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.
hey how is this news?? btw if you dont look at the bible in a completely literal way and follow it wholely then you already went against gods word. I thas nothing to do with interpretation. you can read english. the new testament doesnt void the old. if you dont live by both then youre going straight to hell according to the bible. This is just people trying to hold on to their stupid beliefs by syncronyzing them with contemporary life and values. some ppl think hell is too harsh so all of the sudden hell doesnt exist? Talk about B.S. stop this charade. seriously its childish and it hurts peoplein the real world and slows human progress and advances repression.
No, it's not "all of a sudden" that Hell doesn't exist, it's "all of always".
However, if someone were to make the case that Hell is reserved for people who don't understand punctuation, I could understand the appeal.
Or spelling and capitalization.
King JC You asked me what do I believe happens to me when I die? Neither you or I can answer that because we have not died so we do not know what experience comes after death is about.That is the eternal question correct? No one has ever come back from the dead to explain where you go or what happens to you.How does the old saying go,we take it on faith
We can, however, see what happens to OTHER people when they die. They just lie there for awhile, then they start to rot. If you don't dispose of them properly, they start to smell real bad. After a couple of weeks of microbes working on the soft stuff, the stench goes away and what's left eventually crumbles into dust and bones. If you wait long enuf, even the bones crumble into dust as well.
This isn't rocket science, people, this is simple observation.
not true there was a man from Africa who died for a week and came back
"not true there was a man from Africa who died for a week and came back"
You can't be dead for a week and come back. In a week, without oxygen, you brain would deteriorate to a point where it could not support life.
Ben – and your proof of that statement is . . . . ?
Yes, wasn't it where the GOP convention took place?
Didn't "Little Nikki" already address this?
I think heaven and hell are states within a person's spirit and the farther they are separated from God the more anguish they feel. It is not that God is making them suffer, their suffering is caused by being disconnected from the source of Life. I believe C.S. Lewis had a quote about hell basically saying that it's locked from the inside by those who are in that spiritual state. God wills that all men come to the knowledge of truth and live. God loves all, supports all.
So you have a concept of hell that washes your gods hands clean of the immorality of eternal punishment. Congratulations you want a cookie?
Been an atheist my whole life. Perfectly happy that way. I'm happier than any christian, muslim or jew that I know.
If you are hungry and refuse to eat do you not eventually suffer and get sick? Is the food to blame for you not eating? God is the food of life, that's it, nothing else. If you want to get into a discussion how God works, ask Him. All I know is God is life, life is God, God is love, love is God. I wish the best for you and everyone you know.
"If you are hungry and refuse to eat do you not eventually suffer and get sick? Is the food to blame for you not eating?"
That's one of the dumbest things I've ever heard.
Bigfoot is life, life is bigfoot, bigfoot is love, love is bigfoot.
See how dumb you sound to us.
Derp I respect your views and honestly wish you the best. I as a Christian do not believe atheists will burn in hell, no one will burn in hell unless they want to, and they won't be burning they'll have closed themselves off to love, it's as simple as that. God really is love. And I am glad you are happy, happiness is a wonderful gift of life. Peace be with you.
@Steven If hell is a disconnect from life (god) and comparable to hunger, then why don't we die in hell? Eternal life separated from the source of life. You can starve to death right? Haha, you Christians make me laugh. So set on the "one way and only way, but you can't even agree on what hell is. Everybody imagines something different, because that's all it is, a figment of your imagination, if it was so real, then there would be one definite set of what it is the truth would be blatantly obvious because it would be perceived by all to be the same. But then again you would have to actually see it to decide. Logic broken!
"But death is not normal or natural—it’s an enemy and the consequence of sin."
What a crock of manure that is. Life and dearth IS A NATURAL CYCLE. Wnyone believeing otherwise has a ptcher of Kool-Aid for you to drink with all the other lemmings. ONLY an idiot would perpetrate a statement such as this and complete fools would be anyone who wastes brain energy on their ideals....
I agree that life and death are natural . One who is born, will eventually die. I strongly believe that nothing is purposeless. So we are here for a purpose .After death , we will be questioned about it. If we did not fulfill the aim of our creation , we will be penalized, and if we did , we will be rewarded. Our purpose it to beautify the world with love and peace through our knowledge, wisdom and energy.
Hell on earth? Romney/Ryan 2012...
Seems more like Obama/Biden
Not for the 1%.
I am saved by Grace, so I am not concerned what the what if's...
You think Grace is good all by herself, you should try a 3-way with her sister Fanny.
Sure, bring THAT up, and all I'm getting is Rosie, one of the palm sisters!
This is where the misunderstanding comes in: It is "saved by Greys", the extraterrestrials!
enjoy it while it lasts Christians. Another 10 or 20 generations and the human race will look on your God and Jesus the same way as we look on Zeus and Thor and Ra (and santa claus and the tooth fairy) today. What a giggle!
