In a widely quoted and discussed interview in New York Magazine in 2013, the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia expressed his belief that the Devil is a real person who has succeeded in convincing a lot of people that neither he nor God exists:
I even believe in the Devil. … Yeah, he’s a real person. Hey, c’mon, that’s standard Catholic doctrine! … You know, it’s 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 much anymore. … What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way.
Scalia sensed that the interviewer was dumbstruck by his belief:
You’re looking at me as though I’m weird. My God! … Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It’s in the Gospels. … 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.
One of the intelligent people who seemed to share Scalia’s view of the Devil was Whittaker Chambers, the brilliant writer, ex-Soviet espionage agent, Time magazine editor, chief accuser of Alger Hiss, National Review senior editor, and author of Witness and Cold Friday, who in February 1948 wrote an essay in Life magazine about a New Year’s Eve conversation between a pessimist and Satan.
In the essay, the Devil appears as a large, tanned, immaculately dressed stranger. “I do seem to have met you somewhere,” says the pessimist. The stranger suggests that the pessimist may have seen him during an earthquake or in the fires of a bombed city. “You are quite right: I am the Devil—Satan, the Fiend, called, and rightly so, the Prince of this World.”
The stranger looks urbane and distinguished, like a movie mogul, a college president, a physician, or a successful executive. But his eyes, Chambers writes, “were a swampy black, and into their depths all vision sank without leaving a trace.” They “hung suspended in their sockets like orbs in a void of omnivorous vigilance, motionless, enveloping and contemplative without compassion.” The Devil cautions the pessimist not to “stare too long into eyes which, in better times, have borne the inexpressible light of Heaven and read their doom by the flocculent night of Hell.” “Eyes that for 600,000 years have patiently probed the purulent heart of evil as a finger pushes through the walls of an ulcer.”
The pessimist congratulates the Devil for his effective disguise: “I took you for a gentleman.” Satan is pleased. He tells the pessimist that Hell is in the “underground” and is a “conspiracy.” As with any conspiracy, the Devil explains, “its first requirement is that nobody shall believe in it.” He boasts that “there is scarcely a rational man in the world today who, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, believes that the Devil exists.” Baudelaire was right: “The Devil’s cleverest wile is to make men believe that he does not exist.” In a brilliant passage, Chambers has the Devil explain previous unsuccessful efforts on his part to wipe God (and Satan’s existence) from men’s minds:
I had a look at the record—thousands and thousands of years of tempting stubborn saints and seducing all too willing mortals, pandering to the grossest vices of a breed already depraved by original sin; years of frightening dimwitted peasants with horns and hoofs and tricks that a sideshow conjuror would be ashamed of; years of making theatrical blood pacts and mixing obscene love potions for senescent scholars whose libidos had outlasted their wits; years of dancing on drafty mountaintops with bevies of bearded hags who wanted to be Rockettes for a night; years of tormenting damned souls until the mouth of Hell smelled like the open door of a cafeteria kitchen.
None of those efforts bore fruit, so the Devil implemented a “revolutionary strategy” based on the central idea of the Enlightenment: “Faith in the human mind had supplanted faith in God.” Progress and Science led the way.
Instead of destroying man by seducing him to do evil, the Devil’s strategy was to destroy man by seducing him through good. The best way to accomplish that was to send Hell underground, persuade man that Satan does not exist, and in the name of Science and Progress remove God from the center of creation and the universe. Without God, there was no absolute standard of conduct. What followed was the terror of the French Revolution; industrial oppression of men, women, and children; the horrors of communism; world wars and the use of science for greater destructiveness, culminating in atomic weapons. “I have brought man to the point of intellectual pride,” boasted the Devil, “where self-extermination lies within his power.”
A few years later, after living through the turmoil of the Hiss case, Chambers wrote Witness wherein he described the Cold War as simply the latest manifestation of a struggle between “two irreconcilable faiths,” that is, faith in man and faith in God. Chambers described the secular utopian vision as:
[T]he vision of man without God. It is the vision of man’s mind displacing God as the creative intelligence of the world. It is the vision of man’s liberated mind, by the sole force of its rational intelligence, redirecting man’s destiny and reorganizing man’s life and the world. It is the vision of man, once more the central figure of the Creation, not because God made man in His image, but because man’s mind makes him the most intelligent of the animals.
It is this vision that has come to dominate our popular culture and public education institutions. It is this vision that has increasingly forced religion from the public square. It is this vision that Justice Scalia knew “favors the Devil’s desires.”
Francis P. Sempa author of several books and articles on history and foreign policy, is an attorney and adjunct professor of political science at Wilkes University.