The latest New York Magazine includes an enlightening—and frightening—interview with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. You probably know that he’s a devout Catholic.
Scalia’s interview will school you about his judicial philosophy, his views on gays, his duck hunting, his poker playing, how he chooses his clerks, what he considers his most heroic deed, and other sundry matters. But the weirdest exchange is this, involving. . . . . can it be?. . . . SATAN! Yes, Scalia believes in the Hornèd one, Beelzebub, Old Nick. That exchange (the interviewer is Jennifer Senior) shows that he’s loonier than even I had suspected. This is a jaw-dropper:
You believe in heaven and hell?
Oh, of course I do. Don’t you believe in heaven and hell?
Does that mean I’m not going?
[Laughing.] Unfortunately not!
Wait, to heaven or hell?
It doesn’t mean you’re not going to hell, just because you don’t believe in it. That’s Catholic doctrine! Everyone is going one place or the other.
But you don’t have to be a Catholic to get into heaven? Or believe in it? Of course not!
Oh. So you don’t know where I’m going. Thank God.
I don’t know where you’re going. I don’t even know whether Judas Iscariot is in hell. I mean, that’s what the pope meant when he said, “Who am I to judge?” He may have recanted and had severe penance just before he died. Who knows?
Can we talk about your drafting process—
[Leans in, stage-whispers.] I even believe in the Devil.
Of course! Yeah, he’s a real person. Hey, c’mon, that’s standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that.
Every Catholic believes this? There’s a wide variety of Catholics out there …
If you are faithful to Catholic dogma, that is certainly a large part of it.
Have you seen evidence of the Devil lately?
You know, it is curious. In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run off cliffs, he’s possessing people and whatnot. And that doesn’t happen very much anymore.
It’s because he’s smart.
So what’s he doing now?
What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way.
That has really painful implications for atheists. Are you sure that’s the Devil’s work?
I didn’t say atheists are the Devil’s work.
Well, you’re saying the Devil is persuading people to not believe in God. Couldn’t there be other reasons to not believe?
Well, there certainly can be other reasons. But it certainly favors the Devil’s desires. I mean, c’mon, that’s the explanation for why there’s not demonic possession all over the place. That always puzzled me. What happened to the Devil, you know? He used to be all over the place. He used to be all over the New Testament.
What happened to him?
He just got wilier.
He got wilier.
Isn’t it terribly frightening to believe in the Devil?
You’re looking at me as though I’m weird. My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil? I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It’s in the Gospels! You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the Devil! Most of mankind has believed in the Devil, for all of history. Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the Devil.
Well, maybe I misspoke when I used the word “looney.” For if believing in a literal Satan makes you a lunatic, so are the 70% of his fellow Americans who share that belief. And of course the number of people who believe in something is not evidence that it exists, nor is the existence of smart people (mostly in the past) who believed in Satan.
“It’s in the Gospels,” indeed!
Whenever I criticize Scalia or his originalism, some readers hasten to tell me how smart he is—how thorough and incisive his opinions are. Well, I don’t think much of a guy who consistently rules in favor of the privileged, or tries to suss out what James Madison would have thought of homosexuality or abortion. He may be smart, but he’s
mendacious pernicious. And he believes in Satan.