On this particular occasion, we were stuck in terrible rush-hour traffic outside of Baltimore, Maryland. I was driving. The band that we were touring with was in the van ahead of us. The highway was a parking lot. Our guitar player, Daniel, who is not a very large individual, climbed into his sleeping bag and squirmed his way over the front-most bench seat of the van and began grunting and flailing around. We all thought it was hysterical. But that wasn't the end of it. I had an even better idea. I suggested that Seth, our other guitarist, should carry Daniel, still wrapped in the sleeping bag, up to the van belonging to the other band, open the door, and throw Daniel in. After all, if it was hilarious for us, how much funnier would it be for a group that was totally not expecting it? We were all agreed. It was the perfect traffic jam entertainment plan. Seth stepped out the van, picked Daniel up on his shoulder, and then. . . traffic started moving. Unconsciously, I took my foot off of the brake pedal. The van lurched forward. Seth lost his grip on Daniel momentarily, which made getting back into the van more difficult. Fortunately, he was able to shove Daniel back into the van and jump in.
Traffic was barely crawling, but a few cars managed to pass us on the right hand side. The people driving those vehicles craned their necks and looked in our direction with very concerned expressions on their faces. "Guys, that probably didn't look very good," I said. But I had no idea why it looked so bad. After a few miles, I noticed a pair of state troopers parked on the left shoulder. It was pretty obvious that we were about to get pulled over. They flashed their lights as we went by, and we slowly merged off of the road. I figured they would write us a ticket for playing around on the highway, but I had no idea just how serious it was about to get.
The other guys in the band tell me that what I said next sounded so casual that they didn't believe me at first. "They've got their guns out," I said. In the mirrors, I could see the troopers rapidly approaching our van. They were not messing around. All of a sudden, they were banging on the side of the van and screaming, "Get out of the car! Where's the girl!?" When I stepped down out of the driver's seat, there was a gun pointed directly at my face. The trooper screamed at me, "Get on the ground or I will blow your head off!" I face-planted in the tall grass beside the highway in an instant. I have never been that scared, or moved that fast in my entire life. I could hear the other officers shouting, "Where's the girl?"
It turns out that a couple of those concerned passers by had called the police and reported that we had kidnapped a girl--she was wrapped in a blanket and trying to escape. When the troopers didn't find the girl, they gave us a chance to explain. Fortunately, despite all of the dramatics, they were really nice guys. They actually thought it was pretty funny--stupid, but funny.
Now, let me ask you: why was all of that drama necessary? Why did those people call the police? Why did the state troopers pull their guns out and threaten to blow my head off? Answer: because they thought that someone's life was in danger. Or to put it another way: because there was at least the possibility that someone's life was in danger. They did not know for certain. They did not even have any good evidence. They just had reason to think it was possible. The troopers were acting based on something that a person driving by thought might be happening. So, did they respond appropriately? Of course! If there was even possible that someone's life was in danger, they ought to have come out with all guns blazing (literally) like they did.
Penn Jillette, the famous magician/comedian and outspoken atheist, tells the story of a time when a man gave him a very moving gift after a show. You can watch the video here. Jillette says that the man waited around patiently after the performance, said some nice things, and then handed him a small Bible. He says that the man made it clear that he was "proselytizing." His desire was to see the atheist comedian come to faith in Christ. Jillette says that he respected the man for it and that he has absolutely no respect for people who do not proselytize. He asks, "How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize... to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?" He goes on to say he remains convinced that there is no God. However, he praises the man over and over for his goodness. Why does he call the man good? Because Jillette understands how horrific the world would be if this man thought his life (or soul) was in danger and just "keep it to himself." The man was good because he said something (even if he was wrong). Jillette says that it is possible to get along with people like that even when there is a such a deep disagreement. I agree with him on both accounts.
And that is why I am convinced that oft heard phrases like, "keep your morals to yourself," have very dangerous implications. Ideas have consequences. Do you really want to live in a society where people remain silent when they even think that another person's life is in danger? And that is to say nothing of those who are totally convinced of it. Should a man who believes that another person's life is in danger keep it to himself? Suppose he is wrong. Okay, fine. Then we need to deal with the evidence. But advocating for a society in which people keep moral concerns (whether they are right or wrong) internal is a terrible idea--particularly when it involves the potential loss of life. What is more, the majority of those who say things like "keep your morals to yourself" are actually breaking their own rule, since they are essentially saying "my morals are better than yours." We can disagree about the facts, but at the end of the day, if someone even thinks (for any reason) that another person's life is in danger; I for one do not, DO NOT, want that person to keep quiet.