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.
Why abandon an idea of hell? Syria is fitting the bill quite nicely these days. As did Chernobyl and the Niger Delta after Chevron tore it apart for its oil. Why are we debating something no one has ever seen or gone to, when 40,000 children are dying every day for lack of food in Africa? I hear death by starvation is a horrible way to die. Just think of how much more senseless it must be for an infant or child. I believe in Hell and Purgatory, and I think they exist on a planet called Earth... fittingly, largely due to our own choices.
Of course, one must understand reincarnation to understand how this cosmology works, let alone believe in it... but I am not the only one espousing this philosophy. As for the mystical Land of Hell that sinners of this or that religion go to for all eternity when they die, no, I don't believe in it.
Right Hell on Earth Heaven in your Heart Find it.
All you fukkers who don't believe in me are gonna get smoked come October 31st this year – I've had it up to my stem with the unbelievers out there. i shall rise from the pumpkin patch and shower you with flaming pumpkin seeds and noisome pumpkin goo!!!!
BEWARE the coming of my Prophet Linus – Praise be onto his Blanket!
I will choke you with the quarter I get from the tooth fairy – lol – let's keep this in fairyland
Yeah, and then a week later the Republicans are going to get put down too. Great time of this year. Get out and vote.
i was brought up in a christian home with hell being taught..as i have gotten older I have thought how could a God being a Good god send so many to hell and so few to heaven..i even considered that jeasus came and died for you regardless if you excepted him or not.I thought if you except him then you did something unto yourself.and if its by grace then exceptance would not work.cause like i said you did it.anyways no hell sounds great.But its simply not the truth even though we all wish it was.God lets us all make decisions.And in the future we will still all get to make decisions.And he wants those in the second life to be the people who make decisions based on the first life.not those that think hell is not real and we can just kill steal and destroy today.
James, it looks like you've been doing some thinking – that's good. Now, keep on thinking, and using your noodle, and eventually you will be able to think your way free of god entirely.
If you actually believe the word of the bible, then the only people allowed into heaven are 144,000 people who are descended from the tribes that followed Moses. If the rapture happened today, only .0001345% os people who have ever lived would be allowed in. Liking your odds now?
Is Hell real?
Is the loch ness monster real?
Is big foot real?
Are there aliens on Jupiter?
These questions are the same class. If there is no evidence for something. You could say "I don't really know". But the default answer "No" makes more sense.
BTW, if you are dead, why would you prefer the Heaven jail over the Hell jail.
Is it the streets of gold? Or do you really look forward to worshiping some ass for eternity.
Also, how does the magical body after death work? Are you thoughts transferred from your brain neurons wirelessly? Is there a range limit? what if your head is blown up, or you fall into a volcano? Are your thoughts backed up?
Do people in Hell jail get new body's too, or only people in the Heaven jail? If no body in the hell jail, how do they torture you? In the Matrix? If a body... what is the point here? To teach people a lesson, so that in the next eternity, you will just be a Yes Man to to all strange beliefs to avoid the torture punishment for logical thinking?
There's a long list of people you can expect to see in hell if different world religions - Christianity, Catholicism, Islam, etc. - are true here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008N06VRK The book is called A Crisis of Faith.
That grass doesn't smell like real grass.
As an atheist I prefer to live in this world and not some imaginary one that I can only experience when I'm dead (conveniently). That doesn't mean I don't have morality, because as a human being with emotions I also have empathy for my fellow creatures on this planet. And I know and understand that anything I do that potentially causes undue pain (physical or emotional) to someone else is wrong. I don't need a book to tell me so. Empathy is the key to morality, not myths about devils and angels. For me, arguments over different religions sound like schoolchildren fighting over whether the Hulk can beat up Superman.
As for hell? I think it can be right here if we allow it to be. When we let go of our rationality and our compassion for others. That is 'evil', that is 'hell.' 'Lakes of fire' and 'eternal damnations' are just fairy tales designed to scare people into good behavior. We don't need them if we genuinely feel each other's pain. We live in a harsh universe; and beyond the borders of our fragile planet we may be alone (at least in our corner of things). We owe it to ourselves to be good to each other....
"As an atheist ... "
I usually do not use this label, as it seems strange to define ones self according to what they do not believe in.
In a religious context, I just say I am "non-religious".
In other contexts, I try not to use any labels.
But if you want to know, I am a non-religious, non-golfer, non-coffee-drinker, non-smoker, non-big-foot-believer, (and former-christian...).
being Christian is not a religion, it's a relationship between God and human !!!
What is moral? What is good? How do you know? What happens when two people disagree on what is right and what is wrong? Who is indeed correct? What or who defines that standard? You? Me? Everyone? A religion? A country? Does right and wrong change? Is it constant? You're right in saying that a proverbial hell can be on earth if we abandon morality and fail to act towards others in a good way. But what is good?! Is good determined by each individual? If so, then why was Hitler so wrong? Why are other people hurt by others when often times those others feel as if they haven't done anything in the wrong? If good is relative, what is the actual definition of good and what does good look like? In order for good to be real, there must be some standard by which good or bad is measured. What is that ultimate standard?
