I reread C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity this past week (my couch seemed as good a place as any to escape the heat). This book is a collection of radio broadcasts on the Christian faith by Lewis during World War II. I don’t know what it would be like to read this book as a non-believer, but for me the lessons imparted feel like a friendly yet challenging reminder of the “whys” and “hows” of my faith. A seminal book on Christianity might seem like a daunting read, but the chapters are short and the illustrations easy to grasp. C.S Lewis is, after all, a storyteller. Remember Narnia?
In the second section entitled “Christian Behaviour,” Lewis discusses morality. But he doesn’t start with any sweeping edicts on Christian living. Instead, he offers his readers a foundation for morality based on the “cardinal” virtues (indicating not Roman Catholic Cardinals, but rather a Latin word meaning pivotal). These cardinal virtues are prudence, temperance, justice and fortitude. The section on temperance got me thinking.
“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.”
I don’t really gamble, and a glass or two of wine is usually my limit. So does that mean I can walk around proud of my temperance? No such luck. As Lewis explains, anything in excess shows a lack of temperance. Since my intemperate behaviors likely don’t cause me to fall down drunk in the road, how can I recognize them? God is certainly not deceived by my externals. But I very well might be.
Where am I out of balance?
- Food: There is much to look forward to in a (Chicago-style!) pizza on a Friday evening, but I don’t need to eat the whole thing.
- News: I am an information junkie, but listening to what is mostly difficult and trying news so often can wear on my spirit. Sometimes I need a break.
- Solitude: I enjoy time alone, but I can be too much by myself and miss the joy of being in community with other people.
- Things: I am blessed by a safe and comfortable home, but have I made it more important than the love and people inside?
As I reflect on my intemperance, I see that even good things (like Chicago-style pizza!) can get out of balance. Anything that I make larger than God can throw me off kilter.
Do you have any intemperate behaviors? Any tips on keeping these things in balance? Is it important to think about temperance, even if you don't consider yourself "religious" or "spiritual"?