Matthew Fitzsimmons

Temperance

I've been reading through Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. The book is an attempt to delineate the core tenants of Christianity that should be in common throughout all denominations, no matter what differences they have. It's one of Lewis's most famous works, and many popular C.S. Lewis quotes come from this book.

In the book, he likens Christianity to a house with a number of rooms. All true Christians are in the house, but some stay in one room, some in another, based on secondary beliefs. Some rooms are even more right than others in their theology, but all are in the same house. The book is an attempt to lay out the beliefs that are common to the house.

You may wonder why this article is not in the review section. That's because I haven't finished the book, and am not yet ready to write a review. Several good things have stuck out to me so far, and I wanted to mention one of them. The book contains a discussion of “the seven virtues,” of which 4 are cardinal (which are supposedly recognized by all civilized people). One of these “cardinal virtues” is temperance, and what Lewis has to say about this virtue is spot on:

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 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; Mohammedanism, 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 drunkenness 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 thing himself without wanting every one else to give it up. That is not the Christian way. An individual Christian 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.