Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is always quotable, but he is in rare form in a recent interview with New York Magazine. The conversation is wide-ranging, but by far the most interesting part to me involves a conversation about heaven, hell, and the existence of the Devil. In short, Scalia declares boldly his belief in the existence of a personal Devil. The interviewer is somewhat scandalized by the admission, but Scalia doubles-down. Scalia makes the observation that a majority of Americans believe in the Devil and that you have to be pretty out of touch with the American mainstream to be surprised to meet someone who really believes in the Devil. And he is right about that. A poll just this year says that 57% of Americans believe in a personal Devil. You can read the fascinating exchange below:
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, soremoved 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.
I hope you weren’t sensing contempt from me. It wasn’t your belief that surprised me so much as how boldly you expressed it.
I was offended by that. I really was.
I’m sorry to have offended you!
Have you read The Screwtape Letters?
Yes, I have.
So, there you are. That’s a great book. It really is, just as a study of human nature.
Read the rest here.
If there’s anyone who has reason to know that the Devil exists, its Antonin Scalia… I don’t think he’s gonna be a fan of this new Pope.
Sure, the devil’s in the details of some of his recent legal reasonings. His contributions to hollowing out the VRA are especially morally dubious.
Some general theological questions regarding Satan:
If Satan was the highest of the angels and yet fell from Heaven and God’s graces …. what’s to guarantee that man, once he has attained Heaven, will not also fall in the same manner? What is the essential difference? Are we saying that Satan had a freedom that will not be given (has not been given?) to mankind?
Once Satan fell, what was the reason for not terminating his existence right then? Would man have not fallen were it not for Satan’s influence? I’m inclined to think Satan was unnecessary in this regard if man truly had free will … eventually he would have screwed things up anyhow (especially without the many powers and graces given to Satan during his tenure in Heaven).
I don’t know, folks …. this bit about Satan being yet another pawn in a very complicated chess game on the part of God seems questionable. I’m not denying the existence of darkness and evil but …. the notion that it all derives from some single malevolent entity seems unnecessary and even a bit nutty.
You must first acknowledge that angels and human beings are not the same thing, therefore applying the same fate to both beings is a formal fallacy, is it not?
Satan fell from heaven
Some humans enter heaven
Therefore, humans can fall from heaven.
A–>B, B–>C, A therefore C. Logical fallacy
If you don’t buy the notion that a single entity has a large hand in the cause of evil and darkness in the world, logically, you would have to believe that human beings at their core are 100% evil, wouldn’t you?
In short, no. One of the biggest problems we atheists (who, presumably, also do not believe in Satan) have with Biblical literalism is the “literal” part far more than the “Biblical” part. I can’t imagine according 100% truth to any document, which is the beauty of life’s infinite complexity. Discernment, in turn, makes me very comfortable in saying that humans aren’t 100% evil or 100% good; they aren’t really 100% of anything that I can think of.
Ian, angels and humans are not the same, it is true. But how do they differ aside from the obvious physicality of man? What attributes do they possess (or not possess) that render a fall from Heaven possible for them but not for us?
As Lauren suggested … the non-existence of Satan doesn’t therefore imply that humans are at their core 100% evil. All it takes is a little bit of bad on the part of an otherwise decent person to cause a great deal of damage.
Again, though … the problem of the existence of Satan is an even greater challenge to the omnipotence and benevolence of God than human evil. If God is all-powerful, certainly He could have limited Satan’s influence in the world, no? He could have destroyed Him utterly. Some say that God “allows” him to tempt and torment men in a variety of ways for purposes known only to Him. From this perspective, Satan is really one of God’s henchmen. That sort of detracts from the notion of His being all-good, doesn’t it?
One would find it interesting that you are questioning God’s character. Does it detract from us thinking God is good? No, because you are taking your personal view of “good” and applying it to a righteous and holy God. We’re all broken sinful beings. We don’t know what good is. God is the definition of good. Any attempt to think we have a handle on what good is here on earth omits what the Scriptures reveal to us about God’s character.
And please, could the atheists in the room stop using that phrase and be honest enough to call themselves agnostic?
Ian writes: “We don’t know what good is”
If that is truly the case, then you telling me that God is “good” really doesn’t mean anything, does it? All you’ve said is “God is we know not what”.
I find it strange that you wouldn’t believe that a document can have 100% truth. The Bible is one of the most truthful documents in the world, more so than any other historical texts. While having the highest accuracy among its original copies than any other ancient texts in the world.
Apart from faith in Jesus Christ, all of us are enemies of God. Look at the world. It’s clear to see what’s truly on the hearts of mankind. Do some people make worse mistakes than others? Sure, that doesn’t mean that it’s still not 100% apart from Christ. And while those in Christ still screw up, it’s about our willingness to seek forgiveness and seek God’s help to continue to transform us in our walk.
Ian, I respectfully disagree. Even the qualifiers you insert in your statement suggests a bit of a compromise from the absolutist 100% when describing the Bible. But I also take a “live and let live” approach and certainly remain grateful that the very prosperity of this blog stands as testament to the notion that all viewpoints are tolerated in good intellectual exchange.