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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. Jonseen

    Obviously, if there is a hell, it's not up to US to decide how it works. And it's also not up to us to decide who GOES there!!

    I think the Bible's warnings about hell are just that: warnings to each of us to shape and try harder on a personal level. I can't decide who goes to hell and it's none of my business. I have my own "stuff" to deal with, and that's what matters. We get into big theological trouble trying to predict HOW hell works and WHO will go there.

    The MAIN point is, each of us should take a personal interest in AVOIDING hell.

    October 9, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • Getting Hold of God

      Well said. On the question of How we go to hell, I wonder if it's really accurate to say that God "sends" people there. If God is loving and merciful, this seems out of character. It makes more sense that people choose hell, by refusing salvation. It's a terrible shame, and the person who gloats at the prospect is no follower of Christ, IMHO. Peace.

      October 10, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • T-Max73

      @Getting Hold of God- I'm sorry, but you strike me as someone who is the product of intense and long-term indoctrination. You're probably a decent person who has a solid moral basis, but your ideas are childish and not rooted in reality or common sense. You do not see this-nor do I expect that you would; indoctrination is a powerful tool that closes the mind to evidence, critical thinking, and logic. You have to dispense with the idea that "faith" is something of value, and instead rely on your own reasoning process and ask yourself if any of these ideas actually make sense.

      October 10, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  2. DL

    Fairytales are fairytales, but a lot of people really need to believe in them, no matter how absurd. Hell has served religions well. It is like the wifebeater keeping the beaten down wife under his control...fear always limits the mind's ability to grow, dream, and see the truth. Hell has got go...lol!

    October 9, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • jason

      Fairy tale – oh like evolution? Sorry if the Bible wasn't true, knowledge would be impossible.
      5 things needed for knowledge
      reliability of senses
      reliability of memory
      Laws of Logic
      Absolute Morality
      Uniformity in nature

      you tell me the fairy tail that answers to those

      October 9, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
  3. DL

    Of course. Although this moring the Guthrie gal on a morning program referred to her fear of "satan" – whoa! My ephiphany...she is dumber than I thought. They were watching something on "The Exorcist" film, which I have never seen due to its stupid storyline, and I was a teen in the seventies. Apparently, the guy who runs hell is alive well in people's psyches. What a tragedy.

    October 9, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • brad4nyc

      Of course both are imaginary beings, but the true story is Satan is GOOD and God is EVIL. Satan tapped God on the shoulder and asked God please don't flood the earth and kill all those innocent children. God answered and said "Bra ha ha ha! I am allmighty god and can do what I want. It would please me to see those babies drown in agony! Bra ha ha ha!". Satan said "that's wack, dude! You are one cruel, sick, evil monster". So Satan left heaven and promised to help mankind against the evil imaginary God. Then one day all the people grew up and realized God and Satan are both imaginary and they went away hand in hand as boyfriends forever. That is after God asked Satan's forgiveness for all of the mean spiteful things he did. The End.

      For proof God is Imaginary visit http://www.godisimaginary.com

      October 9, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
  4. brad4nyc

    How evil a monster your mythical "God" is. Thank god God is imaginary, for the story of God is a story of a cruel mass murderer. If god is all powerful and all knowing and perfectly good, he would not bring people into the world knowing that they would go to hell and be tortured forever- a perfectly good being would never do such a thing.

    If god is all powerful and all knowing and perfectly EVIL, then god would create people knowing in advance they were going to burn in hell forever. Therefore God is pure EVIL, so fortunatley he imaginary too. For proof God Is Imaginary go to http://godisimaginary.com

    October 9, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • SD

      Do you tell you teacher during the exam that this question is "imaginary" because you don't know the answer? And if you find the answer to this question in the book after the exam, will it help you? This life is a test/exam and the objective in this life is to believe in the existence of God. God will and has the absolute right to reward you for your faith and punish you for your disbelief. Everything in the universe is created in pair, male and female, brightness and darkness, cold and heat. Similarly, for this life there is afterlife. To make humans aware of this fact, God sent several messengers in the world to remind and warn people about this fact. And the last of such messenger is Mohammad (peace be upon him). Follow Islam and find the guidance.

      October 9, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • brad4nyc

      Allah is imaginary.

      October 9, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • jason

      and man has just proven himself to be so much better, right?

      October 9, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • jason

      Your problem is that you think people are good, when the Bible explicitly hammers that we are not good. Also you appeal to an absolute morality, build a strawman argument, then attack the imaginary God you create, and think you have trumped him, while the real God of the bible calls you a fool and laughs at you – yes God mocks the unbeliever, but He is willing to forgive

      October 9, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
  5. jj

    Hell yes!

