The word faux is borrowed from the French, where it means "false." If you are making a movie you may use faux money, faux rocks, or even faux cocaine. If one were to make a faux pas (pronounced fō ˈpä) it means you've taken a false step. A false step is what I think is happening in our culture today as more and more I see people touting modern concepts of tolerance and non-confrontation as virtuous. In reality, these things are faux virtues.
Virtues – What Are They?Although we don't use the word as much today, the concept of virtue plays a vital role in our society. The concept of virtue contains the idea that there are certain qualities or character traits in the moral life of an individual that should be valued and promoted. For example, temperance is a virtue of self-restraint. While we all hunger, to over-indulge in a meal would be considered gluttonous and unvirtuous. However, an anorexic would be looked upon a similarly unvirtuous because she is not properly responding to her God-given need for food. Similarly, sexual drives may be abused in one way or another. The ancient Greeks identified qualities like courage, temperance, sincerity, and right ambition as virtues.1
Christian thinkers like Augustine and Aquinas saw virtues as doing those things that separate us from animals and act more in accordance with God's character.2There is, then, a balance in virtuous living. One may hold truth as a virtue; one should tell the truth because God would not lie. However, it doesn't mean someone is unvirtuous in telling his wife that they are going home for a quiet evening when a surprise party is waiting for her there. Virtue makes a distinction between lies, which are self-serving and deceptions that are simply temporary devices to arrive at a virtuous end, such as the pleasure of being surprised.
The False Virtues of Tolerance and InoffensivenessToday, though, real virtues are being swapped out with cheap, fake versions. The shocking thing is that this is happening most prominently on college campuses across the country, such as the recent decision of the California State university system to derecognize all Intervarsity campus clubs because they won't allow non-Christians into leadership positions.3 The Universities' administrators have claimed the move is to uphold nondiscrimination principles.4 But nondiscrimination of this type is not a virtue; it's a faux-virtue. Prudence is a virtue of right conduct. It recognizes that all men are created equal. It recognizes the freedom to put forth one's ideas is important. However, that doesn't mean that all ideas should be accepted by all people. Such an extrapolation is akin to saying anorexia is a legitimate answer to gluttony. It's tortured logic and it violates the virtue of truth. It forces you to accept what you believe isn't the case.
That's also why the idea of non-offense is also a non-virtue. The concept of justice demands that the virtuous person confront what he or she sees as wrong. Of course, one must measure their response to the level of injustice being promoted and the appropriate avenues available. If it's an intellectual question, then discussion or debate is appropriate. If someone is beating another person, then a physical response is required. But to think that one should never criticize another because the other person may feel poorly due to the criticism is cowardice pretending to be concern. Bad ideas have real consequences, like the significantly higher rates of terminal illnesses for practicing homosexual men. To keep silent would be akin to watching a mugging and choosing not to get involved. Yet our kids hear over and over how not offending anyone is the "right" thing to do.
Faux virtues are rampant in our society today, especially among our young people. College campuses are, I think, complicit in setting a moral code that is hopelessly confused. They seek to free individual expression, but stifle clubs wishing to be consistent in representing their beliefs. They offer shiny gems of faux virtues that turn out to be worth nothing more than paste when applied to the costly complications of real life. We need to train our Christian kids to beware of such baubles; such are too easily crushed under pressure.
2. "If virtue is taken as aiming toward a naturally attainable human end, it can be said to be acquired by human effort which can exist without charity. Only by virtues can man conduce to the highest human end, and that end is supernatural." Kretzman, Norman; Stump, Eleonore. The Cambridge Companion to Aquinas. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Print. 240-241.
3. Setzer, Ed. "InterVarsity "Derecognized" at California State University's 23 Campuses: Some Analysis and Reflections." Christianity Today. Christianity Today, 6 Sept. 2014. Web. 17 Sept. 2014. http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/september/intervarsity-now-derecognized-in-california-state-universit.html.
4. Reed, Charles B. "Memorandum, Subject: Student Activities - Executive Order 1068." THE CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY Office of the Chancellor. 21 Dec 2011. Web. 17 Sept. 2014. http://www.calstate.edu/eo/EO-1068.html