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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. Graham

    I'm reminded of a Stephen Colbert comment (or joke, I don't know, whatever you want it to be). "The Bible is infallible. How do we know? The Bible says that it's infallible. So, if it's infallible, it must be true when it says that it's infallible."

    September 23, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  2. David

    The answer is yes, it is located in Islam.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  3. Steve

    For sure it is real & located in the Middle Eastern Countries or Africa or . . . . . . .

    September 23, 2012 at 10:35 am |
  4. edweird69

    Heaven is supposed to be a perfect place. It is of course, the place you strive for and name “salvation”. Yet, it experienced a war (Revelation 12:7). How can there be a war in a perfect place and if it happened before why couldn’t it happen again? Why would I want to go to a place in which war can occur? That’s exactly what I’m trying to escape, aren’t you?

    September 23, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  5. BEK Toledo

    More and more I am convinced that the notion of a perfect, loving and all powerful God and hell are totally inseparable. God made us as eternal creatures in his image because he loves us. Because he loves us and made us in his image, we have freedom to choose to be with him or not. Because he loves us he will not destroy us nor force us to be with him. Hence, Hell, or existence apart from God, must be a reality.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • Emily

      Way to deny reality. Those millions of starving kids in Africa are not evidence for a caring god.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:38 am |
  6. DJP

    I have a question. Why do people on either side of the question of the existence of God bother commenting in forums like this when virtually no one is going to be swayed to another viewpoint after reading these comments and most comments are made to specific biased points not considering the whole context of the various sides of the discussion and therefore many of these comments are invalid toward swaying anyone?

    September 23, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • Emily

      I have several answers for you but first did you realize that your post was mostly one long run on sentence that should have been broken up and you should have used more punctuation since your post was painful to read and it's still pretty early here so maybe next time try to break up your sentences what do you think about that?

      September 23, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      Wrong! I was raised in a Christo-Fascist family. It wasn't until college, when some people were jerks to me about the concept of "god" that I realized I was the one being a jerk to them in the first place by accusing them of being "sinners" and that they were going to the imaginary "hell" that my ancient fairy tale book told me to believe in. I was swayed because of discourse. Therefore, making comments here is not a waste of time. Perhaps someone will see the folly of their phony beliefs in "gods" and "devils" and "heaven" and "hell."

      September 23, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • DJP

      To Emily. Ah yes the lets pick on the grammar to avoid the topic ploy. In the next post you made you showd the point I was making. BEK Toledo was making a number of points. You picked one and tried to prove all his points invalid. You missed as God is a loving god. He offers us choice. We humans use that choice to destroy ourselves in many cases. Are those sentences short enough for you?

      September 24, 2012 at 7:35 am |
  7. Just a John

    I would have thought that the article was written upon request of HeavenSent right up her alley. Where is the old witch, did satan finally catch up to her at the trailor park and drag her off to hell?

    September 23, 2012 at 10:32 am |
    • old ben

      Now I didn't request anything that mean. But do have an army of black flies ready to fly out of her USB ports upon her return from church.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  8. Andrew

    How do we know god and hell are real? Some one might say the bible tells us good and hell are real. OK how do we know the bible is real? Will because i believe it is. Why do you belive it is? i don't know i just believe it is. OK so let me get this right you believe in god only because the bible tells you? yes.We really don't know who wrote the bible. the bible comes from the middle east one of the most corrupt places in the world we have no clue who wrote the bible. the bible tells use who wrote the bible of course. When the bible was written thousands of years years ago it could of been used to control people by the government or by the rich to get richer. Greek gods were believed to be real for a long time how come we don't believe in them any more? The chances are the Greek gods could just as will be real as god is. The better the story is the more people are going to believe it. The bible tells people what they want to hear if you let god in your heart you will go to heaven sounds easy right? will that's the point it just tells people what they want to hear.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  9. Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

    There is no heaven.
    There is no hell.
    There is no god, or gods, to judge, and reward, and punish people after they die.

    There is no boogeyman in the closet, who's going to get you if you don't eat your veggies.

    Heaven and hell were simply the most effective carrot and stick to use on an ignorant and illiterate population by the ruling class. We're not all illiterate and ignorant any more. Where there is full and unbiased education and a society where ideas can be freely debated without the fear of persecution, religion withers and dies. It needs the dark and dank cellar of fear and ignorance to grow. Open the windows, let the light of reason in, and religion fades to a bad memory.

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

      If you don't change then you will see where you are going....hell

      September 23, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • Josh

      The truth.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Hey, there is an invisible 100 mile high invisible guy who will smack you with his 5 mile long johnson (invisible of course) unless you bow down and grovel before him. If you deny His horrible magnificence you will swim in the stench of his smeg-ma forever. Beware!!!!!!!!

      Seriously, how old are you guys? 4? 5?

      September 23, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • Nancy

      You nailed it. So did Carl Sagan – science as a candle in the dark...

      September 23, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • jeff c.

