We all know Patrick Henry for his famous “give me liberty or give me death” speech given to the Virginia Convention in 1775 which swung Virginia into the independence camp of the burgeoning American revolution. What many people don’t know about Henry is that he was a devout Christian. Like other Virginia planters he was an Episcopalian but seems later in life to have preferred Presbyterianism which was closer to his Scots roots and evangelical soul. He was strongly evangelical and while supporting religious tolerance (at least for Protestants) had little tolerance for those of no religious stripe. (I have not been able to find any evidence of anti-Catholicism but there is something in the back of my memory that associates him with the level of anti-popery common among the Virginia frontier folk who were embracing the Presbyterian, Baptist, and Methodists revivals of the last decade of the eighteenth century. I could be wrong on this point.) He supported legislation that would have required each citizen to pay taxes for the support of the Church of his choice and he also supported legislation that would have paid teachers of religion from the public purse. This seems to us today to suggest a political conservative but in fact until he saw the excesses of the French Revolution he was pretty radical politically—an extreme democrat who opposed the Constitution for being a threat to personal liberty. He turned down Washington’s 1795 offer of being Secretary of State because the Federalist Government of Washington and Adams was too powerful for his vigilant concern over individual freedoms. I suppose today he would be a libertarian which makes his evangelical views appear all the more idiosyncratic. Libertarianism ultimately leaves the door open for there to be no societal brakes on individual moral behavior and that is at odds with the evangelical agenda that believes that moral questions such as premarital and extramarital sex, homosexuality, use of recreational drugs, sale and use of alcohol, etc. need to be regulated if not criminalized. Of course most of these current issues were not in Patrick Henry’s purview as the social parameters of the eighteenth century were far more restricted than ours but then, like now, there are always those who think that they government should stay out of their business but not necessarily yours or mine. While we cannot know for sure what Patrick Henry’s thoughts would be on the Christmas display on the Loudon County Courthouse lawn, his strong evangelical faith and his minimalist approach to government interference might indicate that he, probably like Sam Adams and Charles Carroll would be likely to support a Christian display on government property without endorsing any right for atheist groups to put up a display disparaging religion. Again one cannot second guess in history so this is only a likely conjecture given his strong endorsement for government support of religious practice. It is, I think, a reasonable surmise that John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and James Madison would oppose the idea that we are a “Christian Nation” while Patrick Henry, Charles Carroll, and Sam Adams may well have endorsed that position. But we will never know, not at least this side of eternity. Ms. Curtis’ claim that “there is no disputing” that we are a “Judeo-Christian Nation” is far from accurate. It reflects the smug comforts of a Loudon County housewife whose Hilly Holbrook lifestyle affords her the time to blahg blahg blahg Junior League nonsense. Go have a slice or two of Minnie Jackson’s pie, Hilly, and leave history to those whose profession it is.
And this brings me back to why I write this blog. For one thing I hate to see our Catholic heritage—our real heritage, especially as American Catholics—dressed up in the rags of nineteenth century neo-Baroque ultramontanism and paraded out as if it was somehow or other the answer to the world’s hunger for The Way, The Truth, and the Life. Frankly I think Cardinals in cappis magnis (that’s not a mistake, “in” takes the ablative case) and priests in pompomed caps make a travesty of authentic Catholicism. The antiquarian liturgies sponsored in various Cathedrals by the Latin Mass Society reduce the Eucharistic Sacrifice to a pious Aida. The “canons” of Gricigliano in their self-aggrandizing pomposity are nothing less than an Alice-in-Wonderland charade. And the whole clutch of retro Catholic zombies parade Mother Church like the naked emperor through the modern world. Avery Dulles wrote that power was characteristic of the Church in the second millennium and service would be the distinguishing mark in the third. It is time that we make the paradigm shift that will conform us to the One who came not to be served but to serve. Only a Church of service, scrubbed of the trappings of monarchy and aristocracy, can bear the witness of the new evangelization.