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Even so

A deserter from the culture wars and no big fan of Justice Antonin Scalia, I nevertheless was struck by the derision he was able (and, doubtless, delighted) to provoke a few days ago by asserting, in a much ballyhooed New York Magazine interview, his belief that the Devil is real.  No less provocatively, another famous interviewee, Pope Francis, in his homily for today's Mass, warns his hearers not to be naïve about this, and to be on guard.  

Some things are true, even if Justice Scalia says them.

About the Author

Michael O. Garvey works in public relations at the University of Notre Dame.



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I hope you are right. When someone who is so wrong about anything else believes in the devil it shakes my faith in it.

Boy oh boy, this is a tough one.  First, I agree completely with what I believe are Tom's suggestions about Scalia.

It seems to me the notions and the realities of God are the one indisputable locus of absolute.  Otherwise what are we talking about when we talk about God?  The mystery is ours not God's.  It is not possible to talk reasonably or usefully about such a God in the context of the Judeo/Christian bible without the convinction all things emanated from God.  If God is the absolute that notion works.  What does not work is the notion God divined mere mortals required a devil.  It seems to me both reason and compassion provide more than adequate proof we mere mortals are quite capable of driving on the wrong side of the road without the assistance of near absolute evil whispering in our ear.  Not to mention the fact associating the word "near" with the reality of "absolute" is more than a little confusing.  But that is what we are taught to believe.  Satan is not merely real but as near to God in power as can be without being God.  A sorta' absolute.

Entertaining interview. This is a more mellow Scalia than I have seen. He is certainly no scripture scholar. His calling his refusal to recuse himself from the Cheney case an act of courage is laughable. He admits that he only reads the newspapers that do not upset him. He rightly point out that he has not done anything noteworthy. A self assessment easy to agree with.

Was "Our Father" (apologies to C.S. Lewis) responsible for this embarrassing, if somewhat amusing, mistake on the commemorative coin issued by the Vatican in honor of Pope Francis?



A number of years ago I resolved notions for myself how the devil exists and works. Since the notion of free will is true I deduced it is possible to welcome the devil into an interaction in ones life.[selling our souls?] for power.   I noted that some rather inept people became unusually and suddenly powerful over others and became an evil force. . From whence did these people suddenly get their  power over others? .Steroids for the mind/soul?   e.g.  Hitler who could only rise to rank of corporal in a 4 year bloody war ended up commanding aristocratic field marshals and an entire educated nation. . Keresh {Waco] a dropout,  had evil power over accommplished followers, Manson, a stunted person in both mind and body, was able to gain evil power over more accomplished followers; there are many others. I believe this power force was given them when they made a deal with the evil one. Free will can  be a source of evil power. .Yet I doubt a merciful God allows the powerful evil one to enter where it is not welcomed. .   

There is a great article in the New Yorker by Flannery O'Connor title "My Dear God" which is an excerpt from her journal in which she gives very insightful comments on the devil, hell, and especially God.

Back in the 50s and early 60s, the good sisters taught us kids the devil was too lazy to get us to sin.  The devil could sit back, relax, and watch us sin well enough on our own!

Joe J

As usual . the good sisters were right. That's why he (note gender) got assigned here

I was very surprised this week when Malcolm Gladwell, a favorite writer at the New Yorker, among other things, revealed that he is returning to the Mennonite faith of his youth.  I daresay that such a politically incorrect event (according to many liberal lights, anyway)  would not have happened even four years ago, at least not publicly.

A Supreme Court justice says he believes in the devil, a popular liberal author returns to his faith.  Looks like the The Enlightenment is losing its hold.

HT: Rod Dreher

Jennifer Senior emerges as a very knowledgeable, cagy writer who really stood toe to toe with Scalia. But she failed the ultimate test, imho, in that she did not challenge Scalia on his vote  to place the worst president in history in the White House. The story goes that his wife greeted him at the door with a toast coctail after that ignominious vote. 

Some things are true, even if Justice Scalia says them.

Why stop there?   Some things are true even if Commonweal prints them.

I notice, Mark, that you are a subscriber to Commonweal, a publication you evidently associate with falsehood. You must have a lot of extra money. And time.

Relax, Matthew, my comment was meant in the same spirit as Mr. Garvey's.   More in humor and just-provocative-enough, rather than to be taken literally--at least, I hope that's how he meant it.

I think we can both agree that my comments don’t take much time to compile, but I will say this:   I am cheap.   If I’m spending money on something it’s because I find it valuable.   If I can offer some free advice, you might want to think of expanding your marketing efforts to reach out to conservatives as the liberal Catholic publication that can respect and challenge their views at the same time.   One good thing about conservatives:   If they like something they understand the obligation to pay for it, themselves.   Given the number of liberal commenters here who are not subscribers….well, nuff said.

I'm your huckleberry, Mark.  What do you mean by "conservative"?  "Conservatives" today enshrine a fellow whose sole gift was charisma and the ability to recite speeches written by other while disdaining a man willing, able and qualified to command a U.S. Naval nuclear attack submarine.  "Conservatives" today enshrine a fellow who gladly sold out his friend to as near an American version of facism as we have ever had while disdaining a fellow who cut short a successful U.S. Navy career to return home to assist his mother on the farm when his father died.  

