In common parlance, “bad faith” is used to express the intent of deceit. And from an existential perspective, it is used to describe the attitude of a person refusing to confront the fact of and ambiguity of human freedom.
We each have a choice to accept freedom of choice—or not. And we each have the freedom to express the intent to deceive not just others, but also ourselves.
But there is another bad faith that can investigate human freedom more deeply—“the theology of bad faith.”
The theology of bad faith identifies why a person has refused to accept their freedom, and instead, live in self-deceit. What follows is a theological reflection of the person “in bad faith,” and how that person practices the deceit of the self and of others.
From a theological perspective, a person lives in self-deceit because they are spiritually unwilling to accept the responsibility they have for the world and for the well-being of others. This is the birth of the Vulgar “I.”
It takes courage to accept the responsibilities associated with human freedom, yet persons in bad faith shrink from that courage, and decide instead to displace them from the center of their worldview, and replace it with the wants and the needs of only themselves.
The Vulgar “I” thinks of itself to be more worthy and more equal than any other “I,” and it preserves its elevated worth, at all costs, by believing that it shares no fundamental bond with other human beings, much less, human society as a whole.
The Vulgar “I” is vulgar because it lives in its own inner world, cut off from human history and collective knowledge also. The Vulgar “I” provides itself, in advance, with a psychological perimeter that blocks it off from the spiritual depths of the human heart, and in turn, it blocks itself off from the encounter with others. The Vulgar “I” hides itself from the reality of our shared humanity and the mutuality of human dignity.
Because the Vulgar “I” rejects the fact of our irreducible worthiness and inalienable equality, it uses others only as a means to its own uncharitable ends. A person in bad faith perpetually lives in a morally bankrupt world where it is “moral” to deceive others, as long as it has its own preservation in mind.
This particular theology of being in the world, then, is a theology in bad faith because it provides protection from the inner perception of humanity’s freedom and a dignity, in order that it treat others as a means to its own end, and without moral exception. This rationalization grounds both personal attitudes and collective worldviews that believe only a privileged few are really free, really worthy, and really equal.
The theology of bad faith is the greatest threat to human freedom itself.
Because we all share in human freedom—a freedom that makes us all irreducibly worthy and inalienably equal—when one of us is denied it, we are all denied it.