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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 • My Faith • Opinion

soundoff (7,963 Responses)
  1. Jim R

    Would not spending eternity required to praise a theocratic dictator also be h ell? A god that knows your every thought. Like C. Hitchens stated, it would be worse than living in North Korea. At least there, you can escape the theocratic rulers buy dying Here, the fun just begins at death. Those that believe in religion belong to the infancy of our species.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:17 am |
  2. liberal disease

    hell is real, every time Obama speaks his jibberish left wing beliefs we are living in it...

    September 23, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • Hogarth

      If you think Obama is left wing, you really aren't paying attention. A "left wing" president would have bailed out neither the banks nor the auto industry – he would have completely nationalized them. You people have such a shallow, limited level of understanding, it just stuns me. It's easy to see how nimrods like Romney get elected, with folks like you backing him up.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:27 am |
  3. Gerald

    I guess those who don' believe that hell exists will know when they get there.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      And I guess those who do will realize their error when they die and don't go anywhere. Oh, wait. No, they won't. They'll just be dead.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • Dagorath

      We'll see you there.

      Matther 7:1 & 7:2

      1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.
      2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. Mk. 4.24

      September 23, 2012 at 10:25 am |
  4. Bob Lewis

    In a Woody Allen movie, he asked the angel of death, "What's death really like?" Death replied, "Have you ever spent an hour alone with an insurance salesman?" I know what he meant. If there is a hell, they'll make you listen to Mark Driscoll.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:16 am |
  5. Charlie

    The oldest, legitimately known faith in all History says, "God is within." And, that is the faith that I study and follow.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:16 am |
    • JA

      Hinduism is a couple thousand years older than Christianity

      September 23, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  6. jons

    This is as ridiculous as the many arms of Vishnu.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:16 am |
  7. Jerry

    Driscoll and all people who follow this type of belief system have an extremely distorted sense of justice. One in fact that is very scary if you give it any serious objective thought. Reasonably intelligent people believe that justice and fairness should dictate the severity of punishment and that it should be matched to the severity of the crime. Based on this ignorant belief system the following two scenarios represent justice. #1 A person like Hitler could kill and torture untold thousands of people and then on his deathbed change his mind and ask Jesus to forgive him and he would die and then spend eternity in paradise. #2 A Buddhist who spent his entire life helping children and the poor would then die and suffer unimaginable torture in an eternal hell. What type of intelligent person could believe this nonsense much less give their hard earned money on a weekly basis to anyone who promotes it? This kind of grotesque ignorance must be exposed for what it is and I personally thank organizations like CNN for being a platform to expose it.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • edweird69

      Thanks for a posting this... LOVE IT.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • Shrevetown

      You nailed it, Jerry.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:31 am |
    • altapres

      Hitler was unrepentant & so are other dictators involve in mass killings. Impossible for them to change. period.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • Paul(BosFanInCHgo)

      Jerry, your point about Hitler misses what many Christian scholars consider him to be an Anti-Christ, therefore he could never make it to the Kingdom. As for the Buddhist, this falls under many Christian doctrines, "thou shall have no other gods before me", the Tower of Babel decision", and redemption throughthe blood of the Christ, Jesus our Lord and Saviour. The good 'works" which people are not an entry ticket to the Kingdom unless you have faith in Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. So while many of God's children may benefit,

      September 23, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  8. Dagorath

    "Shake off all the fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear." – Thomas Jefferson

    It's really that simple.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • Gerald

      Man are you weak minded. YOu need a quote from TJ as your crutch.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • Dagorath

      Crutch? This quote doesn't tell me how to live, it encourages me to think for myself. Amazing how religious people still don't believe in reason, even though it has created the world of prosperity they now know. Luckily my reason allows me to forgo your ignorance without taking offense.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • Dagorath

      Here's another one I love.

      "I have no faith at all, I only hold convictions." – Ayn Rand

      September 23, 2012 at 10:35 am |
  9. TrueBeliever

    Top Ten Signs You're a Christian
    10 – You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.
    9 – You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt.
    8 – You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.
    7 – Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Allah, but you don't even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" including women, children, and trees!
    6 – You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.
    5 – You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few generations old.
    4 – You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs – though excluding those in all rival sects – will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most "tolerant" and "loving."
    3 – While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some idiot rolling around on the floor speaking in "tongues" may be all the evidence you need to "prove" Christianity.
    2 – You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.
    1 – You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history – but still call yourself a Christian.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • Onslow

      TrueBeliever: outstanding, RATIONAL comments. Thank you!

