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Today's Supreme Court
October 7th, 2013
12:31 PM ET

Scalia says atheism 'favors the devil's desires'

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-editor

(CNN) - As the Supreme Court begins its new term Monday, the devil is not on the docket but the Evil One apparently is on the mind of Justice Antonin Scalia.

New York magazine has published a fascinating new interview with Scalia in which the outspoken jurist tackled a number of topics. But none seemed to surprise Scalia's interviewer, Jennifer Senior, more than his views on Satan.

The interview was conducted on September 26, the 27th anniversary of Scalia's swearing-in as a justice on the high court. He is one of a record six Catholic justices on the Supreme Court.

After Scalia and Senior discussed heaven and hell (he believes in them; she doesn't), the justice said in a stage whisper, "I even believe in the devil."

"You do?" Senior replied.

"Of course! Yeah, he’s a real person. Hey, come on, that’s standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that," Scalia said.

Senior asked Scalia if he's seen evidence of Satan's work recently.

"You know, it is curious," Scalia answered. "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."

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Scalia said the Devil has gotten "wilier" and convinced people that he and God don't exist. The justice added that he doesn't think that atheists are Satan's minions, but that disbelief in God "certainly favors the devil's desires."

Senior asked if it's "frightening" to believe in the devil, which seemed to annoy Scalia.

"You’re looking at me as though I’m weird," he answered. "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."

Scalia, whose son, Paul, is a Catholic priest in Arlington, Virginia, also said Pope Francis is "absolutely" right about the church needing to concentrate more on mercy and outreach than on fighting the culture wars.

MORE FROM CNN: American Catholics agree with Pope Francis on ending culture wars

"But he hasn’t backed off the view of the church on those issues," Scalia said. "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."

Finally, Scalia said he has not "softened" his views on homosexuality.

"I still think it’s Catholic teaching that it’s wrong. OK? 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," Scalia said.

MORE FROM CNN: Church and state, executive power on Supreme Court docket

- CNN Belief Blog Editor

Filed under: Atheism • Belief • Catholic Church • Courts • Culture wars • Devil • Pope Francis

soundoff (3,730 Responses)
  1. xirume

    Recall this senile fossil now. We need intelligent, pragmatic people on the S.C., not believers of mumbo jumbo.

    October 7, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
  2. Government Waste Rules

    Oh man it's totally like that M. Night Shyamalan movie where the Devil is in the elevator with those people!!! Did you see that??!!

    Yeah me neither.

    October 7, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
    • Kevin

      Saw it, the old lady that looks like Shirley Maclaine was Satan, and Mexicans can detect evil with toast.

      October 7, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
  3. Kevin

    How does this man rise to a prominent position in law if not a reflection of our unhealthy society?

    October 7, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
  4. hee hee

    I don't want to alarm you – but there may be a boogeyman or boogeymen in this house!

    October 7, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
  5. churchstate

    You’ll find that most (ex-Christian) atheists don’t believe for one or more of the following reasons:

    The concept of an immortal being makes no sense to us.

    The concept of an all-powerful being makes no sense to us.

    The concept of an all-knowing being makes no sense to us.

    We tend to have a good working knowledge of the age, size and history of the Universe and the idea that a being would create the entire thing – with 400,000,000,000 galaxies, EACH with 100, 000,000,000 starts and even more planets, then sit back and wait 13,720,000,000 years for human beings to evolve on one planet so he could “love them” and send his son to talk about sheep and goats in Iron Age Palestine makes no sense to us.

    The answers usually proffered for what we see as basic logical flaws in Christianity – “you have been blinded by your lack of faith” “God moves in mysterious ways” “God is outside the Universe” or “our minds are too small to understand the greatness of God” are never satisfying to us. We see a retreat to mysticism as the first refuge of the cornered fool.

    The common argument, “well, what caused the Big Bang?” with the implication that, because we have only theories and no iron clad explanation for the Big Bang yet, [the Christian] god must have caused it – does not make sense to us. “I don’t know” does not equal “god” to us, much less the Judeo-Christian god. We feel the answers to such a question are much more likely to be found in Einstein’s equations, quantum physics, large particle accelerators and radio telescopes than in Genesis Chapters 1 through 20. We’re crazy aren’t we?

    We do not see miracles in things like tornadoes missing a certain trailer in a trailer park, cancer going into remission or Tim Tebow winning a football game.

    We understand that Christianity is one of many, many religions in the World, and we don’t think that we were lucky enough to have been born in the one part of the World that “got it right”.

    We tend to have a basic knowledge of history and know that there is nothing magical or special about the supposed history of the Jews, gospels, letters, apocalyptic story (Revelations) and other materials that found their way into the Bible, in that they are largely indistinguishable from the other mythology and religious writings of the time and region.

