October 7th, 2013
12:31 PM ET

Scalia says atheism 'favors the devil's desires'

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-editor

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(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 Religion Editor

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

soundoff (3,730 Responses)
  1. ben

    That Scalia is a Catholic doesn't necessarily bother me. That he takes literally the New Testament (and presumably the idea that accepting Jesus as your personal savior is the ONLY path to "redemption") displays a kind of narrow-mindedness I'd rather not ascribe to Justices of the SCOTUS, six of whom are apparently Catholic. I'm trying very hard to convince myself that his religious beliefs aren't an issue as long as his interpretation of the separation of church and state doctrine and the idea of equality under the law are as rigid as his interpretation of the Bible.

    October 7, 2013 at 8:24 pm |
  2. Rusty Yates

    A supreme court justice that believes in the devil? This isn't just hard to believe it is insane.

    October 7, 2013 at 8:23 pm |
  3. Lisa B

    As long as he follows the laws of the land, his religion shouldn't matter.

    October 7, 2013 at 8:22 pm |
  4. Thomas

    the devil has convinced people that he/she/it and god, do not exist.

    a few lines later;

    the majority of americans believe that the devil exists.

    this guy on bi-polar meds, or what?


    thomas 🙂

    October 7, 2013 at 8:21 pm |
    • Gabe

      He does need to choose his words better, but I think what he means is that although a majority of the people believe in the devil, more and more of them are not.

      October 7, 2013 at 8:29 pm |
  5. Mary

    Sorry to have to relay the bad news but the devil is alive and well and living in this country and possibly others but I happen to live here and have for the past 75 years. This country is evil personified and there will be a day when it will become evident to all and not just a few of us. You don't want God in schools, in the government, etc. so you allow the devil to take over and what we are experiencing now is truly frightful. I hope someone can turn things around before it is too late. If you think the life we are living now is normal than you are too young and naive to know right from wrong.

    October 7, 2013 at 8:20 pm |
    • Observer


      Did you write this or is this "the end is near" from THOUSANDS of years ago? Nothing new at all.

      October 7, 2013 at 8:25 pm |
    • Doris

      And many people don't realize that Satan fits perfectly into a knapsack. Now what did you start seeing once they took God out of schools all over the place? Need I say more? (eyeroll)

      October 7, 2013 at 8:26 pm |
      • AngerBot


        October 7, 2013 at 8:36 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      In the world not of the world.

      October 7, 2013 at 8:31 pm |
      • sam stone

        more christian doublespeak

        October 8, 2013 at 5:14 am |
    • kathy

      You are right on Mary and judge scalia

      October 7, 2013 at 8:34 pm |
    • Charles Darwin

      People that believe in fairy tales scare me more than any old Devil could.

      October 7, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
      • Scott

        I hope for your sake he still feels that way. Neither of us will know for a while though!

        October 7, 2013 at 8:47 pm |
    • sybaris

      No we don't need the Christian god, Egyptian god, Aztec gods or any other god in our schools. Schools are for teaching young minds things in life that are critical for their success and part of that is critical thinking. They can use that in another arena to decide whether or not belief in supernatural things is right for them. Another way to say it is, don't preach in our schools and we won't think in your church.

      We don't need those same gods in our government either and if you knew anything truthful about the founding fathers they didn't want any gods intertwined with government affairs either.

      October 7, 2013 at 10:18 pm |
    • sam stone

      mary: you have no proof of this "devil"

      take your meds

      October 8, 2013 at 5:12 am |
  6. charles e brightman

    I was born into a world of cold materialism. Taught bey loving parents to seek success in this material relm. At what cast? That was not explained. Over half a century I torkled from one dogma to the next in search of Reality. I gathered every expieriance that life presented to me and embraced it to find emptiness. Possesions, wealth, relationships and meaningful occupation yielded Not. Until I embraced unequivical love and understnading and the grace of the physical exsistance that is all encompassing in this world, Earth. Death is but the blowing out of a candel at the dawn of a new day. Your origin is your destination and the prospects are overwelming. Fave a little Faith and you'll be just fine.

