At Salon, Jeffrey Taylor’s summary of Antonin Scalia’s interview with New York magazine caught me for a loop. The man is seriously superstitious, living in a demon haunted world:
[Jennifer] Senior interviewed Scalia for her magazine. She asked for his opinion of the pope. Scalia reacted with untoward prickliness, saying he would not “run down … the Vicar of Christ.” Nothing surprising, really. A Reagan-era appointee, Scalia has long been known for his staunch Roman Catholicism.
But then the interview took a comic, almost sinister turn. Senior asked Scalia about homosexuality. Though professing to be “not a hater of homosexuals at all,” he said that he accepted “Catholic teaching that it’s wrong.” She pressed him to evaluate how such a position will look to people 50 years from now. He responded, “I have never been custodian of my legacy. 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?”
No, Senior answered, she did not. Scalia then proffered an entirely serious aside about Judas Iscariot’s current location in the hereafter, prompting an uncomfortable Senior to remark, “Can we talk about your drafting process?”
No. […] He leaned toward her and whispered, surely with eyes ablaze, “I even believe in the Devil … he’s a real person.”
And, in the same interview, here’s Scalia on demonic possession and atheists:
[Senior asked,] “Have you seen evidence of the Devil lately?”
Scalia replied, “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 … because he’s smart.” Scalia attributed the spread of atheism to Satan, who was “getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way.” Satan had, in Scalia’s estimation, become “wilier,” which explained “why there’s not demonic possession all over the place.”
Did you catch that last sentence? By Scalia’s estimation, if you’re not demonically possessed, or being harassed by devils a la a Bruegel or Bosch painting, thank an atheist or agnostic. It appears that we keep devils at bay.
How so? Well, Scalia’s comment could be read in a number of ways. One is that we agnostics and atheists, in our growing legions, are “wilier” than devils, and so Satan doesn’t even need to use devils anymore to get his evil work done.
But I prefer a second reading: atheists and agnostics keep devils at bay by being skeptical of them. The demon-haunted world retreats under the harsh glare of scientific and investigative scrutiny. But for these, says Scalia, “demonic possession” would be “all over the place.”
So Satan, no longer able to cast convincing spells of miracle, mystery, and authority over people anymore, has been forced to become more cunning (that is, less out in the open; less obviously real).
Either way, we can thank agnostics, atheists, scientists, and skeptics for driving the demon-haunted into the shadows.