Do you remember when Howard Dean was running for President in 2004? After losing the Iowa caucuses, he gave a fiery speech to his supporters. At the end of the speech, he let out an enthusiastic scream/screech, “Yeah.” The video clip of the Dean scream was aired hundreds of times. Dean was finished as a serious candidate. One scream. Americans didn’t want a fanatical hockey dad type in the Oval Office with access to the nuclear launch codes. Those were the days, huh. No fanatics in the White House. Calm, cool, rational, measured.
Americans have gone from frowning on extreme, fanatical behavior to tolerating it, to embracing it. Look at what has happened in sports. Can you imagine Mickey Mantle or Hank Aaron doing a bat flip after hitting home run? Or how about Bill Russel or Julius Erving thumping their chests after a dunk? Would Jim Brown or Gayle Sayers spike the ball or do some other wild antic after scoring a touchdown?
For the ancient Greeks, moderation was one of the four cardinal virtues along with courage, wisdom, and justice. The best soldiers were brave without being reckless. A mother loved without doting on her children. A businessman pursued wealth, but would not cheat to get it. And amassing vast wealth was considered unseemly. We used to think like that.
Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem, entitled “If.” It is his credo. Google it and read the whole thing. Here is a part of the last stanza.:
If you can walk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings and not lose the common touch.
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but not too much.
It’s all about that stiff upper lip, British style, that has proven so effective over the centuries. The ancient stoics had it. The early Christians had it. We need to have it, badly.
The Bible is not silent on the issue. Read the first eight verses of Ecclesiastes 3. This is the famous “There is a time for everything” passage. Paul writes in II Corinthians 8:15, “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” In Philippians 4:4 he writes, “Let your moderation be known to all men.” One of the Fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5 is self-control, sometimes translated temperance. We are admonished throughout Scripture to learn to be content and even-keeled and not cave in to greed, hate, arrogance, and hedonism.
America needs moderates to stand up right now. We need to limit our excesses. We need to embrace common sense and common decency. There is great danger in going too far out there. Extremism is seldom the answer. Calmer, cooler, more rational heads need to step up. The future of democracy is at stake.
- Can we love America without embracing nationalism?
- Can we enjoy food without being a glutton?
- Can we be content with the current state of our minds without having to use mind altering and addictive substances – alcohol, tobacco, narcotics.
- Can we protest without burning our neighborhoods or storming the U.S. Capitol?
- Can we enjoy sex with one person in our lifetimes without being promiscuous?
- Can we have guns for hunting and personal protection without having large capacity magazines and military style weapons?
- Can we have election security and make it easy and inexpensive to vote?
- Can we have nice things without being ostentatious?
- Can we enjoy music without it being so loud.
- Can we express ourselves without being obnoxious and vulgar.
- Can we enjoy leisure and recreation without its being our obsession?
- Can we be charitable to the poor and encourage them to work at the same time?
- Can we share?
- Can we win without gloating?
- Can we lose without grumbling?
- Can we disapprove of people unseemly behavior without hating them?
- Can we be angry without resorting to violent rhetoric or actions?
- Can we enjoy our technology without obsessing over it hour after hour?
- Can we compete without being so bent on winning we have to cheat and lie to get it?
- Can we express ourselves on Face Book without being snarky and cruel?
- Can we take a serious look at both sides of an issue?
- Can we practice our faith without having to punish people who practice otherwise?
- Can we laugh without it being at someone else’s expense? (I understand satire, but it can go too far)
- Can we get our energy from both fossil fuels and from and from renewable resources.
- Can we belong to a political party and admit that its platform is wrong on some issues?
- Can we expect our leaders to be decent and moral and humble and kind? Is that too much to ask of us and them?
- Can we stop admiring people who are extremists?