    October 7, 2013 at 8:20 pm |
  7. smokeee

    so scary and not right he's a Supreme court justice

    October 7, 2013 at 8:19 pm |
  8. Robble

    Belief in the devil now needs to be the new supreme court justice "litmus test."

    October 7, 2013 at 8:16 pm |
  9. rinsac

    He should know!!!

    October 7, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
  10. sybaris

    and that my friends is why belief in any god(s) and the religions built around them should be a disqualifier for holding an authoritative position in government.

    Does anyone remember why President Bush authorized the invasion of Iraq? Anyone?

    Because he believed his god told him it was the right thing to do.

    The fate of millions really does not need to rest in the hands of people who believe in imaginary beings.

    October 7, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
  11. Ed

    He ought to know, He IS the DEVIL!!!!

    October 7, 2013 at 8:12 pm |
  12. Anon

    This senile clueless @#$%^& has NO BUSINESS on the Supreme Court. His beliefs are irrelevant and should be kept to himself due to SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE. He should be IMPEACHED or assasinated, whichever is easier!!

    October 7, 2013 at 8:10 pm |
    • Topher

      Wow! How is this statement not illegal and the cops not investigating?!

      October 7, 2013 at 8:17 pm |
    • Observer

      Hopefully, CNN will turn in Anon's threat to the FBI.

      October 7, 2013 at 9:19 pm |
  13. Steve

    Holy cow, that is scary. It amazes me that people still believe that drivel.

    October 7, 2013 at 8:09 pm |
  14. good gravey charlie brown

    so we have someone on the supreme court who thinks the "devil" is a real person

    Good lord...no wonder this country is in the shapes it's in. The founding fathers would be rolling over in their grave.

    October 7, 2013 at 8:07 pm |
  15. Russ 139

    What's so absurd is that nobody knows nothing, one way or the other. These "faithful" types sound so silly talking about something they have never seen nor felt (yes, felt!)

    October 7, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
    • Joe

      I've never seen 'air', but I believe it exists. I see the effects of this invisible thing called 'air' on the planet, so I know it's there, even though I can't see it. I can also see that evil exists and is real in this world too – not by a visual, but by the way evil affects this planet. Always has.

      October 7, 2013 at 8:40 pm |
      • Cpt. Obvious

        Air is detectable by a number of methods; god isn't detectable by any method. God is invisible, undetectable, and irrelevant..in every way.

        October 7, 2013 at 8:42 pm |
    • Joe

      BTW, 'nobody knows nothing' is a double negative, yet I BELIEVE I know what you meant, which is the opposite of what you actually wrote.

      October 7, 2013 at 8:44 pm |
  16. Anne

    Six justices of nine are Catholic? In name only apparently.

    October 7, 2013 at 8:02 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Care to expand that thought further ?

      October 7, 2013 at 8:06 pm |
  17. w

    "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."

    OR we, as a modern society, have (mostly) moved beyond the dark ages belief system that all the ills of the world and strange happenings... you know like disease...are caused by mystical/mythical creatures/demons/spirits and moved into the age of the enlightenment when we discovered this wonderful thing called science that let us ACTUALLY explain what is going on i.e. germs/bacteria and NOT demons cause disease.
    Sad that an individual that has progressed.. and I use that term specifically to describe his career since obviously he is still in the dark ages on other matters... to the level that he has and yet STILL believes in such utter nonsense and WILL let it colour his decisions and thus have an negative impact on rational individuals for decades. Maybe we can bring back the good ole' days of the Inquisition, bloodletting, 'dunking' as a test for whether or not an individual is a witch or not, killing of both the child and the parents if a baby is born 'malformed' since it is CLEARLY a sign that they are in league with the (living person according to Scalia) Satan, and rule by 'The Church' too! And the ultra-right-wing-conservative-"christian"-GOP-Tea-Party-fanatical-extremists say it is the LIBERALS that are destroying the future of The United States of America!

