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September 22nd, 2012
10:00 PM ET

Different Takes: Should we abandon idea of hell?

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.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Devil • Opinion

soundoff (7,963 Responses)
  1. Mark Silvers

    And man created god and satan in his image.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:19 am |
  2. Chris

    The poison of religion is interwoven into our social, political, and economic infrastructure. Apparently, we're supposed to just humor these knobs and make believe hell exists along with them, amirite?

    September 23, 2012 at 9:19 am |
  3. Kenny

    What if I am brutally nice, loves my life, love my friends and family, don't cheat (not in marriage nor the usual), helps the unfortunate, donate money to feed hungry children and other charitable causes, aid the elderly whenever they need help, but I am NOT religious and doesn't believe in any religion? Call me an Atheist or whatever you like, does this mean I will end up in hell for being a good person and for not accepting Christ? Also, the Bible only mentions one region of the world; leaving out 'evolution', the dinosaurs, and the people from the far, far East.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:18 am |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      Join the club or go to hell ... it's Yahwey or the highway!!

      September 23, 2012 at 9:21 am |
  4. Kate

    I don't believe in Hell. I think Hell was created in the minds of men purely as a method of control. I don't believe in the Heaven that's taught through religion either. Mark Twain thought the idea of Heaven was ridiculous....who'd really want to sit around all day playing a harp? I do believe that our souls came from some special place and will return there after we've learnd the lessons we've come here to learn. When I was in my twenties, I was extremely sick and had a death experience. I came back from it with a totally new belief system. I now have a strong belief in reincarnation. I didn't know much about reincarnation until I did some research but it makes sense to me now. Over the years, I have found that an awful lot of people believe in this philosophy...though they won't openly admit it to people because it's not a mainstream idea.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Reincarnation is a mainstream idea. There's nearly a billion Hindus and a few million Buddhists who believe in it, and it's equally as ridiculous as the Abrahamist afterlife.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:20 am |
    • zeus_z

      Did you yutube near death experiences? I dont think those are just made up. There are little signs everwhere in this phusical world we live in that the Bible speaks the truth and Jesus also.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:21 am |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      zeus_z .. so yutube holds the truth? :D
      there are little signs that the bible is true everywhere?! I think that's up to interpretation, not truth.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:25 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      zeu, I just saw a video of a cat thinking in French. I guess that must be true.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:29 am |
  5. Robert

    I've been married four times. Hell would be like Club Med to me!

    September 23, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • Robert's Wife No. 4

      It wasn't a picnic for me either, you big lummox.

      And I'm sleeping with your best friend.

      Ha ha ha.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:19 am |
    • zeus_z

      MArriage- DIVORCE- ANOTHE SIGN of this country and world straying from God.

      Says in the Bible you are not to divorce unless there is adultery. Why is this said? Because just as Christ took his cross and carried it, we are supposed to be patient with one another in marriage- eliminate pride, and forgive-

      These things not only apply to marriage, but in every day life- What does itmean to be Christ like?
      – To love your enemies, and pray for them
      – To take your shirt off your back fro someone that needs it. Feed the poor, help the needy
      -To have faith during difficul times and turn to Chris to carry your troubles.

      Im a Christian and I am broken. I sign eacha nd every day. I know I have to ask for forgiveness and pray to Christ to take away the temptations that keep us away from God. Christ is our salvation if we in our hearts realize we are sinners, broken, and pray for forgiveness and genuinly want to change.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:31 am |
  6. truth be trolled

    Check this out:
    List of atheists in science and technology (natural scientists):
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_atheists_in_science_and_technology

    List (social sciences):
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_nontheists_(miscellaneous)#Social_sciences

    September 23, 2012 at 9:17 am |
  7. Oj

    "As a pastor, my job is to tell the truth. Your job is to make a decision."

