“Virtue signaling” isn’t virtuous

“Racism is bad.” Nooo, really?

“Hate is evil.” Gasp, no way!

“The Klan is offensive.” Shocking!

“White supremacy is unchristian.” What the heck is “white supremacy”? Oh, you mean white people who aren’t self-loathing and want to advocate for themselves and their families in our identity-politics-obsessed culture? Meh.

“No Trump. No KKK. No fascist USA!” Now, that one doesn’t even make sense in reality, but I suppose it might in leftist fairy-tale land.

I mean, Trump was duly elected; he’s not a Klansman, nor are there any significant KKK numbers in the country. Remember, in Charlottesville, all 20-ish of that region’s Klan members gathered in July, and not at the infamous rally in August. (Sure, you’d never know that by reading the average press account or mainstream blog post about Unite the Right, but it’s still fact.) And the people shouting about fighting fascism are the very ones practicing it.

“Neo-Confederates are pro-slavery.” Not sure what a “neo-Confederate” is – probably just a term created by the media and used to bludgeon non-leftists, as is “white supremacist” – but I’m a Confederate who wants more freedom for individuals, not less.

Regardless, these are some of the pronouncements to which we’ve increasingly been subjected. It’s political theater veiled as “resistance.” Slogans like #ThisIsNotUs, “Black Lives Matter,” or “Diversity Makes Us Stronger” abound when it comes to the topic of race. But fear not, vacuous “virtue signals” come in a variety of social-justice flavors.

They can be about refugees (“Let them in”), immigration (“America is for everyone”), LGBT (“Love trumps hate”), or fat acceptance (“You may be fat, but you’re still healthy”). It can flaunt your status regarding environmentalism (driving a Prius), Islam (displaying a “COEXIST” bumper sticker), feminism (a man wearing a “This is what a feminist looks like” t-shirt), and recycling (shopping with a “My reusable bag makes me better than you” tote).

What these virtue signals do have in common is that they represent simplistic and lazy thinking over deep and reasoned contemplation. Certainly there are valid reasons to oppose wide-open borders with a welfare state, or expensive and wasteful recycling as an environmental good, or the notions of obesity as being medically equal to being fit, or BLM as being benevolent eracism activists, not Marxist agitators.

Virtue signals are merely status symbols. They’re superficial in that they promote instant feel-good gratification over thoughtful reflection and nuanced study. They’re worthless platitudes over meaningful dialog. They’re emotion over fact. They’re about appearance, popularity, and self. And to me, that’s way more about vice than it ever is about virtue.

Words matter

“It is abhorrent to degrade the desire to be virtuous,” read a recent Facebook post. “Belittling the word virtue like that will erode our culture’s desire to posses it.”

But “virtue” and “virtue signalling” are two wholly different things with vastly different meanings, intents, and outcomes. And it’s my belief that virtue signaling deserves scorn and should be the pejorative it has become in modern lexicon. So, let’s compare some terms.

Virtue, noun (Merriam-Webster):
1 a: conformity to a standard of right: morality
1 b: a particular moral excellence
2: a beneficial quality or power of a thing
3: manly strength or courage: valor
4: a commendable quality or trait: merit
5: a capacity to act: potency
6: chastity especially in a woman
7: virtues, plural: an order of angels

Virtue signaling, verb (Wikipedia):
the conspicuous expression of moral values done primarily with the intent of enhancing standing within a social group

The science of signaling

Interestingly, “virtue signaling” was coined by evolutionary biologists within the examination of “signaling theory,” which studies communication between individuals, both verbal and physical, animal and human, and within and across species. It delves into the conveyance of information in nature and in economics, and looks at motivation and results of signals and whether they’re honest or dishonest.

In nature, honest signaling is mutually beneficial for both signaler and receiver, such as warning signals given off by poisonous or dangerous animals. However, an individual can “cheat” by sending out deceitful signals. This is thought to solely benefit the signaler in the short-term, but in fact eventually subverts the entire population in the long-term.

These biologists first began using the term “virtue signaling” to describe “piety” among religious peoples, like fasting, circumcision, and snake handling. Well, I see these not as virtue signals to the world at large, but rather as common practices within an in-group, traditions that are shared by a people unified in faith, and private rituals that don’t necessarily have to signal membership to a group or castigate those outside of it.

Whitewashed tombs

Now, as a catechumen in Orthodox Christianity, we do participate in fasting as an act of self-denial – a type of training that is supposed to engender greater understanding for Christ’s earthly struggles – while also growing us into stronger Jesus followers through a regimen of self-control. However, it should never be bragged or bandied about like a merit badge or a special spiritual honor.

