Catholic Virtue Vs. Modern Virtue Signaling
What is virtue? We often hear of on social media virtue signaling those (both by individuals and companies) to appear aware or woke in response to an outcry from the public. Much of it concerns maintaining or repairing a public image. It says, “look at me, I’m aware, I am good and virtuous”. In this article, I will address virtue, both Catholic and modern (woke) virtue. I will show that modern virtue is really no virtue at all and merely an attempt to “look” or appear virtuous with minimal effort.
Modern (Woke) Virtue and Virtue Signaling
What are modern (woke) virtues? I posit that modern (woke) virtues include support for access to abortion, environmentalism, globalism, equity, inclusion, and the affirmation of identity. We see these virtues reflected mostly among the elites in entertainment, left-leaning politics, and major corporations. These are also where we see the practice know as virtue signaling.
Examples of virtue signaling:
- Wearing a t-shirt or placing a bumper sticker on your vehicle stating you donated to a modern virtuous cause.
- Posting on social media in support of a modern virtuous cause, like environmentalism or against global warming. Everyone also remembers the black square that went viral in 2020.
- Major companies changing policies in response to public outcry over perceived violations of modern virtue issues, like abortion access. This is seen most recently in the demands Hollywood female writers and creators made to major studios, like Netflix and Disney (and many others), to change their protocols around access to abortion for staff on productions in states that outlawed abortion after the overturn of Roe v. Wade. To not be out virtue signaled by their female counterparts, 594 male writers and creators also attached their names in an act of “solidarity.”
Moreover, juxtaposed to modern virtue, Catholic virtue demands something of the person in terms of their personal character. What is Catholic virtue? The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines virtue as “a habitual and firm disposition to do good.” Furthermore, Catholic tradition developed what are commonly know as the Four Cardinal Virtues. These virtues are prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. Catholic virtues demand a great deal from the individual. These demands go beyond the avoidance of evil. They demand a full transformation of character toward the good.
Four Cardinal Virtues and What they Demand
The virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it… Prudence is “right reason in action,” writes St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle. It is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation. It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue, we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1806)
Prudence demands that individuals use right reason to discern good and to avoid evil. It demands we properly form our conscience to judge the proper moral path. Contrary to modern virtue, prudence sees the true good in the preservation of all human life. Therefore, the prudent person stands against abortion as contrary to the true good.
The moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward God is called the “virtue of religion.” Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1807)
Justice demands that the individual acts toward the common good. It demands we care for and respect the rights of others that concern the common good. This does not mean what is understood as the modern idea of social justice and equity that seeks to raise others up by pushing others down or destroying others. Rights in this sense are not rights that stand contrary to the common good, such as abortion. Therefore, the person who practices true justice does so regardless of the location or developmental stage of others.
The moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1808)
Fortitude demands that the individual possesses an iron resolve in pursuit of the good. It demands one stand firm against temptation and live a moral life. Ultimately, fortitude demands that the individual stand firm even in the face of persecution or even death for a just cause. Therefore, the person who exercises fortitude resists the temptation to abandon their morals in the face of pressure or persecution from those who espouse modern virtue.
The moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1809)
Temperance demands balance. It demands one not have as their master pleasure and desire but is the master of them. Therefore, the temperate person is not overcome by base instincts and behaviors but balanced in life.
Catholic Virtue Vs. Modern Virtue Signaling
In conclusion, let’s look at the stark differences between modern (woke) virtue and Catholic virtue (the Four Cardinal Virtues.) As previously stated, modern (woke) virtue is not real virtue at all—it is about image and other’s perceptions of one’s goodness through virtue signaling. It does not require anything of the individual to appear “virtuous” on social media and only costs the price of a t-shirt or bummer sticker— if anything at all. True virtue demands a high price of the individual who seeks to live a virtuous life. It demands prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. It demands a vigorous pursuit of the true and good.