Have you ever heard someone say something like “I’m sick of political correctness.” And then, as if to prove the point, that same person uses hurtful epithets to describe other people? Or maybe you’ve noticed that those who often decry hate speech are the first to label someone else a bigot?
Whatever happened to courtesy—or I would say civility—in public discourse?
Well, that’s the question my colleague Gina Dalfonzo explores in her article “The Lost Virtue of Courtesy” at Christianity Today Online. She notes that in Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis described courtesy as the idea “that no one give any kind of preference to himself.” Courtesy, he wrote, is one of the hallmarks of a “fully Christian society.”
But as Gina explains, in our post-Christian society like ours, “me first” means “everybody else second.” When people become their own gods, they naturally end up giving all the preference to themselves and none to others. They place a higher value on self-expression than on kindness to others, because they believe their own opinions and feelings matter more.
And today’s political correctness has become a sort of secular alternative to the old Christian virtue of courtesy. But this political correctness is being promoted and practiced for the most part by the same people who desire to expel Christian values from the public square.
So we end up with a strange dichotomy: a society full of folks who condemn hatred in one breath, and spew hatred with the next.
Take for instance, as Gina notes, columnist Dan Savage, who first proposed a project to help bullied teenagers. But in that very same column, he made crude sexual remarks about a conservative female politician.
Or take the “Rally to Restore Sanity” on the National Mall—a rally that was supposed to be all about moderation and reason. But one of the featured performers, Cat Stevens, a convert to Islam, once supported Ayatollah Khomeini’s call for the murder of novelist Salman Rushdie.
People behave this way with straight faces, never even recognizing their own hypocrisy. They’ve forgotten what true courtesy is and what it requires of us—and that’s because they have forgotten, or rejected, a Christian worldview.
You see, the virtue of courtesy is rooted in the idea of the imago Dei, the concept that each of us was created in the image of a loving God. That is what gives each person—every person—dignity and makes each of us worthy of respect.
That’s why in the epistle of James we read, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness . . . My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”
Sadly, in the toxic culture we live in, we Christians too often forget that and end up behaving just like the rest of the world. By God’s grace, we must do better.
To recover the lost virtue of courtesy, we who understand that every human is made in the image of God need to set the example—and pray that others might follow our lead.