The Theology of Bad Faith II, (Initial Phenomenological Markers)
While there are no a priori differentiations of human freedom and dignity, there is an identifiable phenomenological spectrum that contains the characteristic behaviors and behavioral limitations of the inner experience of the Vulgar “I.”
Let us begin with these initial markers: antipathy, apathy, sympathy, and unanimity.
The Vulgar “I” experiences two forms of antipathy—internal and external. First, it experiences an internal antipathy between the “We-in-I” it perceives in the depths of its own heart and the “ego-I.” This occurs because the perception of the “We-in-I” causes distress to the “ego-I,” since the “ego-I” is forced to confront its contingency on the “We-in-I,” i.e. on another “I” more real than itself.
Internal antipathy arises from the fact that the acknowledgement of the “We-in-I” on the part of the “ego-I” necessarily requires that the “ego-I” overcome the child-like perception of its own omnipotence and step into wisdom of humanity’s universal dignity.
This antipathy of consciousness can lead to conflicts within the personality, especially at the point where the “ego-I” has not yet fully decided to let go of its perceived omnipotence. This is painful for the “ego-I.” It is experienced as untenable, and in a feeling of urgency to either overcome itself and evolve into its final form, or hold onto to itself for the sake of no one else but itself. Either way it decides, the “ego-I” experiences this internal conflict as existential angst, and the crushing burden of this angst forces the “ego-I” to make finally make a decision.
Only after the “ego-I” decides to fundamentally say NO to the “We-in-I,” i.e. turns away from the wisdom of universal dignity and from the expectation of universal dignity in the world also, can it proceed without the suffering experienced in the antipathy of consciousness. Saying NO to the “We-in-I” is the fundamental YES to the Vulgar “I.” It is the easy way out for the “ego-I,” however, because it only reconfirms what the “ego-I” thought of itself to begin with–that it is more worthy and more equal than any other “I.”
This leads to the second form of antipathy that the Vulgar “I” experiences, and that is the antipathy it has for others who live in and from their “We-in-I”—that is, others in good faith who believe in human freedom and dignity, and have decided to said YES to the wisdom of universal dignity and YES to the expectation of universal dignity in the world also.
Faced with another person in good faith causes distress to the Vulgar “I” because its omnipotence is again challenged, but this time in a personal encounter with another “We-in-I” that it cannot so easily escape or ignore.
External antipathy arises from the face-to-face encounter of the Vulgar “I” with another “I” that claims he or she is as irreducibly worthy and inalienably equal as the Vulgar “I.” The Vulgar “I” internalizes this as a fundamental threat to its theology in bad faith, to its existential stability in unfreedom, and to its omnipotence, privilege, and power over against others in the world.
And so, as the Vulgar “I” went to war with itself, it goes to war with others who confront the Vulgar “I” in the practice of good faith and in the politics of good faith too.
Another inner experience of the Vulgar “I” is more of a consequent limitation, in that rather than going to war with persons and public policies in good faith, the Vulgar “I” simply ignores them. By shrinking away from the reality of the world, just as it shrank away from the reality of its shared freedom and humanity, the Vulgar “I” is unconcerned with a genuine encounter with others.
The Vulgar “I,” in a state of essential discontent with that which is fundamentally human and politically humanizing, is only concerned with the preservation, advancement, and immediate pleasure of itself. The Vulgar “I” is always and forever the selfish, narcissistic, and self-centered “ego-I” who nonchalantly brushes off stewardship for the care of other people in the world, but at the same time, absolutely obsessed with its own care.
Because the Vulgar “I” is turned away from its deepest self and turned away from an authentic encounter with others in the world too, it cares only for what is ephemeral and discards all that is ever-lasting. And so, the apathetic Vulgar “I” is lost in its own spiritual wasteland, wandering hopelessly, and even unknowingly, in a purgatorial nightmare of his or her own creation myth of what it means to be human.
But the Vulgar “I” does have the capacity to engage in sympathy for others. While not an encounter with others per se, sympathy for others can be an experiential marker for the Vulgar “I” because it does not require the “ego-I” to travel into any other realms of consciousness that may threaten its little, narrow worldview.
Sympathy only requires the “ego-I” to feel its own emotions. While in no way being threatened internally by its “We-in-I,” nor from another “We-in-I,” the Vulgar “I” can intuit from reason what it may feel like if he or she, let’s say, suddenly lost their wealth and privilege.
For example, the Vulgar “I” might hear that a friend has lost their job, their partner, and now needs to sell their home. The Vulgar “I” has the capacity to imagine, for itself, what this loss may feel like if the same thing happened to them.
But to be clear, sympathy, in the strict sense, is an intuition of one’s own emotions when one imagines themselves put in a particular circumstance, and not the felt emotions of another’s “I” in that particular circumstance, for that would be a true encounter with another person in an act of empathy.
And the Vulgar “I” cannot, by virtue of his or her theology in bad faith, participate in that act because empathy requires a theology and existential attitude in good faith.
The Vulgar “I” can be in unanimity among their peers, but they cannot be in solidarity with each other. Unanimity is a limitation of the Vulgar “I,” because like empathy, solidarity requires a theology and existential attitude in good faith.
There are many forms of the Vulgar “I” that lead to political practices of exclusion of the other in society, and these exclusions are based on what the Vulgar “I” finds most threatening to them at the time.
For example, white supremacists find Black freedom and dignity most threatening to their theology in bad faith and to their existential attitude of white privilege and power, and so the members that comprise this hate group are all bound in the consensus that white freedom and dignity be placed at the center of their politics–a politics, obviously, in bad faith. The wealthy and elite find a Christian theology of social justice and the Good News of the preferential option for the poor most threatening to their theology in bad faith, and so those whom argue for Postconservative public policies are all bound in the consensus that the wealthy and elite are “creators” and the poor are “parasites.” They place the competition in human degradation at the center of their politics–a politics too, in bad faith.
But the point is that each of these groups bond in the unanimity of their theology in bad faith. And in this way, it is a distinct marker of the Vulgar “I,” because when a collective Vulgar “I” degrades the freedom and dignity of one group in society, it degrades all of our freedom and dignity. And only a theology of universal dignity is capable of the act of solidarity with other human beings.
In conclusion, the theology of bad faith can identify the phenomenological spectrum on which the Vulgar “I” deceives itself and deceives the world, and it can be used as an analytical tool to deconstruct the social, economic, and political effects of the Vulgar “I’s” fundamental NO on society as a whole.
The German Catholic theologian, Karl Rahner, had much to say about this fundamental NO, and he warned us of the self- and collective-deceits of it:
“We never know with ultimate certainty whether we really are sinners. But although it can be suppressed, we do know with ultimate certainty that we really can be sinners, even when our bourgeois everyday life and our own reflexive manipulation of our own motives appear to give us very good grades (Foundations of Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Idea of Christianity, p. 104).”