A program of the Center for Inquiry
This article was first published in the November/December 2014 issue of THE AMERICAN RATIONALIST (Vol. LX, No. 6). We republish it here as we look back on the legacy and impact of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died on February 13, 2016.
The notion of deism, believing in a “first cause” creator of the universe, typically has benign ramifications. Deists are rarely if ever fundamentalists, not passionate about their imagined creator, and do not pretend to know or guess the mind of that cosmological and dispassionate first cause.
The viewpoint of the theist, however, can bear malignant consequences. Under theism, this proposed first cause deity or creator does not remain still and idle with arms crossed as it observes creation, but chooses sides, responds to prayers, and rewards its believers and worshippers.
I have no doubt that the reader is aware how this imagined version of God deals with nonbelievers. The god-soaked devotees are convinced that the penalty for skepticism is hideous and eternal—yet all this blind and god-fearing faith and speculation has at its base no evidence whatsoever.
When the pious believer develops the conviction that he or she absolutely has his very own god on his side, he may fly planes into buildings, murder family planning doctors, kill children to send them directly to “heaven,” and even burn innocent people alive as a way to follow the commandments of their supreme overlord.
Before a Muslim takes his own life along with others he shouts “God is great!” (Allahu akbar). Christian Crusaders supposed that a cross emblazoned on their shields would ensure that their god protected them. Nazi soldiers all wore belts with “Gott mit uns” (God on our side) embossed on the buckles.
And one particular U.S. Supreme Court justice seems to have the Christian version of God etched indelibly on his grey matter.
When asked by a gay student why he equated laws banning human sodomy with proscriptions against bestiality and murder, Justice Scalia offered the following pretext: “It’s a form of argument… the ‘reduction to the absurd.’ If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder? Can we have it against other things?”
He thus declares a perilous and slippery moral slope: if we are not appalled because there are gays in the world who “know” one another biblically, it is thus hypocritical to be appalled by murder—based on “moral feelings.”1
Some among us have moral feelings regarding consumption of other mammals. Might Scalia therefore embrace such “feelings” as valid reasons to adjudicate against meat eaters?
Scalia’s sophistry in this case is a combination of the moralistic and the inconsistent comparison fallacies. One could reasonably add the naturalistic fallacy to his false perception and thus grant the elusive hat trick of illogic within his one contorted attempt at a moral notion.
To justify capital punishment, Scalia actually cited the Bible (Romans 13:1–3). This, from the benches of the Supreme Court of the United States, in the twenty-first century and with a Jeffersonian wall supposedly separating Church from State. He quoted directly from the King James version: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil.”2
Are phrases like “ordained of God” and “receive to themselves damnation” valid maxims for any U.S. judge to bring to bear in his arsenal of jurisprudence?
Scalia reveres the words of the Artist Formerly Known as Saul, a simple and credulous mortal later bestowed a Romanized moniker and sainthood extempore. “Saint Paul” affected the doctrines of Christendom more than the gospels did. For example, the traditional “head of the household” is the man, as is evident in Paul’s misogyny from Ephesians 5:22–23 (authorship questionable, as with most of the Bible): “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body.”
Note also that Paul will “suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence” (1 Timothy 2:12).
One might ask Justice Scalia: Are men the legal heads of households with biblical and sacrosanct precedence delivered from his particular god? Must wives indeed submit themselves unto their husbands and shut the hell up?
Scalia actually wrote that “government derives all of its authority from God” with powers to “revenge” and to “execute wrath.”3 Among the thousands imagined, Scalia did not stipulate which god he presupposes, but as a Catholic he must mean Yahweh, Jesus’s vengeful and violent forebear.
Might the Founding Fathers agree with Bible-based legal reasoning?
Thomas Jefferson would succumb to projectile vomiting if a fellow architect of the Constitution had proposed any sort of Saul-supported law or trust in superstitious scripture. Thomas Paine would have tossed his Thetford crumpets, and Benjamin Franklin may have responded by relocating permanently to his second home on the other side of the pond among the wine-swilling natives of Gaul.
Scalia absolutely agrees with that ancient text, the Bible. “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God,” as Scalia quoted Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. He then stated that this “is not the Old Testament,” thus suggesting that the OT may be evil, but Paul’s decrees are somehow valid, even immutable.4
God got it all wrong, and Paul corrected him, it seems.
Scalia wrote that “until very recent times” the words of Paul “represent the consensus of Western thought.”5 Well, also until recent times slavery and relegation of women to second-class citizenship were the consensus of Western thought. Does that make such notions valid and just today? Or even valid at any prior time in history?
