Monday, October 14, 2013

The Devil You Know

By Mike Dorf

By now numerous commentators have weighed in on the recent interview of Justice Scalia in New York Magazine.  If you haven't read it yet, I urge you to do so.  Among the revelations that have gotten the most attention: (1) The Justice says he doesn't hate gay people and has friends who, he suspects, are gay, although none have come out to him; (2) He finds the tendency of people to share the details of their personal lives on Facebook peculiar and narcissistic; (3) He thinks sex in films is okay if it advances the plot but not if it's gratuitous; and (4) He believes in the Devil--not in some metaphorical sense of an urge to do bad present in each of us but in a literal sense, as, in Justice Scalia's words, "a real person."  Here I'll focus on the Devil.

Is there something problematic about a Justice of the Supreme Court believing in the Devil?  In a legal sense, no, of course not.  In fact, it would violate three separate provisions of the Constitution--the prohibition on religious tests for public office in Article VI, the establishment clause of the First Amendment, and the free exercise clause of the First Amendment--to say that belief in the Devil (which Justice Scalia holds as part of his Catholic faith) is disqualifying.  In the interview, Justice Scalia might be thought to be invoking these protections for religious belief when he notes that the Devil "is a large part of" Catholic dogma.

But that is not Justice Scalia's primary move in response to what he takes to be the interviewer's incredulity upon learning of his belief in the Devil as "a real person."  Instead, he turns the tables on the interviewer, accusing her of being "out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil."  That turns out to be true: According to a recent survey, most Americans do believe in the Devil. Although there are demographic variations, even among northeasterners, even among Democrats, and even among people with postgraduate education, more people believe than disbelieve in the Devil.

Yet Justice Scalia also says that he has long been puzzled about the fact that there is so little contemporary evidence of the Devil working openly in the way that he worked openly in the New Testament.  Where did the Devil go?,  Justice Scalia wonders.  He concludes that the Devil, in his cleverness, has shifted tactics.  Instead of acting openly by "making pigs run off cliffs, possessing people and whatnot," as in Biblical times, now the Devil "is getting people not to believe in him or in God.  He's much more successful that way."

Did you catch the apparent contradiction?  The Devil succeeds by fostering disbelief in himself and in God, but most people still believe in the Devil, so how has the Devil succeeded?

Is that really a contradiction?  Perhaps not.  Maybe thousands of years ago just about everybody believed in the devil as "a real person," whereas today, a substantial minority of people do not.  And those people--wittingly or unwittingly--are doing the Devil's work.

So there you have it.  Justice Scalia says he is offended by the fact that the interviewer is surprised at his belief in the devil (even as she denies that she meant to express contempt), but sees no problem in asserting that disbelief in the Devil and in God among the liberal intelligentsia, while not necessarily the work of the Devil, "certainly favors the Devil's desires."


Shag from Brookline said...

I can imagine critics of Justice Scalia now suggesting that with certain of his opinions, "The Devil made me do it."

Here's a link:

to several of Mark Twain's quotes regarding Satan, who I assume is the Devil Scalia referred to.

Mark Twain's posthumous "Letters From The Earth" may disclose more of his views on Satan/Devil.

Regarding this:

:(3) He thinks sex in films is okay if it advances the plot but not if it's gratuitous';

is he critical of the rhythm method which is not intended to advance procreation?

Shag from Brookline said...

The lead section in Twain's book "Letters from the Earth" includes 11 letters from Satan. They are included in about 40 pages and might be compared with Scalia's views. The book is available on the Internet.

The details are in the Devil/Satan.

Shag from Brookline said...

I wonder if Justice Scalia might have thought of - or forgotten - "The Devil and Daniel Webster" when he was interviewed. Maybe someone out there will take a crack at substituting Scalia for Webster in an updated version incorporating opinions of Scalia, including Scalia's courageous moment in not recusing himself from a case involving fellow shotgunner Dick Cheney.

Joe said...

Those revelations don't lead me to want to read the article. Not very exciting. As to believing in the Devil, the devil was a trickster like that in the past too. But, Scalia's somewhat confused knowledge of history (at least in such popular venues, where he seems at time to be playing for the camera, so to speak) is not news either.

Paul Scott said...

I think it is interesting that an atheist interviewer who knows Scalia believes in God incarnate finds it surprising that he believes in the Devil incarnate.

What is the difference? They are both beings in which belief must come from faith, revelation (if, in fact, they are not imaginary), or both.

I can understand that a theist who does not believe in the Devil incarnate could find it "shocking" that someone else does, but an atheist should not treat it as ho hum that he and the interviewee have differing views on the existence of God but surprising that they have differing views on the existence of some other supernatural being.

It was, honestly, the thing that made me think the interviewer was just some fool.

Joe said...

Do we know Jennifer Senior's religion? Also, she says:

"It wasn’t your belief that surprised me so much as how boldly you expressed it."

It is not the "differing views" that "surprised" her. When you call people a "fool," it helps if you address what they actually say and know what they truly believe.

Paul Scott said...

"JS: You believe in heaven and hell?

AS:Oh, of course I do. Don’t you believe in heaven and hell?

JS: No.

AS: Oh, my."

I suppose it is possible that she is a deist (very surprising for these times) or theist that believes in neither Heaven or Hell (though, demographically, that would be at least somewhat surprising for an educated young, white female in the US).

"It wasn't your belief that surprised me so much as how boldly you expressed it."

In context, what is the difference? Look at her follow-up questions:

"Every Catholic believes this? There’s a wide variety of Catholics out there …"

and and most importantly - "Have you seen evidence of the Devil lately?"

She is challenging him for evidence on the existence of the Devil. Her post hoc statement that "It wasn't [Scalia's] belief that surprised me so much as how boldly you expressed it." is clearly back pedaling so as not to ruin the rest of her interview.

Ralph said...

I'm just going to leave this here....

CJColucci said...

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world he didn't exist
Vebal Kint/Kyzer Soze, The Usual Suspects