Morgan Guytan, a United Methodist minister and blogger at Patheos, says that the essential nature of Satanic temptation is control, not power (actually Matthew 4 suggests it, but Guytan is entitled to his interpretation). Guytan writes:
When people seek to control others and control their universe, they become agents of Satan. This is of course the same basic thing Satan convinced Adam and Eve to pursue instead of trusting God to be in control.
Now let me make an important distinction. You’ll notice that I said control rather than power. Being in control signifies that I have all the power, while being empowered can mean that I share power with others and that I use the power I have to give power to others. So when a group of factory workers form a labor union in order to have more power to negotiate with their bosses, they are not seeking control but empowerment. But when a boss sabotages every effort to hold him accountable and make him share power, he is seeking control.
Now who am I to disagree with Guytan or Matthew 4? But I’m not convinced that talking about Satanic temptation in this way is particularly illuminative. What this progressive Protestant Christian has done is quite literally demonize, or devilize if that is a word, a perfectly fine word and compare it unfairly to another.
Control is nothing more than the power to influence or direct one’s own behavior or another’s. Gaining conscious reins over this power is an essential part of individual maturation processes as well as family unity and social solidarity and cultural evolution. It’s difficult enough to make these sorts of evolutionary achievements without the necessary dynamics getting mythologized as inherently destructive or evil.
I think the better lesson from Matthew 4 — the Temptation of Christ — is that pathological selfishness (caring too much for one’s self) or pathological altruism (not caring enough for one’s self) can both be evil. Evil can exploit one’s desire to rule the world (selfishness) even if it’s for a noble purpose (well-intended do-goodism), bringing corruption in the process.
The problem is not selfishness or altruism per se, but improper relationship to one’s self and society. To speak in terms of the myth story suggested by The Kalendar, when the self-maturation process is at its earliest phases in The Golden Egg, Satan (the Christian devil) / Iblis (the Islamic devil) appears near the very beginning of the Month as a tempting and negative influence. Spelled to six marks of subtle energy, Satan is represented as ?⚌ and Iblis is represented as ?? at the Throne of Evolution (?).
The figure of Satan seems bent on utilizing knowledge (Sapience) and protective instincts (Safety) to warp the स्वाधिष्ठान Svaadhiʃθaanə (Sanskrit, meaning the base of the self) and Citta (mind) whereas Iblis enters into the story after decisions have already been made and evolution’s course is selected in order to weaken or deform the emergent self/subtle mind before the self/subtle mind can get fully formed. Satan speaks (Says); Iblis utilizes whispers (Silence).
With all due respect for the progressive Christianity of Guytan and others, in the bid to make traditional Christian symbols relevant for people today it is possible to water down the message inappropriately. The devil doesn’t appear in the stories of humankind primarily as a symbol for labor organizers to extract concessions from factory bosses in negotiations over pay scales or safety training.
Contra Guytan’s well-meaning suggestion, it’s not really necessary to bring the devil into workplace negotiations, is it, when an appeal to morality and justice will do just fine? Must we accuse those whose interests don’t seem to align with our own as being pawns of Satan? I can see that not going over as a particularly useful suggestion.
The Svaadhiʃθaanə/Citta not only represent the seat of the self/subtle mind, as Sanskrit defines it; they are also, I think, the proto-seat of society. When Satan / Iblis appears in The Kalendar to warp right relationship between the self and others, it affects everyone at every level of social relations. Satan’s influence, both phonetically in terms of the Lingua-U symbols and in the real world, can turn Saints into Sinners and Sane-ness into Cynicism.
Why does Satan / Iblis work in this way? Why must there by any distorting influence at all? One can only wonder. My suspicion, if I may offer one possibility among others, derives from the fact that earlier in The Kalendar, the word for Devil appeared in The Month of the Brown Sword (alongside the word for Deity, just as Satan now appears adjacent to Spirit — the immanent face of God). What is new is that evil is now appearing in a personalized form; at the Letter of Self-Sense (⚍⚊), the Devil now comes to have a personal name.
In short, evil seems to be evolving alongside our better natures, becoming more sophisticated and subtle. By the time that Satan appears in The Kalendar in The Golden Egg, it is no doubt an energetic force eager to test its wings, explore its territory, and see what it can do, in a manner of speaking. It is sensing its own devilish self in relationship to our own in a battle to see who will reign supreme at the Throne of Evolution.