Readers of this column already know that faith-derangement syndrome has stricken the highest levels of the executive branch of government, afflicting President Obama and virtually all his potential successors. Now we have evidence that it has spread to the top organ of the judiciary, the Supreme Court.
But first, a clarification. Sufferers of faith-derangement syndrome (FDS) exhibit the following symptoms: unshakable belief in the veracity of manifest absurdities detailed in ancient texts regarding the origins of the cosmos and life on earth; a determination to disseminate said absurdities in educational institutions and via the media; a propensity to enjoin and even enforce (at times using violence) obedience to regulations stipulated in said ancient texts, regardless of their suitability for contemporary circumstances; the conviction that an invisible, omnipresent, omniscient authority (commonly referred to as “God”) directs the course of human and natural events, is vulnerable to propitiation and blandishments, and monitors individual human behavior, including thought processes, with an especially prurient interest in sexual activity.
Secondary symptoms exhibited by sufferers of FDS comprise feelings of righteousness and sensations of displeasure, even outrage, when collocutors question, reject or refute the espousal of said absurdities. Tertiary symptoms, often present among individuals self-classifying as “evangelicals”: Duggar-esque hairdos and Tammy Bakker-ian makeup, preternaturally sunny dispositions and pedophiliac tendencies, sartorial ineptitude and obesity.
Back to FDS and the Supreme Court. Last week, Justice Antonin Scalia delivered a commencement speech at an all-girls Catholic High School in Bethesda, Maryland. He warned the assembled, “You should not leave Stone Ridge High School thinking that you face challenges that are at all, in any important sense, unprecedented. Humanity has been around for at least some 5,000 years or so” – sic, italics mine – “and I doubt that the basic challenges as confronted are any worse now, or alas even much different, from what they ever were.”
At least one “challenge” (anthropogenic global warming) is indeed unprecedented, and scientifically demonstrated, and, considering the threat it poses to humanity, not something to ho-hum about. But what is science to a man suffering from faith-derangement syndrome? Not much.
Arguably one of the most visible members of the nine-member body charged with the decisive resolution of our republic’s most contentious legal matters, Scalia confronts us with a sui generis challenge of great urgency: how to go about declaring a magistrate appointed for life of unsound mind and thus unfit to serve? Scalia rejects the fact of evolution – the foundation of modern biology – in favor of the opening chapter of a compendium of cockamamie fables concocted by obscure humans in a particularly dark age, evidence that his faculty of reason has suffered the debilitating impairment associated with acute FDS. He therefore cannot be relied upon to adjudicate without prejudice and should be removed from the bench henceforth.
We have even more damning evidence of Justice Scalia’s FDS-related impairment, and it came to my attention thanks to the website of the New Civil Rights Movement. A couple of years ago, Scalia nonplussed a contributing editor at New York magazine, Jennifer Senior, who made the understandable mistake of assuming that the Harvard-educated SCOTUS potentate lived in the real world, and not in a phantasmagorical realm of djinns and genies and junk cosmogony.
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. Here Scalia’s FDS recrudesced in full. He leaned toward her and whispered, surely with eyes ablaze, “I even believe in the Devil ... he’s a real person. Hey, c’mon, that’s standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that.”
By this time, Senior must have been scanning the room for the emergency exit. But she pulled herself together. “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.”
One can only imagine the look of bug-eyed incredulity on poor Senior’s face. Scalia certainly noticed it.
“You’re looking at me as though I’m weird,” he declared. “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.”
Clearly a traveler in circles of folks far saner than six out of 10 Americans, Senior nevertheless observed the societal convention according to which we are to keep calm, nod and act normal when victims of FDS solemnly utter their characteristically rank inanities. She responded, “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.”
Scalia replied, “I was offended by that. I really was.”
Oh really, Justice Scalia? You were offended? You had just committed an outrage against reason, voicing belief in Beelzebub, a comic-book bugaboo the pedophile pulpiteers of your creed have deployed to warp the minds of their credulous “flocks” for two millennia. You had just declared yourself a biblical literalist, and therefore an enemy of historical fact. Your position on the Beelzebub question in particular gives reason to dread how your court will rule if, as seems inevitable, a test case reaches your bench involving one of the many Religious Freedom Restoration Acts disgracing the legal codes of far too many states. You managed all this, and you are offended?
