The Religion of Innocent Domination in America

Jon Pahl

It is a hard conundrum . . . [this] liberty of the Christian. . . . It is tricky even in the exquisite analyses of Thomas Aquinas. In Protestantism it has always taken the form of paradox. As Luther put it, the Christian is master of all, the Christian is servant of all. Our straight-forward America has never been comfortable in the presence of paradox, refuses to allow that in our history there has been any trace of it, and becomes enraged when confronted with antinomy. . . . The paradox is so hazardous to live with that [we] constantly seek a more plausible, a less torturing freedom. . . . [But] a horrible thought keeps intruding itself. . . . The two powers whom we had supposed contending for the allegiance of America, both chanting the slogan of freedom—both the Bible and Nature—turn out to have been hand-in-glove behind the scene. Both, in the end, become sanctifiers not of freedom but of conformity. They unite in order to condemn what is "un-American."

—Perry Miller

The late Harvard historian Perry Miller, to whom I turn whenever I need to remember how historical writing can be at once deeply grounded in sources, elegantly literate, and bitingly relevant to public life, spoke those words to an audience at Union Theological Seminary in New York City in the wake of the McCarthy hearings that terrorized America in the 1950s.1 I write in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the U.S., and the "war on terror" that has since been spawned, with its Office of Homeland Security and Patriot Acts I and II, which some observers have linked to an erosion of civil liberties unlike any since McCarthyism.2 Now, I have no claim to Miller's erudition, but I think I know what he meant when he contended that Americans find it difficult to live with paradox. Throughout our history, forces of what Miller called "Bible" and "Nature," or religion and politics, have united in jarring contradictions to produce violence, and quash dissent, in irrational (but "straightforward") policies and practices. Personally, I experienced this most vividly when I was assaulted and arrested by a campus cop, for rolling through a stop sign.

Crime and Punishment

Principle 4 of the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials states, "[L]aw enforcement officials, in carrying out their duty, shall, as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms. They may use force and firearms only if other means remain ineffective or without any promise of achieving the intended result."

-UN Doc. A/CONF.144/28/Rev.1 (1990)

It happened on January 5, 2000—a very cold day when few people were on campus because of the holiday recess. I was working in my office at a school that shall remain nameless (it could be almost anywhere), when I decided to leave for home. It was about 3pm. I was in a hurry, because my kids—then ages 14, 11, and 7—would be arriving home from school on the bus in fifteen minutes, and my wife was out of town on business. I had about a ten-minute drive home.

So, when I pulled out of the parking lot of the campus building where my office was located, I rolled through a stop sign. To my chagrin and frustration, I immediately saw the campus police SUV with its lights on behind me. I pulled over, took out my wallet, and waited as the officer approached. I was less than a quarter mile from my office, in clear view of it.

When the cop arrived at my window, he said: "Do you know you blew through that stop sign?" "Yeah," I said, with undoubtedly more than a little disdain in my voice. "Nobody was there." "Do you work here?" he asked me. I nodded. He turned and walked back to his car without a word. I presumed he was writing me a ticket which, in all likelihood, I would have disregarded. I'd accumulated more than a few parking tickets on campus over the twelve years of my tenure there. I'd paid none of them. In fact, I'd talked to this very officer on the phone months before, and he'd threatened to garnish my wages to pay for the tickets. I'd hung up on him. Although I didn't remember this at the time, I suspect he knew well who I was once he looked at my license.

About five minutes passed. I kept checking my rearview mirror to ascertain signs of action, but saw none. I grew increasingly anxious, as I anticipated my kids arriving home to an empty house. So, I got out of my car and began to walk towards the SUV. Immediately the officer jumped out and ran towards me. It was a cold day, so my hands were in the pockets of my jacket. I stopped in my tracks as I saw him running towards me, and got no further than the back door of my car.

He stood directly in my face, as I backed up against my car. Despite a long history at the school of political activism that had led to confrontations with the administration and other authorities, I really don't enjoy conflict, especially when the person I'm battling with is armed with a pistol, as the campus police at this school were. "Get your hands out of your pockets!" he yelled at me.

