I realized today that it has been nearly 20 years since I have eaten anything produced by a McDonalds. I still recall staring at menu at a Mc’D’s in Illinois and realizing that there was nothing on the list of items offered that I wanted to eat. There was nothing that would make me more healthy, live longer, improve my quality of life, make me feel better, or be a reasonable exchange between what I paid and the product I received. So, I determined on that day to never go back, and I haven’t. My only regret is that I didn’t highlight this day so I could celebrate it as an anniversary each year.
The other day I was talking to someone about a whole food plant based lifestyle and they asked the question, "Aren't we supposed to have moderation in all things?" to defend their attraction to bacon. The simple answer is "No". I have found that this statement is commonly used by someone who is attempting to defend a behavior that they know is not healthful. I have understood that the notion of moderation applies to good things, not to things that have been proven to be detrimental to our health or well-being. If your son loves to play the piano, after a few hours, it is time to put it aside and do some homework. But how many cigarettes should he have? How much heroin? Moderation, as a concept, applies to healthy things, not to everything. So, where did this idea of “moderation in all things" come from?
It certainly doesn’t come directly from the scriptures. Many people say that it can be found in the 89th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, but it is not there. In fact, the Word of Wisdom doesn’t even allude to the this idea of moderation. The do's and the do not's are pretty clear. If you do a search of the standard works, there only one place in the scriptures where you find the word “moderation” Look in Philippians 4:5
5 Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.
While it isn’t 100% clear to me what Paul's use of the word moderate means, it seems to be referring more to being temperate rather than moderate. If you look up the words “Temperate” and “Moderate” in the 1828 Websters dictionary you will notice that the definitions are very similar. Temperate is "Moderate in the indulgence of the appetites and passions” and Moderate is: "Restraint of violent passions or indulgence of appetite"
We can find one use of the phrase “temperate in all things”, In Alma 7. Perhaps this is where the moderation in all things idea came from. Alma is visiting the people in the land and city of Gideon. In verse 23 he says (emphasis added):
23 And now I would that ye should be humble, and be submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive.
This may be where we get the incorrect phrase “moderation in all things.” It may appear on the surface that temperate and moderate seem to be almost interchangeable in the scriptures. Here is where the problem lies. Using a more modern definition of moderation you would be able to include a significant dose of wickedness in your life, along side only lukewarm righteousness. I don’t think this is what we are after. If you search for the word temperate in the scriptures it is typically found within a list of things of good traits and it applies to keeping appetites and passions within the boundaries set by the Lord. So back to Alma chapter 7, “temperate in all things” specifically refers to things like eating, sleeping, marital intimacy, etc. All are good things when we do them in moderation. This could also be applied to “natural high’s” like runner’s high, or other adrenaline/endorphin highs. Or even spiritual highs that can come from doing good things. If we are seeking the appropriate balance for our lives, we probably don’t want to exercise all day, or as we’ve been warned, over-emphasizes one aspect of the gospel above all others. Elder Neal A. Maxwell said:
How important it is to the symmetry of our souls that we interact with all the gospel principles and with all the Church programs, so that we do not become so highly specialized that, if we are deprived of one source of satisfaction, indeed we are in difficulty. It is possible to be incarcerated within the prison of one principle. We are less vulnerable if our involvements with the kingdom are across the board. We are less vulnerable if we care deeply about many principles—not simply a few. (Neal A. Maxwell, “But for a Small Moment”, BYU Speeches, September 1, 1974)
A more recent quote on this same subject come from Elder Quentin L. Cook:
Gospel extremism is when one elevates any gospel principle above other equally important principles and takes a position that is beyond or contrary to the teachings of Church leaders. One example is when one advocates for additions, changes, or primary emphasis to one part of the Word of Wisdom. Another is expensive preparation for end-of-days scenarios. In both examples, others are encouraged to accept private interpretations. “If we turn a health law or any other principle into a form of religious fanaticism, we are looking beyond the mark.” (Quentin L. Cook, "Valiant in the Testimony of Jesus", October 2016 General Conference
So, being temperate in all good things makes much more sense than the phrase “moderation in all things.” Temperance conveys the notion of not being extremist in things that are good. The key is realizing that they’re only good as long as they’re done with temperance. This caution may come because it is easy to slide from temperance to extremism in things that are sanctioned by God. However, the prophets have made it clear that the good things are sanctioned by Him when done with temperance and balance.
Here is my simple summary:
- Be moderate with the good things in life
- Consistently do the important things in life
- Avoid the bad things in life.