Justice vs. The Worldly Wise

OK, here's where things stand in the war of words between the U.S. Supreme Court justice and the "worldly wise."

According to Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, the elites that rule American intellectual life think that Christians who believe in Easter and other biblical miracles are irrational fools. According to many outraged journalists, politicos and intellectuals, it was irrational and foolish of him to lash out like that at the American people.

"We are fools for Christ's sake," said Scalia, at a prayer breakfast sponsored by the Christian Legal Society chapter at the Mississippi College School of Law. "We must pray for the courage to endure the scorn of the sophisticated world."

Note: Scalia blasted the "sophisticated," "modern" and "worldly wise." Then, the very groups he criticized returned fire by saying that he was attacking America -- period.

The Washington Post reported: "Scalia, a devout Roman Catholic, issued a harsh condemnation of American society, portraying it as not just skeptical of, but openly hostile to religious believers -- particularly Christians."

One of Scalia's most outspoken critics went further. "It's a right-wing litmus test. ... If you don't say religion is being beat up on, then you aren't pitifully correct," the Rev. James Dunn, of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, told the Washington Post. "If the American people were as anti-religious as everyone says, then a Supreme Court justice wouldn't have the right to run around saying things like that."

It would help to know more about what Scalia said. However, the justice insisted that his remarks not be taped and his office has not released a text. The Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger and the Associated Press filed reports and many who were in attendance have been interviewed by journalists.

Obviously, Scalia knew his remarks -- which were laced with sarcasm and irony -- would cause a firestorm, said Phillip E. Johnson, an outspoken Christian who teaches law at the University of California at Berkeley.

"But no one is saying the American people are anti-religious -- especially not Justice Scalia," said Johnson, who began his career as a clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren. "What he was doing was defending belief in a supernatural God. That's his bottom line."

A Baptist Press report offered another crucial detail. Scalia focused, in part, on 1 Corinthians 1: 18-19: "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, `I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the cleverness of the clever I will thwart.' "

Today, very little has changed, said Scalia. "The worldly wise just will not have anything to do with miracles. ... To be honest about it, that is the view of Christians taken by modern society. Surely those who adhere to all or most ... traditional Christian beliefs are to be regarded as simple-minded."

Concerning the resurrection, he added: "It is not irrational to accept the testimony of eyewitnesses who had nothing to gain. ... The wise do not believe in the resurrection of the dead. So everything from Easter morning to the Ascension had to be made up by the groveling enthusiasts as part of their plan to get themselves martyred."

Scalia appears to have argued that the "worldly wise" are "naturalists" who reject belief in a supernatural, intelligent, God, said Johnson, author of "Reason in the Balance: The Case Against Naturalism in Science, Law & Education." This means that the justice's remarks will anger modernist conservatives who preach social Darwinism, as well as secular liberals.

"This is the big split right now in the Republican's rather shaky coalition -- between the pure economic conservatives and those who stress a moral order," said Johnson. "You see, once you start talking about the God of the Bible, then you're talking about a God who makes moral demands and plays a real role in the real world. ... For many people, it's shocking to hear a Supreme Court justice stand up and say he believes in that kind of God."