I tried to explain that I was just in a hurry to get home to my kids, as I took my hands out of my coat pockets. But then, because it was so cold, I thoughtlessly put my hands in my pants pockets.

The cop then yelled two commands immediately: "Get your hands out of all pockets! Get back in your car!" I froze, and for just a brief moment—maybe two seconds—stood there and looked the guy in the eye, as if to say, "What is your problem?" Then he attacked.

He first grabbed me by the shoulders, and swung me around and slammed me against the car. I then felt him knee me in the right thigh, while simultaneously forcing my upper body down against the car. I protested: "What are you doing to me!?" He didn't reply.

He did, however, grab my left arm and pull it towards my back, while commanding: "Spread your legs!" I'd played basketball just a few hours before, and had strained my hamstring, which made executing his command difficult. I felt another knee against my thigh, as my right arm was drawn around my back, with my face down on the cold steel of the car.

I then felt what I assumed were handcuffs going around my wrists. They hurt—and were tightened so deeply against my skin that they left bruises and abrasions—and no feeling in my right thumb for over six months.

Eventually—the officer had by then called for "backup"—I was loaded into his SUV, and hauled down to the county jail. There I was booked, finger-printed, had my mug-shot taken, and (after three hours) released on bail to call my children. Naturally, they had no idea of my whereabouts. My car had been impounded (after being ransacked), so I called a neighbor to come pick me up at the station, and bring me home. There I had to prepare dinner for the kids, while awaiting my wife's arrival. When she came home, I broke down and cried.

Over the next five months, I lost thirty pounds, primarily because I couldn't sleep. I replayed the incident over and over in my mind; stuck in the trauma that I had experienced, and feeling alternatively angry, ashamed, bitter, and battered.

I first appealed to the President of the University for some remedy, who advised me simply to "write everything down." I did, but the officer had concocted a "Report" of the incident that made me out to be a potentially dangerous criminal, probably packing a weapon, who had driven recklessly and resisted arrest. I next turned to the Faculty "Grievance Committee," chaired by a newly hired faculty member in the law school. Their report concluded that the campus cop had acted justly, and that I hadn't shown due respect for his authority.

Finally, I hired a lawyer, who eventually arranged for my case to go into a "pre-trial diversion" program, where after six months all charges against me would be dropped as long as I behaved myself. In response to my inquiry about suing the school and the cop, he advised me that in cases like this: "We really like to see a little more blood." The same lawyer was also defending another former University employee—the Director of Technology Services, who had been fired when the FBI discovered that student phones on campus had been illegally tapped. The employee claimed he'd been ordered to tap the phones; the Administration and Police Chief pled ignorance, and claimed the Director had acted on his own. I have no idea how that case turned out.

In my case, by the time Spring rolled around I'd managed to be coherent enough to land a job elsewhere. It was pretty apparent to me that I was no longer welcome at the school where I'd taught for twelve years, been unanimously approved for tenure just three years before, and of which I was an alumnus. Since I knew I was leaving, and because I saw few other avenues to gain justice, I went to the local paper. When I told my story to a reporter, he quickly identified and interviewed a number of students on campus who had claimed to be harassed by police.3 After that article came out, the police would routinely tail me to and from my office. I was actually frightened for my life. The end of the semester, and my tenure at a school I had loved in many ways, came none too soon.

Still, there were tears when I left—for the friends and sub-communities I had to abandon, and for the uncertainty that awaited our family as we anticipated moving half way across the country. Shortly before leaving, I'd persuaded my lawyer to write up a "suit" against the University—even though he had told me there was no way he'd follow through with it. I wanted to get some remedy from the school, and intended to write a letter to the President with a copy of the "suit," but indicating a willingness to settle for simply my expenses to date—all medical and legal bills, which amounted to a few thousand dollars. With the provision that I'd "block out" the name of my lawyer from all documents, I sent the letter off, and awaited a reply.