    Human beings are terrified of their own deaths and we see the various religious beliefs that try to “wish it away” such as reincarnation, living happily ever after in Heaven with Jesus, having your own Mormon planet etc. as nothing more than childish stories for the more naive, timid minds among us.

    We do not see morality as predicated upon a belief in the supernatural. We accept that one can be moral without believing in the supernatural and that doing so is no guaranty that one will conform to the norms of society that people call “morality”.

    “You can’t prove God doesn’t exist” is not a convincing argument to us, as in inability to disprove something is a far cry from it being true. We cannot prove that the Hindu gods Shiva or Vishnu do not exist either, nor Santa Claus for that matter, but that is hardly a reason to believe in them. It is almost always impossible to prove a negative in this sense.

    When one looks at the various Christian beliefs that were once firmly believed – Adam and Eve, Noah’s flood, people living to be 700 or 900 years old, the Red Sea splitting, water turning into wine, talking snakes, a man living in a whale’s belly, people rising from the dead, Jesus driving demons out of people and into pigs – but which are now acknowledged by most thinking people to be mere mythology, it is pretty hard to give a lot of credibility to what’s left.

    It is hard not to consider Christianity as based on circular reasoning. Most Christians believe in God because the Bible says so, then turn around and say they believe the Bible because it is the word of God. To draw an analogy, “I believe Obama is a great man because his biography says so, and the reason I believe his biography is that it is about Obama, who is a great man.”

    In short, the more one comes to understand mother nature, the less reason there is to believe in a god and the more one understands human nature, the more one sees why so many of us still do.

    So, the next time you proudly proclaim that you know the secrets to life, death, the origins of life on Earth and the origins of the Universe, because your parents or priest taught you some comforting stories from late Bronze Age Palestine as a ten year-old, you might like to consider where your beliefs fit into the bigger picture

    October 7, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
    • Live4Him

      It's nice of you to give your religious views, but do you have any facts to support them?

      October 7, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
      • In Santa we trust

        Lie4Him, You have had the evidence presented many times; what's missing is your evidence for the creation myths you believe in. They are the underpinning for your faith and there is no evidence and all evidence points away from your myths.

        October 7, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
        • Marilyn LaCourt

          I am an atheist who believes in Santa Claus. Santa is a story, a myth told to children. However, unlike the Jesus myth, children are meant to outgrow their belief in Santa. They begin at a very early age to question the "reality" of Santa's existence. They question and begin to use their developing critical thinking skills. This is a good thing.How many grownups do you know that still believe in Santa?
          Unlike the myths of Christianity, children are expected to out grow their belief in Santa. But Christians even call themselves "children of God", to remain forever children trapped in their faith is seen as a positive thing.

          October 7, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
      • churchstate

        Did you even read this? How do you support the existence of your magical man in the sky?

        October 7, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
      • churchstate

        Here is another for you –

        Top Ten Signs You're a Christian in Name Only
        10 – You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.
        9 – You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt.
        8 – You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.
        7 – Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Al lah, but you don't even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" including women, children, and trees!
        6 – You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.
        5 – You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few generations old.
        4 – You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs – though excluding those in all rival sects – will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most "tolerant" and "loving."
        3 – While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some id iot rolling around on the floor speaking in "tongues" may be all the evidence you need to "prove" Christian
        2 – You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.
        1 – You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, catholicism and church history – but still call yourself a Christian

        October 7, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
        • gladiatorgrl

          a/k/a HYPOCRITES and delusional

          October 7, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
        • Exmech

          I have a little problem with your facts regarding #2. The Mayo Clinic performed an excellent study in Intercessory Prayer and found that numbers of "successful" prayers are considerably above the 0.01% you stated.

          The correct number is: 50%. That's right, the very same statistics we would see in a random set.

          Had the study actually concluded a 0.01% this would have been a significant finding, and concluded that there is something to intercessory prayer. But no... it came out to be 50%... the very same success rate you would expect had you prayed to Joe Pesci or Bugs Bunny.

          Just thought you should know... and yes... I DO pray to Bugs ... and Joe Pesci.

          October 7, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
      • gladiatorgrl

        Google the TEAPOT theory

        October 7, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
    • Marilyn LaCourt

      You nailed it!
      Thank you.

      October 7, 2013 at 10:07 pm |
      • Marilyn LaCourt

        When I said you nailed it, I was referring to the original post by churchand state.
        Awesome!

        October 7, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
  6. Doc Vestibule

    I blame Satan for widespread literacy.
    Life was better in the good ol' days when the teeming masses had to consult their local Shaman to learn the word of God.
    All this individual interpretation of scripture has led to people thinking that the impossible and/or patently absurd bits of the Bible somehow make it less believeable!
    Who is teaching our children to read critically?
    Could it be.... oh I don't know.... maybe... SATAN!

