Human beings tend to be very reactionary. We see an error being made, some perceived ill take place, and in our zeal to rectify the situation we inevitably overcorrect and end up having an equal but opposite problem. When we find that we have moved too far in one direction and are now staring off of a precipice we realize that we are in dangerous territory, so quickly we back away from the edge of the cliff… right off the other ledge that was behind us.
My mother used to put it this way: humanity behaves like an organic pendulum. Arc up far enough one way, then the impulse to correct – and correct hard – arises and we arc up the opposite way until again we have gone too far in our zeal, which prompts yet another overcorrection. Ad infinitum.
Classic example #1:
Everyone should have the right to bear arms.
Someone got killed with a gun?
Guns should be outlawed!!
Someone was beaten to death?
If only he’d had a gun to defend himself!
Guns should be a right for everyone! Mandated even!
Classic example #2:
The government should stay out of the market.
Drat, Enron messed up.
We need more government oversight so this never happens again!
Phooey, now the economy’s in the tank because the government is scaring off investors.
The government needs to keep its grubby paws to itself!
Classic example #3:
Birds are pretty; we like them.
Hey, birds are eating our grain!
We should exterminate the birds!
Uh-oh, without the birds to keep them in check the insects are multiplying and eating more grain than the birds did!
Let’s incubate more birds and increase their population!
I’m no where near the first to acknowledge it, but the history of theology is one big, long pendulum ride. The doctrine of the Trinity in particular saw equal and opposite heresies (“left and right”, as it were) fly fast and furious, and the Athanasian creed stands as a testimony to the razor’s edge middle-road we have to walk in order to avoid error.
What we need to remember as we work and learn in theology and in our everyday lives is that the world is rampant with false dichotomies. We humans are so accustomed (especially these days) to being black-and-white thinkers that we miss the middle (and, often, correct) way. We rush to embrace the opposite of whatever we see as the problem at any given time, and stumble headlong into a different sort of trouble.
In other words: just because something is bad (say, public nudity), does not mean that the only – or even best – solution is to go with the opposite (say, full burqa and veil). Mightn’t it be vastly more prudent to walk down the middle? (say, tasteful and non-oppressive clothing?)
The lesson of the day, then, is seek moderation. Temperance from wild reactivity against things you find bad, along with cool-headed analysis of the situation, works wonders to avoid the pendulum error. This will be hard for those of us with more visceral tendencies, who allow our in-the-moment feelings and emotions to make our choices for us, but I promise you one thing…
It’s good to be a moderate.