The Digital Devil at the Heart of the Machine
by Donavon L Riley

What if the power and authority of political realms was taken captive to the devil? According to biblical texts, the devil has been granted all the power and glory of the worldly kingdoms and bestows it upon whom he chooses. Jesus, during his temptation, does not deny the devil’s authority over these kingdoms; instead, he rejects the offer, emphasizing the sole worship of God (Matthew 4:8-10; Luke 4:6-8). This suggests that Jesus, and thereby early Christians, viewed political power as inherently corrupt, controlled by the devil, and those who held such power were seen as dependent on him.

Fast forward to today, and it’s clear that this phenomenon persists. The influence of the evil one has only intensified, especially through modern means like the internet and social media. These platforms trap us in echo chambers, creating an illusion of freedom while fostering division and perpetuating propaganda. Users feel empowered by expressing themselves freely, but this freedom is an illusion granted by under-bosses of the Machine like Elon Musk on platforms such as “X.” This so-called freedom keeps people content in their confined bubbles, uncritical and complacent.

As a consequence, propaganda thrives on social media through the continuous, rapid succession of news events, preventing individuals from reflecting or understanding the deeper truths behind them. People are conditioned to react emotionally to headlines, driven from one to the next by the constant flow of information, but rarely do they stop to think critically or see logical and experiential inconsistencies. This superficial engagement with news often serves to fragment peoples’ lives into disjointed moments, making them susceptible to manipulation.

The relentless chase for the latest news creates a cycle where genuine thought is lost, replaced by a mindless conformity to the information presented. Headlines scream for attention, but offer little substance, merely repackaging the same content in different forms. The result is a populace that feels informed but lacks true understanding, continually distracted by the next big story without ever grasping the full picture.

This is an up-to-date version of the deadly sin of gluttony. Gluttony perpetuates our endless craving for more information, more validation, and more confirmation of our biases. This constant need for satisfaction leads to frustration, which we direct at those who do not conform to our views. The rise in online hatred and the dehumanizing way people interact is a clear manifestation of this phenomenon. Individuals speak to each other as if no one is real, as if there are no consequences, and as if nothing matters except fulfilling their own emotional needs. All so they can “fill up” on feelings of superiority and righteousness.

As Jaques Ellul wrote, “Those who read the press of their group and listen to the radio of their group are constantly reinforced in their allegiance. They learn more and more that their group is right, that its actions are justified; thus their beliefs are strengthened.” Ellul is pointing out how group-thought can create a closed-minded world where everyone talks only to those who echo their beliefs, never encountering differing perspectives. It’s a cycle that breeds intolerance and division, as people become more entrenched in their views and more hostile towards those outside their group.

The influence of the Machine, as Orwell and others describe it, reinforces this division. The Machine—comprising social media algorithms, targeted advertising, and media echo chambers—feeds back to us exactly what we want to hear. It tells us which products to buy, what medications to take, and subtly guides our decisions, including who to vote for. We follow its lead without question, often unaware of the manipulation at play. This blind obedience extends to politics, where distrust and accusations of cheating dominate the landscape. Each side believes the other will resort to fraud, ensuring that whoever loses an election will cry foul, convinced it was rigged against them.

So despite our initial reaction to believe we are too clever to be manipulated, this confidence is our greatest weakness. The educated man’s belief in his immunity to propaganda makes him an easy target for propagandists who first convince him of propaganda’s ineffectiveness.

Acknowledging our susceptibility to indoctrination is crucial. We must step outside our ideological boxes and view the entire system as a vast manipulation. The Machine’s seduction lies in the pleasures and distractions it offers, drawing us into a space of ambiguity and confusion where it takes over our minds and souls. To combat this, we must draw inspiration from the Devil’s temptation of Jesus. Jesus, rejecting all worldly pleasures and securities, withdrew into the wilderness to escape these seductive influences.

When the Devil tempted him with all the world’s riches and glory, Jesus refused, underscoring the importance of “seeking first the kingdom of God” over material gain. This temptation of Christ is profoundly relevant today. It reminds us to step away from the seductive allure of dogmatic materialism and algorithmic manipulation. Look beyond the immediate, tempting rewards the world offers and see the larger picture. Jesus’s example teaches that our spiritual needs cannot be fulfilled by material means, and no new government, or policy, or platform can truly address these deeper issues.

The true challenge lies in recognizing the seductive power of the Machine and choosing to seek a higher, more authentic path. This requires a conscious effort to detach from the incessant flow of superficial information and to cultivate a contemplative, critical mindset. By doing so, we can begin to break free from the cycle of manipulation and rediscover a more meaningful, spiritually grounded existence.

By Donovan Riley

Donavon Riley is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author, and contributing writer for 1517. He is also a co-host of Banned Books and Warrior Priest podcasts. He is the author of the book, "Crucifying Religion” and “The Withertongue Emails.” He is also a contributing author to "The Sinner/Saint Devotional: 60 Days in the Psalms" and "Theology of the Cross".

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