In early Fall, shortly into my tenure in Philadelphia, a letter arrived with a check for the amount I'd requested, and a terse letter from the University's chief counsel requiring me to sign away all rights to future settlements, in exchange for the agreed upon amount. I signed it, cashed the check, and legally, at least, my case was closed.

Innocent Domination

[In America], dominance and innocence have been two sides of the same cultural coin. Those who dominate and win try to find ways to prove their innocence. Those who stress innocence discover that the world will not go away and that the same struggles for power beset utopia as trouble any human venture.

—Catherine L. Albanese

America: Religions and Religion

But, of course, while my case was over in court, it wasn't over in my psyche. And since misery loves company, I've managed to see my experience replicated or implicated in all kinds of ways in American culture. I'd like to draw out two of these implications in the pages remaining. First, I'll contend that what I experienced was an example of religious violence—a mild replication of a "terrorist" act, if you will, that has analogues up and down the levels of American society, and far back into American history. Second, I'll suggest that my experience is a warning to traditional religious groups that we'd best get our acts together, collectively, and agree to make nonviolence normative, or risk becoming irrelevant before waves of forces of what I've taken to calling "innocent domination."

As I've told my story to various audiences, the reactions have been interesting. I lost a job in youth ministry because the narration of my arrest was supposedly "too powerful" for high schoolers to handle, and somehow put them at risk. I also wasn't allowed to write about the incident in my most recent book, for fear of libel. I tried to reason with my editor that if the University sued the publisher for libel, it would attract attention to the book and undoubtedly sell more copies. He wasn't persuaded.

So, if I've had a hard time persuading religious and other authorities to even give my experience a listen, I've had no trouble when I've spoken to African American groups, or with young people. One black listener put it well: "You're lucky you weren't a black man," he put it. "You'd've been dead meat."

I actually have a long-standing scholarly interest in the problem of violence and the way religion has often served in history to justify it. I've been a member of the Colloquium on Violence and Religion for more than a decade, and I'm currently at work on a book entitled Violence and the Sacred in America: A History of Innocent Domination. That project was helped along considerably by a Coolidge Fellowship from CrossCurrents, for which I'm grateful.

In my book, I trace the ways religion has "relocated" in American culture across denominations and traditions, and under categories of class, age, race, and gender—and then produced violence. Each of those categories, put differently, has been used to solidify power over and against a group of scapegoats, through rituals and myths that make the domination appear innocent. The book has five chapters, each of which is a case study.

For example, one chapter is entitled "Spectacles of Sacrifice: The Cinema of Adolescent Abjection in America, 1936-1996." It traces how images of youth in American films—Reefer Madness (1936), Rebel without a Cause (1955), Halloween (1978), and Scream (1996)—have depicted young people as abject objects suitable for sacrifice. This sacrificial representation coincides, I argue, with the way young people have often been treated in American culture over the past sixty years, notably during the Vietnam era, but also during the current "war on drugs." Young people are scapegoats for the competitive rivalry that constitutes American culture, and their sacrifice from time to time is justified as innocent in part through the representation of their suffering as "entertainment" in film. The films function as rites of passage for youth, initiating (or indoctrinating) them to accept violence against them as a normal part of life. I don't blame Hollywood for this problem, which is systemic, but only point out how the cinematic representations mirror the way actual young people have been treated in American policies.4

In the other chapters, then, I turn to the ways class, race, and gender served similarly to provide dominant groups with suitable scapegoats on whom "innocent domination" could be exercised. In the final chapter, I turn directly to religious traditions, and trace the execution by hanging of four Quakers in seventeenth-century Puritan Boston. Naturally, I find in a close reading of the primary texts surrounding that episode the same pattern of innocent domination at work, now clearly in its "religious" setting. Even more provocatively, I link this early episode of capital punishment in America to the Aztec practice of human sacrifice. The history of innocent domination, or the justification of the use of force by religion, constitutes a continuous thread in American history from the Aztecs to us.

We tend to think of ourselves, here in the United States, as somehow having "progressed" beyond such barbaric practices as human sacrifice. In fact, while there is a fabric of legitimacy covering over our desires for vengeance and dominance, that fabric is also paper-thin. My experience with a campus cop helped me see how easily the rule of law can be broken. It was as if I had awakened from a matrix, and discovered that the reality I imagined to be the case was anything but true.

