Richard Dawkins has labeled belief "delusional." Most of us know that the Devil was a Judeo-Christian invention, a bugaboo to keep the flocks in thrall of dualistic dogma: behave yourself and J*H*V*H or Jesus will reward you with Heaven; fuck up and you will wind up in an eternity of hellish hotness or frigid cold, depending on the imagination of the cleric (and on that alone since no one has gone to the undiscovered country and returned to tell the tale). That a sitting justice on the SCOTUS believes in such nonsense suggests Dawkins not only was right, he pinpointed a genuinely frightening prospect: final arbiters of our nation's laws who are Donald Duck crazy.
I am a new subscriber to New York Magazine. I started my sub when I returned from a brief visit with my son in Brooklyn, but to be perfectly honest about it, the magazine, like all print media these days, must be having hard times: they made me an offer I simply could not refuse. I do not feel I wasted my money, not if the last issue is any indication. It contains a portrait of Joaquin Phoenix doing a new movie with the delightful director, Spike Jonze, and an extended and quite revealing interview with Justice Antonin Scalia. I urge you to read the entire interview online at
In the meantime, let me say that with regard to women's rights and those of same sex couples, Scalia contradicts himself -- you'll see how -- and he is equally befuddled on the subject of interpreting the Constitutional "as written," punctuating his presentist arguments (that the 18th century has any similarity to the 21st) with admissions, repeatedly, that "times change." But the most incredible (jaw-dropping, really) aspect of the interview is how closely he adheres to Catholic dogma. A Sicilian, Scalia actually believes in the infallibility of the Pope, application of Catholic dogma to such things as abortion, and the existence of the Devil. I warn you, this segment of the interview may have you not only seeing red but going out into the streets and screaming that the sky is falling in. Here, in all its astonishing stupidity, is the segment I am talking about:
You believe in heaven and hell?
Oh, of course I do. Don’t you believe in heaven and hell?
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.
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.
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.
The sad-dangerous fact is that Scalia has an agenda, largely defined by the RC church, but also by his willful disregard for the discipline which should be part and parcel of the office he holds. He is far worse than Alito or Thomas, because he should know better, yet he chooses not to.
As with so many other unqualified public figures, he should be impeached. He won't be, because the will to do so isn't present in enough people.
He is clearly an agent of the RC Church and is doing is best to forward their anti-freedom and anti-democracy agenda which they have been following for most of their history.
This is why we have to keep up fierce pressure on our elected representatives who support Scalia type anti-atheist bigotry. Peter Palumbo of Rhode Island is a good example of this. Palumbo labeled Jessica Ahlquist an evil little thing and tried to vilify all atheists as evil doers. I wrote the following emial to David Caprio who is a Democratic leader in RI and suggest that we all do this. We are not going to make a dent in Scalia but we might start pushing back at local pols who support him,
to dcaprio at ridemocrats,org
A lot of us freethinkers around the country are still very upset at the way Representative Palumbo joined in the mass bullying of atheist student Jessica Ahlquist in Cranston RI. I've been a loyal democrat my whole life of 72 years and I've never seen one of my elected representatives engage in open religious bigotry of the kind Palumbo exhibited He vilified as evil some of the strongest supporters of our Constitution and of the Democratic Party. Do you know that we "nones" gave Democratic Party candidates over a 70% of our votes in the 2012 elections? We now comprise over 20% of the population and we have a high voting attendance record. With guys like Palumbo around I'm considering not voting in the next one as a protest. What are you doing about him?
Eric A. Stone, PhD
I like this idea. Put the word out to our Senators, Representatives, and state officials that we vote, and we do not like what we have been observing. I'm on it. Thanks.
good luck in his homeland:
I think we should understand that Scalia and guys like Jerry Falwell are just agents of their churches who want their religions to rule over us absolutely. These guys are just like the Inquisitors of old and if they had their ways they would re-start the Inquisition to get all the nonbelievers whose "ancestors" somehow escaped their tortures. The Opus Dei is still committed in 2013 to re-uniting church and state, spreading catholicism throughout the world and cleansing it of all heretics (see Gutman's articles). These are the kinds of dangerously deluded people we are up against and it's our job to educate the public to their real motivations and expose them continually because they thrive on secrecy.
To which Gutman do you refer?
Just got done reading a history of secularism in America called "Freethinkers". Final chapter begins by describing Scalia's disdain for the Constitution. This is not his first foray into Idiotville.
Are you talking about Susan Jacoby's "Freethinkers"?
Was it Jacoby who wrote Doubt?
