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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. Skeptimist

    For many Christian denominations, belief in a hell is a required article of faith. But you don't have to believe there is anyone in there. Discussions like this remind me that the most neglected topic in all official theologies is God's sense of humor. (Perhaps threats are expected to produce higher revenues.) Could it be that salvation flows from the insight and willingness to laugh at my own foolishness and thus become kinder toward others?

    September 23, 2012 at 9:50 am |
  2. jphn

    The very concept of worship is an evil concept. Just think about it. at its core, it is an evil concept. i know it makes people all warm and fuzzy, but, at its core, it is evil. it is what every diabolical villain in every book or movie would want, it is what causes thoughtless division, unhealthy relationships, etc. it is an evil concept created by PEOPLE. And this world will never heal, until it is ancient history. If you want to have gathering places to bring community together and do charitable things, why not do them in the name of goodness. then you would include everyone. And the world could begin to heal.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:50 am |
  3. ohioudave

    The fact is that there are many things in Christianity and Islam that don't sit well with our modern sensibilities. If you want to be a literalist and be outside of the mainstream, fine. If you want to abandon your religion or religion entirely, fine. However, attempting to ignore certain aspects of your faith while embracing others as truth is completely illogical. Worse, it's cowardly.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:50 am |
  4. GAW

    And of curse no one said anything in this article about how Zoroaster and Zoroastrianism came to influence early Judaism and it's beliefs on the issue. Hence Christianity. Religious beliefs do not exist in a a vacuum.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:50 am |
  5. Life under Romney-Ryan would be hell.

    A living hell for seniors, veterans, the poor, the chronically ill, the disabled, etc., etc., etc.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:50 am |
  6. LookAndSEE

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v9l1qzFyvD8&w=640&h=390]

    September 23, 2012 at 9:49 am |
  7. MatterOfFact

    The real hell is here on earth created by those with hate and anger in their hearts; war, slavery, torture, neglect. Hell is created by those without empathy or love.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:47 am |
  8. Jeff

    Driscoll's literal interpretation of scripture (having paid attention to some things he has said previously) causes so many logical inconsistencies that I don't put much weight on anything he has to say without a thoughtful evaluation of the texts he's referencing. CNN would have done better to present these arguments using scholars of religion. In any case, the Fundamentalist Christian concept of hell is a logically perverse belief that puts Jesus in a tiny little box sealed tightly to keep any light from escaping. They should be reminded that Jesus talked about hell (Gehenna) with those that were following him, to the outsider the message that comes across is primarily forgiveness and redemption.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:47 am |
  9. popseal

    If there be no judgment..Heaven or Hell, then existence is a cosmic joke played on existence itself by itself. Nihilists and their logically related atheist cousins are right. When Christ came into my life, the change was more profound than I expected and more blessed than I deserved. Heaven's answer to creation's Hell inspired problem is perfect.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • MatterOfFact

      There does not need to be any judgement. Existence is sufficient in itself.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:51 am |
    • sybaris

      Sorry, the simple formula for story telling has captured your imagination. Good vs Bad, Heaven vs He.ll, Good Guys vs Bad Guys. It's all the same. Nothing supernatural here.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:53 am |
  10. Farooq The Great

    I hold the Eastern Orthodox view of Hell. Everyone will be in the presence of God at the end. We decide if it is paradise or torment. For those who hate God it is "hell". For others it is paradise.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • Chris

      No one cares about your mental problems.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:48 am |
    • sybaris

      Um OK, you can't hate what doesn't exist.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:55 am |
  11. concerned scientist

    There is no Hell and there is no Heaven, just oblivion. Present your evidence to contrary for scientific testing.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:45 am |
  12. guest

    For Mark Driscoll and people like him... Let's go on a field trip. Google ancient Hebrew view of hell. Nobody who knows anything about the subject will tell you that Jews in Jesus's era believed in Hell the way we do. So who did? The Romans and other pagans. As Christianity spread and former pagans began to translate the Bible the incorporated beliefs from their culture. Jesus would not have believed in the Roman Hades. Mark Driscoll, you sir, are a Pagan.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:45 am |
  13. PropositionH

    Agamben, extrapolating from St. Thomas' interrogation into the nature and rationale of the concept of purgatory where it concerns the death of unbaptized children:

    “If they were to feel pain they would be suffering from a penalty for which they could not make amends and thus their pain would end up leading them into hopelessness, like the damned. This would not be just. Moreover, their bodies, like those of the blessed, cannot be affected; they are impassible. But this is true only with respect to the action of divine justice; in every other respect they fully enjoy their natural perfection. The greatest punishment – the lack of the vision of God – thus turns into a natural joy: Irremediably lost, they persist without pain in divine abandon. God has not forgotten them, but rather they have always already forgotten God; and in the face of their forgetfulness, God’s forgetting is impotent. Like letters with no addressee, these uprisen beings remain without a destination. Neither blessed like the elected, nor hopeless like the damned, they are infused with a joy with no outlet.”

    Where this particular discussion is concerned, this extract appears to indicate that the less one knows about religion, apart from an understanding of the nature of what god consists in within societies, the better off we are.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:45 am |
  14. timothyclee

    The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) says that we are all constantly touched on our heads by His noodle appendages. This accounts for the law of gravity (without His holding us down, we would just float off into space). Ramen.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:45 am |
  15. Marc Perkel

    There is no Heaven or Hell. Choose to believe in Reality instead. Reality changed my life – it can change yours too! If we took the money wasted on churches and spent it on science we could create the technology to be immortal.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:45 am |
  16. The Truth Will Prevail

    Hell is coming for you that choose not to believe. Believe now, or believe when it's too late............ it's up to you.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • Damocles

      Ooooo.... scary!

      September 23, 2012 at 9:50 am |
    • Chris

      .....or?

      (Hint: Super Secret ption #3 is that you are balls-to-the-wall insane and nothing you believe is in any way justified.)

      September 23, 2012 at 9:50 am |
    • ohioudave

      I heard they were sending the Easter Bunny.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:51 am |
    • John

      Choose not to believe in what? Choosing not to believe in fairies?

      September 23, 2012 at 9:55 am |
  17. Gregg

    god made man, man made religion , The Creator ask's... who is god?.. religion is for the weak and an insult to the Creator. You will destroy each other ! END

    September 23, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • MalcomR

      Garglefrump?

      September 23, 2012 at 9:45 am |
  18. Eastwood

    There are many religions in this world that believe one will go to hell if he/she does NOT believe in their gods.

    If you believe in that kind of things (yea, "things") you should believe that no matter what you will go to hell of all of those religions but one.

    Keep believing in your hell and good luck.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:43 am |
  19. areyoucrazy123

    We are so retarded here on Earth with such big egos....to believe that WE are the only lifeform and that WE could either go to a heaven or hell for our deeds here on Earth....we are nothing more than stardust and when we die, we die...that's it...why do we humans act like we're the best thing since sliced bread? At any moment an asteroid could wipe all of us out, regardless of religion...we're not that important here...

    September 23, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • Eugene FRANK MD

      You are right on: the human race thinks it is the next best thing to sliced bread: knowing what is thought of white bread, humans are correct.

      September 23, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
  20. geoff

    religion is just a silly belief based way of thinking such as santa claus and toooth fairies. it' also cartoonish with people rising from the dead and heaven and helll all that nonsense that only happens in cartoon land. where on earth do any of things ridiculous things happen. answer: only in the minds of believes.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:43 am |
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About this blog

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.