Now, that my treatment was an example of religious violence might not be immediately apparent to a reader, so I'll try to sketch in briefly how it was so. According to René Girard, religion is that "obscurity that surrounds [human] efforts to defend . . . against [our] own violence."5 Girard contends that religions "solve" rivalry as the leading edge of violence, by selecting a victim against whom factions can innocently unite. Girard's favorite metaphor for this "solution" is "sacrifice." "Sacrifice," he suggests, "is primarily a collective action of the entire community, which purifies itself of its own disorder through the unanimous immolation of a victim."6

Even without unanimity, it is not difficult to see how the purpose of sacrifice is "to restore harmony to the community, to reinforce the social fabric."7 But, of course, hidden within the sacrificial attempt to prevent violence is violence itself, buried under the assertion of "innocence" that justifies the expulsion of a surrogate. "Religion shelters us from violence," Girard writes, "just as violence seeks shelter in religion."8 In religion, a "vicious cycle of reciprocal violence, wholly destructive in nature, is replaced by the vicious circle of ritual violence, creative and protective in nature."9 In myth and ritual, the legitimate violence of innocent domination replaces the "illegitimate" violence of unchecked rivalry, attack, and vengeance.

The key element for this process to work, of course, is that it remains obscure: once demystified, myths no longer operate; once deconstructed, rituals fail. An important contextual factor to understand about my conflict with the campus cop, then, is that throughout my career at the school-that-shall-remain nameless, I was a frequent irritant to power. I was involved in rivalries time and again on exactly the issues where innocent domination has frequently been enacted, and into which "religion" has relocated in America, to work its sacrificial magic.

The first such issue is class. Faculty and staff seldom interacted at the school where I taught, and considerable resentment existed between the two groups. Part of the reason I had never paid my parking tickets, in fact, is that up until a year before my arrest, faculty had been exempted from doing so by policy. Needless to say, I hadn't paid much attention when the policy changed, so when the cop called to threaten me with garnished wages, I hung up on him. By doing so, I undoubtedly reinforced his impression of my class of faculty folk as pompous assholes. Realistically, however, as only a lowly Associate Professor, I was a suitable victim on whom he could vent his resentment, just after his "office" had been given new powers.

As the rivalry between us became public, I turned to the Faculty Grievance Committee for support. Here, a number of factors come into play in their decision to largely side with the officer, which was reached through some strange rituals in which none of us were ever invited to testify, so far as I know. First, I was among the youngest faculty on the campus, having started teaching at age 28. As an alumnus, I also had experience with many of the senior faculty that put me in the strange position of "favored son," even as I approached the age of 40. Because of my privileged position, I had felt free to speak out on issues that concerned me, often in ways that put me at odds with the administration and the most powerful faculty factions.

For instance, when the KKK scheduled a rally on the Courthouse steps of the town in which the University was located, I helped plan a student protest march, even though the administration had planned an alternative "Rally for Racial Justice," to be held at the law school. The night before the rally, I received two phone calls—one from the Chief of Campus Police, one from the County Sheriff, "warning" me that they "could not guarantee my safety." Both strongly suggested that I cancel the march. Needless to say, we marched, peacefully, anyway.

I also once helped students "take over" the lobby of the Administration building for several hours in a "sit-in," to present a variety of grievances from the Black Student Organization. And, finally, for my last three years at the school I sat in with the Gospel Choir on saxophone. In other words, I was both young and a non-white-lover-identified with marginal groups by age and race.

Finally, I antagonized folks on campus over the issue of gender. Women had never preached or presided in the school's chapel worship, despite an ostensibly "independent" religious affiliation. I joined with a number of student groups to protest this arbitrary exclusion, resigned a job on the chapel staff, and eventually boycotted chapel altogether, until the policy was modified. I then took up the mantle of the gay and lesbian students on campus. So, I was young, racially treacherous, and tainted on matters of gender purity. That I was theologically "liberal" didn't help. I was prime to be innocently dominated, a "scapegoat" to help reinforce the way power would work at the place. The Faculty Concerns Committee had little choice but to back up the campus cop. I was too "dangerous" for them to do otherwise. And my lawyer was right not to take my case. There was no way I would have won. I was the one who had to be expelled so that power could remain pure.

