Benjamin Franklin is purported to have said, “All things in moderation…including moderation.” It sounds good, clever, and insightful. Like most sayings, however, it has its drawbacks.
If you’re drinking alcoholic beverages, eating dessert, or building a house, moderation is indeed a fine watchword. However, if you’re trying to win a game, qualify for a job, or please a member of the opposite sex, going all out might be a better strategy.
There’s a strong movement afoot in our society to push many things toward the moderate end of the spectrum. The big problem with that is this. “Moderate” is not at the end of the spectrum. Moderate is stuck in the middle of that proverbial spectrum somewhere.
Are moderate Muslims really moderate?
Take, for example, our huge push to label most Muslims as moderate. If I were of the Islamic faith, I think I would take exception to this verbiage. I wouldn’t want to be known as moderate at all.
I understand the purpose of all this of course. It’s to distinguish them from their more violently aggressive counterparts in the religion. I get that. Still, I think I would loudly kick against the goads if I were being labeled as such. It’s downright demeaning. I would demand a much more accurately descriptive term (like “faithful” maybe).
I’m not sure I can give it justice from an Islamic perspective. So, let’s view it from a Christian one. I think I can be a bit more judicious from there.
Making Jesus Sick
Take, for example, Jesus’ words to the church at Laodicea in Revelation chapter three. He calls them moderate. More accurately, he calls them lukewarm. They’re neither hot nor cold, neither sweet nor sour, neither aggressive nor passive. In short, they’re middle-of-the-road—straddling the fence.
His reaction to their milquetoast approach to a life of faith was one of disgust. He actually said he would prefer they be at one end or the other. As it was, he said he was ready to vomit them out. In short, they made him sick.
Keeping all that in mind, I think I would prefer to be known as a radical Christian rather than a moderate one. Unfortunately, we’ve already given away that term. Radical used to mean, “getting at the root—pushing to the heart of the matter.” Now it means something else. I’m not sure what, exactly.
I suppose it depends on who’s using it and for what. The term, hostile, comes to mind. I believe Jesus was a radical. Yet, no one could accuse him of being physically hostile or belligerent (unless they were selling stuff in the Temple).
I’m not moderate in my beliefs, and I’m not keen on people urging me to be so. That’s why I say I would take exception to all this “moderate” labeling if I was a proponent of Islam.
I don’t know if this is all merely semantics, or if we’re just giving away our vocabulary to the press and the politicians. Either way, it looks like we’re becoming lukewarm about it.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]