In Stephen Vincent Benét’s 1937 short story, “The Devil and Daniel Webster“, the famous American statesman not only gets Jabez Stone, a farmer who sold his soul to the devil, out of the contract, he gets Mr. Scratch to agree “never to bother Jabez Stone nor his heirs or assigns nor any other New Hampshire man till doomsday!”
Webster was likely an excellent lawyer, but if I was in a lawsuit with the devil today I think I’d rather have Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia on my side. In a recent interview with New York magazine, the faithful Catholic jurist admits — to the surprise of the interviewer — that he believes the devil is real:
You believe in heaven and hell?
Oh, of course I do. Don’t you believe in heaven and hell?
Does that mean I’m not going?
[Laughing.] Unfortunately not!
Wait, to heaven or hell?
It doesn’t mean you’re not going to hell, just because you don’t believe in it. That’s Catholic doctrine! Everyone is going one place or the other.
But you don’t have to be a Catholic to get into heaven? Or believe in it?
Of course not!
Oh. So you don’t know where I’m going. Thank God.
I don’t know where you’re going. I don’t even know whether Judas Iscariot is in hell. I mean, that’s what the pope meant when he said, “Who am I to judge?” He may have recanted and had severe penance just before he died. Who knows?
Can we talk about your drafting process—
[Leans in, stage-whispers.] I even believe in the Devil.
Of course! Yeah, he’s a real person. Hey, c’mon, that’s standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that.
Every Catholic believes this? There’s a wide variety of Catholics out there …
If you are faithful to Catholic dogma, that is certainly a large part of it.
Have you seen evidence of the Devil lately?
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.
It’s because he’s smart.
So what’s he doing now?
What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way.
That has really painful implications for atheists. Are you sure that’s the Devil’s work?
I didn’t say atheists are the Devil’s work.
Well, you’re saying the Devil is persuading people to not believe in God. Couldn’t there be other reasons to not believe?
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.
What happened to him?
He just got wilier.
He got wilier.
Isn’t it terribly frightening to believe in the Devil?
You’re looking at me as though I’m weird. 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.
I hope you weren’t sensing contempt from me. It wasn’t your belief that surprised me so much as how boldly you expressed it.
I was offended by that. I really was.
Mainstream journalists are always shocked to find that intelligent people believe in the existence of the devil. But they are the ones in the minority. A new survey finds that a majority of Americans personally believe in the existence of the devil and believe that demons can possess humans. Indeed, more than half of all Americans (57%) believe in the existence of the devil and a slight majority (51%) believe in possession by evil spirits. Regardless of religious identity levels of belief top 50%, except for Jews, who theologically reject the idea of a sentient Satan. “Born-again” Christians are the most likely to both believe in the devil (86%) and possession (72%).