The Ladder Of Social Ascent

The cognomen of the early Christian mystic John “Climacus” comes from his book, The Ladder of Divine Ascent. There are many icons and frescos based on this concept, showing people ascending a ladder to heaven, with devils trying to pull them off and frequently succeeding. (For those too impatient to put feet on rungs, the equivalent metaphor of class mobility is the Rapture.) Those falling off include monks and prelates, which serves as a warning to the proud. In the book, however, the steps are not ranked “spiritual” states (whatever that means) but the quite comprehensible vices and virtues.

These two facts contrast with the way in which this metaphor is used by other mystics, who present us not with a list of ethical challenges but with a hierarchy of weird and wonderful titles, not altogether unlike those of the Ku Klux Klan. Promotion appears to be irreversible, and in some systems attaining high rank even means that you cannot, by definition, sin. Nothing is so perfectly calculated to appeal to the two great human thirsts: the first, for authorisation to look down on others, and the second, to do whatever you like without reproach. If ascent of the grades involves monetary donations to the superior, then there is a third reason to make progress; having made the grade, you can rake it in.

Posted on January 26, 2010 at 10:55 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: THE LONGEST CON, Religion As Social-Status Tech

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