O God, you must remain silent.” When divinity shines through the words of a modern poet, it is precisely those who claim to be God’s representatives who most willfully ignore and mute God. By closing the scriptural canon, they force the word of God to remain outdated: this leaves God dead. On the other hand, by composing heretical poetry, infidels and atheists breathe life back into God.

I say that either no scriptures are sacred, or Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself is as sacred as any biblical book. Now I imagine a self-styled Christian telling me that Whitman’s words cannot be divinely inspired because they contradict the words of the Apostle Paul. But this is exactly how the church of his time judged Jesus – believers rejected him for contradicting the Torah, specifically Exodus. When Jesus says “Ye have heard that it hath been said, [A]... But I say unto you, [B]...” he is revising the holy scripture of his day.

Now I imagine my devil’s advocate, the pious churchman, responding to that last remark by saying: But Jesus is God, thus he could speak his new words with divine authority.

I answer this like so:

If we say that God appeared on a mountaintop to deliver certain laws; and then, hundreds of years later, God revised those laws by giving new teachings through Jesus; shortly after which, God allowed Paul to theorize interpretations of the foregoing; it is right in line with this tradition to say that God spoke yet again through the song of Whitman, so as to keep the holy scripture up-to-date.

For if, in the 500 years that followed the mountain epiphany, the world had changed so much that God found it necessary to enhance the divine teachings with the advent of Jesus, then surely the 2000 years that have transpired since the death of Jesus have brought enough change to require the advent of Whitman.

This reminds me of another line from Blake’s Marriage, which I love for reconciling the poetic language of believers with the knowledge of atheists:

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.

And now I want to mention a few passages from the King James Bible. Keeping in mind Blake’s definition of ‘the LORD’ as the poetic genius, I’m attracted to these lines that are spoken by the biblical prophet Amos:

...I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son; but I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycamore fruit: And the LORD took me as I followed the flock, and the LORD said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people...

What I like about Amos is that he apparently would have been content to remain “an herdman”, but he allowed the pull of genius to entice him away from his mundane, commonplace job, even though he wasn’t officially trained to be a poet. I relate to this because I myself have never taken a single class in absurdity.

Here’s another part from the book of Amos; this time, from chapter 3:

The lion hath roared, who will not fear? The Lord GOD hath spoken, who can but prophesy?

Lest anyone assume that it takes heroic willpower or courage to become an avant-garde poet, Amos informs us that initiation into artistry is more like being shoved into the action, even on accident (for ‘GOD’ could also be defined as the personification of chance).

There are many more passages from Amos that I’d love to copy here—especially the ones about social justice, the maltreatment of the poor by the rich—but I’ll give just two more (both from chapter 5) and then leave off, because I’m starting to feel lonely from talking to myself like this.

Woe unto you that desire the day of the LORD! to what end is it for you? the day of the LORD is darkness, and not light. As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house, and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him. Shall not the day of the LORD be darkness, and not light? even very dark, and no brightness in it?

I always think of the above passage when I hear people talking about how great it will be when their supernatural humanoid God finally makes himself known to the world. Or when churchgoers talk about the return of Jesus: the “rapture”. The poetic genius of Amos presents this event as a very bad day indeed.

Lastly, below are verses 21 & 23. They amuse me because they show the Lord GOD actually condemning the holidays of the church, sternly declining to attend church services, and refusing to listen to any of the church’s hymns:

I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. [...] Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols.

In conclusion, here’s a picture of fire that I found on the cover of a box of matches:

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