To escape into oblivion and thereby avoid being accountable for our lives may be comforting for some, but it defies truth and justice. These virtues would then be only human inventions to promote order and security, easily avoided and often unenforceable standards that expire with us.
If that’s all there is, we can more easily justify war, suicide, mercy killing, and abortion. If truth and justice are merely fluid operating principles that can be adapted to any situation, then why discourage people from ending their lives, people who, for whatever reason, no longer wish to exist. They didn’t choose existence so why should they be required to extend it? After all, we didn’t miss existence before it happened and we will not miss it when we’re gone.
To exist forever is a frightening thought, particularly in light of the history of mankind. If it is to be a reward, it would have to be in a form and under circumstances far beyond my capacity to imagine. But if earth with all its beauty is a pale shadow of an afterlife, I will be more than happy to make the adjustment.
If death is the great escape, then all our worries are over. While some remaining may miss us, we cannot miss them. All the worry, uncertainty, joy, and pain of life will be over. Whether we were good or bad, cruel or merciful, honorable or corrupt will not matter. If Hitler and Mother Teresa meet the same fate, where is love, where is truth, where is justice?
Those who view love, truth, and justice as transcendental values that are well beyond mankind’s flawed efforts to either define or apply will see accountability as an essential component. Otherwise existence becomes an absurd joke, in Shakespeare’s words: “A tale told by an idiot; full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
For many, oblivion would be a tolerable end; no pain, guilt, sorrow, or retribution. The prodigal and righteous share in their last reward – extinction. Is virtue only its own reward and, if so, why do the wicked reap so many benefits? If leading a virtuous life, or at least trying to, means anything, there must be an accounting.
Within the context of our individual lives, and in light of our capacity to do good or evil, truth and justice demands that we be answerable for our behavior. Such a judgment requires wisdom far beyond the capability of human beings. It requires ultimate or transcendent truth, justice, and love.
I do not wish to be judged, but as a judge I understand it is necessary for life to have meaning and purpose. I know that our efforts to achieve justice are necessary, noble, and well intentioned, but I also know how feeble the system is and always will be. Strive as we must, we will not achieve absolute justice. We often fail in ascertaining truth, which is so essential to justice, and the law is a narrow tool within which to determine one’s capacity to do good or evil.
Beyond the more traditional arguments for a belief in God, I find the justice argument compelling. I believe love, truth, and justice are inextricably linked, a second holy trinity that humans value but too often distort. Our efforts to achieve them are a distant echo of virtues triumphant that for me serve to explain creation.
While it does not prove the premise, it is further evidence to buttress faith for those inclined to look beyond. At my death, if wrong, I complete my escape. If not, the glow in the distance will not come as a complete surprise.
James W. Dolan is a retired Dorchester District Court judge who now practices law.