There are many religions in this world that believe one will go to hell if he/she does NOT believe in their gods. And they all say their gods and hells are real.
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.
Hey, Eastwood – you talkin' to me?
If god is real, then he/she/it is a real cun-t
If hell exists, I'll see 99% of "Christians" there.
And this hodge-podge of sects and individuals, all believing different things ranging from feel-good love to bigoted hate, are all Christians? Talk about Man being in God's likeness is the wrong way round. God is in Man's likeness, which really weakens the case for Christianity being the only true revealed religion. In fact, Islam and Judaism have as much claim to being Christian as many Christian sects.
In all of this mess, the only constant truth is "Pass the collection plate!"
Heaven = Bribery, Hell = Scare. Do not need any of them in my direct Love with God which = Friendship. Some promise Virgins in Heaven & some try to scare you with the fire of Hell but my Direct love & friendship with God does not need Bribery & Scare. Truth is the Highest Virtue even higher is truthful living. (Guru Nanak) founder of the Sikh faith. Please comment on this post.
There are 3 types of people who "believe" and spread in religion.
1. Those in search of power
2. Those who are too afraid or seriously not yet evolved enough to understand
3. Those trying to sell you something
All the people here, as well, who tell people who don't believe that they're going to hell...have absolutely NO idea what it means to be a good christian anyway. Saying that is just a product of human nature, to put down others who don't believe what you believe...and in doing so they always show their true colors. They favor selfish behavior and putting down others instead of practicing what christianity preaches. All because they're threatened and scared of death.
Yes. And contradiction is built into Christianity, so it is natural for the Christian to frequently look at not only non-Christians, but other Christians and consider them to be "not good Christians" or "not as good a Christian as me". That contradiction also allows the Christian to argue whatever side of whatever case they want, because just about all sides of moral argument are represented in that little catch-all book of theirs.
Out of curiosity, which categories do you think Isaac Newton and Einstein fall into? They believed in God, too.
Of course hell is not real.
..Let His Word be proclaimed unto the ends of the earth. For there is only one God: Isaiah 45:5 "I am HaShem, and besides ME there is no other god".
And we all know the Bible is fact, a textbook, the absolute truth! (sarcasm)
Isaiah must have got it all screwed up. Even god knew there were other gods, or why would number one be "thou will have no OTHER gods before me". Back in the day gods were a dime a dozen, still are if you get your head out of your silly book and gain some knowledge, scary as that might be for a devout christian.
Somehow I am not buying it. :)
I'm really a man dressed as a woman. I love panty-hose! Jesus made panty-hose just for me!!
sounds like a foreigner to me, everyone knows jesus was an american.
Many believe the Bible teaches there is a cleanup fire, but not an ever-torturing one. Otherwise God is mean, and the problem of sin would go on forever. See such websites as amazingfacts.org or bibleinfo.com. There are 2 main differences between Seventh-day Adventists and other Christian beliefs. First is this viewpoint, and then their belief that the 10 Commandments are valid – even thou shalt not kill, or steal, or disobey parents, etc. An evangelical source for this is the book "The Fire that Consumes" by E.E. Fudge. God came to this earth as a non-threatening baby – to take our fear away.
Nice try, E.E., but we know Reets is you. Astroturf much?
Amen and amen!
The reason why America grew to be a power is because it was founded for the specific belief in Jesuschrist and the Word of God guided all. Jesus is Lord of Lords and King of Kings, mighty be His Kingdom Come! Let His Word be proclaimed unto the ends of the earth. For there is only one God: Isaiah 45:5 "I am HaShem, and besides ME there is no other god".
False. The founders were mainly deists.
Besides "ME" as in Maria, there is not other god???
Maria, got anything else to cite other than your holy book about itself? Otherwise, I'll cite you for circular reasoning.
but all the rest of you.....God.....yeah he doesn't love YOU......just His ELECT.......so all the rest of you just go to hell now. Thats why your loving creator made you. He saw it since the day you were born, and yet He allowed you to play it all out throughout your life, suffering all the way to hell......Jesus is an indian giver BTW.......keep that in mind if you dare make your life miserable and follow Him. Your salvation ISN'T guaranteed .......so much for hope...
The greatness was the balance of power with a triune form to keep the wickedness of men at bay. The progressives who could not see that did everything to upset that balance with all the amendments to the const itution. Now yer a banana republic.
Absolute nonsense and historically, beyond inaccurate. In fact, one of the main ideals of the Founders and thing that has helped make America great, is freedom FROM religion.
"The reason why America grew to be a power is because it was founded for the specific belief in Jesuschrist and the Word of God guided all."
you mean god blessed the US during the time of slavery, trail of tears, jim crow etc etc?
well thats good to know.
AMEN, very true statement Maria. and the reason why America is losing it's power and has all these problems today, is because America is straying away from GOD, we the people need to turn back to God !!