      September 23, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • TrueBeliever

      I wish I could take credit for this, but I can't. I found it here in the CNN comment section in April 2012 and liked it so much that I copied and saved it. I would encourage everyone of a like mind to do the same and spread the word. :)

      September 23, 2012 at 11:03 am |
  10. Barney Gorman

    I can't believe that this is a top story on CNN. Is there any place to go in this day and age to get NEWS? I don't need to read about some people debating over fiction.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:14 am |
  11. NoTheism

    Both of 'em make a fatal mistake in their arguments, they assume that a god exists.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:14 am |
    • Gerald

      And your mistake is that you think he doesn't. That is the biggest mistake of your eternal life.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • NoTheism

      Gerald, if you put forth an argument packed with assumptions, your argument falls apart if you can't provide good reasons for accepting the assumptions. Being able to demonstrate the reasonableness of such assumptions is called the burden of proof.
      Do you believe that Harry Potter is real because someone wrote about Harry Potter? Do you think unicorns exist because nobody can't prove that they don't?
      It's nonsense, pure and simple.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:28 am |
  12. Gman

    It is amazing that in an enlightened time of informational awareness based on reason, science, perpetual discovery, and fact, that we are still so heavily impacted by a religious culture that was established when the prevailing view was that the Earth was flat and at the center of all things. The bible was written during this unenlightened era and is still the prevailing literal view of the nuts of the Christain right. An espoused belief in blind faith base ignorance is still a requirement if you want to be the U.S. President. Athiest, your time will come. The Republican Party is the anti-science party where religious ignorance based on Creationism still reins supreme. The forefathers of this country, many of whom were Deist, were brilliant to establish a separation of church and state.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:14 am |
  13. Me

    The fact that this conversation is even taking place in 2012 is pathetic.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • edweird69

      Scarier yet, is most of the posters on here, who support the very notion of he11, appear to be adults! Not totally sure of that however.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:15 am |
  14. Atheism is Great for Kids and Grown-Ups Too!

    It's really best for all people including children to have an agnostic approach to god, and an atheistic approach to all religion. It keeps things simple for kids, and lets them be all that they can be. They just need to be taught that some things, like all religion, were just made up by salesmen and politicians from long ago. (Yes, charlatan folklore and spam started long before the Bible; what would make you think they hadn't???) And they need to be taught that other things, like God, we really don't know a damn thing about.

    Atheists have strong minds and don't need a religion. Many religious folk have the best intentions. But too often, religious folk run and hide their misdeeds within their religion (and by doing so, they disserve society). And too often, religious folk are easily offended when someone mocks their make-believe characters – and, as we can see they can get really CRAZY!

    Although there are many religious folk with good intentions – some selflessly helping others, religions and religious organizations are, as a whole, just big old clubs – each trying to out do each other and inspiring hate and division (often disguised as love) along the way. The problem is that people too easily buy into religion and don't realize how unfounded it all is. And when they buy into it, they buy into a lot of really old, really weird tenets that are nothing but harmful for the human species.

    Take Christianity, for instance. Just look at all the things that Christians argue about amongst themselves today – abortion, men's and women's roles in the church, celibacy, contraception, acceptance of gays, etc. Most of these issues have their roots in the conflicted, unfounded tenets of early Christianity. Non-Mormons harp on Joseph Smith these days. But we really don't have any more proof at all to believe that Paul, the self-proclaimed "apostle" was anything more than an ordinary man who needed to make up religious "sales literature" to survive and spread his own personal beliefs. And yet a good chunk of the NT is attributed to Paul and accepted by many Christians. And a lot of what he wrote about has to do with many of the issues I mentioned above that have Christians fighting amongst themselves hundreds of years later. It's way too unfounded to argue over.

    Get a good cup of tea, and sit down and collect your thoughts. If you find it helpful to pray to a god (something, that, to date, we know nothing about), fine. But it is really healthier for the mind to leave behind all the characters that people over the centuries have invented or given powers to, for which there is little or no foundation. Because with those invented characters and powers – that's where division and hate join the little party in your mind. That's where, in your mind, you are inheriting the division and hate from ordinary politicians, lobbyists and salesmen from long ago. My goodness.

    mama kindless

    September 23, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • Troy

      Beautiful, I couldn't agree more.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:20 am |
  15. CMDog - Read the whole thing, it's important

