ON FAITH: Lessons from an American Believer
ON FAITH: Lessons from an American Believer. By Antonin Scalia. Edited by Christopher Scalia and Edward Whelan. New York: Crown Forum, 2019. 237 pages. $22.00.
In August of 2012 the Wall Street Journal reported that a survey revealed that “two-thirds of Americans can’t name any of the high court’s justices.” One of the justices at the time of the survey was Antonin Scalia, who died in February of 2016 and was replaced by Neil Gorsuch.
Justice Antonin Scalia was not only a Supreme Court Justice, but he was also a devout Roman Catholic.
Before his death, Antonin Scalia began collecting a few of his “speeches on religion into a book” (89). These efforts, along with the additional reflections and short essays of those who knew him, resulted in the book On Faith, published posthumously this year. It is a delightful read.
Antonin Scalia was, of course, an expert on the law, but as a devout Roman Catholic he had the occasion to think deeply and carefully about the intersection of church and state, for he was deeply committed to the Roman Catholic Church, and he was deeply committed to United States of America. Some would argue these are competing interests. Antonin Scalia argues, persuasively, that they are not.
The book’s subtitle is aptly named. “Lessons from an American BELIEVER.” Antonin Scalia has a lot of wisdom to share, not just for Roman Catholics, but for any religious person who seeks to exercise their faith in America. The orthodox Jew, the committed Muslim, the evangelizing Mormon, and the faithful Lutheran can all learn a lot from Scalia’s wisdom and insights.
Possessing a seat on the high court meant that Scalia often had to vote on matters that are prominent in American public consciousness (e.g., abortion, same-sex marriage, employment grievances, death penalty, etc.). Not only did he vote on such things, but he often had to provide a rationale for why he did so. On Faith provides a window into Scalia’s judgments, his rationale for them, and where his faith, and faith in general, fit into the picture.
As a Lutheran pastor in America I found Antonin Scalia’s articulate thoughts immensely valuable as I continue to grapple with the intersection of my faith and American citizenry. I was particularly grateful for the authoritative insights into the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment—a chronically hot-button issue in contemporary politics—and Scalia’s defense of it.
Lutherans, historically speaking, have a rich doctrine of the Two Kingdoms (which are ordered by the church and state respectively). The literature on this doctrine abounds. However, I have found On Faith to be the most helpful exploration into the topic precisely because it moves beyond the hypothetical and abstract to the concrete. It’s one thing to have a doctrine, it’s another thing to see it in practice. The Roman Catholic understanding of the Two Kingdoms hardly agrees with the Lutheran articulation of the same on every part, but there’s a lot of meat on those bones, and we’d be fools to throw it away without picking at it.
This book was lent to me by my grandfather, I only acknowledge this because I deeply regret that I could not mark-up its pages as I would with a book that I owned myself. This will likely be a book that I purchase for myself once I have returned the copy to my grandfather.
On Faith is a short work, only 222 pages of writing, and the pages are small (5”x7”). The chapters are all pretty short, which makes this a great book to use to kill time. If you have to wait five minutes here or ten minutes there, it’s not hard to find an essay that can be read in that time.
I strongly recommend this book to Christian men and women whose vocations put them in the public square, and I also strongly recommend this book to pastors, who are often approached by concerned laity who desire to exercise their faith faithfully in the public square.
Rev. Timothy A. Koch, Pastor of Emanuel Lutheran Church in Milbank, SD.