Polite society prizes moderation, doesn’t it? We’re told (in a maxim with various versions) that “in all things moderation.” This is commonly understood to mean that the alternative to moderation is extremism, which is unwise, either because a) it peters out quickly; or b) it’s is rooted in a volatile emotional impulse. Makes sense, right?

Yes, but.

Here’s the post-but caveat. On the other hand, there are some contexts in which the maxim doesn’t apply.

Like loving, for instance.

Does the Bible warn against loving too much or too well or too long — or command us to love moderately? How long can the average marriage stay together if both spouses are only willing to be moderate in the way they serve and forgive one another? How many gold medals have been won by an athlete who trained moderately?

I have an image in my head of a 500-page book, titled Great Moderates of History. Beautifully bound in handsome leather and gold leaf.

And all the pages are blank.

Which brings me to a pet peeve: the frequency with which the language of disagreement (particularly on Facebook, blogs, Twitter, and letters to the editor) jumps straight to combative language. No one simply disagrees with anyone else — no, plain disagreement is now tagged as an “attack” or an act of “hitting out.” A response to a criticism is now “hitting back,” or “slapping back.”

As far as I can tell, the habit is bipartisan. Both liberals and conservatives both do it: “I heard a crazy socialist attacking Rush Limbaugh today;” or “a Ted Cruz spokesman destroyed a smarmy reporter;” or “Bill Maher (or Ann Coulter or Fidel Castro or George Will or Chris Matthews) ownedthat guy during the Q&A.”

The language of disagreement has morphed into the rhetoric of humiliation and hyperbole such that “winning the debate” (over the most trivial of disagreements) becomes, in the memorable term of Dr. Abraham Low, MD, “a symbolic victory.” It’s not enough to hold a contrary viewpoint. Today one is expected to project into the other guy a collection of evil intentions and “vitriol.” Com-box threads catch fire with insult and spittle faster than you can say, “Good point, Hitler.”

It’s getting ridiculous. And it should embarrass Christians who value true dialogue and debate and who are taught to speak “with reverence and gentleness” (1 Peter 3:16).

I have an idea.

Let’s swap out moderation for balance. That way, we don’t have to sacrifice principles on the altar of compromise, and we don’t have to assume that people and their opinions comprise one thing. They don’t. People are made in God’s image and likeness, while their viewpoints and opinions are accidental, fleeting, and can change. Balance means discussing the latter without being disrespectful toward the former. When Jesus commands us to “love our enemies” (Matthew 5:24; Luke 6:27) he’s assuming we can will the good of another even as we strongly disagree with him or her.

Balance characterizes the Christian life in ways that “moderation” does not. The characteristically Catholic lens sees the world in such a way that joins apparent contraries, such as faith and works, human and divine, faith and reason, salvation as present and future, providence and free will, and so on.

Rodney King wasn’t all wrong when he pleaded to the cameras, “Can’t we all just get along?” (You kids under 30 can google “Rodney King.”)

If Facebook warriors, news editors, and angry gossip-slingers carry the day, the answer to Mr. King is no.

I’d love to hear your take on this pet peeve o’ mine. Drop by at my public Facebook page or Twitter.

Be a saint; what else is there?

Patrick