In the widely publicized interview with New York magazine’s Jennifer Senior, Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia talks, among other things, about his religious beliefs and they turn out to be pretty orthodox.
Scalia’s beliefs are not surprising. After all, it is well known that he is a practicing Catholic. Scalia believes in heaven and hell. He goes further, saying” I even believe in the Devil… Of course! Yeah, he’s a real person.”
What was interesting to me is how the interviewer feels so comfortable telling him she’s an atheist (this is more commonplace now but I suspect would have been much harder to do even just a decade ago) and clearly shows surprise that he believes in such things, as can be seen by Scalia’s reaction to what must have been her visible incredulity.
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.
Scalia is right, of course. But what he does not seem to realize is that sophisticated religionists are moving rapidly away from older understandings of heaven and hell as actual spaces and the devil as an anthropomorphic entity, seeing such views as primitive and unworthy of serious consideration. I can understand people who seem otherwise rational believing in a god of some kind and even a heaven. It can be a comforting delusion if not probed too closely. But I find it harder to understand people who believe in a real devil who presides over an actual hell.
He adds that he was really offended by her incredulity. He also asks her whether she has read The Screwtape Letters written by the religious apologist C. S. Lewis. It took the form of letters written by a high-level bureaucrat in hell giving advice to his nephew, a junior cog in the structure, on how to subvert believers. I read it way back when I was much younger, still in high school, and even though I was very religious at that time, I did not think much of it. It seemed to me to be a bit childish.
Scalia is truly an anachronism.