There’s nothing new under the sun

The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) all give variations on the same story of Jesus going into the wilderness for 40 days and being tempted by the devil. Mark makes just a quick reference to this. But Matthew and Luke go much deeper into the event, including conversation between Jesus and the devil. And in both of Matthew’s version (Matthew 4:1-11) and Luke’s (Luke 4:1-13), they have the devil offering three temptations to Jesus. I want to focus on one of those temptations today.

Matthew 4:8-10 states: “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” ’”

Luke 4:5-7 states: “Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, ‘To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” ’”

Besides some minor wording arrangement, the only other difference is which number of temptation this is. In Matthew’s gospel, it is the third temptation and in Luke’s it is the second.

The key point here is that Jesus rejects the “invitation” of the devil to political power. And not just any type of political power. Rather, authoritarian control over nations and people. You know, the power to implement what you want in a way you want it. And to force people to obey. That’s what Satan is talking about when he says “All these I will give you” and “To you I will give their glory and all this authority.”

Christian Nationalism is what you get when read Luke’s and Matthew’s account of the temptation in the wilderness and react by assuming that Jesus got it wrong. That he missed a golden opportunity to be in control and have political power so that he could ban the “inappropriate” books, outlaw “inappropriate” behavior, implement the “correct” policies and laws that people would have to follow (or else), turn away the wrong people, and more. All for their own good. It’s a way of saving the nation.

It’s just another in a long string of authoritarian rule. The only difference is that it uses God’s name for its own purpose of obtaining and using power. That’s not anything new either. That’s been done for a long, long time. It’s a form of blasphemy. Blasphemy is using God’s name for one’s own purpose. And that’s what this temptation from Satan is really about – blasphemy.

Patriotism is not the same thing as Christian Nationalism. Patriotism is about loving your country and wanting what’s best for the people who reside here. There’s nothing wrong with patriotism and in fact a healthy dose of patriotism can be a positive for a nation and move the nation to implement policies that advance the well being of the people in that nation. That’s not what we are talking about when we are talking about Christian Nationalism.

Pew Research Center did an entire study on the beliefs around the US as a Christian nation and Christian Nationalism. Here’s one paragraph that gives a pretty good description of what Christian Nationalism is:

“Christian nationalism is the belief that a nation should become a theocracy whose leaders all practice publicly the tenets of a single, lobotomized interpretation of Christianity – a creed wielded by its government as a means of social control and manipulation. Religion and nation fuse in the minds of its leaders, transcend all other concerns, then crush all opposition, foreign and domestic. Faith, fear and rage reign as one.” (Source)

Again, Christian Nationalism is just the latest in a long line of authoritarian systems intent on using force to control people for the benefit of a select group of people. This version has the added layer of using God for its own purposes.

Christian Nationalism, like all empires, tyrannies, and destructive authoritarian regimes, is a sin, is wrong, and has nothing to do with what it means to follow Jesus. It’s just Satan offering the same old temptation. And unlike Jesus, the people who fall for it, accept his invitation. But such an invitation comes with consequences. And like all narcissists (Satan being the biggest narcissist), everything they touch gets destroyed. Christian Nationalism will fall from its own weight. It’s just a matter of how much destruction it causes before it does.

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