Editor’s note: The new documentary "Hellbound?" explores Americans' ideas about hell. We asked two prominent Christians who featured in the film to give us their very different takes on hell.
My Faith: The dangerous effects of believing in hell
Editor’s note: Frank Schaeffer is a New York Times bestselling author. His latest book is "Crazy For God."
By Frank Schaeffer, Special to CNN
Is it any coincidence that the latest war of religion that started on September 11, 2001, is being fought primarily between the United States and the Islamic world? It just so happens that no subgroups of humanity are more ingrained with the doctrine of hell than conservative Muslims and conservative Christians.
And nowhere on earth have conservative Christians been closer to controlling foreign policy than here in the United States. And nowhere on earth have conservative Muslims been more dominant than in the countries from which the 9/11 extremists originated – Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.
What a pair George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden made! On the one hand, an American president who was a born-again evangelical with a special "heart" for the state of Israel and its importance to the so-called end times, and on the other hand a terrorist leader who believed that he was serving God by ridding the Arabian Peninsula of an American presence and cleansing the "defiled" land of Palestine of what he believed were “invader Jews.”
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So whether you're an atheist or not, the issue of who's going to hell or not matters because there are a lot of folks on this planet – many of them extraordinarily well-armed - from born-again American military personnel to Muslim fanatics, who seriously believe that God smiles upon them when they send their enemies to hell.
And so my view of "hell" encompasses two things: First, the theological question about whether a land of eternal suffering exists as God's "great plan" for most of humanity.
Second, the question of the political implications of having a huge chunk of humanity believe in damnation for those who disagree with their theology, politics and culture, as if somehow simply killing one's enemies is not enough.
What most people don't know is that there's another thread running through both Christianity and Islam that is far more merciful than the fundamentalists’ take on salvation, judgment and damnation.
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Paradise, which Muslims believe is the final destination of the society of God’s choice, is referred to in the Quran as "the home of peace"
“Our God,” Muslims are asked to recite, “You are peace, and peace is from You.”
Since Christianity is my tradition, I can say more about it. One view of God - the more fundamentalist view - is of a retributive God just itching to punish those who "stray."
The other equally ancient view, going right back into the New Testament era, is of an all-forgiving God who in the person of Jesus Christ ended the era of scapegoat sacrifice, retribution and punishment forever.
As Jesus said on the cross: "Forgive them for they know not what they do."
That redemptive view holds that far from God being a retributive God seeking justice, God is a merciful father who loves all his children equally. This is the less-known view today because fundamentalists - through televangelists and others - have been so loud and dominant in North American culture.
But for all that, this redemptive view is no less real.
Why does our view of hell matter? Because believers in hell believe in revenge. And according to brain chemistry studies, taking revenge and nurturing resentment is a major source of life-destroying stress.
For a profound exploration of the madness caused by embracing the “justice” of “godly” revenge and retribution, watch the film “Hellbound?”
The film shows how the "hell" of revenge thinking, and the resulting unhinging of some people’s brains through their denial of human empathy, leads them to relish the violent future of suffering that they predict awaits the “lost” in hell.
Do we really want to go back to a time of literalistic religion. Wasn’t 9/11 enough of an argument against retributive religion?
We need “hell” like a hole in the head. It’s time for the alternative of empathetic merciful religion to be understood.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frank Schaeffer.
My Faith: Hell is for real and Jesus is the only way out
Editor's Note: Mark Driscoll is founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle.
By Mark Driscoll, Special to CNN
As a pastor, my job is to tell the truth. Your job is to make a decision.
When controversies over biblical doctrines arise, it’s a humbling opportunity to answer questions about what the Bible teaches without getting into name-calling and mudslinging. Near the very top of the controversial doctrines is hell.
What happens when we die?
Human beings were created by God with both a physical body and a spiritual soul. When someone dies, their body goes into the grave and their spirit goes into an afterlife to face judgment.
But death is not normal or natural—it’s an enemy and the consequence of sin.
Think of it in this way: God is the source of life. When we choose to live independently of God and rebelliously against God it is akin to unplugging something from its power source. It begins to lose power until it eventually dies.
The Bible is clear that one day there will be a bodily resurrection for everyone, to either eternal salvation in heaven or eternal condemnation in hell.
Christians believe a person’s eternal status depends on their relationship with Jesus and that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Our lives are shaped by the reality that “whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”
What does Jesus say about hell?
Jesus was emphatically clear on the subject of hell. He alone has risen from death and knows what awaits us on the other side of this life. A day of judgment is coming when all of us — even you — will rise from our graves and stand before him for eternal sentencing to either worshiping in his kingdom or suffering in his hell.
