“Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the Devil”

October 8, 2013

I wasn’t interested in the philosophical discussion about the law, but Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia gets my attention in this interview when he talks about his faith. After saying that he believes in heaven and hell, he offers the following to the surprised interviewer:

Can we talk about your drafting process—
[Leans in, 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.

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, 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.

A couple of minor objections: Christianity Today cites statistics that suggest that not as many Christians in America (Catholic or otherwise) believe in the devil as he thinks. Also, I strongly suspect that evidence for the devil’s handiwork is as conspicuous as ever: what’s changed is our ability to recognize his activity. If one’s secular worldview excludes belief in a spiritual realm, then one would rarely look beyond naturalistic causes for any event. Don’t you think that makes a huge difference?

After all, if we saw pigs run off a cliff today, we wouldn’t interpret that it was Satan’s work. The pigs weren’t flying or doing anything against nature.

Regardless, his basic point—and his reason for indignation at the interviewer—remains.

My own “re-conversion” to believing in Satan took place over years, but it started toward the end of my seminary career. Like many of my classmates, I was happily liberal on the subject: Satan was merely a symbol for evil that was caused by human beings. Then a favorite professor of mine—brilliant, sarcastic, fiercely intellectual—told our class that he believed in the devil.

I was taken aback: here’s someone who was much smarter than me, at least as “worldly wise” and much better read, yet he still believes in the devil. Why?

Then you read up on the subject and realize, as Scalia said, that “many more intelligent people than you” have believed in the devil.

I’m not proud of this: I shouldn’t have needed someone to appeal to my intellectual vanity to change my belief in the devil—it should have been enough that our Lord clearly believed in Satan. But that’s where I was at the time.

“Ah, but I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.”

3 Responses to ““Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the Devil””

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    This is an interesting topic. Perhaps Scalia has a point about fewer “spectacular” manifestations of the Devil because in our “advanced” society, many are more prone to disbelieve in God (which requires a belief in the existence of the spiritual) than to believe in some “god” other than God (as was frequently the case in the past, and in a substantial part of the rest of the “less educated” world even today).

    However, I would also note that to my observation, at any rate, there are at least fewer, if indeed any, “spectacular” manifestations on the part of GOD as well, at least in our “advanced” society. What if GOD decided that the “rules of engagement” were going to be different now than what they were in “Bible times”? Sort of like, we’ve been playing chess–now we will play checkers (or whatever). Jesus told “doubting Thomas” that “because you have seen, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen, yet believed.” Maybe we are in the “not seen” community. We have scripture and the Church and our “sense of God’s presence” due to the indwelling Spirit to support our faith now, as opposed to “miracles.” “They have Moses and the prophets. If they will not believe them, neither will they believe though one was raised from the dead.” So, perhaps instead of being a scheme of the DEVIL, it is rather GOD who is “testing” people to see if they will still believe in Christ even in the absence of “miraculous” manifestations.

    • brentwhite Says:

      So you’re saying that Satan works in more invisible ways than he did in the Bible? Maybe so, but I am intrigued by the idea—put forth by some sociologists of religion—that the modern mind has an uncanny ability to filter out experiences that don’t conform to our prejudices. If we are philosophical materialists, we won’t “see” the devil’s handiwork.

      Regardless, you’d probably agree with me that Satan is only more dangerous if his work is unseen, right?

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