For years, I have criticized liberalism for being concerned primarily with feeling good about oneself rather than achieving desired or stated objectives. In general, the main way liberals feel good about themselves is to support government programs whose stated objectives sound great. This has the advantage of being in favor of “good things” but not having to commit anything more to your cause than everybody else, namely taxes. It seems that actual results are far less important than being able to declare yourself in favor of all the right things – your proof being that you favor the various government programs.
More and more, however, it isn’t enough for liberals to pat themselves on the back for supporting various government programs. It is also necessary to trash those who disagree with you. What better way to feel good about yourself on the cheap than to criticize those people who disagree with you? And not just criticize them, but label them as “bad people,” or even as evil. For liberals, this means so labeling conservatives, and especially conservative Christians or evangelicals.
I did a little experiment. I commented on an article and stated that if I simply identify myself as an evangelical (and make no additional comment), I will be attacked as being a racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, selfish, greedy, bigoted warmonger. I soon got a response that proved my point. The response carefully explained why it is totally justified to label someone as “a racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, selfish, greedy, bigoted warmonger” if all you know is that they are evangelical because that is exactly what evangelicals are.
The trendy name for all this is “virtue signaling.” Wikipedia actually provides a pretty good definition: “Virtue signalling is the expression or promotion of viewpoints that are especially valued within a social group, especially when this is done primarily to enhance the social standing of the speaker.” I would expand it to include “enhancing the social standing of the speaker in their own mind.” I’m doing a little virtue signaling myself by pointing out that Wikipedia spells “signaling” as “signalling.” This seems to be generally accepted, though I have no clue as to why. I’m leaving out the extra “l.”
Consciously or not, we all do a certain amount of virtue signaling. And while I think that those on the Left are far more prone to it and in a far more negative fashion, likewise conservatives and Christians can trend into dangerously negative territory themselves - and do. Ad hominem attacks fall into my definition of negative virtue signaling, but there are many other ways as well.
I am quite bothered when I see people who should be my allies – in faith, in politics, in the culture wars – resorting to negative virtue signaling. Rather than list detailed examples (of which there are many), I will only provide a couple of generalities. There are conservatives who label other conservatives as not being conservative, and Christians who label other Christians as not being Christian. I realize that there are some people who label themselves as conservative or as Christian who are not. But if you are a conservative Christian, the objective should be to encourage others to actually be conservative and Christian rather than telling them they are not. Claiming to be “purer” and “better” is not going to do the trick.
I suppose that I have been virtue signaling throughout this post, claiming to be above negative attacks on others and criticizing people who do just that. I am reminded of Tom Lehrer’s introduction to his song National Brotherhood Week: “Now I realize that there are some people who do not love their fellow man, and I hate people like that!”
Since this post was motivated primarily by reading comments on the internet, consider visiting checking out my easy evangelism tip on Internet Comment Evangelism.