I don't think it is morally acceptable to joke about tragedies. While I know that it is part of the orthodoxy amongst comics to try and be edgy, perhaps even to try and shock, cracking jokes about thousands of people being killed and thousands upon thousands more losing their homes certainly evinces a lack of compassion and humanity. I don't have a syllogism to proof this but I think that finding entertainment in tsunamis, or maybe next, the holocaust, makes us more indifferent to others and is bad for the soul.
Before I get to your question about death, I would really like you to reconsider your view of what life is all about. The view you express on this topic is generally called "hedonism," and this view is met with fairly strong resistance in most of the philosophical literature. Are there no bad pleasures (e.g. that of the sadist, as he tortures his victims)?
But let's focus on your main question. As you note, some people believe in reincarnation. To be honest with you, this view does not seem coherent to me. Consider the claims made about reincarnation as claims made about personal identity. So, for example, I die, and "come back" as a chicken. In what sense is that clucking, feathery thing me? It doesn't have my tastes in philosophy, art, music, food, or wine. It doesn't read Plato's dialogues or know Greek (or English!). I think about what it is like to be a chicken...and I come up empty. And I am pretty sure that the chicken also has no idea what it is like to be me. Now, I do know what it is like to be me, and I think that knowing this--what it is like to be me--is essential to what it is to be me. So, if the chicken doesn't (and, I suspect, can't) know what it is like to be me, and I don't (and can't) know what it is like to be that chicken, then I can't understand how to make any sense at all of the idea that that chicken is me. Of course it isn't!
The same goes for me becoming a disembodied being (in the limbo line, or in Heaven, or Hell, or wherever). What would that be like? I confess I can't do any better on this on than I can do on the chicken hypothesis. I know what it is like to be me--but when I think about that, the fact that I am embodied is something I simply can't imagine away. I can imagine being me with one or more of my limbs missing. But no body at all? Nope...I can't imagine what that would be like, but whatever that thing is (or could there even be such a "thing"?), it ain't me.
Or maybe I could become a ghost. What would that be like? Hmmm...sounds pretty much like "disembodied being" to me. In what sense would that thing be me? No arms, no legs, no belly, genitals, head, face...nothing? I would be able to see (without eyes) and hear (without ears), and move about (without moving legs or arms)...? Say what? I have no idea what that would be like...but I do know what it is like to be me. So, again, I conclude that whatever people might have in mind as "my ghost," that thing is not the same thing as me.
So, if any of these scenarios is supposed to give me any kind of reasonable hope for the afterlife, I'm afraid they all seem like complete failures to me--I simply have no idea at all (and I suspect, neither do those who advocate such views of the afterlife) how whatever they are talking about can possibly qualify as "me" after death. Remove that vivid and very personal experience of being me and try to identify that thing with a chicken, a disembodied spirit, or a ghost--or, for that matter, a different human being--and I think the claim of identity simply fails. Whatever that thing may be, it ain't me.
Here is a thought: what is so difficult about thinking that you might cease to exist? It sure seems like there was a time before you existed. Why can there not be a time after you existed, when you don't exist any more? On what basis (other than some absurd hope or religious belief) wouldd you expect to be immune from non-existence? Just like before you lived, plenty of stuff was going on in the world. And the world will still be very busy after you are gone. That's just how things work--why is that so difficult to accept?
In deciding whether or not to keep a promise made to someone who has died, I would ask the following question: Would that person have wanted you to keep the promise even after he or she died? Some promises are specifically about what one is to do after a death ("Promise me that you will send money to my daughter") while others are clearly irrelevant after a death ("Promise me that you will come to the beach this weekend"). With other promises ("Promise that you won't loan her any money"), the answer to this question is not so clear cut, but IF the promisee would have wanted you to keep the promise, that should count as a reason to keep the promise.
As you say, there are cases where the costs of keeping a promise outweigh one's obligation to keep that promise. These could be thought of as cases of competing duties (to uphold a promise versus to save a life, for example) or they could be thought of as qualifications implicit to the promise itself (as understood by both the promiser and the promisee). In neither case, though, should the death of the promisee change these calculations.
Breaking a promise to someone who has died does not need to be thought of as damaging that person -- though it may be possible to damage a person after death. Breaking a promise -- especially under circumstances in which there is no longer anyone to hold one to one's promises -- can also be thought of as damaging the larger social fabric that depends on trust .
Good question! If one could not imagine oneself slaughtering an animal for food under any circumstances, then perhaps one should reflect on whether one's reluctance stems from a realization (deep down) that there is something morally disquieting or even wrong about killing animals for food. Still, the reason for the reluctance might rest on non-moral grounds (due to a childhood accident, one cannot stand the site of blood) and reflect a deep personal preference (perhaps one cannot imagine ever being a plumber or sanitation worker, but one still believes that the vocation of being a plumber or sanitation worker are good and vital for society).
Flipping the question around, though, it might be noted that even if one can conceive of oneself slaughtering animals for food, and doing so happily, that alone would not be a reason to think that such slaughtering is good or morally permissible.
It's a lovely question. Let me start by recommending a couple of things to read. One is Bernard Williams' classic paper "The Makropoulos Case: Reflections on the Tedium of Immortality" (in his book Moral Luck.) Another is Larry Temkin's paper "Is Living Longer Living Better?" (in Journal of Applied Philosophy, 2008.) One of the interesting things about Temkin's paper is that he believes the question isn't merely idle. He believes there is at least a serious chance that we might learn to halt the aging process.
Be that as it may, let me raise one issue among the various possible ones.
