The Religious as Third Stage on Life’s Way

Kierkegaard considers the religious life to be the highest plane of existence. He also believes that almost no one lives a truly religious life. He is concerned with how to be “a Christian in Christendom”—in other words, how to lead an authentically religious life while surrounded by people who are falsely religious. For Kierkegaard, the relationship with God is exclusively personal, and he believed the large-scale religion of the church (i.e., Christendom) distracts people from that personal relationship. Kierkegaard passionately criticized the Christian Church for what he saw as its interference in the personal spiritual quest each true Christian must undertake.

In the aesthetic life, one is ruled by passion. In the ethical life, one is ruled by societal regulations. In the religious life, one is ruled by total faith in God. One can never be truly free, and this causes boredom, anxiety, and despair. True faith doesn’t lead to freedom, but it relieves the psychological effects of human existence. Kierkegaard claims that the only way to make life worthwhile is to embrace faith in God, and that faith necessarily involves embracing the absurd. One has faith in God, but one cannot believe in God. We believe in things that we can prove, but we can only have faith in things that are beyond our understanding.

For example, we believe in gravity: we feel its effects constantly, which we recognize as proof of gravity’s existence. It makes no sense, though, to say we have faith in gravity, since that would require the possibility that, someday, gravity would fail to materialize. Faith requires uncertainty, and thus we can have faith in God because God is beyond logic, beyond proof, and beyond reason. There’s no rational evidence for God, but this is exactly what allows people to have faith in him.

Popular pages: Selected Works of Søren Kierkegaard