I have been in the process of making some very large decisions, and this has brought out what I think Kierkegaard was getting at with his aesthetic – ethical – religious stages of life.
With aesthetic decision making, one goes about doing what looks good, sounds good, or feels good. It is sensual – or sense based. It is somewhat hedonistic. The results of this approach will be temporary pleasures, followed by regret. Do it, or don’t do it – you will regret it either way. Because something that appears better will always come along.
With ethical decision making, one seeks to determine what one ought to do. We try to do what is right, and avoid what is wrong. It is the attempt to do the responsible thing – the wise thing. The results of this approach will often be the fulfillment of tasks and duties, and to be filled with anxiety and worry. Have I accounted for everything? Am I in complete control? Life is complex enough, that one can never quite be certain of every decision.
With religious decision making, one seeks to authentically follow what one feels from within. This revelation will lead one to do God’s will. This is the attempt to learn the will of God, and to follow it. Decisions authentically made in this way will be free of regret and worry. These decisions will be accompanied by confidence and peace.
I have found that I tend to move around each of these stages during times of significant decisions. Even after gaining what I feel is revelation, I will backslide and think about what looks good, or how it will all work out. I still seek for control and for pleasure. I want the decision to make sense to my mind. And I temporarily loose my peace by exchanging it for worry and regret. I then need to once again seek answers to prayer to get the peace back again.
Religious decision making is one of the grand advantages to having peace in our lives. I hope that I can get better at being, and staying, in that stage while making important decisions.