      Well spoken, puts words to my thoughts. Couldn't have put it any other way. But I also believe that after "religion" had "set in" it had became a crutch for the weak. Fearing death and separation from those loved, and a hope for eternal life has turned "heaven and hell" into a sad hope. A hope that this is not it for me and my family, a hope that evil doers will be punished for their sins/crimes. Now thanks to Christianity and Islam the rest of us have to endure war and sacrifice that they have created. All because some book you believe in makes you right. I've got an idea, come to your own conclusion. Don't rely on your quran or bible to decide for you.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  10. Gregg

    Religion's are nothing but way's of life and have nothing to do with the creator.
    Countries that use religion's as strict law such as Iran and hang people for being gay or women cheating on their husbands is sad. If the USA allows these religious extremist christians to place laws on me according to their religion, we will be hanging gays and women that have abortion's or cheat and turn into a Iran. Keep your religious ways of life out of MY government or you will become the enemy. Wow, is that how wars start ? from religion !

    September 23, 2012 at 10:31 am |
  11. Bonobo

    Really CNN, are you a newspaper or a church? I'm getting pretty sick of seeing stuff like this. Keep religion out of your newspaper, period!

    I like how there is always a debate about wether or not something exists in religion. The debate is always there because there has never been proof. Then there is the debate about what about science, there is no proof either, just theory. What people don't relaize with science there is proof and tons of it. For example atomic theory was presented, then based on that theory instruments were invented that behaved just as expected based on atomic theory. Instruments like the NMR spectrometer, atomic absorption spectrometer, and most of all the MRI that most of you will be subjected to as you aquire a disease that most likely will put you into the fear of wether there is a hell or not and you will be hoping that saves you more than God.

    People get you head out of the dark ages and evolve!

    September 23, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • NoTheism

      CNN, it seems, has become more than a news organization. Either way, if it decides it wants to publish opinions and such, who are you to say what kind of business they should be in?

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

      I was JUST thinking the same thing. I am weary of the direction that our news agencies have taken. I don't NEED another entertainment and opinion based source. What I need is factual News, real journalism and the fourth estate.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • Bonobo

      At Notheism -- I have some strong French royalty in my blood, and you know the legend of what royalty really is right? Bloodline.... ring any bells? So maybe I am someone to say if this type of garbage should be in a national newspaper of the United States which is supposed to be religiously unbiased......

      September 23, 2012 at 10:43 am |
  12. Candace Clough

    Driscoll is pretty funny claiming that the "Bible is clear" over and over LOL If it were ppl wouldn't need clergy to explain it!

    September 23, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • Number4

      That is the problem with living your life based on the teachings of an ancient text. There are different interpretations of what it is "really" saying. What if a religious leader interprets a passage incorrectly and everyone ends up being roasted in Hell as a result? Can you use the excuse that you were just following an incorrect interpretation?

      September 23, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • Terry

      Yeah, funny ain't it that big super-powerful 'god' can't do a better job of getting its message out. Can't even do its own website.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  13. jesus liked dudes

    So according to this guy, the majority of people who have EVER LIVED are in hell as well as 2/3 of the current world population. Nice guy, your god. And here I thought the bible says he died for everyone's sins, but I guess at the time he died for the sins of the 12 people that were following him around and a vast minority of those that would come after him.

    I am going to go with Thomas Jefferson on this one as opposed to the super genius pastor/preacher/con artist that wrote the second part of this article.

    Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:29 am |
  14. Follix

    Not only Hell is irrational but it would also be unfair since free will doesn't exist.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • susan

      Nice thinking! And likely true.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • susan

      ...but when it comes to "religion(s)", "fair" has nothing to do with it!

      September 23, 2012 at 10:38 am |
  15. McCarty Down

    And next week leading experts debate: Do Santa's elves really make all of those toys?

    September 23, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • Damocles

      I say they do, but you have to be a true believer to really understand.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  16. C

    I love Pastor Driscoll's write up it is clear and concise and he covered every point.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • Emily

      Pastor, since when did you call yourself 'C'?

      September 23, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  17. nodummyheads

    I can't think of a single benevolent organization that uses FEAR as a primary means of motivation.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:28 am |
  18. pensimmon

    Suppose you live a good, moral life and work hard and help others, and raise a good family and try to do you best to have integrity and honesty, but you don't believe in the bible as a guide because it was written by men, not God, thousands of years ago. You feel the churches have become businesses and power brokers and you choose to have a spiritual life in your own way. Are you doomed? I think not. I think God loves every one of us, and would honor those that chose a moral life by thinking it was right, rather than waiting to be told what to do and never thinking about it.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • edweird69

      Since god doesn't exist, just continue living the way you are. You don't have to waste time thinking about what something that doesn't exist, thinks.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • Jerry

      Evidence please. Otherwise, there is no reason to assume that god is benevolent, especially given all the suffering that goes on in the world. And how come god can't even produce his own website? We should be expected to doubt him if all he can come up with is a 2000+ year old book that men obviously wrote.

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

      Pen, it doesn't matter what you think, I've been told by heavy-duty Christians. Being "good" has nothing to do with it. In fact, you can be a "Charles Manson" but if you "truly" accept Jesus (not God, but Jesus) you will have a place in Heaven. Conversely, you can be the nicest, kindest, do-gooder that walks the earth, but if you do not accept Jesus as your Savior, you're screwed. I've been told this over and over. Me thinks there are a lot of bipolar people out there!!

      September 23, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  19. edweird69

    I make sure I sin as much as I can, every day. That way, Jeebus didn't die for nothing.

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

      I like your thinking. Very amusing.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  20. Really

    Wow! The arrogance with which the second contributor speaks on topics that are speculative at best, fairy tales at worst, is stunning.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:26 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.