Moderation In Most Things

November 2, 2004 | 19 comments
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Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. (Phillipians 4:5)

We have often heard the saying “moderation in all things.” But the words moderate, moderation and moderately only appear sparingly in the scriptures and the phrase “moderation in all things” does not appear at all. Then again, on second glance, this may simply be an interpretive or editorial choice. The King James Version prefers the words tempered, temperate and temperance and the Book of Mormon follows the KJV’s example. Thus we see the phrase “temperate in all things” more than once scripturally (1 Corinthians 9:25, Alma 7:23, Alma 38:10).

As one ponders these phrases, “moderation in all things” or “temperate in all things”, a question may arise. Is it possible that these sayings fall prey to the human tendency to use superlatives (as Bob Caswell pointed out so well in this comment), to over-magnify the importance of a principle being taught? Is there ever a time when the moderate (or temperate) person is wrong and the extremist is right? Is there a situation where pure idealism utterly vanquishes practical wisdom? Or in other words, to phrase things in the predictable annoyingly absurd way, should we ever be moderate in our use of moderation, temperate in our use of temperance?

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19 Responses to Moderation In Most Things

  1. Mark B on November 2, 2004 at 11:45 am

    You probably don’t remember that fateful statement of Barry Goldwater, made at the Cow Palace in San Francisco in 1964:

    “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice!”

    It didn’t help Barry against LBJ that November.

  2. clark on November 2, 2004 at 12:19 pm

    Whenever I heard that quote of Goldwater I always think of Captain Moroni going nutso on bad intel about the government back home not supporting him. One of my favorite parts of the Book of Mormon and always a good warning about extremism.

  3. danithew on November 2, 2004 at 12:21 pm

    When I try to think of a good extreme position I think of the Lord’s saying in Doctrine and Covenants 1:31:

    For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance;

  4. Mark B on November 2, 2004 at 12:49 pm

    I’m afraid that we are of two minds about extremism. We admire those, for example, who broke with England in 1776, but I suspect that we’d be more comfortable being around (or being) Washington or Franklin, rather that Samuel Adams or Thomas Paine.

    Could the revolution happen without the “wackos” on the fringe? If not, then perhaps our tendencies away from extremism will likely preclude our leading the revolution.

  5. Andrew W. Griffin on November 2, 2004 at 12:59 pm

    There will always be a fringe element just as the poor will always be among us. However, it’s the immense and moderate middle that is the glue that keeps our society together. I think that is why the Republican and Democrat parties have remained in place for so long and that third parties like the Libertarians and Greens have never quite been accepted with open arms in our society.
    And while I consider myself a libertarian, my father always said, “Andrew, everything in moderation.”

  6. danithew on November 2, 2004 at 1:13 pm

    I’m not sure that the lack of any third-party resurgence in American history is due to American society being moderate in its views. I think it may be due more to the way the political system is designed. To the winner goes all the spoils, so to speak. If other parties were allowed (even in losing) to enjoy proportional representation for the votes they received, then they might have exercised more historical influence and garnered more votes. I’d be much more interested in third parties if I knew my vote for them could carry some form of future weight or influence. Unfortunately with our system designed the way it is, those votes ultimately are throw-aways — their only influence being as spoilers for Democratic or Republican candidates.

  7. danithew on November 2, 2004 at 1:35 pm

    Hmmm… I’m realizing that I’ve made an argument that we live in a society that somehow has enforced moderation by the way it is politically designed. Never quite thought of it that way before …

  8. Rusty on November 2, 2004 at 5:18 pm

    Dan, I think I’m an extreme tithe payer. I’m an extreme WoW keeper. I’m an extreme adultery avoider.

    I would like to be extremely out of debt and extremely funny, but I’m very moderate in those things.

  9. Kaimi on November 2, 2004 at 5:40 pm

    Rusty writes,

    “I’m an extreme adultery avoider.”

    So you avoid extreme adultery, huh? That’s probably a good idea. Of course, the question then becomes, do you also avoid run-of-the-mill adultery? Or just the extreme stuff? :P

    (English adjectives are fun!)

  10. Rusty on November 2, 2004 at 6:08 pm

    Kaimi,
    Good one. Apparently you are ahead of me in reaching Extreme Hilarity.