And you suggestions liberals are unwilling to pay is more than ludicrous.  Reagon could not get enough for mere chatter, Carter earned his way was damn by "conservative" for it.


Yes, by conservative I mean people like Reagan.

Tell you what, let’s play some 3-on-3.   On my team of Reagan admirers there’s me, Pope JPII (who’s so fast he can dodge bullets) and Solzhenitsyn (who can withstand any punishment you give as he cuts through the heart of your defense).   On your team, I assume it’s you, Jimmy Carter, and Clark Clifford (btw, how did that whole BCCI thing work out for Clark?).

I like our chances.

Oh, God, y'all are so boring. Can we talk more about the devil? Or Yog-Sothoth? My guess is that all of Scalia's devil talk is a cover for his work as an agent of the Old Ones.

It's the guy with no letters after his name...speak of the devil.

Please. I've never voted for a liberal in my life, and if they wanna throw up a paywall on a blog...well, good luck to 'em.


Also, I do have a set of letters after my name: REOD (Reformed Order of Dagon). Scalia is often at our meetings, creeping around the refreshments table.

With your dismissive words about Reagan being only able to read the speeches of others, you might learn quite a bit from reading about a book published in 2001 called "Reagan in His Own Hand." From a New York Times review:

The book is called ''Reagan, in His Own Hand,'' and it is mostly a collection of radio commentaries Ronald Reagan delivered between 1976 and 1980, between his failed primary challenge to Gerald Ford and his successful campaign against Jimmy Carter. During those years, Reagan returned to the rubber-chicken circuit, wrote a column and delivered these daily radio messages. Ghostwriters wrote the column, but Reagan actually worked on the radio commentaries himself. He'd sit on airplanes and in the back of cars, drafting piece after piece on legal pads, and would come back from a trip with three weeks of commentaries ready for typing. The dominant impression these drafts leave is that Reagan really was a Reaganite. He'd already been governor of California, but he still saw politics primarily as a battle of ideas.


Ronald Reagan. Photograph by Roger E. Sandler/Reagan-Bush.

"Our free mkt. system is usually termed capitalism and by that definition capitalism has hardly been around long enough to deserve all the evil for which it is being held responsible. . . .

"We have a very visible example of the contrast between the free mkt. & govt. ownership in a household necessity we take for granted. The invention of Alexander Graham Bell- the telephone offers us irrefutable proof of the superiority of the free mkt. . . .

"Now strangely enough in most other countries govt. did take over the telephone system and to this very day the telephones in a great many countries are part of the postal system. In America the govt. wasn't bulldozing it's way into the free mkt. place as it is today. For that we can be grateful. The scattered, competing phone companies were left to the magic of the mkt. place. And that magic worked as it always does."

-- Ronald Reagan, from Reagan Writes: Selections From 'In His Own Hand,' From The New York Times Magazine, Dec. 31, 2001


These are earnest policy sermons. Reagan covered everything from bilingual education to the Panama Canal to the political situation in Equatorial Guinea, engrossing himself in a level of detail that frankly surpasses that of almost all op-ed columnists today. In 1978, for example, he came across a speech the Yale law professor Eugene Rostow gave on the proposed SALT II arms control agreement. Reagan couldn't do just one radio commentary summarizing and commenting on Rostow's views. He did six, going through the arcana about mobile launchers, MIRV's, Minutemen versus MX missiles and so on.

Reagan was a middlebrow (and I mean that as a compliment). He believed in the serious explication of ideas. He'd troll through clippings from The Public Interest or National Review, or a policy document someone had sent him, and he'd want to bring it to his listeners' attention. Sometimes, caught up in didactic fervor, he'd get carried away. During a commentary on how tax indexing works, he declared: ''A family of four earning $9,600 last year will have to get a $595 raise to keep even with the 6.2 percent inflation rate. So this year their income is $10,195. But that raise put them in a higher state tax bracket reducing their purchasing power by $70.'' Reagan must have understood that cramming all those numbers into three sentences makes for terrible radio. But he was eager to get the concept across.

Unlike radio commentators or newspaper pundits today, he never responded to the news blip of the moment. He generally ignored political scandals; anyone looking for personal attacks on Jimmy Carter will come up empty. During a commentary on the capital gains tax rate, Reagan declared, ''Frankly speaking the president was a little off base.'' That was as rough as he got.

The editors of this volume, Kiron K. Skinner, Annelise Anderson and Martin Anderson, have toted up the commentaries by subject matter. Twenty-seven percent of them were on foreign and defense policy, 25 percent were on economic policy, 15 percent were on regulation and individual liberty, 10 percent were on energy and the environment, and the like. As the editors note with some surprise, only 3 percent were on social issues, and only one commentary was on abortion. Judging from these pieces, Reagan was more of a policy wonk than a culture warrior. His abortion commentary is entirely secular. He says that until he was governor he'd never given the subject much thought. He declared that neither medicine nor law nor theology rendered a clear verdict. So he asked his lawyers if fetuses had property rights. If a pregnant woman became a widow and found that her husband had split his estate between her and the unborn child, Reagan wondered, could she abort the child and inherit all of the estate? On the basis of such questioning, Reagan decided that since fetuses had property rights, they must have rights to life.