    October 9, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
  6. brad4nyc

    Of course we should abandon "hell" because it is compleatly imaginary. God is imiginary too, and I can prove it. To see proof that god is imaginary visit http://godisimaginary.com/

    October 9, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • TiredODaCrap

      Boy, what a load of stuff that was! At least give me something that appears to have some research, some evidence, etc, behind it.
      Oh, I pray and I don't get what I want right that second.....So God must not be real, because he didn't give ME what I wanted and I had to have right at that exact second??? When you can produce another Big Bang, create another set of universes, etc, maybe then we'll talk.
      Those against religion say it's just a book, changed over time. Well, I don't see Einstein, Newton, etc, etc, walking around these days, so where are you getting your information from? Oh, yeah. A book. Written by people. Who you hope were right, and did change anything or leave anything out. Funny that the basic arguement against the bible can be used in the same way againt those who use science as their religion.

      October 9, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • LordOfTheWyrms

      Replying to the other reply, but it wouldn't let me. Equating the bible to a book of science is like comparing oranges to apples. The bible is more like a history book, which by all rights is not provable and is full of opinion. Books of science are full of proven facts which are VERIFIABLE and REPEATABLE. And, if for some reason they need to be amended as we learn more, the new items are vigorously reviewed before update. Saying that Jesus died on the cross for our sins is like repeating that story of George Washington and the Cherry Tree. It's not quite comparable to Newton's and Einstein's work. Try again.

      October 9, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • jason

      @lord of worsm – lol science books are written and rewritten so yeah. Science should be testable, repeatable, and and falsifiable, which evolutionary theory is neither. History cannot be proven scientifically. The Bible is a historical book, you must believe in the religion called scientism

      October 9, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
  7. BuleriaChk

    Hell is a special place reserved for those that try to convince others that it exists.

    October 9, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
  8. dsi

    I just can't muster enough hate. I would have to have a much more deviant set of principles to accept the notion of hell.

    October 9, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
  9. Whome

    @Frank Schaeffer – Believers in hell believe in revenge – ummm NO!

    I'm sure there are people out there who believe in revenge and do not believe in hell. A child who knows not religion knows of revenge. It is a human instinct to harm someone who has harmed you.

    Seriously you base your view of hell and revenge on a movie – dude seriously you go to be kidding me. You know you had a good meme – we should abandon the idea of hell. You should have let this meme free on the net – the article is a little nutty.

    October 9, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
  10. lol

    The Devil's greatest accomplishment is convincing humans that he doesn't exist.

    October 9, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • BuleriaChk

      god is getting better and better at that as well.....

      October 9, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
  11. bomba

    HELL IS AFTER THE RESSURECTION BACK TO YOUR PHYSICAL BODY...LISTEN UP FOOLS

    October 9, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  12. rudy espinoza

    WOW? QUITE AN idiotic phrase {forgive the expression, as a lighter word is not in the queens vocabulary}. sorry nt all the ignoramus, you can psyque your mind into "abandoning hell," but the choice is beyond your choice. ACTUALLY YOU DO HAVE A CHOICE, REPENT AND ACCEPT THE SAVIOR THUS YOU WILL CHOOSE HEAVEN, REJECT IT AND YOU WILL HAVE CHOSEN HELL. END OF STORY HERE, BARELY STARTING A NEW OINE IN HEAVEN OR HELL. WHICH DO YOU CHOOSE?

    October 9, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • freeman

      Rudy,

      So if I believe you, I'm going to Hell?

      I'd rather just believe you're a fool.

      October 9, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • GaryPage

      The interesting fact is that within the very book you espouse to believe, Ecclesiates and Job both specifically state that there is no life of ANY sort after Death. When you die, you "sleep" with your ancestors as it says in Judges. If I were you, I would plan to do my living here on earth, because this one shot is all you get, BASED on the Bible. As to the newer books of the New testament, have you ever studied how they were written? You wouldn't put much stock in them if you did. I hope you have a great life, here, now!

      October 9, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • Petrus

      Psalm 14:1 The fool says in his heart, “God does not exist.” They are corrupt; they do vile deeds. There is no one who does good.

      October 9, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
  13. The Shred

    The Universe has a plan................................

    October 9, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
  14. Literature & History

    Let us not forget that: 1) the modern understanding of Hell as a permanent destination conflates the Jewish idea of Hell -which is analogous to Catholic purgatory- with the "Lake of Buring Sulfur" (Revelation 20) , which is established AFTER the Apocalypse, AFTER the 1,000 year reign of God and the righteous, AFTER Satan is "released from his prison" (Rev. 20:7), and just BEFORE God creates a "New Heaven and a New Earth;" 2) "Satan" as an individual is a misunderstanding of the Hebrew "Ha-Satan," which means "the opposer" or the "the accuser," which can apply to an angel or to a human being who is being obstructive: the modern idea of an INDIVIDUAL Satan did not enter Christian belief until about the 3rd or 4th century, combining the Egyptian & Babylonian idea of a being of Evil Incarnate with the mistranslation of "Lucifer" in the Book of Isiah as an angel instead of a star, so -at best- calling the individual to be punished in this manner "Satan" is an anachronistic 'correction' to the original text; 3) this opposer/accuser, Ha-Satan, was not a fallen angel, therefore, but more like a prosecuting attorney whose place in God's court was to establish the record of wrongs committed by individuals for God's review; 4) anyone who was found to be deliberately & willfully sinful after this process of accusation and judgement would be sent to Hell for a term of purification before being forgiven and admitted into paradise; 5) The first of the four Gospels to be written, Mark (approx. A.D. 70) and Matthew (approx. A.D. 80) tried to reconcile the emerging idea of "Satan" with the events of the life of Jesus (Yeshua Ben Yosef), thus leading to the codification of Satan as an individual, not as a job.

