Antonin Scalia, one of the most conservative justices on the Supreme Court, tipped his hand during a speech on Thursday.
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On Thursday, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia delivered the commencement address at a private all-girls 700-student Catholic school in Bethesda, Maryland. How was the small school lucky enough to get a sitting Supreme Court justice? Scalia's granddaughter was graduating from the school that day.
Justice Scalia, one of the Court's most conservative justices, is often giving speeches and interviews, not to mention writing legal opinions for the Supreme Court on cases that shape the nation and our future.
His commentary is often amusing – even his closest friend on the Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the most progressive of all the justices – enjoys his wit and sense of humor.
But often Scalia's comments reveal the mind of someone who seems stuck in a different century – not the 21st century, not even the 20th.
For example, in a 2013 interview with New York Magazine, Scalia casually acknowledged he not only believes the devil exists, but that the devil is a real person.
Here's the transcript, which is too riveting to summarize:
SCALIA: I even believe in the Devil.
NY MAGAZINE: You do?
SCALIA: Of course! Yeah, he’s a real person. Hey, c’mon, that’s standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that.
NY MAGAZINE: Every Catholic believes this? There’s a wide variety of Catholics out there …
SCALIA: If you are faithful to Catholic dogma, that is certainly a large part of it.
NY MAGAZINE: Have you seen evidence of the Devil lately?
SCALIA: 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.
NY MAGAZINE: No.
SCALIA: It’s because he’s smart.
NY MAGAZINE: So what’s he doing now?
SCALIA: What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way.
NY MAGAZINE: That has really painful implications for atheists. Are you sure that’s the Devil’s work?
SCALIA: I didn’t say atheists are the Devil’s work.
NY MAGAZINE: Well, you’re saying the Devil is persuading people to not believe in God. Couldn’t there be other reasons to not believe?
SCALIA: 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.
NY MAGAZINE: Right.
SCALIA: What happened to him?
NY MAGAZINE: He just got wilier.
SCALIA: He got wilier.
That exchange concluded with an apparently unhinged Scalia going off on the reporter.
"You’re looking at me as though I’m weird," the now 79-year old Roman Catholic conservative jurist cried. "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."
A 2009 survey by The Barna Group, a Christian polling organization, titled "Most American Christians Do Not Believe that Satan or the Holy Spirit Exist," disputes Scalia's claim.
But let's fast forward to Thursday.
Delivering his speech at his granddaughter's graduation, Scalia tipped his hand a bit more subtly.
“Class of 2015, you should not leave Stone Ridge High School thinking that you face challenges that are at all, in any important sense, unprecedented,” Scalia, a bit condescendingly, told the graduating class. “Humanity has been around for at least some 5,000 years or so, and I doubt that the basic challenges as confronted are any worse now, or alas even much different, from what they ever were.”
ThinkProgress' Ian Millhiser offers an intelligent rebuttal of Scalia's comments.
"Humanity began to develop much more than 5,000 years ago. Early human ancestors began to diverge from the chimpanzee lineage about six million years ago. The first members of the species Homo sapiens are believed to have lived in Africa about 100,000 years ago, and cave paintings and other evidence of human culture exist that are believed to have been created 50,000 years ago."
Young earth creationists generally believe that God created the earth within the last 10,000 years. This is a fringe view, however, within Scalia’s Catholic faith.
Should it trouble Americans that several of our Supreme Court justices, like Scalia – who are determining the long-term direction of our nation – are of a mind that is so far removed from today's America, from science, from the Internet, from the day-to-day lives of average Americans who neither believe in the devil nor believe dinosaurs roamed the earth with man?
Here's Scalia's speech:
Image: Screenshot via myMCMedia/YouTube