Scalia cited “Christian doctrine of salvation and damnation” and “heaven and hell” as supporting arguments for secular laws and punishment of crimes.6 Certainly such words transgress brazenly on the Establishment Clause. Whereas Congress can make no law respecting an establishment of religion, aren’t judges also barred from favoring a religion?
Apparently not. It seems that Supreme Court justices hold even more authoritarian power than did British naval captains in the eighteenth century, our U.S. Constitution be damned.
Imagine if Scalia based an opinion on the Qur’an or on Beowulf. Even Fox News might raise concern at such a citation as legal antecedent.
But Scalia unashamedly justified his opinions using a letter from that self-proclaimed “apostle” Paul, who merely had Hey-zeus hallucinations and admitted (2 Corinthians 12:2) he never met his savior, Jesus the Christ. Paul had “visions” and saw “lights” in the sky—moreover, the biblical accounts contradict one another (Acts 9:3–4, 16:29, 18, 22, 26:13–16; Galatians 1).7
Because Scalia is a justice in the land of Christian majority, citing the Bible as valid and binding jurisprudence barely caused a skeptical blip on media radar. He claims that in America “we are a religious people, whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.”
His petitions are nothing but straw-man fallacies. Scalia cited “proofs” of his legal opinions using examples such as “In God we trust on our coins, one nation under God in our Pledge of Allegiance, the opening of sessions of our legislatures with a prayer...”8
I am sure the reader is aware that these impositions were not created by the founders but were cobbled in the mid-twentieth century in paranoid response to “godless” communism. Jefferson absolutely opposed prayer in the legislature, as well as appointment of military chaplains.
If we were, say, a bigoted people, or misogynist, would Scalia’s tenuous argumentum ad populum still hold, nullifying our Constitution?
I take offense at Scalia claiming we are a religious people, and so should you—this is akin to saying that we are a Caucasian people—the antithesis of a fair and just and democratic republic. In my view his pronouncement that we are religious is akin to a declaration that we are superstitious—nothing to be proud of, and nothing that would justify religious or sanctimonious adjudication.
Imagine HR 3022, “No Black Cats”—or perhaps another titled “Elimination of Friday the Thirteenth.” Scalia, would-be theocrat and Christocrat, may well approve of similar laws if he might discover biblical precedence in support.
In the U.S. our secular laws constrain not only the legislature but also the judiciary, and while Supreme Court appointees have possible lifetime job security, under Articles I, II, and III of the Consti-tution they may in fact be impeached. Given the incandescent and encompassing Establishment Clause one must wonder why no authority has broached this subject formally regarding Scalia’s obvious and even unconstitutional Christian bias, his inability to think logically, and his agenda of a religious and superstitious nature.
I have heard that Antonin Scalia is quite affable. Like Jimmy Stewart, Tom Hanks, or Don Quixote, it is nearly impossible not to like the fellow. But that certainly should not permit Scalia to pronounce court opinions based on works of fiction or founded on ignorant views of pious madmen whose notions of fairness are determined based on whether you are a Hebrew (e.g., Matthew 10:5, against the “Gentiles”) and whether you sport a penis or a vagina.
As one example, might Scalia invoke First Corinthians if a case is brought before the Nine involving some matter of hair length? “Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering” (1 Corinthians 11:14–15).
I am sure the reader can instantly conjure up other examples of Christian or Hebrew “law” that would send even the most pious Jesus freak calling foul. The slavery edicts are obvious illustrations of Christian legal warrants: for example, Jesus advising that disobedient servants be whipped savagely (Luke 12:47), or instruction on how to sell your daughter into slavery (Exodus 21:7). Why should Scalia ignore rape laws from the OT wherein the penalty is money paid to the victim’s father and the woman must marry her rapist (Deuteronomy 22:28–29)? Funny that Jesus, meek and mild and omniscient son of God, never countermanded such immoral edicts imposed by his wicked father.
Amorous words from Paul are quoted at just about every wedding I have attended. Yet buried deep and never preached we find Paul advising not to marry (1 Corinthians 7:27–38) because you will care more for your spouse than how you “may please the Lord.” One wonders why Scalia ignored that sacred restraint, marrying Maureen McCarthy in 1960. Perhaps legislation should be introduced prohibiting marriage, with Paul’s letters to the unctuous men of Corinth as undeniable legal sanction.
One must also wonder why any devout Christian would hold in high regard, for example, God’s divinely inspired murder of all firstborn children of Egypt (Exodus 11:5). This atrocity was not merely sanctioned by the god imagined by ancient Hebrews, but ostensibly enacted by him. In Stenberg v. Carhart, a 2000 case involving abortion, Scalia opined: “Why is it not an appropriate interest that the state is worried about rendering society callous to infanticide?”9 Yet Scalia, it would seem, concurs with his god’s callous acts of such selfsame infanticide—since “government derives all of its authority from God.”