It may seem that living forever would be an unmitigated good. But Williams argues forcefully that this isn't so. His argument has two parts, but I want to note just one of them: if we lived more or less as we find ourselves now, then eventually life would become unutterably boring. The title of his essay is taken from a play in which a woman (Elena Makropoulos) has been given a potion that lets her live indefinitely. Life eventually becomes so tedious that suicide is her only escape.
Is Williams right? Would unending life be insufferable? I don't know. Not everyone finds Williams's case convincing. Temkin, among others, offers some reservations, but Temkin concedes that there may be much more to what Williams has to say than might seem to be so at first.
This suggests that simply granting everyone unending life might be granting them something that they would come to hate. If so, then waving the magic wand, so to speak, might be doing great harm.
Of course what I just said seems premised on giving immortality to people whether they ask for it or not. We could mitigate the problem at least somewhat by imaging that only those who consent get the "gift." That helps, but it leaves a residual issue: since we have so little idea what would really be entailed by living indefinitely long, is there any hope that anyone could make an informed decision? And if not, would it be right to make the offer? There's a good chance that many people would find it too superficially attractive to resist. But if Williams is right, they would have been better off resisting. Is the moral risk too great here? I, for one, don't feel that I have a good answer.
There's far more that could be said here than these few comments cover. But it's a really interesting question; what I've tried to suggest is that the answer isn't as obvious as many people might think.
I suspect that your suspicion is partially correct: there is the intuition that someone who is doing worse than average and worse than most is unfortunate. But two other factors come in as well.
There is the fact that only a very small percentage of those who reach age 15 fail to reach 16 -- whereas a rather substantial percentage of those who reach age 95 fail to reach age 96. And people perceive it as more unfortunate to be among a very small fraction who suffer harm than to be one in a larger fraction. (If you're among 20 people worldwide to catch some infectious disease, you'll feel very unfortunate, much more so than if you got a cold along with 3 billion other people.)
And there is the further fact that life beyond the 95th birthday tends not to be all that good -- the person who dies at 15 is losing many probably very good years of life whereas the person who dies at 95 is losing just a few bad ones. (If you lose $5000 you'll probably feel a lot more unfortunate than if you lose just $1.)
Now you ask whether the first factor should matter. To test this, let's recreate the world so that the other two factors are absent. So imagine the world modified as follows. Once human beings reach adulthood, they do not age and remain in full possession of their faculties. However, people do die, as they do now, from various diseases and accidents. Let's say that persons have a 1.5% chance of dying each year. In this case life expectancy would be 67 years, just about what it is now. The big difference would be that people's life expectancy would be entirely independent of their age: even those who have already lived 100 years, or 1000 years, still have a life expectancy of 67. (About one third of all people would live to 100, and about 4 in a million would live to 1000 - just in case you're curious.)
Now in this imaginary world the other two factors do not come into play. The person dying at 15 and also the person dying at 95, they both had the same 98.5% chance of reaching their next birthday. And both had, just before their death, a life expectancy of 67 good years ahead of them.
In this imaginary world, then, the only difference is that one ended up with more of a good thing (95 good years of life) than most while the other ended up with much less (15 years of good life). And I don't see a good reason to deny that this matters. Suppose Bill Gates decided to give his money away, running a lottery over US citizens with a similar distribution of dollars as the distribution of life years in my imaginary world. So US citizens are receiving $67 on average, and most are receiving over $45. Would you not feel unfortunate if the lottery assigned you only $15 (and fortunate, maybe, if it assigned you $95) under these circumstances? Most would.
BTW, Bill Gates actually has enough money to fund this give-away, twice over.
I don't think that we have a lot of control over what our wishes are. If you are asking what is the more loving wish than I suppose it would make sense to say that you would want to spare the person you love so much the pain. But I don't think these kinds of moral calculations are useful. The important thing is what you do and perhaps what kind of person you make of yourself. Again, it sure sounds as though you want to be as loving an individual as you can be. A very admirable goal.
A question of the ages! Most philosophers in the west and east who believe that persons survive the death of their bodies either believe that there is more to being a person than their body there is a soul, for example and when the body dies, the soul endures, or they believe in some kind of physical resurrection or material re-embodiment. Both positions have defenders today. For a defense of the first, see work by Stewart Goetz or Richard Swinburne. For a defense of the latter, see Peter van Inwagen or Trenton Merricks. As for the notion of a person having some kind of extended life after death if her body nurtures future animal and vegetative life, this seems problematic for after a certain point of disintegration there will be no meaningful way to identify the person or her body as a thing or subject. The question about the coherence and plausability of a person surviving bodily death would ultimately need to take up large philosophical questions about the nature of reality involving both theistic and non-theistic accounts of persons and the cosmos.
Certainly, it was thought for a long time by a wide range of thinkers that life after death exists, even by thinkers without traditional religious views. The basic distinction on this issue is not religious vs. areligious, but materialists vs. the rest. Materialists who see us as essentially material beings can find little to be said in favour of the idea that once the matter disappears or disintegrates, something else survives.
The main argument for life after death by those who are not wedded in their philosophy to a particular religion is often a form of Aristotelianism as developed by the Neoplatonists, that the thinking part of us is aligned with the abstract and eternal, and so while our physical side is malleable, our intellect is capable of carrying on, albeit not in the sense that we as individuals carry on. It is here that the absence of a link with religion becomes significant, since whatever survives cannot really be punished or rewarded and so the traditional accounts of an afterlife fall down. Heaven for the dedicated philosopher is seen as the ability to continue thinking about philosophy, and in the afterlife not just now and then, but forever, since there are no lunch breaks. There is after all no body any longer to eat lunch. For the rest of us, though, this might seem more like hell!