The Denver Post reports on a talk by hyperconservative Justice Antonin Scalia at a religious conference:

The 75-year-old Scalia said that today one can believe in a creator and the teachings of Jesus without being the brunt of too much ridicule, but that to hold traditional Christian beliefs that Jesus is God and He physically rose from the grave is to be derided as simple-minded by those considered leading intellectuals….

In Washington, Scalia said, the pundits and media couldn’t believe in a miracle performed under their noses. “My point is not that reason and intellect need to be laid aside,” Scalia said. “A faith without a rational basis should be laid aside as false. … What is irrational is to reject a priori the possibility of miracles in general and the resurrection of Jesus Christ in particular.”

ThinkProgress’s Ian Milhiser rightly observes, “the clear implication of Scalia’s statement appears to be than all non-Christians — or approximately two-thirds of the world’s population — are ‘irrational.'”

i-7c89e51ac9da661406eae5f2909ce549-JeffersonBibleSource.jpgMore importantly, it also rules out a lot of Christians, including at least one Founding Father: Thomas Jefferson. As we discussed recently, Jefferson – who consistently referred to himself as a Christian – edited the New Testament to remove all the miracles, including the resurrection.

To his long-time friend and secretary, he wrote in 1820 about his edited Bible and his religious views more generally:

My aim in that was, to justify the character of Jesus against the fictions of his pseudo-followers, which have exposed him to the inference of being an impostor. For if we could believe that he really countenanced the follies, the falsehoods and the charlatanisms which his biographers father on him, and admit the misconstructions, interpolations and theorizations of the fathers of the early, and fanatics of the latter ages, the conclusion would be irresistible by every sound mind, that he was an impostor. I give no credit to their falsifications of his actions and doctrines, and to rescue his character, the postulate in my letter asked only what is granted in reading every other historian. When Livy and Siculus, for example, tell us things which coincide with our experience of the order of nature, we credit them on their word, and place their narrations among the records of credible history. But when they tell us of calves speaking, of statues sweating blood, and other things against the course of nature, we reject these as fables not belonging to history. In like manner, when an historian, speaking of a character well known and established on satisfactory testimony, imputes to it things incompatible with that character, we reject them without hesitation, and assent to that only of which we have better evidence. … I say, that this free exercise of reason is all I ask for the vindication of the character of Jesus. We find in the writings of his biographers [that is, the Gospels and some Epistles of the New Testament -JR] matter of two distinct descriptions. First, a groundwork of vulgar ignorance, of things impossible, of superstitions, fanaticisms and fabrications [i.e., miracles -JR]. Intermixed with these, again, are sublime ideas of the Supreme Being, aphorisms and precepts of the purest morality and benevolence, sanctioned by a life of humility, innocence and simplicity of manners, neglect of riches, absence of worldly ambition and honors, with an eloquence and persuasiveness which have not been surpassed.

In other words, Jefferson regarded miracles, including tales of the immaculate conception and of resurrection, to be mere fancies glommed onto a more important (and non-supernatural) story. Supreme Court Justice Scalia apparently regards this view as irrational.

Comments

  1. #1 Marry Me, Mindy
    March 7, 2012

    I guess I took a different conclusion from Scalia’s comment. Apparently, he realizes he is not an intellectual. I guess I’d agree.

  2. #2 D. C. Sessions
    March 7, 2012

    Well, Scalia says he isn’t always an originalist.

  3. #3 Anthony McCarthy
    March 7, 2012

    Good Lord, no one has to take anything Scalia says about religion seriously, certainly not on the Gospel of Jesus. On issue after issue Scalia is in direct opposition to what Jesus taught, what his closest followers, who actually knew and heard him taught and much of what was taught in the authentic letter of Paul. What he says on the subject is backed up with zero credibility. If he believes Jesus is God he certainly doesn’t demonstrate that with a rigorous adherence to his moral teaching, for that reason I doubt he really believes in the divinity of Jesus.

    Miracles are a problematic issue because not all proposed miracles are of the same kind. But I’m not in the mood to discuss it, neither side of the issue has a consistently rational position on them.

