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Monday, September 17, 2012


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.

1 comment:

  1. A couple of thoughts I've been having, a bit off topic:

    Man is set up to enjoy life and the many things that God gave us: food, nature, music, being with the husband/wife, etc. I think that a limited understanding of things, of what life can offer in its entirety, might drive people to addiction, or keep them in there. Adding variation to life and introducing new values and activities will maybe help an addict or someone with a narrow perspective (we all have that to some degree, perhaps) to realize that there could be much more to life than one thing that gets repeated over and over and in excess. Sure, this cannot heal an addict, I am only talking about a change of perspective that might help one grow as a person. And, say an alcoholic will probably drink so that the experience of the many activities that he does in life will improve; here you can't really say that he is not engaged in many activities. Still, you could have a coffee in the morning, a beer in the afternoon, and tea in the evening; beer doesn't really cover all the states of being that are available. Furthermore, we can shift your attention from what we ingest to spiritual values, such as loving people, seeing God's wisdom and intellect in everything we come across. There are so many different things we could do, or even discover more along the way, and they are all equal (yet not the same). Variation and creativity are beautiful components of life.

    Another thing is that we have to strive to be free as individuals. Beyond what we do or don't do, we should always be able to say "no" to something pleasant, and "yes" to something painful, need be. Man should be master of his will. Of course, he cannot accomplish this easily, and definitely not without God's direct intervention. Still, I find this aspect very powerful, something we should strive towards -- to say "no" to all the power in the world, and to say "yes" to a death on a cross, without any second thoughts or difficulty -- THAT to me is being free, and being free is an awesome value to pursue.