The Digital Devil Looks to Devour

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Scripture and sermon can hardly compete with the charms (‘prelest’) of cable news and Twitter.

The Eastern Orthodox have a word, prelest, a transliteration from Russian, where in common use means something like charm. In the Orthodox Church, however, prelest has a darker denotation. It’s a kind of spiritual delusion, the “wounding of human nature by falsehood,” using the phrase of the 19th-century Russian monk and theologian Ignatius Brianchaninov.

“All of us are subject to spiritual deception” in a general sense, Brianchaninov taught, when we do not have the truth of Christ (John 14:6). But prelest as spiritual delusion can have a narrower meaning, too: a more specific delusion in which we actively embrace falsehoods, including ones about our own spiritual state.

Orthodox teaching warns that the Devil, the “father of lies” (John 8:44), works to draw us into prelest. (The demons in C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters practice exactly this, pushing their human subject toward delusion about himself, his politics, his church, and anything and everything else.) Also closely linked to prelest is the vice of vainglory, the disordered desire for the approval of others, especially when no such approval is merited. Prelest has us believe something not good is good.

Isn’t that an apt description of how our use of political media, especially social media, affects us? How it has us believing lies? How it deceives us about ourselves and our neighbors? How it invites us into vainglory and distracts us from tasks of loving God and others? How it degrades our attention spans, incites our fears, escalates our (not always righteous) angers, and pulls us into delusion? How it can fool us into forgetting that our political opponents are beloved of God too?

The “devil makes every …

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