Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was always quotable. Even when he was in verbal fisticuffs, he was a happy warrior. After Scalia’s passing on Saturday, I was reminded of a 2013 interview that he did with New York Magazine. The conversation was wide-ranging, but by far the most interesting exchange was about heaven, hell, and the existence of the Devil.
This interview is a playful glimpse into Scalia’s faith, which did in fact include 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 conducted the same year as this interview said that 57% of Americans believe in a personal Devil. Scalia did too, and this is what he said:
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.
Also shocking are the number of Christians who are somewhat ashamed to publicly assert belief in an actual Devil. The “Devil” or “Satan” or “Demon” becomes a metaphor for evil, systems of injustice and oppression, ideologies that result in suffering, poverty, greed, racism, etc. But an actual spiritual being with purpose and will who will be cast into Hell at the White Throne Judgment? No.
That sort of talk would cause you loose speaking invitations at The Aspen Institute or Davos Conferences – and you certainly won’t be giving any TED Talks either! The same people who would welcome your voice on Global Poverty, Inequality, Refugees, or Climate Change definitely don’t want to hear about childish fables about horned bogeymen with pitchforks.
I’m with Justice Scalia. He is right on this one!
A comment concerning Justice Scalia’s faith . . . I saw your tweet, DENNY, this:
“BTW, Scalia is right on this. Pastors, if you’re not preaching the resurrection at funerals, you’re doing it wrong. ”
and I thought, what ELSE would a Christian pastor proclaim at the funeral of a believer, but the Resurrection of the dead, and the Life of the World To Come ?
I’m sure this strong Christian belief will be a focus of Justice Scalia’s own funeral mass, as it has been a part of the Christian burial tradition for two thousand years. Perhaps the family will permit the funeral to be broadcast, but I wouldn’t blame them for wanting privacy at this time. They have my prayers.
The funeral Mass was taped on EWTN and CNN and is aso on You Tube. His son Paul Scalia presided over the Mass and his homily should be required listening. Denny’s good friend, Dr. Robert George and Fr. Schall wrote nice articles on Justice Scali’s funeral.