Yes, Justice Scalia Deserves to be Mocked for Admitting He Believes in the Devil

It’s not surprising that a liberal like myself would find fault with something Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said. But after a recent interview in which Scalia described his belief in the Devil, some people are saying he deserves to catch a break from the resulting mockery and contempt.

I’m not ready to let up just yet. In fact, saying you believe in the devil should be an embarrassing revelation.

Scalia’s unlikely defenders don’t seem to understand why anyone could be so stunned by his comments. It’s not that we were surprised that a devout Catholic would say he believes in the Devil or even that he said as much in a “bold” fashion. (I mean, is Scalia ever not bold about something?)

It’s the fact that a grown man, in a position of serious power, would believe in something that’s utter nonsense.

I’ll grant that plenty of intelligent people believe in God — It’s a powerful idea, after all — but the nature of that belief varies widely. It’s hard to condemn someone who believes God is like a spirit that’s all around us. But if President Obama said that he worships a bearded old man living on a cloud, we’d begin to look at him very differently. (As we should.)

I mean, just look at how Scalia answered the questions posed to him:

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.

[The Devil] 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.

Contrast that with an interview President Obama gave years before he became a U.S. senator:

Cathleen Falsani: Do you believe in heaven?

Obama: Do I believe in the harps and clouds and wings?

Cathleen Falsani: A place spiritually you go to after you die?

Obama: What I believe in is that if I live my life as well as I can, that I will be rewarded. I don’t presume to have knowledge of what happens after I die. But I feel very strongly that whether the reward is in the here and now or in the hereafter, the aligning myself to my faith and my values is a good thing.

When I tuck in my daughters at night and I feel like I’ve been a good father to them, and I see in them that I am transferring values that I got from my mother and that they’re kind people and that they’re honest people, and they’re curious people, that’s a little piece of heaven.

He sounds like a guy who believes in God (or says he believes in God, anyway) but knows full well that a literal heaven is nothing more than a fairy tale.

Meanwhile, Scalia believing in the Devil? Not as a metaphor, but as a physical being? Seriously?! It’s frightening to me that anyone would believe that, even though a 2007 Gallup poll said that 70% of Americans would agree with him.

In an article for CNN, Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza, the “deputy national press secretary of the Democratic National Committee during the 2008 election” and someone who normally campaigns against those on the right, says we should be respectful of these beliefs, though she never really explains why:

I rarely agree with Justice Antonin Scalia, much less side with him in a public debate. But, like Scalia, I am a believer: I believe in God and the devil, and I believe it’s bizarre that so many find that belief so curious.

… [New York Magazine interviewer Jennifer Senior's] reaction seems to be that it is outlandish to believe in God, much less the devil.

I do not offer evidence of the devil, just a proposition for secularists and atheists: Even if you do not believe as people of faith do, respect their right to believe and hold opinions informed by belief. Starting from this position in discourse and debate might inaugurate a long overdue — and respectful — dialogue about faith in law and politics.

I wish she would have elaborated on why she thinks that, because I don’t understand how it makes better sense to let bad ideas slide. A belief is only as good as the evidence you have to back it up, and Scalia comes up empty in this case.

Hell, so does everyone else who thinks in a similar way. Scalia’s belief in the Devil belongs in the same category as thinking our world was created in only six days (several thousand years ago), that climate change is a hoax, and that Obama is secretly a Kenyan. They should all be greeted with a collective:

To be fair, Scalia isn’t unique in his beliefs. Many politicians would likely say something along those same lines. But isn’t that precisely the problem? I’m incredibly discouraged by the fact that not a single member of Congress is (openly) non-religious. I wish officials who admitted what Scalia did would face the same electoral consequences currently reserved for those candidates whose sexts to strangers go public.

It’s not that I find it “curious” that someone like Scalia would believe in the Devil. It’s just that many of us understand that those beliefs, like your baby teeth, are supposed to be long gone from your system by the time you’re an adult.

Of course “insistent secularists and atheists” like me (to use Buckwalter-Poza’s words) respect everyone’s right to believe. I even understand that people’s opinions may be inspired by those beliefs. But I don’t have to respect the beliefs themselves. I don’t “respect” people who live in fear of the Devil. I pity them.

It’s worth noting that five other justices on the Supreme Court share Scalia’s Roman Catholicism. Do they share his specific belief regarding the Devil? I don’t know. It doesn’t help that Scalia is already a lightning rod for liberals who enjoy pouncing on his every statement. But I think the criticism is warranted in this case.

I expect the American public to overwhelmingly believe in the supernatural. But I wish government officials would know better. Especially for those on the Supreme Court, whose jobs rest on their ability to have excellent judgment, Scalia reminds us that even he, arguably the most powerful voice on the Court, can be swayed by a story as fictional as that of the Devil.

I guess I always held out hope that a “professional judge” of his caliber would take a common belief, hold it up to the light, scrutinize all the evidence, and come to the conclusion that we the people have been duped this whole time. Instead, he sided with the majority.

We would be doing our society a disservice if we didn’t take this opportunity to educate Scalia — and all other Americans — that there’s no evidence of the Devil’s existence and those of us who acknowledge that shouldn’t be afraid to shout it from the rooftops. We wouldn’t be alone — a recent YouGov poll revealed that only 18% of British people believe in the Devil, a vastly lower number than we find in America.

Maybe Scalia will eventually change his mind. But I don’t believe in miracles, either.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.