Although I must have seen the episode many years ago when I was a child, I can still remember an episode of a television show called “Touched By An Angel,” which dealt thoughtfully with the behavior of human beings–if by human beings one means Americans with at least some sensitivity to mainstream Christianity–as they approached the death of themselves or loved ones. The particular episode I remember is when someone late in life changed his ways and sought to undo the evil of his life by doing good deeds, before recognizing that his good deeds only amounted to two stair steps into heaven, and nowhere near enough to counteract all of the evil he had done. The show’s premise, of course, is that this belief was a saving belief that allowed him to receive the free gift of salvation that follows genuine repentance and entrance into the Kingdom of God. Given that his death was immanent, this is presented as a deathbed conversion at the last minute, which added to the drama and accounts for the way I remember it more than any other episode from that particular series, although others may have been like it. There are many potential angels that one can take from this particular prompting, but what I would like to do is to examine the attempts that mankind has made to ascend into the heavens.
From the beginning of recorded history, mankind has attempted to ascend into the heavens by one means or another. In ancient mythology we have the story of Icarus flying too close to the sun and falling to his death. In Gilgamesh we have an epic quest to attempt to reverse the death of a beloved friend. In biblical history and in the architecture of the ancient world we have evidence of the towers and pyramids and other structures that were built in order to ascend into the heavens. Sometimes our ascent into heaven has been technological, in the desire to create skyscrapers and rockets and to explore and perhaps one day settle outer space. At other times our ascent has been metaphorical nature, in the way that we have sought knowledge and practice as means of influencing the behavior of the spirit world and seeking power in the planes that exist beyond our physical and mortal existence. To say that this is dangerous sort of business from a mental perspective is obvious, but magical thinking has always been common among humanity.
This is all the more so pointed when we realize that esoteric magic and technology spring from the same basic desire, and that is the desire to have control and to use knowledge as a means of gaining that control. In more primitive times, there are many routes that are seen that possibly lead to control, and a great deal of competition among those who seek power different ways. In the contemporary world, the search for power has generally limited itself to only a few means. There are people who seek power through money, using their financial power to push weight in a world that is heavily dominated by economics and other materialistic concerns. There are other people who seek power through the control of science and technology, whether this involves computer algorithms that can make news stories disappear from searches or make people disappear from social media if they are guilty of thoughtcrime, or the control of agriculture or weapons technologies. And there are a great many people who seek power through political means, desiring the power of institutions and governments to coerce others into doing their will, which they could not be persuaded to do by rhetoric alone. Of course, some seek power through more than one of these means simultaneously.
Yet very often, whatever we seek for power and whatever we seek to bring salvation to the world and to ourselves tends to backfire. This ought not to surprise us. After all, we are beings who desire power over others frequently without a desire to control ourselves. We think that if we can control our surroundings and our world and the people around us that we can find internal peace without going through the effort of controlling ourselves and restraining ourselves, and it should not be surprising that these efforts would inevitably fail badly. One wonders why it is that we fancy that other people are easier to control than we are? The entire strain of human history contains endless attempts to gain power or occasionally successful efforts on the part of people to resist power and authority over them, but few people stop and consider that it ought to be at least as hard for us to control others as it is for us to control ourselves. The more we are aware of the difficulty of self-restraint, the less we will attempt to coerce others to do according to our own will because we will see others as beings like ourselves who resist coercion instinctively and often violently. Two steps to heaven can be two steps to the grave in such cases.