Antonin Scalia, a judge on SCOTUS (the Supreme Court of the United States, but the acronym makes me think of John Scottus Eriugena, just as FLOTUS makes me think of flotsam and POTUS makes me think of some clumsy little prosimian that combines the features of a potto and a loris) is evidently a bit of a character. In an interview with Jennifer Senior in New York magazine he comes across as sharp and articulate, as one would expect from a person in his position, but he’s also a staunch and rather traditional sort of Catholic:
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.
Poor old PZed Myers was rendered “speechless” by all this, and when the power of speech returned he declared that Scalia was a “mindless ape”. That’s implausible, though – a man who can rationalize arrant nonsense as well as Scalia is far from mindless, whatever else he might be. Like the redoubtable Mano Singham, I find Scalia’s comments more interesting than repellent.
As a judge, after all, Scalia deals with facts and evidence all the time. He’s found a clever(ish) way to explain the lack of observable diabolical activity in the modern world, but does he really believe it? I think he actually might. Many intelligent religious people are able to compartmentalize their brains in such a way that their theological beliefs never come under the rational scrutiny that they apply routinely to other matters.
It bears pointing out here that Scalia is a kind of fundamentalist with regard to his interpretation of the American constitution, in that he looks askance at interpretations that go beyond the exact text of the document as it might have been understood by the men who drew it up. He takes the whole bloody thing as written and intended, and that’s that. It’s easy to imagine that such a man would also read his Bible rather literally. If one takes that approach the devil has got to be there, and he’s got to be maximally sinister and nefarious, so if pigs aren’t running off cliffs then Old Nick must be keeping a low profile for some sinister and nefarious purpose. Given Scalia’s premises, the hypothesis that Lucifer is playing it coy to undermine belief in both himself and Yahweh is genuinely compelling.
The problem is that a literal reading of the entire Bible would clash with Catholic orthodoxy – which now accepts a version of evolution, for one thing – in a rather inescapable way. It would be fascinating to know how Scalia attempts to resolve those contradictions, and how his reading of the Bible relates to his reading of the U.S. constitution. Unfortunately, Senior doesn’t appear to share my interest in these topics, and the interview rapidly veers off into American pop culture, duck hunting and other stuff that I mostly find less interesting than Satan. But if someone ever wants to seriously question Scalia about his theological views, I’ll be all ears.