Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Devil and Antonin Scalia

So, Antonin Scalia, Supreme Court Justice, believes in the devil. The literal devil.
Of course! Yeah, he's a real person. Hey, c'mon, that's standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that. ... 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."
And atheist/skeptical bloggers are going "WTF?" and all over the media are columnists saying don't mock him, don't mock him, or He’s absolutely right about the persistence of belief in the devil among American Christians.

However, I'm not at all sure why believing in God is normal but believing in the Devil isn't. Why does one supernatural/invisible/imaginary guy get a pass, but not the other? But that's a theological discussion, and I want to look at two other points that I think are interesting things, neither of which is original with me but neither of which is getting a lot of play. First, Scalia also said he doesn't know who's going to hell, or to heaven:
When I’m dead and gone, I’ll either be sublimely happy or terribly unhappy.

You believe in heaven and hell?
Oh, of course I do. Don’t you believe in heaven and hell? ... It doesn’t mean you’re not going to hell, just because you don’t believe in it. That’s Catholic doctrine! Everyone is going one place or the other.

But you don’t have to be a Catholic to get into heaven? Or believe in it?
Of course not!I don’t know where you’re going. I don’t even know whether Judas Iscariot is in hell. I mean, that’s what the pope meant when he said, “Who am I to judge?” He may have recanted and had severe penance just before he died. Who knows?
If he's going to believe in heaven and hell, at least he can admit he doesn't know who's going where (and he claims his belief in Catholic doctrine doesn't actually influence his votes on things like the DOMA case. Yeah.).

The other is that clearly those who criticize people like Richard Dawkins "concentrat[ing] his attack on fundamentalists, or the like - accusing atheists of attacking some crude version of the sophisticated faith are ignoring the fact that yes, Virginia, particularly in the US, there are people who believe in a literal God and a literal Devil. And they're not rubes. Some of them are on the Supreme Court.

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At 6:13 AM, November 05, 2013 Anonymous Adrian Morgan had this to say...

Believing in a literal Devil is hardly tantamount to fundamentalism. Claiming intimate knowledge of the Devil's personal habits is closer.

At 10:19 AM, November 05, 2013 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

This is true, it's a bigger circle in the Venn diagram. But still, quite a few Christians like to pretend that no one believes in a literal devil, so why should atheists make fun of that belief.

At 4:03 AM, November 07, 2013 Anonymous Adrian Morgan had this to say...

The two links in the final paragraph don't contain the word "devil", and I can't say I've ever heard anyone make that argument about the Devil specifically, so I remain unconvinced of the relevance.

On the other hand, I've never read Dawkins in print, so my notion of what he makes fun of is somewhat hazy (impression: anything non-empirical).

Back when I was a teenage Christian, I once played the part of the Devil in a skit, and I remember how the youth group leadership actually asked God -- in pre-performance prayers -- to keep the real Devil from getting some sort of spiritual hold over me through my impersonation.

I thought that was strange at the time, and it was firmly on the conservative end of what was normal among Christians I knew. But it was still *within* the normal range, and these people were by no means Biblical literalists. Belief in the Devil's *existence*, without such a superstitious account of his powers, is unremarkable.

At 10:41 AM, November 07, 2013 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

Then we are in agreement. People who pretend that no one believes in a literal devil are wrong.


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