There are certain catch-phrases that wind up getting overused and become meaningless insults. “Politically correct” is one of them. When denunciation of a mob of goons marching under the banner of the swastika is sneered at as “politically correct” and not simply acknowledged as the morally normal thing to say, that term has passed its sell-by date.
Also popular with the Freak Show Right is the term “virtue signalling”. So, for instance, when Patrick Coffin decided to post this filth
…and got called out on it, he repeatedly accused the Moral Normals who criticized him of “virtue signalling”:
Now there is such a thing as virtue signalling. Jesus talks about one form of it here:
“Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
“Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Mt 6:1–6)
That’s not the only form it can take, of course. And these days, it’s not a slam dunk that performing these particular actions is virtue-signalling. For, of course, to truly virtue signal, what you are doing has to be a) popular and b) insincere. Praying on street corners was thought, in Jesus’ time, to be extra super cool and holy. Today, it’s the sign of a crackpot. So it is quite possible that somebody out of the Russian tradition of the Holy Fool might deliberately do it in all sincerity, not to curry favor with people, but to penitentially earn the scorn of passersby. It’s also quite possible that a very sincere crackpot might do it because he thinks God told him to. But nobody, actually trying to earn the praise of the crowd, is going to pray on street corners these days. It’s not popular or cool. And the first ingredient of virtue-signalling is always popularity and coolness.
Ostentatious almsgiving, though, still brings in the suckers and is still a way of appearing righteous while in fact being a wolf in sheep’s clothing. So, for instance, running a cancer charity scam and then keeping the $$$ for yourself is virtue-signalling, as well as theft.
Not that all almsgiving, including public almsgiving, is virtue-signalling. The other key ingredient of virtue-signalling is insincerity: specifically, the goal of trying to earn the praise of people rather than God. (If one is a sincere atheist, one typically substitutes something like “honor” or “conscience” for “God”. God himself is not picky and receives an atheist who acts out of a sense of honor as he receives worship directed to himself, since all acts of true love, especially to the least of these, are acts of worship to God in the end. There’s a reason the sheep are surprised in the parable and ask “Lord, when did we see you hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, or in prison?” He does not rebuke them for “virtue-signalling”, he rewards them for virtue.)
But there are lots of ways to virtue-signal beyond almsgiving. All you need to do is find something popular and do it in order to earn the praise of people and not God. Much depends on whose praise you want to drive what you do to earn it. If your peer group cares about the environment, you can brag about recycling. If it’s fitness, you can brag about your exercise regimen. If it’s this or that political cultus, you can brag about that. All that’s necessary to virtue-signal is popularity and insincerity.
When I was a Protestant, I once realized that I was faced with a choice about what to make of Catholic Marian devotion. I asked Catholics, “Why do you worship Mary as a goddess?” and was consistently told, “I don’t”. At that point, I realized I could either take them at their word or I could arrogantly declare, “Oh, but you do!”
I realized that was stupid and so instead of telling Catholics what they believed I decided the sane thing was to ask them what they believed.
The reflexive charge of “virtue-signalling” on the flimsiest of excuses is the same thing. Merely because somebody does something good is not proof that they are doing it in order to be praised by people. Jesus, after all, commands us to “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Mt 5:16). Merely doing good things publicly is no proof that one is doing them in order to curry popularity. And indeed, many who do good things publicly are, in fact, trying to foster further goodness. So the rich man who makes a public donation to some good cause and who challenges other wealthy people to match his donation may be trying to virtue-signal, but he may also sincerely believe that as a leader in the community he is obliged to encourage such generosity in his rich peers.
On the other hand, it is also quite possible for people to cultivate a reputation for virtue while in fact doing very little beyond virtue-signalling. So, for instance, one of the most prominent forms of virtue-signalling in the Church today is the use of the unborn as human shields for a host of sadistic cruelties beloved by the Christianist cult of Trump. Mention any of the evils they love and the reply is infallibly, “But abortion!” Yet instead of actually defending the unborn they use the unborn and often in shockingly blasphemous ways. Here, for instance, is the man who desecrated an altar with a corpse in order to give a stump speech for Donald Trump, speaking out against Trump’s new policy sentencing lebenunwertes leben to death for being brown:
Just kidding. Mr. Pavone has nothing to say about deporting sick people to their deaths. He’s too busy with extremely-relevant-to-the-abortion issue of scolding a kid who watched friends be butchered for displaying more courage in his little toe than the Gun Cult has in its whole body. This is a kid who has been lied about, slandered and threatened with death. But instead of acting like a pastor to a trauma victim he acts like a Gun Cult hack to a culture war enemy. And he gets away with it because he virtue-signals to the Christianist cult by rubbing a Precious Feet pin. Opposition to abortion taketh away the sins of the Cult, even when that Cult now cheers for euthanising sick people and mocking gun slaughter victims.
It was inevitable that in the Cult where accusation is always a form of confession, the liars who screamed most loudly about death panels in order to deny poor people health care would be the most eager to sentence lebensunwertes leben to death. Of all the lies the Christianist “prolife” cult tells, the words “Jesus” and “life” on their lips are the biggest lies of all. That is the ultimate form of virtue-signalling, and Jesus warns sternly about it:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.
“Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’ (Mt 7:15–23).