It's late in the evening, and I don't have enough caffeine in my body to do writing-justice to the title of this post.
So consider this a blog down payment on addressing a question that I've been pondering more and more, as I get older and older. (Sixty-four is my chronological age; some days I feel twenty-four; others, 104.)
How much of morality, ethics, right/wrong judgments, and such are predicated on assumptions about what happens after we die? Meaning, would our choices about how to live a fulfilling life be markedly different if we believe in (1) life after death or (2) death after death?
I'm not sure. There's a lot to ponder in this pondering.
Intuitively, I feel that even people who aren't explicitly religious have a sense that the end of life isn't really The End. They often have a vague sense that consciousness continues after death in some form or another; that we get another chance at getting life right.
This attitude is much more obvious in true believers. Often on the nightly news I'll hear a parent of someone who died tragically say something like, "My daughter has gone to a better place."
Well, maybe, as I like to say. But probably not.
Today a new longboard was delivered by UPS to feed my land padding addiction. Eyeing the suspiciously lengthy box, a giveaway to my wife's astute eyes, she asked me "How many longboards do you have now?"
The thought that instantly came to mind was, "One more than I had yesterday, but still not enough." However, knowing how my wife feels about the longboards occupying space in our cramped garage, I told her, "Four or five; can't remember exactly."
If I was fourteen rather than sixty-four I wouldn't feel the same pressure to experience the pleasures of longboarding by trying out so many different boards so rapidly. However, mortality is staring me in the face increasingly intently as friends and relatives die more frequently.
For many years I half-heartedly believed in reincarnation.
Either back on Earth in another bodily form, or as some ethereal soul-creature in another cosmic realm. I liked envisioning the prospect that whatever I couldn't experience in this life had a chance of being experienced in another one.
The grieving parent I saw on TV has a similar feeling, believing that his child is carrying on in heaven much as she did here. Even more happily, in fact, since Jesus and angels are looking after her.
What if, though, death truly is the end? Of life. Of existence. Of consciousness. Forever.
That "what if" encompasses a lot of moral consequences. Wouldn't a society put much more emphasis on enhancing both the quality and quantity of life of its citizens if every person believed that this is the one and only life each of us ever will experience?
It sure seems to me that preventing premature dying through better health care, not engaging in unnecessary wars, reducing gun violence, and such would be higher priorities if all of the members of a society viewed life as being almost infinitely precious -- because an infinity of non-life awaits after death.
To me, we'd make better moral decisions if we embraced our mortality more strongly. Religion arguably undermines present-day morality by assuming that whatever wasn't able to be experienced in this life, can be in the next one.
Max Baucus, a Senator from Montana, announced today that he won't seek re-election in 2014. I often disagree with Baucas' political positions. But I like his reason for retiring.
Baucus, 71, has spent most of his adult life in Washington, having been elected to the House in 1974 and to the Senate in 1978. He explained his decision to retire in squarely personal terms, saying he had been wrestling with the idea since his mother died just over a year ago.
“It made me realize I’m not immortal. We’re all mortals,” Baucus said. “I don’t want to leave here when I’m 80 years old. There are things I want to do. . . . I want to see what life is like outside the United States Senate.”