Kierkegaard’s second book Stages on Life’s Way was written as a continuation of his masterpiece Either/Or where he introduced the Aesthetic and the Ethical stages. In Stages on Life’s Way, Kierkegaard introduces a third stage: the Religious.
Kierkegaard was a Christian, but if you compared him to every other Christian you’ve ever met, he’s a completely different creature. He wanted to become, as he put it: “a Christian in Christendom”. Christendom was represented by the Danish Established Church, which in Kierkegaard’s view, made individuals lazy in their religion, many of the citizens were officially “Christians” without having any idea what it meant to be a Christian.
He wanted to know how to live an authentically religious life while surrounded by people who are falsely religious. Religion had merged with culture, and for that reason, religion had died. For Kierkegaard, the relationship with God is a personal matter. He was a heavy critic of the established church for he saw it as a distraction and interference from the personal relationship a true Christian must undertake.
He considers the religious life to be the highest plane of existence. So, in the aesthetic life one is ruled by passion (the inner world), in the ethical life one is ruled by societal regulations (the outer world), and in the religious life one is ruled by total faith in God. Thus, one can never be truly free. True faith doesn’t lead to freedom, but it relieves the psychological effects of human existence.
One must embrace the absurd – having faith in God, although one cannot believe in God since there is no rational evidence.
He famously said that: “faith is immediacy after reflection.” In other words, the highest belief and goal of life is not to understand the highest, but to act on it. Just as finding your way through a forest, when you come to a parting of the way, you pause, reflect, and then strike out along your chosen path. Commitment brings you back into the forward movement of life, faith is immediacy after reflection.