The hormone cortisol wakes us up by reminding us we will die. Hence the common need to shrug off the interrogations and tribunals of sleep and dreams, and get on with living.
Once a being begins to live there are many possibilities, fewer probabilities and only one inevitability. So how will we live until we die?
Our brain makes us and we make it and it makes us. So it goes around, snake bites tail, egg-chicken-egg-chicken-egg. The human brain, more than all others, develops as much outside the womb as in it. It listens to what it’s told, watches what it’s shown, learns from what’s done to it. Fill the heads of the young with the four last things, and you program the chemistry, the electronics, the architecture of their brains. Those four last things being Death, Judgement, Heaven, Hell.
Tell them some other story? Different chemistry, different electronics, different architecture. The hardware and the software write and build each other, rewrite and rebuild each other. Round it goes.
I spent an evening trying to persuade a young man I know that a single episode of no damaging consequence did not define him as irretrievably bad and worthless. He did over some hours become calmer, but I don’t think he is yet convinced.
There are many paths to this kind of terror. His path began when they took him as a child and filled his head with sin and judgement. God loved you so much that He tortured and murdered His only son for you. Before you even were. He loves you so much he could condemn you, and those you love, and those you never knew, to burn for all eternity. No wonder, with ideas like these, that we do the terrible things we do.
There is another more difficult truth. The truth that they told him this story because they loved him to the depths of the souls they believe God gave them. They told him this terrible story because they hope to be saved, all of them, together. Because living in this world of flesh and fertility is grievous and painful, and life must by its nature die. They are sorrowful and afraid, they love him, and they do not want to die.