What Is Temperance?
- doing things in deliberate moderation.
- not being at a fevered emotional pitch;
- responding in a measured and reasonable manner;
- living with self-restraint and modesty.
- word forms: Adjective: temperate.
- word origin: Latin temperare (to stabilize by adding something to modify it) < tempus (season).
Where is temperance found?
- in diplomacy.
- where people listen.
- where people turn the other cheek.
- in the way a team works together.
- lovers when they deal with each other's differences.
Where is it absent?
- at many soccer games.
- in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
- among drivers in traffic jams.
- in on-line chat centers, tweets from trolls, many blogs, and some Facebook pages.
- in troubled, argumentative courtships or marriages.
- talk radio.
- in most personal discussions about religion or politics. Increasingly, temperance is not seen as a virtue in public discourse, instead anger is. There are times for anger, for outrage. But when we are not temperate, we lead ourselves sooner or later into large-scale hateful or hurtful actions.
Temperance for Social Health
Temperance is one of the seven classic virtues, one of the four "cardinal virtues" that are considered the key to being a virtuous person, and also a spiritual characteristic which reflects the spiritual fruit of self-control. Temperance is about being in enough control of our lives that we can dedicate it to God, not the pursuit of addictions or excess or what someone else is coaxing us into craving. An absence of temperance leads to death, injustice, fear, and loss of control. A system of law is, among other things, a way for people in a society to be temperate with each other when dealing with injustices and with people who can't be trusted. They trust the moderate, controlled responses of law in part because they know that doing otherwise would create far more injustice by creating a spiral of rising vengeance. (This doesn't work quite as well when the system itself is not being temperate.) When we're not temperate, we do extreme and unloving actions to each other, which cause other extreme and unloving actions to happen, and so on, until it reaches people who are determined to be temperate. When we give temperate responses to those who challenge us, it prevents matters from escalating into a war of words, which becomes a battle of one-upsmanship, until someone gets physical about it. The Christian works to encourage (in a temperate way) moral awareness so that people of the faith, and hopefully others, will choose not to do wrong. It is the ones who practice moderation and self-control who end up getting the right things done.
Temperance and Law
In some traditions, 'temperance' has meant refusing to drink alcohol, as in the U.S. Temperance Movement to ban alcoholic drink. That movement was intemperate about its war against alcohol, by seeking to use the blunt force of law to drive people away from sin. Prohibition totally failed. It was a legalistic approach that couldn't address the real problems of attitude and culture that led to a drunken public. It also gave new strength to organized crime. However, ending Prohibition also did not work. It did not resolve the real problems that led to the campaign against a drunken public in the first place. So we still suffer the arguments, the assaults, the rapes, the broken relationships, the sexual affairs, the mental illnesses, the lost jobs, the stuck lives, the deaths from drunken driving and operation of hazardous equipment. Most especially the alcoholism, fetal alcohol syndrome, and the other diseases that come from the abuse of alcohol. Law can only work the edges of that suffering; it can put bounds on it, but can't bring it to an end. In both ways, the story of the US Temperance Movement teaches us about the limits of law in dealing with human foolishness.
Temperance as Self-Limitation
Temperance, like respect and prudence, is a form of self-limitation. It says that I love you enough to make me restrain myself from imposing my ways on you. God is self-limiting. Think of Moses on the mountain; God made a way for him to stand in God's presence and not be evaporated by it. God hides from all of creation so we can survive, and hides from us so we can act freely of our own choice. If we follow God, then we imitate that practice of self-limitation, choosing not to use force to make people act our way or God's way, but understanding that they may well not be temperate toward us.
Lesson in Laodicea
In the Revelation passages against the Laodicean church, it says God will spit them out because they are lukewarm. This is not about temperance, but about indifference and lack of caring. Temperance is about passionately caring, but also caring enough to do it in a Christlike manner that doesn't do more harm than good. When it comes to God or love, it's great to have energetic passion. Yet, it's best most of the time to express that passion through restrained words and actions, lest it bring about an un-temperate response.