Did someone disprove the existence of Zeus?
I'd love to see a cage match to the death between Zues, God, Thor and Ra.
Pay per view!!!
Damn Dyslexic, such great wisdom you have old boy...my advice to you, is stop drinking that cheap cool aide, try a real cool glass of milk
Hell is Christianity's way of scaring stupid Christians (all of them) into doing nice things.
I do nice things because it's the right thing to do. Not because some fictional fairy tale tells me to do it. Unfortunately, most Christians seem only interested in greed- making as much money as they can for themselves while screwing the rest of the population.
Hell was morphed into something to control and scare people with but the early Christians believed it was a state of separation and heaven was communing with God, simply that. The closer you come to God and know Love the more you will act like Love. There is no twisting of the arm, you are transformed and become who you really are. I am sorry if anyone has ever threatened you with Hell. I am a Christian and I choose to speak of the immense joy and love and peace in God, Heaven is so much more, so much greater than our lives here. Even the smartest, richest, most successful people can be unhappy, can feel pain, can suffer, God is offering a cure for that, that is what Christianity is really about. The whole moral God, breaking the law, that was elementary stuff that had was there in the early stages of our spiritual evolution (yes I used the word evolution!!). Christ revealed the metamorphosis possible by being one with God.
Christ revealed the metamorphosis possible by being one with God
Why didn't he reveal it to all of God's equal creations? Why only a small sub-set in the middle east? Were the other humans that God created throughout the world at that time not worthy? Once you accept the fact that there have always been, will always be, millions of humans on earth that will never know the first thing about christianity, you can move closer to realizing that you don't need it. You can believe in God without religion. Religion does not have all the answers.
@ dirty Joe: You said you do nice things because it's the 'right' thing to do. Right according to who?
In Scripture it is written that God wrote the law (of Love) into all creation's (human, animal, plant, micro organisms, etc) hearts. So no one is excluded. Christ's teachings gave insight into that law of Love and spoke to the human condition we live in. God became man to better know man's heart, his sufferings, his heartache, his pain. Jesus reconnected heaven and earth so all creation could commune with God. In the end, it's all about love, and what love can do to transform you, to heal you, to bring you peace and joy. I can't tell you how much more I love and my spirit feels for people after getting to know God. I love mankind and all of creation. Sometimes walking in a park with my dog I can feel love all around me. It's not something you can read to know, it's a transformational experience which take place within. The modern day teaching of hell in my opinion is about doing a set of certain things right to obtain innocence, which makes Christianity nothing more than a legalistic contract than anything else. That is not the Jesus or God I know.
"You said you do nice things because it's the 'right' thing to do. Right according to who?"
According to him. You don't need religion to be a good person.
In fact, it is the exact opposite.
Christianity at it's core IS the reason immoral behavior is accepted.
When people behave immorally, Atheists want them to be held accountable.
Christians want them to be forgiven.
for God sake dirty Joe, you write like a smart man...you got all Christians all figured out huh?...read about the early Christians during the Roman era, and see if you might think different, if not, well, continue on your road to stupidity old boy
See, that's the great thing about fantasy. It can be *anything* can be *any way* that you can think of.
So no one is excluded
No one is excluded from what? The love of God, or responsibility to accept and follow Jesus? I'm not sure what you're getting at here. I'll agree with you if you say that all human creations of God are treated equally, without any dependancy on following human-created religious principles. I'll completely disagree with you if you say no one is excluded from the requirement to follow Jesus, becasuse again..........not all humans on this earth will know about Jesus, based simply on where they are born.
Mark Driscoll is a cult leader here in Seattle. He claims, "My job is to tell you the truth," as if he is priviliged in knowledge of the "truth" and the rest of us, well, we just have to trust him. These self-proclaimed "prophets" have undoubtedly been around since the beginning of our species. But Driscoll's truth is HIS truth. His truth is from his understanding of a collection of writing, commissioned at the command of a Roman Emperor, thousands of years old and translated numerous times. It's difficult to believe that Driscoll is thus somehow privy to knowing the mind of "god."
Well said. Right on the money.
Not sure he is a cult leader. His job as a pastor is to tell the truth. You can just disagree with his opinion. Also thousands of years ago? It was closer to 1700 years ago. A roman emperor just had them collected and put into one volume. The writings were there from long before. Christ can only change the heart of a man, and whether you believe it or not is for you. It's impossible to argue the validity of hell, only what the faith of what each person believes.
First you say...
"His job as a pastor is to tell the truth."
The you say...
" You can just disagree with his opinion"
Do you even realize how little sense that makes.?
Is it truth, or is it his opinion?
another nut and your sounding more like him old boy!