The Bible could not be clearer: “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
These are not just obscure Bible verses. In fact, Jesus talks about hell more than anyone else in Scripture. Amazingly, 13% of his sayings are about hell and judgment, and more than half of his parables relate to the eternal judgment of sinners.
Keep in mind that Jesus’ words come in the context of the rest of Scripture, which says that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Furthermore, he “is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
God is far more loving, kind and patient with his enemies than we are with our enemies.
What does the rest of the Bible say about hell?
The Bible gives us many descriptions of hell including (1) fire; (2) darkness; (3) punishment; (4) exclusion from God’s presence; (5) restlessness; (6) second death; and (7) weeping and gnashing of teeth in agony.
A common misperception of Satan is that he’s in a red suit, holding a pitchfork at the gates of hell. But Satan will not[j1] reign there. Hell is a place of punishment that God prepared for the devil and his angels, and it’s where those who live apart from God will, according to Revelation:
. . . drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb [Jesus Christ]. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night.
At the end of the age, the devil will be “thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”
Hell will be ruled over by Jesus, and everyone present — humans and demons and Satan alike — will be tormented there continually in perfect justice.
Jesus says, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. ... And these will go away into eternal punishment.”
Is there a second chance after death?
The Bible is clear that we die once and are then judged without any second chance at salvation. As one clear example, Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”
We live. We die. We face judgment. Period.
How long does the punishment last?
Some argue that the punishment of sinners is not eternal, a view called annihilationism. This means that after someone dies apart from Jesus, they suffer for a while and then simply cease to exist.
Annihilationism is simply not what the Bible teaches. Daniel 12:2 says, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Jesus speaks of those who “will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Grammatically, there is no difference here between the length of time mentioned for “life” and that for “punishment”; rather, there is simply eternal life and eternal death.
Am I going to hell?
The good news is that the closing verses of the Bible say, “Come!” Everyone is invited to receive the free gift of God’s saving grace in Jesus. Jesus is God become a man to reconcile mankind to God.
He lived the sinless life we have not lived, died a substitutionary death on the cross for our sins. He endured our wrath, rose to conquer our enemies of sin and death, and ascended to heaven where he is ruling as Lord over all today. He did this all in love.
The stark reality is this: either Jesus suffered for your sins to rescue you from hell, or you will suffer for your sins in hell. These are the only two options and you have an eternal decision to make.
My hope and prayer is that you would become a Christian.
Have you confessed your sins to Jesus Christ, seeking forgiveness and salvation?
If not, you are hellbound, and there is no clever scholar who will be of any help when you stand before Jesus Christ for judgment. You’re not required to like hell as much as you need to believe in it, turn from your sin, trust in Jesus, and be saved from an eternal death into an eternal life.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mark Driscoll.
"Is Hell For Real" top page of CNN cmon guys get it together.
What I don't understand is why God would make such an important thing as the afterlife a mystery. He offers no concrete evidence that the afterlife exists. It basically comes down to whether you have faith or not. Why not just make it abundantly clear that the afterlife exists to everyone so that there is no doubt?
If there is no doubt, then there is no FAITH
" Why not just make it abundantly clear that the afterlife exists to everyone so that there is no doubt?"
This is a trickster, monster god, this Bible god. Who's to say that he won't come up with another "new covenant" in the afterlife, and screw everyone over again?!
Even better, why did he only show in 1 small part of the world?
The rest of the occupied world was doomed for ages.
Yep... and to the Middle Easterners, already yet?!
I Wonder, your assumption is based on the faulty premise that it's possible to make life made of matter and not have suffering. How would *you* have done that? It's *not* possible. At *all.*
Yoda Jr: Because eternity is *boring* without people who are capable of having at least a *little* bit of faith and courage.
Think about it – a hundred trillion centuries? You're just getting started. If you're stuck living forever then you don't want to be surrounded by a bunch of spineless losers. This way everybody knows they had a fair chance.
It is truly sad in early 21st Century, with all of our knowledge of science, that anyone believes in a literal place called Hell. This should end, along with believing that the earth is flat.
It is truly sad with all our knowledge and technology that you would ask us to make a definitive decision about something for which you can provide no evidence
It's easy. Don't believe in something that has no basis in fact.
Driscoll has no concept of the truth. He is basing his irhetoric on bronze age peasant myths. Watch a few Hitchens debates and get back to us.
You could potentially convince some people with your ideas but would you convince God?
What is the point of heII? Why would anyone spend so much energy locking up eternal souls to torment them if there was no chance or hope of reform? Or is the eternal torment purely based on revenge? Or maybe your imagined deity derives some sort of pleasure from creating things then squeezing them to hear their screams, maybe those billions of voices create some sick cacophony that sends tingles up and down your God's spine. Either way, it's a horid and disgusting thought and anyone who believes in it and promotes it are horid and disgusting themselves. As if that would be prefferable to just not existing at all anymore when the electrical impulses in our brains stop firing.
