Sunday, October 04, 2009

Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death:

Patrick Henry did indeed say this (there is an "unconfirmed quotation" of Henry's that begins with "it cannot be emphasized..." that Henry did NOT say).

Henry was (most scholars agree) an orthodox Trinitarian Christian, indeed one who believed in a pretty close connection between Church & State (Jefferson and Madison fought against HIS assessment bill to fund teachers of the Christian religion in VA).

However, the Bible really doesn’t stand for the proposition of “give me political liberty or give me death,” but rather “give me spiritual liberty or give me death.” Political liberty is alien to the Bible. The “liberty” to which the Bible speaks is freedom in Christ (or from the bondage of sin). St. Paul was clear that one could be a chattel slave qua chattel save and “free” in this sense.

The line “give me liberty or give me death” was lifted from Joseph Addison’s play Cato, about a noble pagan figure from antiquity who committed suicide rather than submit to the tyranny of Caesar.

Where I am going with this? Christian Nationalists often claim that the overwhelming majority of FFs were “Christians” and even the “non-Christians” like Franklin and Jefferson were influenced by a “Christian worldview.” And no doubt, there is a kernel of truth there. Many of the FFs were orthodox Christians and Franklin and Jefferson were indeed influenced by Christianity.

However the converse is true as well: Many of the “orthodox Christians” like Patrick Henry were influenced by an Enlightenment and noble pagan-Greco-Roman worldview.

You can read more about the background of the play Cato here and also learn more about how the play influenced other FFs.