According to Amazon,
Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson Paperback
by Jennifer Michael Hecht (Author)
It looks like one I would be interested in reading.
here is a review of Freethinkers, Susan Jacoby posted on Amazon:
It could be that Susan Jacoby's latest book may finally put an end to the ignorance that most Americans exhibit about the role that secularism has played in the social, cultural, and political development of the United States. It is a fact that Americans are woefully deficient when it comes to knowledge about American history, a lack which permits those with specific socio-political agendas to perpetuate distortions about the part that secularism and religion played in the founding of this nation and continue to play in its evolution. This matter is especially crucial now because of the current issues surrounding church-state separation, including an important case soon to be heard before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The importance of Jacoby's book is that it fills a gap which for too long has existed in the study and presentation of American history. It is often forgotten (or ignored?) that America's evolution was influenced by two great traditions, not just one as so many cultural commentators have insisted. The Judaic-Christian religious tradition certainly had a major impact on the development of American moral thinking and practice. But, equally important if not more so, the pagan or secular Greco-Roman tradition had its impact on the formation of American political institutions and the development of American jurisprudence. Many books have been written about the Judaic-Christian contributions (regrettably, some historically inaccurate), but the pagan-secular contributions have tended to be either forgotten or ignored and this problem has now been corrected by Jacoby's treatise.
Generally speaking, "Freethinkers" is an historical survey of secularist thought and influence in American history with a special emphasis on the most important actors in this unfolding drama. Included are such luminaries as Thomas Paine, who is just now making a comeback into the American consciousness, Thomas Jefferson, a president who by all accounts seems to be more secular than religious and appears to be a true theological Deist contrary to the declarations of many fundamentalist Christians, Abraham Lincoln, a president who was skeptical of Christianity and denied its divine origins, and Robert Ingersoll, an American philosopher whose absence from virtually all textbooks of American history is a national disgrace.
I must commend Jacoby for bringing Robert Green Ingersoll back into the limelight. Known in the latter half of the 19th century as that "Great Agnostic," Ingersoll was truly one of the philosophical giants of that period. He has been largely ignored throughout the 20th century. During my entire academic studies in philosophy, no mention was ever made of him. I took a graduate course in American philosophy without hearing his name. I took undergraduate courses in various periods of American history and never heard a reference to him. I discovered this once-influential philosopher later when I was doing some independent work in American social thought. My reaction, after studying and reading him, was how shameful it is that this man was not better known to students today. Thanks to Jacoby for bringing him back into his rightful place in the American story. This is just one of the many highlights of her book.
One of the basic questions which is continually debated asks "Is America a Christian nation." The secularists say "No." What has come to be called the "Christian Right" says "Yes." Now, both can't be correct within the same context. Jacoby argues that America was founded as a secular government. I suggest she is correct regarding this point. The Christian Right argues that America is a Christian nation. I suggest they are correct regarding this point. What appears at first glance to be a contradiction is not once we become aware of the context. Statistically, most Americans consider themselves to be Christians and, in this sense, America is a Christian nation. However, our government was never set up as a "Christian government," a theocracy where the church, of whatever denomination, would dominate socio-political policy. As Jacoby rightly points out, the Constitution never mentions God and, furthermore, the Declaration of Independence mentions only "nature's God," a reference that can be reasonably interpreted as Deistic.
Jacoby covers much territory in her book beginning with the intense debate over the omission of God from the Constitution and moving from 19th century abolitionism and suffragism through the 20th century's civil liberties, civil rights, and feminist movements. She includes the major characters involved in secular activism, like those already mentioned above, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Clarence Darrow and others whose importance to secularist philosophy are finally acknowledged. She offers a powerful defense of the secularist heritage that gave Americans a government founded not on religious authority but on human reason.
If I have a negative criticism, it is this: I don't think Jacoby presents a clear characterization of moral relativism; I suspect she has not really thought out all the implications of that concept. The secularists are wrong because they deny any objective moral criteria and promote moral judgments within a political context, while the religionists are wrong because they promote a revelation-based moral absolutism applied to all human acts. The concept of moral relativism is generally misunderstood, even among intellectuals, and objective criteria for determining ethical principles is usually confused with some sort of moral absolutism. The beauty and truth of Aristotle's "Ethics," for instance, lies precisely in the fact that it is neither absolutist nor relativist, but provides an objective foundation for evaluating human acts.
I do hope that this book is widely read by a public whose knowledge of American history is, unfortunately, dismal. This is a great introduction to a cultural influence which has been largely forgotten or ignored. It is a great addition to any course or study in American history which wants to present itself as truly comprehensive. I also recommend this book because it provides a counterbalance to a traditionally one-sided picture of how this great nation of ours came into being and evolved to bring more freedom and opportunity to more people than any other nation that has ever existed.