To the secular reader I ask: When you see a cross symbol, does it represent anything religious to you? To my Jewish friends, the same question. Is it just a plus sign vertically elongated, or, just perhaps, anything else?
To Justice Scalia, when placed on a grave this solemn symbol of Jesus’s sacrifice loses its obvious Christian connotation and becomes benign and nonreligious (see Salazar v. Buono). “The cross is the most common symbol of ... of ... of the resting places of the dead,” he said. One might ask Scalia if he is aware of the most common symbols of the resting places in Hebrew, Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu tradition. (Hint: it is not a cross.)10
It may come as no surprise that Scalia’s narrow-minded piety eventually turned Justice Kennedy, fellow justice and his former jogging buddy, against the unctuous Italiano sacerdote.11
Also unsurprising: Scalia was appointed by Ronald Reagan.
Antonin Scalia was raised Catholic—conservative Catholic, proudly Roman Catholic—and thus holds a viewpoint that affects and infects his court decisions and his opinions rendered in formal records. Yet in October 2007, giving the keynote address at Villanova Law School’s Scarpa Conference on Catholic Legal Studies, he stated:
There is no such thing as a ‘Catholic judge.’ … The bottom line is that the Catholic faith seems to me to have little effect on my work as a judge…. Just as there is no “Catholic” way to cook a hamburger, I am hard pressed to tell you of a single opinion of mine that would have come out differently if I were not Catholic.12
No Catholic way to cook a hamburger, perhaps. But for centuries there was indeed a Catholic way to cook heretics and witches. The Inquisition was a virtual Catholic BBQ with millions of pagans and accused witches tortured (including children) and placed upon the grill to die in agony.13
Thus Catholics today would be wise to steer clear of metaphors involving words like cook—and infanticide, for that matter.
Scalia presents himself as an originalist regarding constitutional understanding and legal philosophy, claiming to uphold what the constitution actually says, not a modern interpretation adjusted to present social norms and enlightenment—and with no agenda. He has said that calling the Constitution a “living document” is a fallacy; and he declares he does not subscribe to the proposition that he is authorized to deduce any societal “evolving standards of decency.”
One wonders if Justice Scalia is familiar with the concepts of skepticism and scientific evidence. He attempts to deny it, but Scalia is clearly a cherry picker, a Catholic stamp collector, pious philatelist and judicial activist who—against his own disavowals—legislates from the bench (or altar?), and moreover actually believes ancient stories that were imposed upon him by his parents and clergy in his youth, carrying them into his adulthood unquestioned.
These are the types of tales and notions that a fourteen-year-old who was raised without religion might laugh and jeer at: ordained of God, damnation—Scalia’s own words and convictions. Moreover, his reliance on Saul of Tarsus, a madman by any sober and secular and sensible standard, might force one to question Scalia’s intellectual qualifications and objective abilities to sit on the highest U.S. court.
Compartmentalization and cognitive dissonance are powerful internal forces that can affect even the most brilliant thinker. In his mind, Scalia’s agenda-free agenda is valid because it is Bible-based.
Note that witch killing is also Bible-based (Exodus 22:18), as well as a plethora of immoral edicts sanctioned by the Judeo-Christian holy book.
As Scalia pretends that metaphysical and superstitious notions represent valid reasoning in his lofty profession as Supreme Court justice, that same fourteen-year-old should not merely laugh but also shed tears over the spooky and pious piffle that he afflicts upon U.S. law.
Scalia claims he does not favor the death penalty but does “not find the death penalty immoral”—because of the words of Saint Paul! This same saint actually believed in the fairy tales about Adam and Eve and the talking snake (2 Corinthians 11:3). Poor Saint Paul.
Scalia abhors the idea that one could “sweep aside (if one could) two thousand years of Christian teaching.” Is he aware that New Testament teaching includes the aforementioned slave whipping, mandatory hate (Luke 14:26), and murdering subordinate children (Mark 7:10 and Matthew 15:4)? Are these representative Bible verses he somehow missed, or that he chooses to ignore?
And let’s face it, if he is a believing Catholic, Scalia must buy into the Holy Spirit’s transvaginal fertilization of Mary’s ovum (Matthew 1:18), a woman apparently impregnated magically and against her will (otherwise called rape).
Scalia is one of the most powerful judges in the U.S., even ruling on matters of woman’s choice, very often based upon a book of myths and immoral edicts.
Michael Paulkovich is an aerospace engineer and freelance writer, a contributor to Free Inquiry magazine, author of the series “Dogma Watch” for American Atheist magazine. His book, No Meek Messiah—Christianity’s Lies, Laws and Legacy is available on Amazon.com. See nomeekmessiah.com for chapter previews and information.