Christians Ought to Be Temperate

Last updated Jan 16, 2013 by

I found interesting this passage in Mere Christianity:

Temperance is, unfortunately, one of those words that has changed its meaning. It now usually means teetotalism. But in the days when the second Cardinal [Lewis is not speaking of the Catholic Cardinal here] virtue was christened ‘Temperance’, it meant nothing of the sort. Temperance referred not specially to drink, but to all pleasures; and it meant not abstaining, but going the right length and no further. It is a mistake to think that Christians ought all to be teetotallers; Mohommedanism, not Christianity, is the teetotal religion. Of course it may be the duty of a particular Christian, or of any Christian, at a particular time, to abstain from strong drink, either because he is the sort of man who cannot drink at all without drinking too much, or because he is with people who are inclined to drunkennesss and must not encourage them by drinking himself. But the whole point is that he is abstaining, for a good reason, from something which he does not condemn and which he likes to see other people enjoying. One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a think himself without wanting every one else to give it up. That is not the Christian way. An individual may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons—marriage, or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has taken the wrong turning.

One great piece of mischief has been done by the modern restriction of the word Temperance to the question of drink. It helps people to forget that you can be just as intemperate about lots of other things. A man who makes his golf or his motor-bicycle the centre of his life, or a woman who devotes all her thoughts to clothes or bridge or her dog, is being just as ‘intemperate’ as someone who gets drunk every evening. Of course, it does not show on the outside so easily: bridge-mania or golf-mania do not make you fall down in the middle of the road. But God is not deceived by externals.

 

Some observations and thoughts:

  • Church discussions today about alcohol, entertainment, etc., are not new. Lewis wrote this over 60 years ago.
  • The discussion of alcohol aside, it is true that more is ‘intemperate’ than drunkenness: over eating and television entertainment come immediately to my mind.
  • Aiming our affections at things for the sake of those things is an inordinate use of our affections. I ought to devote my thoughts to God over __________ (fill in the blank)