    It is very scary that 'Mark' is in any kind of leadership position that would allow him to influence others. Although I guess he's just another example of a brainwashed follower of the magical book.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • ShingoEX

      "As a pastor, my job is to tell the truth"

      Truth is different from faith. Truth can be proven with evidence, and there is no evidence for this "truth" he tells.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:19 am |
    • 200 TON HAMMER

      Your job as a christian is too bring jewish people back too isreal thats one thing christians should do and learn about the messianic kingdom that a very jewish king david and jesus talked about and operated in

      September 23, 2012 at 9:22 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Hammer, you should learn the difference between "to" and "too". Stay in school.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:30 am |
  8. Gunnar

    Mr Driscoll (author of the second article), contrary to what you may be believing about yourself , you are (currently) a deeply immoral, or unethical, person. Your lack of any kind of universal compassion or empathy is disturbing. People like you are, and have always been, a major force of evil in this world. Anyone who believes that eternal torture is an appropriate consequence or punishment for anything is either severely deluded or a monumentally vicious and hateful person.
    My guess is that you have no idea what you are talking about when you speak of “eternity” because if you know what this term means and nonetheless demand that those who disagree with your world view should suffer and be tortured into all eternity, then you are a psychopath, i.e. insane or evil.
    In fact, it would be an absolutely terrible injustice to condemn even someone like Adolf Hitler to an eternal hell. Why? Even if you say that Hitler is personally responsible for the suffering and death of several millions of innocent people, would you consider it to be justice that he be tortured for a million years for every life that he destroyed? How about a billion years of agony for every second of suffering of every single one of his victims? Do you consider that to be appropriate and in proportion? Well, that is nothing compared to eternity. Even a billion times a billion years for every grain of sand on this planet, for every atom in the universe, is nothing compared to eternity. Do you seriously think that a punishment that is infinite times as cruel as the crime committed, is justice? That a supposedly good, compassionate and loving god would come up with such a vile, horrifically evil idea for the punishment of his “children” if they don’t do what he says? Would you treat your children like that if they disobey you – because they don’t know better or for some reason didn’t get the chance to develop the kinds of qualities you want them to have? Would you lock your children in the basement and go down there and torture them day and night, without end, and watch them cry and scream and beg for mercy? Would you feel no compassion, no desire to stop their pain and fear? Would you continue torturing them for the next couple of decades until the day they die, and then, because this was not even close to what they really deserve, leave it to god to torment them for the rest of eternity? Because your child made a mistake, and this is justice and there are no second chances?
    The idea of an eternal hell is arguably the worst, the most disgusting and evil idea human beings have ever come up with. The cruelty of medieval torture chambers, witch burning and the like is practically insignificant compared to the darkness, viciousness and malevolence of this disgraceful religious dogma.
    If you really think the existence of an eternal hell would be justice, then you are a monster!

    September 23, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • Gumby

      Great comment, but it will be lost on the Xian brainwashed.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:33 am |
  9. Rational Libertarian

    Hell and religion go hand in hand. How could you entice people over to your side without the fear of eternal torture if they don't?

    September 23, 2012 at 9:15 am |
  10. Johaunarei

    Sorry, but the Idea of the Christian Hell is a form of punishment AFTER you die. People that say Hell is Cancer or something is not their punishment for being bad or evil. It is due to genetics or enviornmental causes because we do live in a universe that is more or less chaotic.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:15 am |
  11. evensteven

    Heaven and Hell are states of mind with us in the here and now.

    If there's a God that uses Hell as a way to punish His wayward children, then He doesn't sound anything like a Supreme Intelligence to me, rather a creation of man's mind as man's own reflection.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:14 am |
  12. ron

    Still amazing how stupid this stuff is.. The truth???? Hell is real? Heaven is real? God is real??
    Really???
    I mean.. really???
    C'mon man!
    IT IS 2012!!!!!! EVOLVE!!! Think for yourself! Enough with ridiculous myths and stupid clubs that seek to control your mind by brainwashing some idea that some magical diety controls everything. HOW F'ING STUPID! ! Religion (of every type) is the cause of just about all HELL wrought by humans on this earth.. STOP THE STUPIDITY !

    September 23, 2012 at 9:13 am |
    • zeus_z

      The Bible also speaks of this kind of arrogance and back Turning to God.

      Fact is, Jesus lived. He left a uncomparable footprint. People willingly died in his name.

      Sometimes we only see the physical world, and it can be difficult. To find Christ we have to seek him with our hearts.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:23 am |
    • Big V

      Fist all we all need our brainwashed with all the garbage that is on TV and this world WE NEED IT WASHED. Second I agree We need to being STUPID. stop being stupid and BELIEVE THAT THERE IS A HEAVEN AND HELL!!!!!!!!!

      September 23, 2012 at 9:23 am |
    • ron

      people willingly died for Hitler too. whats your point?