    Dan, perhaps you should also distinguish the difference between “extreme” and “Xtreme”

  11. Greg Call on November 2, 2004 at 6:19 pm

    Historical aside:
    Mark left off the lesser-known half of the 1964 Goldwater quote: “And moderation
    in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” As I understand it, part of the intent behind Goldwater’s speech was a frontal assault on Richard Nixon’s agreement to support civil rights legislation in exchange for Nelson Rockefeller’s (and other moderate Republicans’) support. So the upshot is that the kind of “extremism” Goldwater supported was not only soundly rejected by the electorate in 1964, but also by the Republicans in 1968, when Nixon won the nomination.

  12. danithew on November 2, 2004 at 6:33 pm

    I didn’t like using the term extremist in my post because there’s nothing scriptural about it. Maybe I should ask if anyone has an idea of what word(s) the scriptures would use to describe the concept of extremes, extremists, etc.

    Perhaps we could refer to some extremists as “scribes and Pharisees� as Jesus did in Matthew 23. The verse that came to mind is the one where Jesus sarcastically (or caustically) criticized them by saying:

    Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. (Matthew 23:24)

    And then you have your famous “good extremist� Phinehas, in the Hebrew Bible, who knew just what to do with the couple that was enjoying a bit too much PDA in front of the tabernacle. (Numbers chapter 25)

  13. danithew on November 2, 2004 at 6:39 pm

    A word the scriptures might be using for the good kind of extremism is zeal. In describing Phinehas the Lord says that “he was zealous for my sake.”

  14. PoNyman on November 2, 2004 at 8:10 pm

    Unfortunately, I think Goldwater’s problems stem from bad wording then from bad ideas.

    “…Lincoln scholar Harry Jaffa, who wrote the lines [Goldwater's quote], was trying to turn Goldwater’s “detractors’ favorite epithet back on them.” The statement’s philosophical pedigree can be traced through Paine’s Rights of Man to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. That is, a virtue is an extreme with respect to its contrary vices. Courage is a peak, beyond the vices of cowardice and foolhardiness; moderation can mean cowardice. Thus, ancient wisdom was present in full force at the birth of modern American conservatism. “ http://www.ashbrook.org/publicat/onprin/v3n5/janiskee.html

    For Aristotle, instead of using the term extreme he used courage. Having made a minor study of Goldwater this is probably how he meant the phrase also. Paine, also, seemed to follow this same course of thought. I believe that Goldwater never deviated from his philosophy that one should stand up for one’s beliefs, though what he spoke up for may have changed.
    Aristotle does address moderation, but it is in the sense of the physical appetites such as lust or gluttony.
    I’m horrible at explaining my thoughts so hopefully I haven’t made a mess of things.

  15. Bob Caswell on November 2, 2004 at 9:16 pm

    danithew, all I have to say is that I like the title of this post. It made me smile.

  16. D. Fletcher on November 2, 2004 at 11:24 pm

    Seriously, I don’t think the idea of everything in moderation applies to our Church principles at all. We have, pretty much, got an either/or kind of life to live, and this seems to me to be best described as an “extreme” choice.

    Rusty, you may only be moderately funny, but you are very nice looking. Perhaps “extreme” would work for you in this way.

    Steve will have to be happy with extreme funniness. And Bob, well, he is extremely blond.

  17. Travis on May 24, 2005 at 12:39 pm

    I think that you citing of Philippians 4:5 is a mis-representation of the meaning of the verse. The original greek for the word moderation in this verse is gentleness (according the the LDS footnotes). I personally see this to mean let your “self-control” (ability to moderate your actions) be shown to all.

    I also see that your interpretation of this verse is contraditory to Revelations 3:16, which reads “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.”

  18. Kingsley on May 24, 2005 at 1:00 pm

    I was talking to a man in a Chewbacca suit the other day about moderation …

    I find that if I make a list of fundamentals, say, family, church, scripture study, prayer, exercise, school, work, journal, etc., & then try to sort of hit them all on a daily basis — e.g. for “family” I call my mother or visit my nephew — I never become too extremely involved in just one thing. Even if my journal gets a single line or exercise means longboarding for five minutes, even if X, Y, & Z get scanty attention on a particular day, so long as they get SOME attention the planets seem to align evenly & sanely. That’s the theory, anyway, because I never actually hit all 8 in one day due to obsessively focusing on, say, VH1′s Top 100 Hottest Rock Star’s Moms.

  19. danithew on May 24, 2005 at 1:21 pm

    LOL Kingsley. Yet again you’ve got me grinning and laughing with your clever and humorous lines. Hurry up and get that blog started already.