Virtual Virtue
May 8, 2019
Toby Grater

Thanks to social media, anyone can now be virtuous.Just declare it so on Facebook.

We have enough challenges getting to know people we can see. Appraising a person requires real-time conversation, hearing voice inflections, and observing their actions.

Virtual words have become the substitute for substance. Words on a virtual page masks obvious character flaws. I can make myself look really good on my social media profile.  But do those who really know me wonder who that Saint person is? I can abuse the opportunity FB allows to re-create myself into something I’m not.

There is nothing new under the sun, and every era has its own version of virtual virtue. Writing in the seventeenth century, John Bunyan had our modern social media virtue-signaler-turned-keyboard-warrior bagged and tagged. His character, Talkative, could sub for the virtually virtuous of the present day.  On their way to the Celestial City, Christian and Faithful ran across a virtual reality Christian star:

Moreover I saw in my dream, that as they went on, FAITHFUL, as he chanced to look on one side, saw a man whose name is TALKATIVE, walking at a distance beside them for in this place there was room for them all to walk. He was a tall man, and somewhat more comely at a distance than at hand. To this man FAITHFUL addressed himself in this manner:

Faith. Friend, whither away? Are you going to the heavenly country?
 

Talkative. I am going to that same place.

Faith. That is well; then I hope we may have your good company? (Are you on FB? I’llsend you a friend request)

Talk. With a very good will I will be your companion. (Friend request accepted).

Faith. Come on then, and let us go together; and let us spend our time in discoursing of things that are profitable.

Talk. To talk of things that are good with you or with any other, to me is very acceptable; and I am glad that I have met with those that incline to so good a work.(Thus begins a rigorous FB exchange on various Christendom subjects)

BUT poor Talkative had two big problems. First, he was “somewhat more comely at a distance than at hand”.  FB would make it possible for him to stay behind his keyboard. Much safer back there. Secondly,  thus earning his name, he declared  that “To talk of things that are good” was actually “a good work.” Of course, talk is good if it leads to good actions. Talk is terrible if it substitutes for good actions. But , for the time being, Talkative is  virtually virtuous.

Faith. "Well then," said FAITHFUL, "what is that one thing that we shall at this time found our discourse upon?" (Pick a subject, any subject)

Talk. What you will: I will talk of things heavenly, or things earthly; things moral, or things evangelical; things sacred, or things profane; things past, or things to come; things foreign, or things at home; things more essential, or things circumstantial – provided that all be done to our profit. (So far, so good)

Faith. Now did FAITHFUL begin to wonder; and stepping to CHRISTIAN (for he walked all this while by himself (not following his FB page) he said to him (but softly), "What a brave companion have we got! Surely this man will make a very excellent pilgrim." (I read his blogs regularly)

Chr. At this CHRISTIAN modestly smiled, and said, "This man with whom you are so taken will beguile with this tongue of his twenty of them that know him not." (Uh-oh)

Faith. Do you know him, then?

Chr. Know him! yes, better than he knows himself. (Someone who actually knows Talkative in real-time)

Faith. Well, he seems to be a very pretty man. (On Facebook, that is)

Chr. That is to them that have not thorough acquaintance with him: for he is best abroad; near home he is ugly enough. Your saying that he is a pretty man, brings to my mind what I have observed in the work of the painter, whose pictures show best at a distance; but very near, more unpleasing.(Dare Christian challenge the man’s obvious virtual virtue?)

Christian advises Faithful to call Talkative out for his hypocrisy, resulting in Talkative taking offense and leaving their company.  Christian summarizes by saying:

Chr. You did well to talk so plainly to him as you did. There is but little of this faithful dealing with men nowadays, and that makes religion to stink in the nostrilsof many as it doth; for they are these talkative fools whose religion is only in word, and are debauched and vain in their conversation, that (being so much admitted into the fellowship of the godly) do stumble the world, blemish Christianity, and grieve the sincere. I wish that all men would deal with such as you have done: then should they either be made more conformable to religion; or the company of saints would be too hot for them.

"How TALKATIVE at first lifts up his plumes!
How bravely doth he speak! how he presumes
To drive down all before him! but so soon
As FAITHFUL talks of heart-work, like the moon
That's past the full, into the wave he goes;
And so will all but he that heart-work knows."
  - John Bunyan

 

-Joel Saint

Article originally appeared on Mid-Atlantic Reformation Society (http://www.thinkandreform.org/).
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