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites … [instead] anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret.”
— Matthew 6:16‭-‬18

In fact, Orthodoxy teaches that if on a fasting day a person offers you a food or drink item of which you’re supposed to be abstaining, you should not say, “Oh, I’m a super-cool and enlightened person, so I can’t eat that” (as many uppity vegans do). Instead, you receive the hospitality, accept the generous gifts, and partake gratefully.

Otherwise, the focus becomes more an outward display of piety and less about maturing and becoming more Christ-like. This is how a Facebook friend of mine eloquently put it.

So, when it comes to religion, signaling theory may not necessarily be in line with the evolutionary biologists’ narrow presumptions about the practices of the faithful. But they are indeed correct that religious folks do virtue signal and progressive Christians are some of the worst. I mean, the “holier than thou” rap is a legitimate beef in many instances.

Scoring points

There’s never a shortage of people proudly broadcasting to their peers easy condemnations and emotional ultimatums – “easy” and “emotional” being the operative words. And their stances are often seen as “brave” and “virtuous” by either other virtue-signalers or the uninformed.

But in truth, the politically correct proclamation is often a self-serving rant done to increase the signaler’s popularity within an in-group, or a deflection that protects the signaler from chastisement or punishment by peers within said group. In these instances, it’s selfishness on display, not courage. The desire is vanity, not virtue.

“They pour out arrogant words;
all the evildoers are full of boasting.”
— Psalm 94:4

I don’t expect any common decency from Antifa, or the dinosaur media, or foreign “conservatives,” or Congress, or Mitt freakin’ Romney. But I do hold Christians to a high standard, and man, have they been testing my tolerance for hypocrisy lately.

From the Southern Baptist Convention’s banning of the Confederate Battle Flag in 2016 to this summer’s hysterical resolution against the “alt-right,” to uber-evangeleftist Russell Moore claiming in the Washington Post that “white supremacy is Satanism,” to even the knee-jerk Orthodox denunciations of “white nationalism or neo-Nazism,” it seems like gossiping and bearing false witness are all the rage these days. Very disappointing indeed.

“Russell Moore seems giddy over the racial strife. It’s good for his business. It’s no accident that the liberal press gives him so much ink. They love him because he frequently attacks the Lord’s Church & he does so while claiming the Lord’s sanction.”
— Pastor Shane Kastler

Funny that social media is teeming with ignorant and/or opportunistic denunciations on certain matters that the mob has already deemed open-and-shut cases of good vs. evil. Yet, some pastors suddenly care about facts when it comes to heretic Joel Osteen of all people. Apparently, the “prosperity gospel” guru is even more defensible with preachers than is anyone remotely “alt-right,” pro-Southern, white and proud of it, anti-feminist, or non-leftist to any noticeable degree.

In regards to the “media tidal wave” against Osteen, as Wheaton professor Ed Stetzer described it, the evangelical bigwig offered up in four guidelines:

If only people would follow this sage advice and give such careful consideration on all topics – no matter how unpopular the players and how adamant the media is in opposing one side – virtue signaling probably wouldn’t be a thing. But Stetzer cannot follow his own common-sense suggestions.

Every leftist in-group is given grace and love, a platform to express themselves, and is sometimes even lauded. However, anyone who dares stray from the strict-yet-ever-morphing Marxist playbook is censored, despised, and instantly targeted for destruction. No day in court. No innocent until proven guilty. Just mob excoriation, pitch forks, and torches.

It’s obvious that many Christians simply cannot be consistent on Biblical principle, especially when it comes to matters of race. Take Pastor Robert Lee IV, who recently went on MTV’s Video Music Awards and denounced his great-great-great-great-uncle Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee as “an idol of white supremacy, racism and hate,” but who interestingly endorses BLM. What a gloomy hypocrite.

“It is necessary we should be humble and taught to be less boastful, less selfish, and more devoted to right
and to justice to all the world.”
— Gen. Robert E. Lee

How can we expect anything more from secular, atheist, and non-Christian society when so many Jesus followers are plugging their ears, upping the emotion, piling on, covering their own backs, being too quick to respond, and endorsing deceivers. If the masses continue to be more concerned with scoring points than they are with honesty and ethics, well, we’re going to remain mired in this dystopian culture of praising the cheaters and shunning the truth-seekers.

That is not only depraved, it is dangerous. And it sure is hell ain’t virtuous.

Be sure to check out the second blog in this two-part series, “The perils of parroting propaganda.”

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