Be aware of the limits of heredity

The wonders of DNA investigation have recently uncovered a scandal and solved a mystery.

The scandal involves the use of horsemeat in products labelled ‘beef’; and the mystery was the identity of a hunchback man whose skeleton was found under a Leicestershire car park.

By comparing DNA matches with a remote descendant, University researchers proudly announced that they had found the remains of the last Plantaganet king of England, Richard III.

Heredity impacts on us all; most noticeably in physical characteristics. When Prince Charles visited his wife after the birth of their second son, he looked at the young Prince Harry, noticed his sandy crop of air and reputedly said “Ah, I see he’s a Spencer”.

Evidence of the ‘Windsor mouth’ can be seen were Princess Anne and the Duke of Kent to be in close proximity. Medical practitioners could also speak of the power of heredity to create a propensity to certain conditions.

Heredity can also bring to some colossal wealth and social advantages. The late Alan Clark observed in his diaries that Michael Heseltine “bought his own furniture”.

Unlike Clark, he had not been born into a family residing in a stately home, bugling with antique furniture or works of art. Folk born into such homes seem to have a head start in life. The philosopher Bertrand Russell said that he had reached the age of ten before he met someone who had not written a book!

But though some may argue that we are conditioned in many ways, and programmed deep inside, ‘hard wired’ is the phrase, we cannot ignore the element of responsibility for our own actions.

Heredity has its limits. It cannot guarantee a virtuous life; for such a life demands clear personal moral choices.

The seventeenth century preacher Thomas Fuller, one time chaplain to King Charles II, made a perceptive comment on a passage in Matthews’s gospel which detailed the genealogy of Jesus.

Matthew chapter one, and verses 7 and 8 list four successive generations of Hebrew kings. Fuller wrote; “I find the genealogy of my Saviour strangely checkered with four remarkable changes in four immediate generations. 1, Rehoboam begat Abia; that is a bad father begat a bad son. 2, Abia begat Asa; that is a bad father begat a good son. 3. Asa begat Jehoshaphat; that is, a good father a good son. 4. Jehoshaphhat begat Joram; that is a good father, a bad son”

And Fuller concluded: “I see that my father’s piety cannot be handed on; that is bad news for me. But I see also that actual impiety is not always hereditary; that is good news for my son”,

We must not blame everything on our genes. We need to take heed of Fuller’s observations and take responsibility for our own lives.