Power and Hegemony | Temptation of Christ

- an article by Irshaad Hussain

"Then leading him to a height, Satan showed him in a moment of time all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor and said to him, 'I will give you all this power and glory of all these kingdoms....worship me then and it shall be all yours.' Then Jesus replied, 'Be off, Satan! For scripture says: You must worship your Lord, your God and serve Him alone.' (Matthew 4:8-10)

This beautifully evocative passage from Matthew contains a succinct spiritual statement concerning the worldly history of mankind – a history replete with ambition, desire, conquest, hegemony, and empire building. Satan's offer to Jesus represents the ultimate profane offer - every kingdom of the world with all the accompanying power, glory and wealth - a naked appeal to the ego and to the avaricious aspects of the nafs (soul) in its lowest state of being.

We have to wonder whether Satan was so deluded as to believe that Jesus would actually succumb to such transparent bribery - perhaps it is indicative of the limits within which Satan is forced to operate - when faced with a faithful servant of God he can only increase the magnitude of his offer, not alter its nature. "Surely the strategy of the Shaitan (Satan) is weak...." (Qur'an 4:76) Of course, Jesus easily saw the crux of the matter, and banished Satan away. The passage concludes with the statement, "Then Satan left him and angels came and attended Jesus."

This is the case for Jesus. But this offer of Satan's - this deal with the devil is one that we can imagine has been offered again and again (in more limited but endlessly varied ways) throughout the history of mankind. Satan's offer is always present. 'I will give you power, glory, and empire in your time - just bend towards me - a little bow, a small acknowledgement through casting aside of truth, compassion, and principle and I'll assist you on your way to conquest, hegemony, wealth, power, glory. All your ambitions realized at the expense of others.'

It is as if this offer has remained on the table from the beginning of human history, and every era has had its takers - snatching the bargain greedily off the table before it falls into other's hands. A history of conquests, of monopolies, of dominance, of political, military, and economic manipulation and sovereignty - that's how we're taught history - as an endless parade of pharaohs, dynasties, kingdoms, fiefdoms, sultanates, empires, dictatorships, republics, or democracies all engaged in an increasingly vicious, brutish, and nasty game of King of the Hill.

Jesus wasn't just offered the position of King of the Hill, but that of King of the mother of all hills - a kingdom encompassing all other kingdoms past, present, and future - and he cast it aside as worthless dross. While he saw the whole of this dance of worldly dominance as inconsequential, how is it that so many others have struck the devil's bargain even for small specks of power, seeking dominion over any hillock, no matter how small or insignificant.

The lure of the game is powerful, almost irresistible, it seems. And as the world shrinks with the increasingly speedy growth of technology and the advent of an age of scientific miracles, the stakes of the game become great. Technology is a vast and immensely powerful lever that extends and strengthens potential human reach and brings the possibility of control, surveillance, and dominion into jurisdictions that were previously free of interference. The stakes for those of us who live on this hill (that is, the earth) are considerable. We're arriving at an age in which everyone is affected by the game - whether we cast aside the devil's bargain or accept it, we're going to suffer the effects of the battle for the summit – there will be precious few places of refuge remaining.

The devil's contract is already laid out - the offer is on the table (it’s perpetually present in every era although it becomes increasingly tempting at certain critical historical junctures or following historically precipitous events) - a tantalizing lure to those nations whose ambitions already lean in that direction. From the perspective of a long and bloody human history, it's an elementary deduction to ascertain that someone is always eager to take the bait even if getting the prize involves a de-facto deal with the devil – “'I will give you all this power and glory …worship me then and it shall be all yours….” (Matthew 4:8,9)

Of course, this is not a literal deal. After all, what one values...what one worships, is indicated not solely by words that come from the mouth but by the character and spirit that determines intentions, animates purpose, and manifests in deeds. As the qur'an says of those whose intentions and actions and hidden aims are bonded powerfully to opportunistic, temporal, acquisitive, mercenary, uncompassionate ends: "Did I not charge you, O children of Adam! that you should not worship the Shaitan?" (Qur'an 36:60) A corrupted worship - seeking what the ego desires (an individual ego, a nation's ego, an economic, military, or ideological ego) in disregard of truth and heedless of the welfare of others, while falsely propagandizing what is sought as if it is born of a pure worship, true intention, or noble aims - this is like associating Satan with God.

"And the Shaitan (Satan) shall say after the affair is decided: Surely Allah promised you the Promise of truth, and I gave you alluring promises, then failed to keep them to you, and I had no authority over you, except that I called you and you obeyed me, therefore do not blame me but blame yourselves: I cannot be your helper (now) nor can you be my helpers; surely I disbelieved in your associating me with Allah before; surely it is the unjust that shall have the painful punishment." (Qur'an 14:22)

The invitation is perpetually present - so that every era faces weak facsimiles of the temptation faced by Christ – but the temptation is a means to unearth the true character of nations as well as individuals – to see what glittery prizes they stumble after and who joins with them. The history of each generation is a complex map of how the diverse elements of that generation faced the alluring seduction of Shaitan’s offer.

“Let it not deceive you that those who misbelieve go (arrogantly) to and fro in the land. It is a slight and fading possession….” (Qur'an 3:196)

:: with kind permission from author, partially posted | Read the full article from Islam from Inside | Temptation of Christ

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Technology of the Heart: Power and Hegemony | Temptation of Christ
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