A: Buddy, what do I care about how other people screw up their lives with overindulgences? As long as I have my agency, I’m going to do what I want with it. I don’t care what the consequences are; I’ve been getting along fine as it is. Why would I deny myself these great pleasures all for the silly idea that I need self-control?
B: I see that you’ve noticed that God’s commandments seem to have a lot to do with self-control.
A: Brilliant, Holmes.
B: Why should God be so interested in our self-control? It must be a corollary of eternal truth, that one who has self-control, which is basically the ability to say “no” when he wants to say “yes,” and vice versa, must have some of the same kind of happiness that God has. Why should self-control, at least in the things wherein God commands it, make one happy?
Remember agency, which you just mentioned, that great gift of God’s to us. If we do not have self-control, then we must not have control over some appetite that we have – in other words, it has control of us, rather than the other way around. In essence, it has enslaved us, and we have lost a portion of our agency. And since when has slavery ever been a form of happiness? But even worse, we lose our ability to perform to our full potential, in keeping God’s commandments: how can we give full attention to what it is He wants it at when we’ve got our minds on the thing that’s enslaving us? It could be, say, that He wants us to help our neighbor out with something (you know, in fulfilling commandment #2), but if we’re lost in some addiction of ours, that neighbor goes without help, and is not as well off as he could be.
A: He’ll survive. After all, is it my responsibility to care for him?
B: Perhaps not, but the sum total of an innumerable repetition of these kinds of negligences amounts to a noticeable lack in many people’s lives, and in society in general. How many opportunities to do good have been missed because of excessive crazes about meaningless things or self-indulgences?
But hey! It goes the other way, too: how many times have you been extra chippy or gruff because you had your heart set on something you wanted; i.e., you weren’t able to satisfy your addictive craving due to your lack of self-control?
A: So I may have been a bit irritable. Big schmeal.
B: If you think that none of history’s biggest crimes – including perhaps even conflicts involving entire nations – came on the heels of somebody’s irritability, I think you may be more than a bit mistaken. It’s easy to see how a person can let one little thing get under their skin and develop it into a big, ugly boil if they don’t ever dismiss it from his mind. Feuds among families and clans are notorious for having their origins among trivial matters. I once heard a story about a couple of farmers, once childhood friends, having a minor disagreement about a water ditch, which eventually led to the one murdering the other. Probably everybody knows of a few examples of big tussles having their roots in small things. Do you think that it never happens, for instance, that somebody chooses to dislike or even hate another simply because he’s irritated by the way the other guy looks? And yet any of these things can be avoided if certain people would exercise the self-control to simply let the thing go.
A: Good heavens, buddy, it’s not like I’d ever go that far. I know my limitations; I’d never go off the deep end like that. And there are countless people who have led perfectly good lives, who’ve had their secret little vices, and yet have died without causing any significant stir among even their circle of acquaintances, let alone society at large.
B: It’s a funny thing about these vices. They creep into society ever so imperceptibly, so that things that were seen as abominable in one generation, are merely taboo in the next, acceptable in the one that follows, and wholeheartedly embraced in the one after that. One sees the pattern of this with something like sexual immorality: some time ago it was roundly rebuked, but now, many, perhaps even most, have the attitude of “who cares?”
If everybody adopted the attitude of “I’ll set my own limits,” with respect to their indulgences, having a somewhat apathetic outlook on its effect on society as a whole, then this teaches the children we raise or otherwise influence that they can do the same, and why should anybody be surprised when they go beyond even those limits that we set for ourselves? Unfortunately, so many of them have to learn the hard way what God had long since known before. How much better would it have been had they simply listened to the omniscient Being in the first place?
The fact is, Marilla, we really like our vices. They’re hard to let go of, so we try to justify our actions by trying to make them appear acceptable in some way. But this can’t sit well with eternal truth: if God says something is against His moral code – which, if followed, will always lead to His happiness, as guaranteed by eternal truth – then it is always against His moral code, and it always will be, regardless of what justifications, studies, or trends we come up with.