    “And so these refined parents subjected their five-year-old girl to all kinds of torture. They beat her, kicked her, flogged her, for no reason that they themselves knew of. The child’s whole body was covered with bruises. Eventually they devised a new refinement. Under the pretext that the child dirtied her bed (as though a five-year-old deep in angelic sleep could be punished for that), they forced her to eat excrement, smearing it all over her face. And it was the mother who did it! And then that woman would lock her little daughter up in the outhouse until morning and she did so even on the coldest nights, when it was freezing. Just imagine the woman being able to sleep with the child’s cries coming from that infamous outhouse! Imagine the little creature, unable even to understand what is happening to her, beating her sore little chest with her tiny fist, weeping hot, unresentful, meek tears, and begging ‘gentle Jesus’ to help her, and all this happening in that icy, dark, stinking place! Do you understand this nonsensical thing, my dear friend, my brother, you gentle novice who is so eager to spend his life in the service of God? Tell me, do you understand the purpose of that absurdity? Who needs it and why was it created? They say that man could not do without it on earth, for otherwise he would not be able to learn the difference between good and evil. But I say I’d rather not know about their damned good and evil than pay such a terrible price for it. I feel that all universal knowledge is not worth that child’s tears when she was begging ‘gentle Jesus’ to help her! I’m not even talking about the sufferings of adults: they, at least, have eaten their apple of knowledge, so the hell with them. But it’s different when it comes to children. It seems I’m hurting you, Alyosha, my boy. You don’t look very well. I won’t go on if you don’t want me to.” “Never mind. I want to suffer too,” Alyosha mumbled.

    ....

    "let’s assume that you were called upon to build the edifice of human destiny so that men would finally be happy and would find peace and tranquility. If you knew that, in order to attain this, you would have to torture just one single creature, let’s say the little girl who beat her chest so desperately in the outhouse, and that on her unavenged tears you could build"

    Dostoevsky, Fyodor; Andrew R. MacAndrew; Konstantin Mochulsky (2003-11-04). Brothers Karamazov (p. 322). Bantam Classics. Kindle Edition.

    ......

    if the suffering of little children is needed to complete the sum total of suffering required to pay for the truth, I don’t want that truth, and I declare in advance that all the truth in the world is not worth the price!

    Dostoevsky, Fyodor; Andrew R. MacAndrew; Konstantin Mochulsky (2003-11-04). Brothers Karamazov (p. 326). Bantam Classics. Kindle Edition.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:12 am |
  16. Learning to Love

    I agree that the "very concept of perpetual torture is evil." Nothing could be more evil. If only those who believe that Jesus Christ is their savior can go to heaven, then that leaves a great deal of people suffering in eternal torture, no matter how loving a life they lived. How would that be "justice"? How would a loving creator allow such a horrific thing? The idea of eternal torture is hateful and does lead to much bloodshed and could lead to the very demise of the human race. A good book to read on the subject is "Love Wins" by the Christian Rob Bell. It's not that people don't have to suffer for their "sins." They do. A liar isn't trusted. A glutton becomes obese and suffers tremendously as a result. They just don't have to suffer eternally. That would be the very definition of overkill.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:12 am |
  17. John

    Of course hell is real – hell is islam with their chief alhella

    September 23, 2012 at 10:11 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 those religions but one.

    Keep believing in your hell and good luck.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:10 am |
  19. Tom LI

    Abandon the idea of hell? Who knows. Bit what should be abandoned is Xtians who think they can send people there. That their God will listen to their recommendations as to who is fit for Heaven and who is sure to be sent to Hell. Same goes for Muslims...stop acting like your God, stop thinking for your God and let your God do his own work – while You pay attention to ONLY your soul.

    And Xtians, just because you found God on a Friday, doesn't make you a Preacher/Teacher on Monday. Do more of the hard work first and do it for a looooooooong time before you go off telling others that because You're suddenly saved you know How to Do it! Do the hard work first – and maybe, much later go around seeing if people are interested in what you have to say.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

      Preach to the crowd? Sounds political.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:14 am |
  20. Casey

    My husband and I had the same conversation yesterday, thanks for pointing out a few of the scriptures I had forgotten about. We believe in heaven and hell, however, worldly religions have poisened the very scriptures that should be guiding all of us in our daily lives. And for all those unbelievers, A FOOL IN HIS HEART SAYS THERE IS NO GOD. What is the harm in believing? It will not impact your life negatively, it will help tremendously.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • j

      very good Casey. we nned to pray for non believers on earth that God open their mind, only God can do this

      September 23, 2012 at 10:38 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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.