Oh, what a crock of manure. People like j, who have no education and even less sense, are dragging this country back into the Dark Ages. Grow up, you ninnies. Go to school. Educate yourselves and stop being stupid.
@ Tom Tom
why you saying, I don't have an education ?
Gee, I don't know. Maybe because you can't figure out how to spell, don't know that "more clearer" is incorrect, haven't got a clue as to the history of the US Con st itution or the founding fathers' beliefs, and lack any cogent argument.
Other than that, no reason.
I get my education from Jesus Christ !!
"AMEN, very true statement Maria. and the reason why America is losing it's power and has all these problems today, is because America is straying away from GOD, we the people need to turn back to God !!"
so god didnt have a problem with the US during slavery, jim crow etc but is only now having trouble because its turning from god?
Then JC is a really lousy teacher, j, and you're dumb as a post for not availing yourself of the free public education that is the right of every citizen. You do a far greater disservice to the US than an educated atheist by remaining ignorant of even the most basic understanding of science, technology, language and art. You and people like you are a disgrace in a first-world nation.
science and most education is the devils way to deceive many peolpe in believing that there is no God, looks like you Tom also fall in that category.
BEK Teledo -- what are you going to do when they find artifacts from intelligent life on Mars.... I don't think the beings that once lived there are the exact image of us... GOD is dead.
Hell is for Republicans.
Yeah and sadly, they are trying to take the rest of us there.
ALL politicians have succeeded in taking us there
Hell is for People that live in SIN !!
You'll never believe in heaven or hell if you don't believe in God. If you believe in God, you may not believe in heaven or hell anyway. If you manage to be one who believes in God, the next question is whether you believe in Jesus and whether you believe he did the things written about him. And even if you believe Jesus did those miracles, you may not believe in his resurrection. It's only when you get to the point of believing that Jesus is the Son of God, died for the sins of the world and rose from the dead can you ever possibly believe in heaven and hell.
To be blunt, you've got a long way to go from being an atheist to believing in heaven and hell. That is why Jesus said that very few will be saved.
If Jesus said very few would be saved (where exactly is that quote? I though that with is sacrifice on the cross, ALL would be saved) then I sure as heck wouldn't want to believe in such a hateful god.
Jesus said "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. " – Luke 13:24. Sound like few to me.
Wow, stayin' you really need to be tortured by your Jesus don't you? You need him to refuse as many people as possible so your a big fish in little pond. You can keep your hateful Jesus...and your made up Bible.
If you don't believe in something, does it exist?
Also, Jesus said "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." – Mark 16:16. Does that sound like ALL will be saved? I really have no idea where you come to the conclusion that all will be saved. Have you even read the New Testament?
"truth will out": If you don't believe in something, it doesn't exist for you. Even if it does exists, you are fully capable of being delusional and denying its existence. Remember the film "The Matrix"?
Actually stayin' Jesus did not say that anyone would be condemned. I'm not even a christian (thank gods!) but you need to get the original translation of the KJV. You're just some crazy, hateful git that needs people to burn, so you're lovin' this article aren't you? Now go back to your candle lit room and chant your crazy litany in Latin and leave the rest of us to our nice Sunday.
It's true, I am insane. Actually I'm writing this from my psychiatric ward. It's my turn on the computer, but it's hard to type when I have my hands tied with a leather strap to my neck...so my face is really close to the keyboard. For what I've gone through in life, I want everyone to burn in hell, so I love the idea that Jesus hates everyone. He didn't come to save anyone because he didn't save me. He's a God that is filled with hatred! Burn, Burn, BURN!!!!!
How do you know that the Bible is the word of God and not just the word of some dudes who were bored and wanted to write a book? I can't understand why people would base their lives on an old book that anyone could have written.
@gonewiththewind: You're right, the word in the KJV is "damned" instead of "condemned" as is written in the NIV. That makes it even worse. The Greek word "katakrithēsetai" does indeed mean "condemned".
@Number4: There were many prophecies written down centuries before they came to fulfillment. Perhaps the biggest of these is Isaiah 53 which is the most explicit description of Jesus. There are many others. If none of the Old Testament prophecies were ever fulfilled, yes I would dump the Bible and consider it man-written. But it accurately tells its prophecies that there is almost no room for various interpretations.
Furthermore, Jesus himself made one very blunt prophecy that was fulfilled. He said the Temple would be utterly destroyed and not a stone left on it. That was fulfilled about 40 years later. If that had happened maybe hundreds of years later, one could argue that it was inevitable. But 40 years later??
"Perhaps the biggest of these is Isaiah 53 which is the most explicit description of Jesus."
except Isaiah is not prophetic, its mostly past tense, suggesting things already taken place.
Easy answer to the headline. "No"
Yes, the EASY answer is "No", which is what christians do all the time. Take the easy answer that does not require any thought. Don't understand why something happened? Take the easy answer and say god wanted it that way. Don't understand how things work? Don't look to science, but to god and say because god made it that way. Christians should stop taking the easy answer to things and look to them with some critical thought...
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.