If  I was no innocent victim in this case, then, the crimes I had committed-rolling a stop sign, getting out of my car, putting my hands in my pockets, questioning authority—hardly called for the treatment I received. As I see it, the logic of the cop who assaulted and arrested me was no different than that of a terrorist. Terrorists, as Mark Juergensmeyer and others have shown, use whatever power is at their disposal to exact revenge, or quash a threat, by escalating some "crime" into a cause for violence, without recourse to negotiation and laws.10

Interestingly, however, I see the same logic evident in the "Bush doctrine" that seeks to "protect" American interests abroad by preemptive attacks against potentially threatening enemies, also (if necessary) without recourse to negotiation and laws. Terrorism and the Bush doctrine share an assumption of righteous vengeance, or innocent domination, one from a position of political weakness, the other from a position of political strength, but each reactively identifying a "threat" in a scapegoat who deserves to be violated. No wonder, then, we are locked in what appears to be a never-ending war. We're fighting against our own evil twin.

Beyond Innocent Domination: Toward a Truly Secular State, and Nonviolent Religions

Our time has witnessed the emergence of a new historical phenomenon: the National Security State, a colossus of surveillance and repressive might made virtually impregnable as a result of a wizardry of military and electronic technology. Such a colossus should deprive us of all hope. But the paradoxical consequence is just the opposite. Since armed resistance is largely futile, people have taken recourse in nonviolent means. Nonviolence has even become the preferred method of people who have never contemplated absolute pacifism. . . . Means and ends coalesce as people create for themselves social instruments for change that already embody the better life they seek ahead. For this reason it seems to me that those who have held back from throwing the full weight of moral authority into a nonviolent mode need do so no longer. The question is not pacifism, but a more effective, united struggle for goals shared by all.

—Walter Wink

Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way

I was fortunate to be able to get out of my experience of rivalry, and I'm happy to say that my collegial experience has been much more pleasant here in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection. I can even jokingly refer to my experience as an episode of "driving while faculty." In many ways, I'm now much better off than I was then. But I think mine is a cautionary tale, both about the real status of faculty in American culture these days and about the ways "innocent domination" continues to operate among us.

The mystique or obscurity associated with rendering domination innocent and keeping people in their place in America became especially apparent to me on my "court date," when my lawyer negotiated the "pre-trial diversion" on my behalf. I met my lawyer at his office and we walked the two blocks together to the courthouse—located at the symbolic "center" of the city, in a traditional town square. Upon entering the three-story, monumental building, we were searched, went through metal detectors, and then climbed the marble steps to the second floor. The atrium above us featured an American flag at the top, hanging beside the flag of the state we were in. The courtroom itself was darkly paneled, with about a dozen wooden pews with an aisle down the middle constituting the gallery before the bar. Behind the bar was the judge's bench, up on a platform, with, again, a huge American flag behind him. The ceiling was probably twelve feet high, stucco-relief, with ornamental trim.

I had been in the courthouse only once before in my life. The occasion was a visit I'd arranged for a class I was teaching on "American Sacred Space"; then, our host was "Rose," a frail-looking janitor who looked to me to be well into her seventies. When we walked into the courtroom, Rose held the door for us, as the twenty class members filed in. I headed directly for the front of the room. I was about to swing open the gate to the bar and walk behind it, perhaps to try out the judge's chair, when Rose, showing remarkable speed for her age, rushed up to me and grabbed my arm to stop my forward motion, while exclaiming: "You can't go back there!" My students and I had learned, indeed, about the location of sacred space in a secular culture.

