What C.S. Lewis taught us about temperance

During World War II, C.S. Lewis delivered a series of radio talks on the BBC. We don’t have much audio record of these talks, but fortunately, Lewis compiled them all into the book Mere Christianity.

This isn’t a note about religion.

Most are familiar with the term “cardinal sins” and the serious consequences of committing such acts. In the book, starting on page 76, Lewis discusses four cardinal virtues.

  • Prudence
  • Temperance
  • Justice
  • Fortitude

I’d like to focus on temperance. Of course, it is a virtue to abstain from indulging (or overindulging) in one or more of life’s many undeniable pleasures. There was a period of my life—not too long ago, in fact—when I would down two to three giant bowls of ice cream every night. Was I depressed? Maybe. Did I care about the consequences of my actions? Yes. However, the answer to either question doesn’t reveal why I did it. I did it because ice cream is man’s greatest invention. It tastes like manna from heaven.

I no longer engage in this behavior. Proud of myself, for a brief moment, I considered banning all ice cream from entering my house. It’s obviously not good for you, and I had become wise enough to figure that out. Every resident or visitor to my home needed to learn the same lesson. Where ice cream was once plentiful, the freezer would now be found barren.

“One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting everyone else to give it up,” writes Lewis.

As a child, I was often advised to focus on myself rather than the shortcomings of others. This advice feels particularly relevant today.

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