Reasons behind rejectful comments on the article:: 1. People want to live their lives without being told what to do 2. People deep inside are afraid that what Jesus said might actually have some truth to it. 3. People dont want to be told that their sin goes against God because to them its not sin. 4. If it is sin than they dont want it exposed. 5. They enjoy their way of life too much to give it up to something else. Even if it is wrong it feels good.
It is possible to see all this from their perspective because I once stood in their place. I wish they could see it now from my perspective a Jesus follower but it is impossible for them becuase it goes against their logic and reasoning. This folks has nothing to do with logic and reasoning, infact it goes against it. It defies humanity and that is why humanity hates it. It takes guts and risk to be a follower of Jesus, it takes faith and nothing else.
You forgot #6: No basis in reality.
It must be tiring to live in fear all the time. Why would you want to do that to yourself?
Fear? Fear of what? If there is anything I fear for is people who will be condemned to hell.
My ticket to heaven is assured. No fear here.
The only crime worthy of eternal torture is designing as system of "justice" that involves eternal torture.
With church and its troubling past and present aside which I recognize as misleading (not Gods fault but mans error prone nature) you people actually find something wrong with Jesus wanting to FORGIVE your sins and grant you eternal life?
You've only assumed you have a ticket to heaven. After half a life of 'sin'. Just because you run around screaming about Jesus doesn't mean you've made up for anything. Quoting scripture won't work, because you could find just as many quotes condemning you for your previous actions. So good luck with that buddy.
Wow. Your arrogance KingJC about your "ticket being punched" is astonishing. I am glad to know you know the Will of your Jesus Christ. Man, to be so arrogant.
I find something wrong with a supposed system where the inhabitants are created imperfect (or caused to be imperfect through no action of their own) without the ability to become perfect and yet commanded to do so on threat of eternal torture.
Thanks but I dont need luck. Having placed my trust in Jesus as my Lord and Savior and obeying his commands is all that is required. There is nothing more I need to do. No assumptions here, only conviction. Good luck to you.
@Michael, what you call arrogance I call assurance. Its not like Im the one who made it up and decided to bestow that blessing upon myself. I merely speak the words of Jesus. I guess you would be calling Him arrogant instead of me.
" I merely speak the words of Jesus. I guess you would be calling Him arrogant instead of me."
I think you are actually speaking what you think are the words of Jesus. You leave no room for the possibility that your interpretation, or the Bible itself, is wrong, therein lies the arrogance. IMHO
TRY . . . to get this . . . through your head. They killed over THREE THOUSAND innocent men, women and CHILDREN all on one day. Of ALL faiths, races and socioeconomic backgrounds. They did it while destroying our FINANCIAL center, our MILITARY center, and trying their hardest to destroy our MILITARY center, ALL on the same day. There were MORE attacks planned. Remember the box-cutter knives that were found in several jets after they were grounded? How easily that is forgotten. Our response has *NOTHING* to do with religion. NOTHING.
(Financial, Military and Political. Obviously.)
Good thing there is no such thing as hell, because if there were, it would be full of conservative christians and conservative muslims.
The whole hell thing is stupid..
A murderer rapist can get saved and go's to heaven.
Somebody who lived a perfect life but does not belief in god go's to hell.
It's just a strategy the church thought up to get you to join and pay.
To whos standard can you measure a perfect life?
You can't, but im just taking the 10 commandments for this situation.
Do you know anyone who has lived by the ten commandments their whole life?
nope, thats why it's just hypothetical.
You can actually, Jesus himself lived a perfect life. He was the only one who was able to fulfill the 10 commandments. That is why justification is bestowed upon a person when he or she believes in Him. His rightousness becomes a part of us, and it is that which saves us from Hell.
He was not perfect, wel at least god was not.
Jesus is a baby of sin. maria an god where not married.
Your claim of not being perfect has nothing to back it up. My claim has the Bible to back it up.
God had a baby with Maria, but she was married.
You shall not covet your neighbor's wife......You shall not commit adultery....
God just did....and since jesus is god...jesus is not perfect.
@KingJC: Your claim has the Bible to back it up? Please be cautious. If you make statements like that, the factual accuracy of the Bible will be called into play. As someone who frequents this blog, please be aware that you will not like the outcome of that discussion. You will be called out on illogical posts.
@Eric G, please call them out. Faith has nothing to do with logic, it goes against logic, it defies logic and human understanding. That being said, your logic comments would be fruitless. Good luck
@kingJC: Faith may have little to do with logic, but it has nothing to do with fact or truth.
Religion was placed on earth by the devil to divide people . . . heh
"As a pastor, my job is to tell the truth."
