Old Geezers Out to Lunch

Old Geezers Out to Lunch
The Geezers Emeritus through history: The Mathematician™, Dr. Golf™, The Professor™, and Mercurious™

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Devil is in the Mirror, Antonin

In a recent interview, one of our Federal Supreme Court Justices, Anonin Scalia, acknowledged that he believed in the devil. Or should I say Devil, as a proper noun.

Not symbolically, as in a belief in the presence of evil in the world. Not figuratively, as an acknowledgement that we all from time to time behave in ways that later make us ashamed. His belief is as literal is it possibly could be. He believes, heart and soul, in a material, human-like creature with tangible, physical presence who leads the forces of evil. The Prince of Darkness. The Ayatollah of Evil. The Quarterback of Creepiness.  A devil that deserves a personal pronoun, as in "He is actively engaged in getting people not to believe in him or in God."

This is, mind you, one of the nine highly educated individuals who interpret the law of the land for the most powerful nation on earth.

James Garner as Jim Rockford.....Oh wait, no. This is our Justice,
Antonin Scalia, as he recognizes the Devil about to argue
before him in court.
Sigh.  I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. Scalia is correct, I'm sure, when he says that 70% of Americans actually believe in a physical flesh-and-sulfur devil complete with horns and pitchfork. But I still can't quite get my ahead around the idea that at my recent recent department meeting of 10 souls, 7 of them actually subscribe to the literal reality of this mythology. According to these stats, 70% of us are actively concerned with resisting the wiles of a real character; they worry about the King Demon's personal hatred for them.

Now, I wouldn't argue that Evil doesn't exist in the world. It's as real a force as the life-affirming strain of energy we call Good. It can and should be discussed at length by serious people.  And there's really nothing wrong with enjoying a fairy tale of assigning mythological figures to represent these principles. A version of Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox. But a fully literal belief in the symbols themselves, rather than the principles they represent, is another matter entirely. Further, it seems to me that pinning the source of evil on a Devil is a way to shirk personal responsibility for it. In the background, I can hear Flip Wilson's line,  "The Devil made me do it."
"Pull my finger, Satan!"

Joseph Campbell once wrote that primitive man was (and is) more in touch with the spiritual side of existence, not because he believes literally in the presence of his dead ancestors in the totem spirits of trees and rocks, but precisely because he knows these things aren't literally true but chooses the playful path of seriously pretending. Campbell argues, persuasively, that it is the spirit of playfulness, of imagination, that's actually crucial to a genuinely spiritual life. Modern religious dogma, he'd argue, in its insistence on an completely illogical but literal subscription to these imaginary creatures, actually kills the soul. "Live and practice the 'what if'" is ultimately Campbell's prescription for fulfillment. Campbell says nothing about the value of checking your brain and common sense at the door.

Insisting on the literal and rejecting the symbolic is a sure-fired way to kill the magic in life. Follow Scalia's court participation for awhile, and you're quite aware that the man enjoys no magic whatsoever.

Makes me want to pray for his soul.