Free will – the moral duty of death and life

Free will – the moral duty of death and life

Free will – the moral duty of death and life

Among our more bizarre paradoxes is the right we grant to the dead to continue, even perpetuate, their wishes beyond their own consciousness. The paradox is that this made sense when most people believed in resurrection of the body after death. Whatever our beliefs now we mostly accept that once the body is dead it is over.

Where the spirit goes and how it manifests itself, if at all, remains a mystery and everyone is entitled to believe what they like about that. But the deceased have gone from the earth.

We do not allow them posthumously to vote for their favourite political party. Promises made to them when they were alive can, like all promises, be broken by reason of irrelevance, although the breaking of any promise must always be a matter for serious thought. If incredibly wealthy the dead may dictate what happens to their money but we rightly restrict even this influence by allowing overriding new circumstances to dictate changes to their wishes. The planet is for those living on it and yet to come, not for those who have already enjoyed and left it, however lovingly we remember them.

Honouring the memory of those who have gone before us is a decent and right thing to do. They gave us life and we learnt from them, even from their mistakes. Our tributes to them may take the form of words and worship but they are more usefully demonstrated by handing on the best of the moral inheritance and the human fervour that made them who they were. I remember daily the standards and wisdom I learnt from many people including parents, teachers and artisans working in the fields. My duty is to pass these on.

And there’s the word whose demise I mourn most from my eighty-five years with you. The world is longing for it knows not what. Widespread anger is vociferous but unfocused. Disillusionment with leaders who turn out to be poor judges or corrupt makes us call for – well, what exactly? The moral lead, offered by religious bodies from time to time, has collapsed so badly that otherwise rational beings resort to incomprehensible destruction, even of themselves, in an attempt to prove purpose. The word ‘duty’ is seldom heard.

Time was when it was overdone. Life is not meant to be a drudge of duty to pay off some imagined inherited guilt. We are who we are and as long as we strive to improve we are acceptable. We set up structures to encourage giving, complicate our tax system to motivate generosity, scramble to provide for any of our own who may not be up to making their way independently. All very noble and praiseworthy but also very time-consuming and expensive. If you want to give, you give, first your time, then your money. It’s that simple.

If you want to know how much to give, take a pencil and piece of paper and write down what is your duty to your fellow human beings. If it says “America, and only America, first…” tear it up and start again. Continue until you can say it to yourself with conviction. When I gave up fussing over what I believed about eternity a friend asked me where I now saw my God. “In the eyes of all the people meet,” I replied. Maybe you think it’s a smart answer.

Possibly, but it happens to be true.