Debate Magazine

Bedevilment of Justice Scalia

By Cris

Tongues are wagging today about the conversation that Justice Antonin Scalia had with New York writer Jennifer Senior. Most are focused on this particular exchange, in which Scalia candidly discusses his Christian Devil beliefs:

Scalia [leans forward and stage-whispers]: “I even believe in the Devil.”

You do?
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.

Satan, in other words, was the prime mover of the Enlightenment and its secular-atheist aftermath. This is a fairly standard view among conservative Christians, so it’s not altogether surprising Scalia would say this. His next statement, however, is surprising:

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.

It’s an unfortunate fact that most Americans believe in the Devil. But it is not a fact “most of mankind” has believed in the Devil “for all of history.” The idea of the Devil in fact has a history which is, in anthropological terms, recent in time and limited by space. Most anthropology students know that non-western, non-Christian peoples do not believe in the Devil and there is no equivalent figure among large chunks of humanity.

Scalia’s statement betrays his provincial view of who and what counts as “mankind” and “history.” According to this tunnel vision, history essentially begins with the Platonic Greeks and mankind includes only Western Christians. This narrow slice of humanity and history thus becomes the benchmark by which all things are judged and what Catholics call “natural law” is established.

This just goes to show that one can become a lawyer and ascend all the way to the Supreme Court without knowing anything about history or humanity. While Scalia is often characterized as an intellectual, this seems overly generous. He’s more like an idiot legal savant who works within a particular metaphysical tradition. He should study some anthropology to broaden his narrow worldview.

Justice Scalia -- High Priest of Law or Medieval Monk

Justice Scalia — High Priest of Law or Medieval Monk

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