The sacred was pretty well hidden on my second visit to the courthouse, or perhaps it was manifest in patterns that were by and large pretty profane. I never came close to the bar. My lawyer took off for a back room, while I sat in the pew. In the meantime, about two dozen prisoners wearing orange prison jump suits, and shackled in leg and arm chains, were marched in. Most of them were African American. I don't think I'd ever seen that many black people in one public place other than on campus during my twelve years at the school. I was stunned. The contrast between the quasi-sacred aura of my surroundings, and the trappings of prison domination was stark. I sat there terrified.

Eventually, my lawyer came to get me, and I went to a back room where I signed some papers, and wrote a check for court costs. As I said, it was all pretty banal. Over the next six months, I'd get the chance to prove my innocence. The cop's innocent domination was simply assumed. So far as I know, he's still happily employed, working "to serve and protect."

Which is exactly how things are going in America these days. Power perpetuates itself, under an illusion of innocent domination, rather than put to work for the benefit of others. It happens every time a cop stops a black person for no reason other than because of the color of their skin. It happens when the Office of Homeland Security legally taps a phone line, under the Patriot Act, because the resident once gave money to a Muslim charity. And it happens when our military is authorized to exercise force, without exhausting nonviolent means beforehand.

I now see innocent domination as the basic creed of the real "religion of the United States. This paradoxical construct is communicated (by and large) through ostensibly "secular" institutions (such as higher education and the legal system), and it is reinforced by the (usually tacit) existence of an awesomely powerful military and a largely unaccountable police force. My experience surfaced how fully politics and religion, violence and the sacred, remain hand-in-glove in America.

It is the opportunity, and the responsibility, of the traditional religious communities of the U.S. to speak to this problem of innocent domination, and to act to remedy it. In many ways, the first word to be spoken must be repentance. Many believers have themselves come to depend upon the protection of the state and its violence, and have, wittingly or unwittingly, accommodated themselves to such violence. As Scott Appleby has so vividly described, the sacred is at best ambivalent on the matter of violence. People of faith have been ready accomplices of the National Security State. Not all of those drawn to the logic of terrorism live outside our borders. Some of them have extraordinary power at their disposal.

Now, I am myself a Lutheran, and in our tradition there's been a long history of respect for the independence of the state and its operation within matters of secular justice. I concur fully with this, and long for the day when it is true! A truly secular state will not need to mask its dominance with innocence, or imagine force as pure, but will apply force only in those situations where no other remedy is possible. We have not, by a long shot, come to that point. There are still too many ways that we sacrifice scapegoats to "solve" our problems—by age, class, race, and gender. And there are too many myths and rituals that salve our conscience, so we can continue to act, through policy and practice, like innocent bastards.

The second word that religious traditions need to speak collectively, then, is one of resistance. Congregations of believers can together hold power accountable to people and the planet. Singly, no one tradition has enough voices to call effectively for an end to force masked as purity. But in concert there is hope. For this reason, the World Council of Churches and the United Nations have boldly (some would say naively) declared the decade of 2001-2010 to be the Decade to End Violence, with the year 2004 to be focused especially on the problem of violence in the United States.11 Such an initiative is welcome, especially since it stems from the desires of a distinguished group of Nobel laureates. Unfortunately, however, the initiative is a "top-down" program, and it is little known, and even less fully implemented, in local congregations.

On the local level, then, resistance can take initial form when people find the courage (and are given a forum) to tell the stories of how their lives have been impacted by innocent domination. There are dozens of such stories in even the smallest congregations in this country—stories of unnecessary suffering and violation brought on by the unthinking or arbitrary abuse of power, enacted by individuals or bureaucracies. And when these stories are told, their power is unleashed, revealing that words can help build solidarity to protect people from unjust oppression, to resist force when it transgresses its proper boundaries, and to act in concert to create more just laws.

And, finally, along with offering repentance and resistance, religious communities can act together to reconcile conflicting parties. I am convinced, along with Walter Wink and a growing body of religious believers around the globe, that a strong stance of religious nonviolence can help bring durable peace to the globe.12 Violence can never be redemptive, even though it is precisely the fiction of regenerative violence that is so often appealed to in efforts to justify its innocence. We continue to try to kill in order to save.

