Antonin Scalia (Shaun Heasley/Reuters)

Scalia: I believe in the devil

"What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way"


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Elias Isquith
October 7, 2013 4:06PM (UTC)

In a wide-ranging interview with New York magazine, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia holds forth on the Constitution, God, the devil, "Seinfeld," "Homeland," "Duck Dynasty" and more.

Scalia on the "bitter" parts of originalism:

You’ve described yourself as a fainthearted originalist. But really, how fainthearted?
I described myself as that a long time ago. I repudiate that.

So you’re a stouthearted one. 
I try to be. I try to be an honest originalist! I will take the bitter with the sweet! What I used “fainthearted” in reference to was—

Flogging, right? 
Flogging. And what I would say now is, yes, if a state enacted a law permitting flogging, it is immensely stupid, but it is not unconstitutional. A lot of stuff that’s stupid is not unconstitutional. I gave a talk once where I said they ought to pass out to all federal judges a stamp, and the stamp says—Whack! [Pounds his fist.]—STUPID BUT ­CONSTITUTIONAL. Whack! [Pounds again.] STUPID BUT ­CONSTITUTIONAL! Whack! ­STUPID BUT ­CONSTITUTIONAL … [Laughs.] And then somebody sent me one.

On the new pope and homosexuality:

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What do you make of the new pope?
He’s the Vicar of Christ. He’s the chief. I don’t run down the pope.

I’m not inviting you to run down the pope. But what do you think of his recent comments, that the church ought to focus less on divisive issues and more on helping the poor? 
I think he’s absolutely right. I think the church ought to be more evangelistic.

But he also wanted to steer its emphasis away from homosexuality and abortion.
Yeah. But he hasn’t backed off the view of the church on those issues. He’s just saying, “Don’t spend all our time talking about that stuff. Talk about Jesus Christ and evangelize.” I think there’s no indication whatever that he’s changing doctrinally.

I spent my junior year in Switzerland. On the way back home, I spent some time in England, and I remember going to Hyde Park Corner. And there was a Roman Catholic priest in his collar, standing on a soapbox, preaching the Catholic faith and being heckled by a group. And I thought, My goodness. I thought that was admirable. I have often bemoaned the fact that the Catholic church has sort of lost that evangelistic spirit. And if this pope brings it back, all the better.

The one thing I did think, as he said those somewhat welcoming things to gay men and women, is, Huh, this really does show how much our world has changed. I was wondering what kind of personal exposure you might have had to this sea change.
I have friends that I know, or very much suspect, are homosexual. Everybody does.

Have any of them come out to you?
No. No. Not that I know of.

Has your personal attitude softened some?
Toward what?

Homosexuality. 
I don’t think I’ve softened. I don’t know what you mean by softened.

If you talk to your grandchildren, they have different opinions from you about this, right?
I don’t know about my grandchildren. I know about my children. I don’t think they and I differ very much. But I’m not a hater of homosexuals at all. I still think it’s Catholic teaching that it’s wrong. Okay? But I don’t hate the people that engage in it. In my legal opinions, all I’ve said is that I don’t think the Constitution requires the people to adopt one view or the other.

On heaven and hell, God, and the devil:

You believe in heaven and hell?
Oh, of course I do. Don’t you believe in heaven and hell?

No.
Oh, my.

Does that mean I’m not going?
[Laughing.] Unfortunately not!

Wait, to heaven or 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!

Oh. So you don’t know where I’m going. Thank God.
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?

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.

No.
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.

Right.
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.

I hope you weren’t sensing contempt from me. It wasn’t your belief that surprised me so much as how boldly you expressed it.
I was offended by that. I really was.

On television:

Can I ask about your engagement with regular pop culture?
I’m pretty bad on regular pop culture.

I know you watched the show 24. Do you also watch Homeland?
I don’t watch Homeland. I don’t even know what Homeland is. I watched one episode of—what is it? Duck Dynasty?

What?
I don’t watch it regularly, but I’m a hunter. I use duck calls …

Did you just stumble on it by accident?
No! So many people said “Oh, it’s a great show” that I thought I’d better look at it. Have you looked at it?

No. But there are three books on the New York Times’ best-seller list about Duck Dynasty.
Is that right?

Yes. Three. Did you watch The ­SopranosMad Men?
I watched The Sopranos, I saw a couple of episodes of Mad Men. I loved Seinfeld. In fact, I got some CDs of Seinfeld. ­Seinfeld was hilarious. Oh, boy. The Nazi soup kitchen? No soup for you!


Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

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