The second in our series on the Christian virtues, the antidote to the seven deadly sins.
By Fionn Shiner
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World was right: it won’t be an overt tyranny that enslaves us but rather an insidious assault of entertainment, hedonism and inanity. We’re enslaved by our incontinence, and our cosseting material wealth has convinced us that nothing bad will ever happen.
Temperance is abstinence: not just from sex but from alcohol, food, wealth. It is moderation and a voluntary form of self-restraint, the ability to say no when every atom of your body wants to say yes. A person with temperance has mastery of the flesh, and as St Augustine said: ‘Conquer yourself and the world lies at your feet.’
Conquering yourself is a lifelong battle, but in our age the self is to be appeased at every opportunity. The self is king. Me, me, me and some more me, too. The gluttonous person isn’t just fat. It may be someone who is broke because they have spent all their money or a father who cannot control his temper and beats his children. Gluttony is indulgence, temperance is restraint.
My contemporary example comes from a surprising place: the glitzy world of football. Mohamed Salah, a humble and devout Muslim who plays for Liverpool, shows extreme restraint in a world of excess. He refuses to do any interview other than those to which he is contractually obliged, has an unfashionable haircut and constantly credits his team-mates for his remarkable success.
The mindset works. Earlier this year he scored the winning penalty that put Egypt into the World Cup, able to keep his cool when under extreme pressure.
Another example comes from the infamous Cathy Newman interview with Jordan Peterson. Whilst Newman verbally assaulted Peterson and tried to twist his words and smear him, he remained calm and refuted her points with surgical precision. It would have been tempting to get angry with the unfair treatment, to tell her to zip it or do an Owen Jones and storm off, but he did none of these. He showed restraint.
We can all learn from both of these men when it comes to temperance. The first step is to ignore the noise around you and try to tame the animal within us all.