Sorry for the long absence, but this has been a busy week.
I've had an interesting exchange with a blog reader in Georgia (the country I would love to visit someday) over the topic of moderation.
Moderation is often mentioned in Orthodox literature, but never given its own title as a main subject the was 'abstinence' is. If you read Orthodox literature, it seems total abstinence from things is the norm.
Well, it is... if you are a monk. And, most of what we read is written by monks for monks.
Abstinence is the order of the monastic life because of the nature of its struggles: monastic leave the demands of 'city life' and embark on a pre-programmed set of 'afflictions' designed to help them repent and receive the full measure of God's love.
For us in the world, our affliction is moderation. Moderation is hard, especially nowadays when our shelves are jam-packed with things that our great-grandparents never dreamed of. We have access to information that a few generations ago seemed unimaginable for all but a few.
We have much to be moderate with, yet we have a seemingly limitless appetite. We want more and more of the things we desire. Humans can desire something even to their own destruction. Addicts know what I mean, yet there are many people who will even follow ideologies to the point of absurdity and contradiction with reason and even self-preservation.
In some ways, we preach abstinence but hope for moderation. Yet, this cannot be so in terms of addiction. Sure, most sins we hope not to think about at all but will settle for not doing them, but addiction is the destruction of the will's ability to exercise moderation.
Moderation requires an intact will, a will that addiction damages. Moderation is no longer an option for the addict.
You may ask about the food addict's need to eat, or the sex addict's need to maintain his marriage. Again, we are not talking about moderately indulging. A drinker or a meth addict can live without the substance. The substance has no natural necessity the way food does or the way sex is in marriage.
Moderation is more than necessity. Eating to necessity is not a matter of moderation unless one is confronted with the freedom to eat more. The normal person can take a few extra bites beyond being full. The food addict cannot. Same for the sex addict: the normal person can have more activity at times without worrying that he'll end up in an alley the next evening.
Moderation is about the option to have more. God does not force us only to eat just enough to survive, and 'wine maketh glad the heart of man.' God does not expect man to live in total abstinence or measure every bite. But, He knows that we ought not go overboard with our freedom to have a little more.
That balance is hard to reduce to a single set of rules. That's what makes moderation so hard.