Justice Scalia, to call your worldview Neanderthalic would be an understatement. It would also probably be inaccurate, given that you surely hold that Neanderthals never existed. The Lord, you might say, just stashed those pesky fossils underground to test our faith.
Scalia’s peevish demoniac harangue clearly had its roots in the past decade or so of New Atheist assertiveness. The faithful sense the mounting impatience among rationalists with beliefs that are not just wrong, they are, especially when influencing public policy, education and legislation, dangerous and regressive.
Battered by the rising winds of godlessness, the devotees of an invisible celestial tyrant (or those cynically pandering to such dullards) are gearing up for a fight. Republican presidential candidate (and ordained Southern Baptist minister) Mike Huckabee does not “necessarily” accept Darwinian theory, but has allowed that “if anybody wants to believe that they are the descendants of a primate, they are certainly welcome to do it.” (We are not only descended from primates, we are primates.) His colleague Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker refuses to say what he believes, though he does “think God created the Earth.” Their rival, the neurosurgeon Ben Carson, has opined that, “Somebody says [the human brain] came from a slime pit full of promiscuous biochemicals? I don’t think so.” No? Take a refresher course in biology and see how.
Faith-addled intrusions into public life extend beyond denying the fact of evolution. Another Republican contender for the presidency, Rick Santorum, has admonished the pope for his forthright stance on climate change, but urged Catholics to concentrate on “what they are really good at, which is theology and morality."
Morality? Is Santorum making a sick joke? Pope Francis has continued the long-standing policy of his predecessors of sheltering child rapists, no matter what P.R. stunts he mounts purporting to show otherwise. Curiously, the pope recently felt compelled to ask atheists to send him “good vibrations.” What we ought to do is send in the vice squad. Perhaps it would turn up more than the mere hundred thousand child porn videos and photographs the Vatican’s own (oxymoronically named) promoter of justice reportedly discovered on the computer of accused child rapist and former Archbishop Josef Wesolowski. We might then send representatives to the United Nations demanding it strip the Vatican of the statehood granted it by Mussolini’s fascist Italy in the 1929 Lateran Treaty. And we should certainly send out notice that the votaries of the bizarre Catholic cult are to stay well away from our children.
The current Democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton, even though as a child she claims that she “talked with God, walked with God, ate, studied and argued with God,” gives us less reason to fear than do her Republican brethren in Christ. "Schools,” she has said, “may not provide religious instruction, but they may teach about the Bible or other scripture in the teaching of history or literature, for example." Fair enough. She has every (constitutionally guaranteed) right to her faith, and the Bible, key to understanding Western civilization, needs to be studied.
Most of us have heard Christians talk of “living their faith.” I challenge them – and I’m addressing Justice Scalia, Santorum, et al. -- to really do it. To all who profess to believe in the Genesis version of our species’ origins, and disbelieve the fact of evolution: go right ahead, live your faith for real. Since the concept of evolution through natural selection forms the basis for modern biology (without which modern medicine would not exist), go ahead, renounce visits to all doctors who have graduated from accredited Western medical schools. Cease use of all medications developed post-1859, the year Darwin published his "On the Origin of Species." Divest from all pharmaceutical companies producing medication developed by researchers with biological backgrounds. Picket hospitals and clinics dispensing such medication or employing graduates of accredited medical and nursing schools. Withdraw your children, or dematriculate yourselves, from any educational institution teaching biology.
Tough out the rising rate of disease and death to come among your ranks! Your diminishing numbers will positively affect electoral results nationwide. True, we rationalists will have less to guffaw about, and fewer targets for satire and outright ridicule, but this is a price we are willing to pay.
Back to Scalia. Justice Scalia, until you’ve cured yourself of your FDS, please spare us your gaga musings about the history of humankind, desist from imposing your obscurantist dogma on impressionable young minds, and interpret the law in accordance with how the secularist Founding Fathers conceived it. You profess to be, after all, an originalist.
Better yet, Justice Scalia, resign.
Jeffrey Tayler is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. His seventh book, "Topless Jihadis -- Inside Femen, the World's Most Provocative Activist Group," is out now as an Atlantic ebook. Follow @JeffreyTayler1 on Twitter.