One of the things these commentaries do is blow apart the notion that Reagan was a flighty actor who floated through the presidency on the basis of charm and communication skills. Reagan spent the years leading up to his presidency -- the decades, really -- involved in day-to-day policy disputes. Another thought one can't escape is that George W. Bush could never have written these commentaries. It is impossible to imagine George W. sitting down and composing little essays on the inefficiency of Amtrak subsidies or the foolishness of the Law of the Sea treaty, as Reagan did.

How did this get from Satan to Reagan? Must be some loose fixations rattling around.

Mark Proska:

“If they like something they understand the obligation to pay for it, themselves.   Given the number of liberal commenters here who are not subscribers….well, nuff said.”

So, Mr. Proska, you admit that you  “like” Commonweal.

Now, in response to your cheap shot about commenters here who are not subscribers:

If you are retired and on a fixed income and have been employed by the Catholic Church your entire working life, you might not have made such a comment.

But just to let you know that such people put our money where our mouths are, I will take advantage of the special offer of a year’s subscription to Commonweal for new subscribers that was offered a month ago. Hopefully, Commonweal will still honor the offer.


I’m afraid I stand by what I said.  What about the Commonweal employees who are trying to support themselves? (their children?  their aged parents?)   It’s tough all over, and everyone has a story.

If you are going to subscribe, I’d recommend the 2-year subscription, it’s a better deal than the 1-year.   I’m not always good with numbers, but stay away from the 3-year subscription, it’s a horrible value, and might even be a misprint.

(I really should get paid for this)

As for the devil, I wonder if the other Catholics on the SC believe in him.    Kennedy?   Doubtful.   Sotomayor?   Given her ethnicity, perhaps, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Maybe Scalia was being sarcastic.  A search for "scalia sarcastic" at NYT brings up 113 results.

I like the first one, a letter to the editor from two days ago pointing out that sarcasm is an attempt to cover anger with humor.  



I guess I share Tom Blackburn's concern that we've shifted a bit from what both Scalia and Bergolio say about the devil...I wonder if it doesn't illustrate or at least suggest that there's a certain apodictic tone, or mood, in which the Devil feels right at home, and ready for work.  As a master of distraction, if nothing else. 

Most reflective people are conscious of the existence of evil in the world, though they may perceive the boundaries differently.  Perhaps for this discussion we can agree to focus on evil as it expresses itself in the actions of persons toward other sentient beings (and perhaps against the environment more generally), setting aside massive typhoons in India or the evolutionary development of the Sphex wasps?  Most reflective persons have some sense of prudence, and specifically are prudent about entangling themselves with evil.  And most reflective people develop or adopt narratives that express and in part explain their relationship to “the world and all that dwell therein.”

If Mr. Scalia or any of us find a narrative that involves a more-or-less anthropomorphized Satan a useful way to deal with Evil in the world, then it is a useful tool toward a life well lived.  However, the issue is not whether in a controlled and unthreatening conversation we name Evil, but rather how we will react when confronted by Evil or the opportunity to choose between Evil and Good.

Mark L.

Agree, Mark L.


Michael G., in case you never learned the outcome of the Baby Messiah case:

"I’m afraid I stand by what I said."

Mark, Be not afraid.  I had no illusions that your would not stand by what you said.  I hope that my palty contribution will save the Commnweal staff from the breadline.  I suspect, however, that many of them have volunteered in soup kitches, etc.

"Some things are true, even if Justice Scalia says them."

How true. For example, freedom of speech, even for flag-burners, is a good thing, even if Justice Scalia is one of the most stalwart defenders of free speech. Freedom of religion, ditto. Treating people equally without regard to race, ditto. Preventing the government from seizing people's homes on behalf of a wealthy corporation, ditto. Saying that police shouldn't seize someone's DNA without a warrant, ditto.

How can a guy who is automatically wrong be so right so often . . . it's a mystery. 


"If you are retired and on a fixed income and have been employed by the Catholic Church your entire working life, you might not have made such a comment."

Sorry, Helen.  Mark made his and just because you didn't make yours ... tough noogies.

Perhaps if one was living in Central America during the Reagan years, the line from Satan to Reagan could have been easily drawn? 


I think you will concede that the shift you now lament began with the last sentence of your opening post, no?

Very good point, Philip.  Reagan may have been a good writer, but he was a simpleton vis-a-vis the "red menace."  He was propelled into politics by right-wing businessmen who saw communists everywhere, and he learned their prejudices.  In Reagan's mind, the poor in Central America, South Africa, the Philippines, and elsewhere had no legitimate grievances against their "anti-communist" leaders like Rios Montt, De Klerk, and Marcos.  Therefore they MUST have been under the sway of communist agitators.  

It was under Reagan that the gap between the wealthy and the middle class began to grow and it hasn't stopped yet.  Only the "agitators" have changed: without communists for the CEOs to blame, their bogeymen are now Michael Moore, George Soros, and Occupy Wall Street.


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