How Can “Moderation” Be Defined?
Moderation is the balanced way between extremes, the middle way between two excesses: too much and too little. It is also to use one’s primordial nature, capacity, and skills to do good, to do exactly what is prescribed by the Creator, on His way. Man’s faculties of sense and mind, his emotions, fear, anger and bodily desire, and the like, are innate in him and play a major role in his life. If these gifts are well used as they were meant to be used, moderation is achieved. On the other hand, insufficient or excessive use of them bring about deviations.
For example: bodily desire is, in general terms, a desire to obtain whatever is a means to keep people alive and their generation continuing. Eating, drinking, and such similar acts are also parts of bodily desire, which sustain physical existence and health. To abstain altogether from such desire, as some Christian nuns and monks do to achieve perfection of will, is too little: it is a form of excess, an excess of omission and abstinence. On the other hand, to accept no boundaries and to consider everything permissible is too much, another form of excess, arrogant indulgence. The clear way between the extremes of self-denial and self-indulgence is self-discipline:
The emotion of anger is also a gift to humankind made for particular reasons. It too must be applied in correct measure. For instance, to cause great damage to oneself and others in order to avenge a trifle, ruthlessly to shed blood, this is too much. On the other hand, to be silent and abstain from anger against gross injustice, against violation of one’s honor, or against the dishonoring of the sacred things, is too little. Moderation lies in the middle path. It is to raise your voice against injustice, tyranny and oppression, and to be firm and implacable against them, but to be soft hearted and compassionate to the weak and innocent, and to be patient if, for that situation, patience brings about good.
Excessive worry or groundless fear, being afraid of everything—possible accidents, thunder storms, superstitions or anything in the universe—make life unbearable for the one who suffers them, and this is too much. The banks of the Ganges are lined with examples of people who attribute divinity to many things and forces in nature which they fear and to which they plead for help in the form of idols which are as helpless themselves. However, being totally fearless and having no cares or worries about anything, on earth or in the heavens, when one is normally expected to fear and worry, this is too little. This is probably a sort of insanity in which doing harm to oneself and endangering the lives of those close by is inevitable. Moderation is to take some precautionary measures to protect one’s life and the lives of those close to one, and not to attach too much importance to far fetched worries and ill-defined probabilities.
The terms too much, too little and moderation apply also to reason. Without taking the outcomes of observation and perception into account, to depend only on reason is too much. This is what the sophists or logicians of ancient times did in their games of wit or what today’s materialists do in their dialectics. Denial of reason altogether, rejection of all mental phenomena and categories of mind, relying instead on either a bare, external positivism or an intuitive, subjective consciousness as the only truth—this is too little. Examples of this are the positivism of Comte and certain sorts of mysticism in Christianity. Moderation in reasoning and thinking is to compose and then reach new ideas through the evaluation of the input of subjective feeling and objective observation. In this way, one can comprehend what is not within the limits of either intuition alone or observation alone. Straightforwardness in the use of mind can only be achieved through the guidance of Divine Revelation. Otherwise, the mind when it turns away from the Divine Revelation is nothing but self-willed craft and obstinacy mixed with pride.
Moderation, as we have said, is one of the essentials in all the faculties and senses that we are endowed with. The same is true of the obligations and duties laid upon us, and in respect of sound belief. Disbelief in the existence of God and rejection of His Attributes is atheism. On the other hand, accepting that He has a material being or form, or attributing to Him a location or human qualities, is also unbelief. The middle way between these two extremes is that, when one believes in the existence of God, one acknowledges that He is One, the Creator, and that He is free from fault, want and need, and that His Attributes are perfect and Divine.
All the other matters related to faith can be dealt with in the same way. For instance, believing that humankind has no will and no power is predestination as compulsion. Believing that humankind is the doer and creator of all their acts and handiwork is extreme voluntarism. The middle way is to acknowledge that humankind has free will as an ordinary condition and that God alone creates everything. Moderation is the true practice, too. If the sensual and carnal life in this world makes us forget or ignore spirituality and the Hereafter, this is materialism, which is too much. Mystical spiritualism which totally denies sensuous bodily existence is too little. The balanced view between these extremes is to deal with everything in accordance with the balance between body and soul, between this world and the Hereafter. This kind of faith is genuine and it is itself moderation.
In the light of this argument, we can argue that some world religions display examples of extremism on both ends. The only right response for a murder in a religion can be death penalty, without any chance of forgiveness; whereas another religion would impose no sanction on the murderer or fail to observe justice by only prescribing to forgiveness only, and nothing else. Islam achieves moderation by taking the middle path, establishing the principle of “measure for measure” but with the door always open to forgiveness.
Social moderation which is bound to concern every people constituted as a society is an unattainable ideal unless the members of that society have attained a sufficient level of straightforwardness in their thinking and practical life and in their economic relationships. That straightness of conduct, in turn, cannot be sustained unless and until a sufficient number of people in that society understand, desire and practice the virtue of moderation.
By M. Fethullah Gulen