      I'd love to understand why people like you will willingly believe something you have no proof of at all. Thats indisputable fact.. You just don't. but yet everything else you do in your life is based on proof right?
      If I told you I could fly by flapping my arms, would you just believe me ? or would Ihave to prove it?
      If I told you you could step in front of a moving train and wouldn't be hurt, would you believe me? or would you require proof? so then, why in the would you ever believe anything without proof. This is what completely boggles my mind.. The only explanation is brainwashing. Hitler style brainwashing.. The kind that makes people hijack planes and run them into buildings...

      September 23, 2012 at 9:48 am |
  13. marc

    How, in the 21st century, anyone could still believe in this fairy tale of heaven and hell is beyond conception.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:11 am |
    • 200 TON HAMMER

      Urim thumim king david used it too seek the messianic kingdom

      September 23, 2012 at 9:13 am |
    • ron

      Certainly is. Shows you the power of brainwashing. What could ever make people wake up from this stupidity?

      September 23, 2012 at 9:16 am |
    • Big V

      Well my friend if you don't believe YOU BETTER!!! And better get your heart right with God before it is to late

      September 23, 2012 at 9:20 am |
  14. Daniel

    The concept of Hell was initiated by the church merely to threaten the ignorant. They thought that use of fear was the best tool to persuade the masses into believing the dogma of its ideology. Unfortunately there are still many who prescribe to this, but as the populous becomes more enlightened this archaic method of trying to control peoples lives is less effective. In the future this will be a page of mythical history.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:11 am |
    • Matthew

      Hell is biblical. It is not something that priests made up to scare people

      September 23, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • Mulehead

      Perfectly stated and totally correct. Well done, sir.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:04 am |
    • Mulehead

      My last statement was to Daniel.

      Matt...you are so far off the mark it's not even funny,

      September 23, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  15. fortruth47

    Frank Schaeffer’s statement “Why does our view of hell matter? Because believers in hell believe in revenge “ Is totally false. True Christians believe in hell for one reason. It’s what the bible teaches. The Bible teaches Revenge for us is a sin. I have not ever known one sincere Christian who wishes hell for anyone. If someone does wish hell for someone they are a false Christian.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:10 am |
    • 200 TON HAMMER

      urim thumim

      September 23, 2012 at 9:12 am |
    • 13directors

      I understand your view but I respectfully disagree. To profess your belief in Jesus Christ as your savior is what makes you a Christian. While some practice a more loving, quiet approach, there are many who hold a hell-bent, revenge supported approach. This does not make them less Christian, but just different from their peace-loving cousins. Revenge is not unique to conservative minded Christians and Muslims, either. Book shelves abound of great works of literature that feature people fueled by revenge. Whether religious or not, this inclination is something every human possesses. If nurtured, an intolerant mind evolves.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:33 am |
  16. youpeople@

    I respect anyone's desire to believe or not, but I just wish the zealots would leave the rest of us alone.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:10 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      New atheisj is just a term used by fundies to denigrate atheists who stand up against religious dogma.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Atheism

      September 23, 2012 at 9:18 am |
    • John

      What are "new atheists"? You mean atheists who no longer stay silent under threats from christians as zealot christians continue their quest of turning the US into a theocracy?

      September 23, 2012 at 9:18 am |
    • Just A John

      @jim
      Are you one of those paranoid christians that "believes" that any criticism of religion is directed just at you? The original poster states zealots, rather all inclusive, don't you think?

      September 23, 2012 at 9:18 am |
    • Oj

      Yeah, I imagine you're upset that you aren't able to actively constrain people's opinion anymore. I bet you don't like the 'new' gays and blacks and women too.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:19 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      What are atheists doing to you, jim? Are they forcing you to stop reading the bible? Are they preventing you from going to church? Telling you that you must have an abortion? Making you marry a gay man?

      September 23, 2012 at 9:19 am |
  17. G. Zeus Kreiszchte

    We should abandon all belief in fairy tales! No gods, no heaven or hell! There is no observable evidence for any of this crap!

    September 23, 2012 at 9:09 am |
  18. Mark Hansen

    Hell has always been a very powerfull tool in religion.

    If it didn't exsist, someone would need to create it ...

    September 23, 2012 at 9:09 am |
  19. TOMG

    HELL IS ON THIS ANIMAL EARTH PLANET AND NO NEED TO GO SEARCHING FOR WHERE IS HELL PLACE ARE AT , AMEN . SO DOES ALL DOG KARMA ALSO , AMEN .

    September 23, 2012 at 9:08 am |
  20. saggyroy

    God sends you to hell. The Devil is just the manager.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:08 am |
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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.