    October 7, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
  7. anne smith

    He basically just came out and said he is not qualified for his job. He is not educated enough, he is not rational enough to not believe in fairy tales. He should be removed from the bench IMMEDIATELY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! If he said he believes Voldemort to be a real person this would be a national emergency. There is NO difference! It is equally ridiculous. He needs a psychiatric evaluation.

    October 7, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
    • Live4Him

      How do you propose to prove that they are fairy tales?

      October 7, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
      • In Santa we trust

        Lie4Him, Believers are the ones making extraordinary claims – they should provide the extraordinary evidence.

        October 7, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
      • Doc Vestibule

        If a story relies heavily on magic and makes repeated mention of supernatural, anthropomorphic winged creatures, it is a fairy tale.

        October 7, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
  8. John

    I am a Catholic and I think that believing in the devil is idiotic.

    October 7, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
    • Youtube - Neil DeGrasse Tyson - The Permiter of Ignorance

      Then, as an atheist, and a former Catholic, I have to let you know your are no longer a Catholic.

      October 7, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
      • Bill Deacon

        I have news for you both. You're still Catholic.

        October 7, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
        • In Santa we trust

          Until the Mormons baptize you posthumously.

          October 7, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
        • Becky

          lol

          October 8, 2013 at 8:49 am |
    • OKfine

      BD. You defend Scalia as if he was a pope or cardinal, that's right that is your mission on this blog, defend anything and everything catholic no matter how disgusting. BD they are catholic still because you say so, sorry pal. You are arguing that Hitler is one of the most infamous catholics among many others.

      October 7, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
    • Mark

      You should read your Catholic Catechism

      October 7, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
  9. celusil

    I wonder what his opinion of the easter bunny, santa claus is – this is the person deciding major cases in law for the rest of us? unbelievable.

    October 7, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
    • jkflipflop

      This old man has completely lost touch with reality, yet he's the one deciding the fate of others? Wow what a jacked up system.

      October 7, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
      • Marilyn LaCourt

        Yup. Who elected him as god?

        October 7, 2013 at 10:25 pm |
  10. Gene2

    Every time he looks in the mirror he sees the Prince of Darkness looking back.

    October 7, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
  11. uh..

    so, being a judge, will he accept the argument that "Satan made my client kill that man, even though he did not want to. He must be set free or at least reduced sentence"? Since, you know satan becomes the primary perp??

    Ya, cherry picking is more fun than being consistent, isn't it.

    October 7, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
  12. MashaSobaka

    I'm all for people having their beliefs, but when a person this devoted to a specific religion is in charge of the human and civil rights of his fellow citizens I have a BIG problem. When you believe that God is the highest authority then it is VERY easy to disregard the laws of the land and even congratulate yourself for doing so. Having men like this in positions of such power is just not okay. Never has been. Never will be.

    October 7, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
    • Tony

      Absolutely agree.

      You can believe whatever messed up thing you want to and I don't care. Honestly. We can discuss the validity of your claims and have a conversation, but your beliefs on any subject should be (ideally) functionally non-existent.
      But, the second you do more than believe and act on assumptions, you ought to be held accountable.

      October 7, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
    • Youtube - Neil DeGrasse Tyson - The Permiter of Ignorance

      We don't have any choice – as a people we're too stupid to understand it is a problem.

      October 7, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
    • yup

      I understand your comment, however, moste people, Christians included, don't realize that the Bible also teaches about respect to the governement and it's leaders. So what you are saying would be not only an outright abuse of power on his behalf, but would also go against his religion...

      October 7, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
  13. IamAmerican

    Just to show you how really out of touch with the American population Justice Scalia is supposed to be serving, he is wrong in his general statement about what most American's believe. As a Supreme Court Justice he should be concerned with getting facts right. Apparently that is not important to him, or several other of those old farts on the court. http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/shows/cwn/2009/April/Most-Christians-Dont-Believe-Satan-Is-Real-/

    October 7, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
  14. willard43

    And this is why I weep.

    October 7, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
  15. Attack of the 50 Foot Magic Underwear

    I'm waiting with anticipation for his Opinion in the upcoming Supreme Court Case: E. Ster Buni versus San taClaws.

    If this wasn't so frightening it would be laughable.

    October 7, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
  16. Tombstone

    Try blaming a devil next time you're in trouble, who's azz are they going to throw in jail?

    October 7, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
  17. Youtube - Neil DeGrasse Tyson - The Permiter of Ignorance

    A man as stupid as Scalia could only have been nominated by an even stupider man.

    October 7, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
    • rich

      Alzheimers. The silent killer.

      October 7, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
  18. Alvaro Ortiz

    And we still have this imbecile in the Supreme Court, what a disgrace.

    October 7, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
  19. Yuphah Kingkhuntz

    Satan lives and his name is Boehner. His minions would condemn us all to doom if given their choice.

    October 7, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
  20. rich

    Well, at least we now have the proof that his opinions long suggested: Scalia is an ignorant moron.

    October 7, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.