When the brain dies it's over. Fairy tales and myths serve no purpose.
"If you do not actually believe in him, you will not see him in your life."
That is called placebo effect. Things that are real work whether you believe in them or not. You don't have to believe in medicine for antibiotics to work. You don't have to accept DNA in order to have children that look like you. Things that require you to believe first and ask questions later are asking you to suspend your judgement and to disregard logic.
You are not describing a placebo effect. The placebo effect is when you take something with no medicinal value and it has a positive effect because you believe that it does.
Right, the outcome is a product of your belief rather than any physical effect. Placebo is the appropriate term – the term is also used outside of medicine.
Exactly right. To disregard our corrupted, limited, earthly "logic" and believe in things promised but unseen is called Faith. Man, that's hard. But what IS for certain and what we see with our own eyes every day is that we will die, so why not believe and cling to the promises of happiness and a chance at eternity with a loving God as well as those we love in this life?
@Norm, how do you CHOOSE to believe something? .I would love to believe that there's a nice old guy who lives in the sky and watches over us. I just can't force myself and pretending didn't work either
the upcoming election will prove two points.
(a) that christians are believers according to convenience, and
(b) that republican christians are republicans first and christians second
Romney is a mormon which is a religion that, as well as co-optingsome parts and characters from the bible word for word, also contradicts and makes a mockery of so many key christian religious beliefs that it should be a bigger issue to christians than gay marriage and abortion. But ... the same way as christians always pick and choose which parts of the bible to loudly proclaim and which parts of the bible to pretend don't exist ... they will ignore all these issues and vote for Romney anyway.
What do you think God/Jesus will think of you if you give your vote to a man who truly believes that he will one day be a God? Or a man who truly believes that Joseph Smith, a 19th century reknowned con-man, is an equal of Jesus?
Go on christans, pretend you never read this post. Find some obscure bible quote that will justify you supporting a cult. What a joke!
I find it amusing to imagine the cognitive dissonance going on in the brains of the fundie rightists when it finally dawns on them that the only Bible-believing Protestant among the 4 people atop the 2 major-party tickets is Barack Obama.
Further irony – President Obama is a professed Christian. Seems if Christians truly wanted to vote based on faith they would vote for Obama. For those that claim Obama is not a Christian I will point out that to be a Christian one must simply accept Jesus, and profess such to his/her congregation. Obama has done so in front of the entire country. Why do you Christians hold him to a different standard than if a non-believer, or muslim were to walk in your church and "accept Jesus".
I do believe that all gods, angels, archangels, mythological creatures, Greek heroes, etc. were (or are) beings from extraterrestrial origins. They tried to trained us to learn new technologies and to be civilized but the stronger (humans) became politicians that created religions and screwed the humanity with nations, wars and hatred. After I die I will be called up by the extraterrestrial beings or I will become powder, dust and smoke and will make room for a newborn.
Somebody read Chariots of the Gods? a bit too much.
jippy.................your damn silly old boy, drink a glass of milk !
"What fools you are. Happy, secure corpses you 'll be.
You're approaching oblivion, and you know it, and you won't do a thing to save yourselves.
As for me and you in this literary liaison, well, I've paid my dues. Now I'm going to merely sit here on the side and laugh my a$$ off at how you sink into the quagmire like the triceratops. I'm going to laugh and jeer and wiggle my ears at your death throes. And how will I do that? By writing my stories. That's how I get my fix. You can OD on religion or dope or war or toadburgers, for all I care. I'm over here, watching you, and giggling, and saying, “This is what tomorrow looks like, dummy.”
And if you hear me sobbing once in a while, it's only because you've killed me, too, you f–kers.
I’m stuck on this spinning place with you, and I don’t want to go, and you've killed me, and I resent it, and the best I can do is tell my little tomorrow stories and keep laughing as the whirlwind whips the dirt in the playground at Lathrop grade school into an ominous dust-devil."
it seems that you have already OD on your stupidity....by been outright sarcastic you think it makes you been more realistic in life problems?
wake up and smell the coffee Mr Wagon...read and study the bible unless you think you are beyond understanding
Religion is ripping our world apart.
Just live in harmony and it won't matter whether or not you believe in a "God" that no one on this Earth knows anything about anyway.
No everyone must know how much evil they can get away with. Logic doesn't seem to matter they want to push the envelope like everything in thier lives.
The bible is like a "Nigerian Email" from the bronze-age.
Hel... both name of the goddess and the name of her domain. She is take her half of fallen warriors. The jews had the concept of 'the great pit' but the Catholics took the name hel and ran with it in order to convert Europe. Those of European dissent never forget your root religion, never for get that the European gods were alive and well long before Jesus was even born. Hail the Aesir.
what a load of BS. hell is only in the minds of the men who created it and now
believe it. A waste of bandwith
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.