Do The Devil’s Work

Everyone is talking about NY Mag’s Jennifer Senior’s interview with Justice Antonin Scalia. This is the part that jumped out at me:

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.

Scalia goes on to chastise the interviewer for not believing in the devil, or at least being surprised that Scalia believes in the devil. Scalia is a cheerful contrarian, and I think he’s deliberately messing with the interviewer, but he’s right that the devil is a mainstream Christian belief.

He’s wrong though when he says that “Most of mankind has believed in the Devil, for all of history.” The devil is a creation of the abrahamic religions, and even within those traditions there are a diversity of understandings of exactly what Satan is. None are more plausible than any other.

A favorite version is Milton’s proud and tragic Satan. He makes an appearance in Michael Moorcock’s Von Bek series of fantasy stories. Ulrich von Bek is charged by Lucifer himself to “do the devil’s work,” which translates to seeking humanity’s own self-redemption through reason and rationality.

If I’m going to be accused of being Satan’s tool, then I at least want to choose the version of Satan I’m beholden to. I can happily get behind whose primary goal is to see humanity save itself from itself.

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