Then why was your entire essay one long fabrication?
The first 2 words out of every liar's mouth: "Trust me."
That statement bothered me as well. How does this man define "truth"? He makes many claims of fact but presents no evidencial support. Without this verifiable supporting evidence, his post is just a series of unsubstantiated claims and threats.
Using the thought path outlined in his message, everyone should be a good person to avoid punishment, not because it is just the right thing to do.
here is some questions Messiah asks:
If you follow me, then who is your enemiy?
Do you love your enemy?
how do you love your enemy?
Is Love an emotion or a choice?
Does a bear sh!t in the woods?
What is the sound of one hand clapping?
How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
Here is some questions the Richard asks:
Does point you have?
Can u haz grammar?
We have proof now that Satan exists. He crawls up occasionally through a well behind a rental home in Connecticut. The US Geologic Survey has plans to lasso him up.
I can't tell if your are serious or just trolling. A perfect example of a Poe.
Heaven and hell are metaphors at best. In general practice, they are childish fantasies used as propaganda to control the unthinking. South Park does a good job with these amazing places.
LOL Atheists deny the use of Scripture as a reference source and offer us Southpark instead . Can't stop laughing
Good to know Bill that you are conflating a reference to South Park as an Atheist's source on anything. Good to know that you are "laughing" at people who are "unsaved" so arrogantly confident in your "salvation" . See? I can conflate unconnected ideas as well. I talked with Jesus and He stated your arrogance would preclude you from getting into Heaven. Why are you right and me wrong?
So many claims of fact without any verifiable supporting evidence. Why don't believers provide any verifiable evidence that their god exists before they attempt to make claims about what it demands? Proving the existence of their god would help with their other claims.
You can't prove something that doesn't exist.
Do you or anyone you know have verifiable supporting evidence that God does not exist?
If you understood the burden of proof you would know how asinine that question is.
@hebrewseleven: Besides the "burden of proof" elephant in the corner, let's just play this one out.....
If you have no proof that your god exists and I have no proof that it does not, our statements are equal. The difference is that you make claims of fact and authority based on your claim. If our statements are equal, why should anyone believe you?
Glad you asked, Hebrews11. Yes, I do. Can God make a rock so heavy he can't lift it? Can he change his mind? If he COULD save a single child from a horrible lingering death, would he? Can he hide anything so thoroly he'll never find it again?
All of these are the working out of the claims for God's ultimate characteristics:
• all-powerful (omnipotent)
• all-loving (omnibenevolent)
• all-pervasive (omnipresent)
• all-knowing (omniscient)
It is logically impossible for any ent¡ty to have more than one of these characteristics, because you can test it against any of the others, and one of them must fail. Indeed, as in the question about the rock, you can test one against ITSELF and watch it fail. Therefore such a critter cannot possibly exist. Therefore, since that's the way God is described, GOD does not exist.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am getting the hell out of here.
"Do you or anyone you know have verifiable supporting evidence that God does not exist?"
There are fairies underneath my lawn, pushing up and nourishing each blade of grass. Prove that they are not.
Religion should just be kept off public news channel if it's trying to influence one main idea I think..... I don't see it saying, "reincarnation is fake!" It sticks to the majority of the populations....
Fake, reincarnation is. Strong, the force is! It binds and surrounds us. Weak minded fools, christians are. To destroy his only son and all life for his own amusement (the great flood) he does. Herh herh herh. Fake, their belief is. Hmmmmmmm.
Hell IS real and everyone who is financially secure in THIS world is headed there in the next.
McKayla is Not Impressed!
McKayIa is Not lmpressed
Actually, only people who believe in Hell will go there.
What ever makes you feel better, Joe.
"Actually, only people who believe in Hell will go there."
No, only people who believe in Hell find they are already there.
Spoken like a good little Marxist.
Mark Driscoll, you are a total idiot. The world is turning into a dung heap because of self-righteous people like you. Take your 'pain and reward' type of religion and shove it! Religious morons like you make me so mad!
My grandmother has cancer...I tell her about the modern scientific studies showing that marijuana has properties that can help treat cancer cells...she tells me that just because I read it in a book, it doesn't mean it's true. Then she goes into a rant about how I need god in my life because the bible is the only truth. When I say 'you realize...the bible is just a book...written by people...' She looks at me like I'm a lunatic and says 'See, this is whats wrong with you. You don't know what you're talking about, the bible was written by god.' If I could change one thing in this world, it would be to rid the world of it's most dangerous disease, religion.
jd33t – I have never heard that marijuana can treat cancer as you say. They prescribe marijuana for cancer patients because it can help with nausea from chemotherapy and with pain. Please do not just make sh!t up. Maybe you can provide a link to your source for this information. Also, I think we can agree, there is no god.
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.