The first two Amendments to the Constitution are getting a lot of attention these days. For most of my life the 2nd has been controversial. Only recently has the 1st come under serious challenge.

Lately I’ve been thinking that the 5th may be more important than we thought, especially the part about not being compelled to testify against oneself. We may find that the right to “plead the fifth” is not just for mafiosos and corrupt politicians.

But will it stand up under pressure?

Increasingly people are being condemned not only for their words but for their thoughts. The police in England recently demanded that a man tell them what he was thinking as he prayed silently in the vicinity of an abortion clinic.

They don’t have a Fifth Amendment in England, nor a Constitution for that matter. We have one, but will it protect us in the moment of truth?

In the show trials of Soviet era and in Communist China, prisoners were compelled to make lengthy, earnest and impassioned public confessions often weeping for their “offenses.” These did not lighten their sentences, but they did end the torture.

I’ve been thinking about potential conversations, not in a law court, but just informally, when I might be grilled about my opinions. People often want to know where the pastor stands on this or that issue. Sometimes the query is sincere; sometimes it is a trap. In many cases the wisest thing would be to follow the example of Jesus at His trial and just remain silent (as a lamb before his shearers was dumb).

How much longer will it be possible to smile and say, “I’d rather not talk about that. Let’s respect and enjoy each other even if we don’t agree on this”? I know of life-long friendships terminated because someone would not vehemently agree with (confess to) the other’s position.

Here we are. Not what most of us expected. Remember the old saying: “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” It stood me in good stead on the elementary school playground. Nowadays words have become nuclear in their potential to destroy, not the hearer, but the speaker.

If any of us ever run afoul of the State or an “activated” citizen, I’m pretty sure it will not be for any physical offense, but for our words and thoughts. “Whatever you say, and even what you don’t say, can and will be used against you.”

I hope this is just a phase. Human history records discernible cycles that include hyper-puritan moments, when we seek uniformity in lock step, we go witch-hunting, -burning, and -gassing. People who watch these things say they come around about every 80-90 years. They might be on to something.

How tragic that we have reduced the nearly infinite wonder and complexity of being human to a few opinions, usually about a few flawed fellow mortals. Think of all the ways humans can enjoy being with each other; we are made for each other. It can be a lot of fun– cooking, eating, playing, laughing, joking, singing, praying, putting on plays, practicing our toastmaster skills, watching our kids play together, cleaning up a stretch of the creek or the highway — even bowling!

Have we become so insecure that any difference of perspective feels like a physical threat? Have we run out of real problems to solve, real needs to meet? Are we not spending enough time outdoors? Is it time to unplug? Happy, confident people do not try to enforce conformity or crush dissent.

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