  4. #4 J. J. Ramsey
    March 7, 2012

    To be fair to Scalia, while he did say that a priori rejection of miracles was irrational, he didn’t say the same of a posteriori rejection of them, and it’s the latter that one should expect of a rational materialist. After all, it’s not that the idea of miracles is false by definition, so much as it is that reports of miracles have long had a track record of either being unverifiable or outright debunked. That’s probably not quite what Scalia had in mind, but he did leave himself an out. :)

  5. #5 Ribis
    March 8, 2012

    Except, we rather do have to take what Scalia says about religion seriously. In 2012, many religious zealots will likely enter state and local office, and, given their campaign platforms, many likely will begin enacting Scripture-based law. At that point, the meta-religious views of federal judges will greatly influence which of these laws receive hearings and pass Constitutional muster.

    I care little what God Scalia worships. However, I care greatly about his and other judges’ opinions on Scriptural literalism, on the United States’ institutional secularism, and, most specifically, the need to temporally justify all American law. Moreover, if he finds a prima facie belief in magical happenings justifiable, and he advocates that belief publicly in spite of the fact that his retention of office requires absolutely no perennial election-season posturing, I find that quite troubling.

  6. #6 Anthony McCarthy
    March 8, 2012

    His belief in the possibility of miracles is far, far less troubling to me than his belief in corporate “personhood”, his occult credulity in “original intent”, indeed the continuing metaphysical efficacy in the oracle of “The Founders” that is powerful enough to triumph over the disasters of the succeeding two centuries that come directly from some of their allegedly authoritative writ, all of which Scalia shares with some atheists, none of which I actually believe is more than an excuse to do terrible things.

    I can see absolutely no danger to a belief in, for example, the Resurrection of Jesus, something which some of the great figures in American civil rights professed. If Scalia explicitly inserted it into a ruling he knows he would make himself a figure of ridicule. I’m far more worried about the kind of thinking that led to such awful judicial rulings as Buck v Bell and Buckley v Valeo. In one case an unwarranted credulity in “science” and the other a obviously anti-democratic assertion of “free speech” which has been enormously damaging to self-government.

  7. #7 Lord Griggs
    March 18, 2012

    Jefferson in a letter to John Adams says you’d say I was no Christian. He lauded the day when Christinsanity was no more! Oh, but maybe he only referred to institutionalized Christianity. Anyway, the the-con-job-servatives cannot claim him!
    So, in context he is a Christian only in the sense of Yeshua’s morality. Now, we realize that Yeshua as a great moral leader, as Col Ingersoll and Lord Russell say, unlike other non-theists, is the scam of the ages as Jako Miklos,deist, documents from the Bible itself in ” Confronting Believers.”
    http://buy-bull.posterous.com

  8. #8 Anthony McCarthy
    March 18, 2012

    Lord Griggs, first, Jefferson was not the only “founding father”, second, what he said has no special status as truth, third, he explicitly endorsed the theology of Joseph Priestly and Channing, both of whom explicitly called themselves Christians. Maybe you should consider what he wrote to Timothy Pickering esq. in which he hoped that the entire nation would be “rallied to the unity of the Creator and… the pure doctrines of Jesus, also”.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=kNIcAQAAIAAJ&pg=PA210&lpg=PA210#v=onepage&q&f=false

    Jefferson was a lot more impressed by Jesus than a lot of blog folk would like to believe.

  9. #9 afrika mangosu
    March 19, 2012

    I care little what God Scalia worships. However, I care greatly about his and other judges’ opinions on Scriptural literalism, on the United States’ institutional secularism, and, most specifically, the need to temporally justify all American law. Moreover, if he finds a prima facie belief in magical happenings justifiable, and he advocates that belief publicly in spite of the fact that his retention of office requires absolutely no perennial election-season posturing, I find that quite troubling.

  10. #10 Wow
    March 21, 2012

    “Jefferson was not only a slave owner, but he had lots of sex with em too!”

    So you hate America so much you’re gleeful at noting that one of the major founding influences and a central political figure in the creation of the United States of America was a RAPIST (and therefore, since such “sin” is commutative, the USA must be shared by all USians)!

    Man, you fundies are a weird bunch.