That demand is spat by police into the face of thousands of people every day in this country, many – perhaps most — of whom have neither been caught in a criminal act nor have been named on an arrest warrant. The refrain is recited by home invaders in paramilitary garb after they have kicked in a door, usually as a follow-up to an attack with a flash-bang grenade.
It is often performed as a prelude to Taser strikes, baton blows, or other punitive violence used against people who refuse to render immediate and unqualified obedience.
This exercise, we are told, is carried out in the service of that most important of all considerations, “Officer Safety.” It is true that the use of such methods is of great practical value to the privileged aggressors in government-issued attire.
However, there is a sacramental function being performed here, as well: When a police officer – a carnal emissary of the divine state, an accredited member of its punitive priesthood — orders a citizen to prostrate himself, he is, quite literally, demanding worship.
The Greek word translated as “worship” in the New Testament is proskuneo; it is related to such English words as “prostrate” and “prone.”
The typical gesture referred to by that term involves placing one’s self face-down on the ground: “…. And when I, John, saw these things, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel…. Then saith he unto me, ‘See thou do it not: For I am thy fellowservant…. Worship God.” (Rev. 22:8-9)
For both Christian and Jewish believers, this act was appropriate only when directed at God. This is why three refractory Hebrew youths in Babylonian captivity refused KingNebuchadnezzar’s command that they “fall to the ground” as an act of worship before an idol of the king’s construction, even when death was prescribed as punishment for this act of resistance (Daniel 3:6).
Prostration in prayer and worship is widely practiced in many faith traditions today – both Catholic and Protestant Christianity, in addition to Judaism and Islam. For believers, this is done as a display of complete submission and unqualified surrender to the only Being who has the right to require it from us.
Most people of faith believe that refusal to render such worship is a matter for God to deal with in His good time. This isn’t true for the State’s armed emissaries, who respond to such impiety in much the same way that Nebuchadnezzar did: Refusal to prostrate one’s self at the command of a government functionary is cause for summary punishment, often of the lethal variety.