Moderation In All Things

Joel Stephen Williams

The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis is a very creative approach to Christian psychology. The Letters are an imaginary correspondence between Screwtape, an experienced demon tempter, and his nephew, Wormwood, a novice demon recently assigned to tempt a man in order to win him over to the devil. Frequently Screwtape suggests subtle temptations to subtle sins. Screwtape also suggests that a certain amount religious practice is not bad for the devil's cause, as long as it is done in an outwardly way with little or no influence over the man's will. At one point Screwtape writes to Wormwood about moderation:

Talk to him about "moderation in all things". If you can once get him to the point of thinking that "religion is all very well up to a point", you can feel quite happy about his soul. A moderated religion is as good for us [devils] as no religion at all and more amusing.

If Jesus had taught a religion of "moderation in all things," he would have been welcomed by the Sadduccees and could have avoided the cross. Not only were the claims of Jesus about himself extravagent, but also the demands he laid upon others were pervasive.

Every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment...every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery...If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away...If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away...Do not swear at all...Do not resist one who is evil...Love your enemies...You must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect...Judge not...Enter by the narrow gate...whoever would save his life will lose it...Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.

This does not sound much like "moderation in all things."

(additional note)

In the King James Version (AV) of Philippians 4:5 the apostle Paul supposedly writes: "Let your moderation be known unto all men." When the above article was first published, one person objected to its content based on this verse in Paul's epistle. A modern translation, though, gives a very different sense of Paul's thought: "Let your gentleness be known to everyone" (NRSV). The NIV has "gentleness." The NASV has "forbearing spirit." The RSV has "forbearance." The Greek word "signifies a humble, patient stedfastness, which is able to submit to injustice, disgrace, and maltreatment without hatred and malice, trusting in God in spite of all of it" (Fritz Reinecker and Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, p. 560). The Greek word Paul uses is epieikes which means "seemly, suitable, equitable, fair, mild, gentle" (Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon, p. 238). This is a good example of the importance of checking more than one translation to make sure one has gotten the correct sense of the original and, if one is able, to study the meaning further of the original Greek word. Only a moment of checking confirms that Paul is not encouraging half-hearted, lukewarm commitment, the sense in which C. S. Lewis and I were using "moderation".

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