Instead of reinforcing that specious logic, religious traditions can offer to people an imaginative vision of the world in which, normally, things get done nonviolently. That this is already the case should be obvious enough. Most of our daily interactions presume a level of trust that is pretty remarkable, and involve us in contingencies whose outcomes we can rarely control. Taking this "everyday" trust and translating it into practice and policy is the theological and political challenge of the coming century.

Religious nonviolence has been shown—in the U.S. civil rights movement, in Poland, in South Africa, and in many other places around the globe—to be a way to make power accountable to people, and to transform societies for the better. Included in that reconciling process of transformation, of course, must be those people we once counted as enemies, those people for whom power was something to be hoarded, or exercised arbitrarily, rather than distributed fairly.

In a situation of religious voluntarism, then, where the religious hold no secular authority, and control no weapons, some have chosen the path of terrorism. The folly of that way is apparent to the vast majority of believers in the world. All that remains, then, is for those believers—and we are billions—to recognize that our true power lies not in the brutality of the sword, but in the apparently fragile power of pen and persuasion, and in the collective action we can bring to bear on social systems.

When we discover this source of true power, as the gift it is to all people, we will have taken a huge step toward creating a world where violence is truly the last, not the first or a "preemptive" resort. In that day, people of faith will have given up complicity with innocent domination—the modern religion whose idolatrous devotion has left monuments to suffering in its wake.

Speaking theologically, at last, what believers can offer the world is the humbling conviction that only God's dominion—or a power that transcends any human claim of control or possession—is pure. Such humility frees us, as if by grace, to accept both the realities of power and the demands of responsibility set before us, both the potential to be a "master of all" and the potential to be a "servant of all," as the Protestant paradox has always put it. But such mastery is achieved, under God, through trust, persuasion, and the rule of law, in which force is the last resort. Such service, under God, gives itself in labor, through love, even to our enemies. And such freedom is the opposite of conformity, because it cannot by definition only be American. Paradoxically, though, and amazingly, because of the promise of religious nonviolence, there still is reason for hope, even for America—with our prisons and capital punishment and inequities surrounding class and race and gender, in the words of Langston Hughes:

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet— 
And yet must be—the land where every [one] is free.13


1. The address was published, posthumously, as Perry Miller, "The Location of American Religious Freedom," in Nature's Nation (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967), p. 159.

2. See, for instance, David Cole, "National Security State," at http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20011217&s=cole and for a rejoinder, Jonah Goldberg, "Two Cheers for 'McCarthyism'?" at http://www.nationalreview.com/goldberg/goldberg022603.asp

3. Readers who might like to track down the newspaper account can find it at "http://nwitimes.com/articles/2000/05/07/export404409.txt". In the interest of preserving anonymity for those involved, and shielding CrossCurrents from any libel prosecution, I won't list any further particulars in this article. The newspaper report is already a matter of public record.

4. See for sociological confirmation of this point the works of Mike A. Males, notably Scapegoat Generation: America's War on Adolescents (Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 1996) and Framing Youth: Ten Myths about the Next Generation (Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 1999).

5. René Girard, Violence and the Sacred, tr. Patrick Gregory (Baltimore/London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977), p. 23.

6. René Girard, "Mimesis and Violence: Perspectives in Cultural Criticism," in Berkshire Review 14 (1979); 9-19, as cited in The Girard Reader, ed. James G. Williams (NY: Crossroad, 1996), p. 11.

7. Violence and the Sacred, p. 8.

8. Ibid., p. 24.

9. Ibid., p. 144.

10.  See especially Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence (Berkeley: The University of California Press, 2000).

11.  See the Web page for the WCC initiative, at www.wcc-coe.org/dov, as cited 1/10/04.

12.  See here, most notably, Marc Gopin, Holy War, Holy Peace: How Religion Can Bring Peace to the Middle East (NY: Oxford University Press, 2002).

13. From "Let America Be America Again," in The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994), (c) the Estate of Langston Hughes, as cited at "http://www.poe ts.org/poems/poems.cfm?prmID=1473".

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Source: CrossCurrents, Summer 2004, Vol. 54,  No 2.