    Your faith, no matter what it is, should provide a moral framework for your life and a comfort during times of crisis. "Knowing" the mind of your God is presumption of the highest order. Following the tenets of your faith should lead to greater compassion, kindness, and charity; claiming that "editing out Hell" will corrupt your faith ignores the basic fact that Hell was edited INTO your faith to begin with. Where did Jesus talk about whom he was sending to hell? He even exorcised demons into pigs instead of "the pit."

    Understanding not only the teachings of your faith, but also the actual demonstrable, factual history of where each aspect of your faith originated is vital to a healthy religious observance.

    Knowing more of Christianity's history than my ministers did led me to a healthy agnosticism which requires that I respect everyone's right to believe in any God he or she wishes: arguing over which one is "the right one" or "the only one" is a waste of time because YOU CANNOT PROVE IT.

    Be Peaceful,

    Literature & History.

    October 9, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  15. MikeP

    Absolutely.. abandon the concept of hell. Each christian sect already quite opportunistically picks and chooses which aspects of the bible it will bother to believe in, so if hell is inconvenient... just edit it out! As far as god and christians are concerned, the flow of who is serving whom has been reversed for a long time now.

    October 9, 2012 at 9:32 am |
    • HENRY WESTER REV.

      LET US AS CHRISTIANS LIVE IN THE HERE AND NOW AND FOCUS ON OUR CHILDREN GETTING INVOLVED IN SOMEBODY CHURCH. INVOLVED WITH STOPPING THOSE WHO ARE KILLING. TAKE YOUR FAMILY TO CHURCH EACH WEEK. LET YOUR CHILDREN KNOW THAT YOU PRAY AND HOW YOU PRAY EACH DAY.

      October 9, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
  16. or

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUbHa_2_ZFk&w=640&h=390]

    October 9, 2012 at 8:02 am |
    • BillyB

      Mr. Driscoll – you state that "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." - not that I would ever listen to a clever scholar, but how can you dismiss a clever scholar when you are basically doing the same thing. You are speaking about something that you are not 100% sure of. I mean I know you believe you know for a fact that by accepting Jesus you will be saved, but you really don't. If you we're able to expand that beautiful mind of yours you would see so much more. You are limiting yourself with Christianity.

      October 9, 2012 at 9:17 am |
  17. GOOD NEWS

    GOD never sends good people who sincerely hearken
    and listen to the truthful prophecies of Jesus;

    For the Son of Man has thus already come to seek and save those who are lost,

    in the beginning of this most critical Third and Last DAY (=MILLENNIUM) now! (=John 6/27, 40)

    http://www.holy-19-harvest.com

    ==UNIVERSAL MAGNIFICENT MIRACLES!

    October 9, 2012 at 6:13 am |
    • meyouthem

      Do you actually live on the same planet as I do?

      October 9, 2012 at 7:51 am |
  18. Dave Thrush

    Jesus talked about hell NUMEROUS times when teaching his disciples, and the masses of people he spoke to. He did this so You, I, and everyone will not end up there...If we end up there it will not be because we didn't know about it, (as if not believing it exists makes it go away) it will be because God has given you and I free will to make the choice...choose wisely.

    October 9, 2012 at 4:16 am |
    • Petrus

      If man had the free will to chose, every single one would be a satanluv, or an end religion. John 2:24-25 Jesus, however, would not entrust Himself to them, since He knew them all and because He did not need anyone to testify about man; for He Himself knew what was in man.

      October 9, 2012 at 7:49 am |
  19. Scott

    I have read studies that effectively make the case that the Biblical idea of the "eternal punishment" of hell referes to an irreversible, horrible destruction, and not a parallel afterlife of unending suffering. I have to believe that. I'm a Christian, and the idea of hell is contradictory to everything the teachings of love of God and Jesus represent. And if I am required to love a being that would condemn others to unending torment with all of my heart mind and soul, I am in trouble, because God has asked of me the impossible; I am incapable of any reaction besides moral horror and grief. I can obey God, and serve God; but I cannot love such a being. If Jesus paid the price of our sins; he only died; he did not spend eternity suffering. Besides, how can eternal bliss in heaven be possible while even your worst enemy is suffering hell?

    October 9, 2012 at 1:58 am |
    • Petrus

      Scott, I recommend you start studies of the Bible yourself. Don't rely on what man has to say about God. Let the Word of God reveal to you who He really is.

      October 9, 2012 at 7:55 am |
  20. correctlycenter

    Less posting and more bible reading! God bless...

    October 8, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • Niknak

      More posting, less bible reading, Satan bless.

      October 8, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • End Religion

      That's religion for you. Stay ignorant, brother!

      October 8, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
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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.