    October 7, 2013 at 8:02 pm |
    • Joe

      Science is great, but cannot take the place of religion. For instance, do you suppose science will ever be able to detect the presence of a human soul (yet we know souls exist)? Or how will science ever measure, test, quantify, etc. "evil"? Science will never explain how humans can even have the concept of "God" unless there is one. How can we so easily understand the concept of eternity if we have never experienced it ourselves?

      October 7, 2013 at 8:52 pm |
      • HotAirAce

        Please explain how you *know* souls exist. Last I checked, the existence of souls was no more proven than any god or a divine jesus.

        October 7, 2013 at 9:25 pm |
  18. Attack of the 50 Foot Magic Underwear

    Have the believers commenting here ever considered that each and every last one of you is an atheist?

    Do, for example, believe in Zeus? Or Mars? Poseidon? How about Thor? Ra? Manitou? Vishnu? If you don't believe in those gods, and all of the tens of thousands of other gods throughout human history, then you are, by definition, an atheist toward all of those gods. You're only a theist with regard to whatever god you happen to believe in.

    When you understand why you don't believe in all of those other gods, then hopefully you can understand why others don't believe in your god.

    And, in advance, when you say that your god is the "one true god", understand that that is what believers in other gods say about their god.

    October 7, 2013 at 8:01 pm |
    • Mark

      You're confusing two terms. Polytheist is not the same thing as theist.

      October 7, 2013 at 8:04 pm |
      • Attack of the 50 Foot Magic Underwear

        A theist believe in a god; a polytheist believe in more than one god. That does not change the fact that someone who believes in only one god – their god – is an atheist vis a vis all other gods.

        October 7, 2013 at 8:09 pm |
        • Mark

          I prefer the term apolytheist to be more precise

          October 7, 2013 at 8:16 pm |
        • Attack of the 50 Foot Magic Underwear

          Mark, just wondering – would be your attempt at linguistic gymnastics in order to avoid being labeled with the term "atheist". Would I be correct in as-suming that there are some gods – such as the ones I've named – that you do NOT believe in?

          October 7, 2013 at 8:27 pm |
        • Mark

          According to my Webster's New World Dictionary the word "atheist" is defined as: "A person that believes that there is no God." I believe in God. So, by this definition the word atheist would not apply.

          October 7, 2013 at 9:16 pm |
        • sam stone

          mark: dictionary.com defines atheist as

          a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings

          some atheists claim there IS NO GOD

          others claim that they simply do not find any reason to believe in a god

          you ran out on our other conversation about free will. don't make me punk you again

          October 8, 2013 at 6:48 am |
      • sam stone

        That is not a complete definition, Mark.

        Dictionary.com says that an atheist is person who denies or disbelievs the existence of a supreThebeing or beings.

        Some claim to know there is NO GOD,

        Others simply state they have no reason to believe there is a god

        I hope you see difference

        You ran from that other conversation we had about free will. Don't make me punk you again

        And, in case you were

        October 8, 2013 at 6:40 am |
    • Anonymous

      Lol I was going to give my take on this. Though I did that pretty much on the last page with your comment similar to this. Good points all around.

      Lol I mostly just wanted to give you props for the Manitou name drop. Poor Manitou doesn't get much air time on CNN Belief Blog. Guess its just not as cool to be the Great Spirit nowadays as much as it was before the white man came to America.

      October 7, 2013 at 8:10 pm |
      • Attack of the 50 Foot Magic Underwear

        Stupid white men! Wait – there are still stupid white men, one of whom is the subject of the article.

        October 7, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      atheists don't believe in ANY gods.
      so while the monotheists are not atheists, they are only one god away....
      polytheists, like hindus, would have to disavow thousands of gods.

      October 7, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
  19. Tim

    Impeach him! What an idiot!

    October 7, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
    • Hmmmm

      Can you do that to a justice? Hmm.

      Well I guess we could all bring peaches and just peach him.

      October 7, 2013 at 8:11 pm |
  20. CBP

    Why he is saying that and does he know any atheists? Guess he does put people in little boxes after all. That is not a trait that I would like to see in a Supreme Court Justice. justice Scalia does like to start a controversy.

    October 7, 2013 at 7:59 pm |
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About this blog

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.