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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. G. Zeus Kreiszchte

    "god" is undeniably a sadist b@stard! It is not enough for "him" to provide us with the promise of eternal, fiery torture if we don't obey "his" rules, but we also have to endure random torture and annoyance while alive on earth. Poverty, war, disease, stupid people, politicians, stupid people, too many teeth to fit on our jawbones, facial and body hair on women. "god" fvkked up and then turns around and places the blame on "his" "creation." What an @$$h0le!

    September 23, 2012 at 11:22 am |
  2. Mai

    Why is someone preaching Christian doctrines on CNN? CNN is a place for news! How did this article get accepted....?

    September 23, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • ug

      cnn a place for news? are you crazy! they lie like all lib media freaks do...and they do it from heII!

      September 23, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Then why don't you smarten up and leave, ugly?

      September 23, 2012 at 11:28 am |
  3. ug

    Hell is where all moslems go to and belong in.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:22 am |
  4. TvNyC

    Whoever doesnt believe in Jesus will go to hell very soon. Less than three months infact.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Delusional is thy name

      September 23, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  5. Rod C. Venger

    How sad for Schaffer. His argument against Hell isn't that is does not exist, but that believing in it is divisive. He refers to Islam and Christianity both a "retributive religions" and asks, "Who needs it"? That both religions have done some barbarous things in the name of God is beyond question. But, does that invalidate God? No. God says there IS a hell, so whether you don't believe that, don't want that, or don't "need it", it's there.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:21 am |
  6. froSTed

    Hell is a human construct, designed to keep the sheep in line.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • ug

      Then you will be going there fool.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      ug, you go sit in the dunce corner along with j.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • Engineer

      If you can't get a date, get a sheep.

      If you can't get a sheep, get a nurse.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  7. Name*raed

    Mark is saying the truth,
    I believe in the truth

    September 23, 2012 at 11:21 am |
  8. Jimjones11111

    It is unfortunate that delusional nut jobs are constantly seeking elected office and that educated people actually vote for them.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:20 am |
  9. treblemaker

    The problem with scaring people into the arms of Christianity is that it plays upon human fears, which is not what God wants, because an unhealthy fear of God plays right into the devil's hands. He wants you to love Him, and obey His commandments because you love Him. That is why he sent his only begotten Son, because He realized His people were losing their way on Earth (the devil's playground), and were needed to show the right way back home by the Savior Himself. This pastor does not seem to believe in a human being's right to free will choice. When it is time for a person's spirit to stand before God and account for his or her time on Earth, the heart will be judged because all actions emanate from there. And sitting beside God will be the Messiah, His Son, who will either intercede on your behalf or not, whether you followed HIs Way back home, or whether your free will choice led you on your own path, and not His. If there was only one true Way back home as the Messiah showed us, there would be no denominations. Even the eternal message has been screwed up along the way by human beings, who once again by their actions confirm the saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • truth be trolled

      Avoid Bible warts. Stay away from the shift key.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:26 am |
  10. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    All religions are false. They are a control mechanism. The concept of Hell was invented to intimidate people into accepting religious doctrine and supporting a profit making religious infrastructure. It's nothing short of spiritual blackmail.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • ug

      Prove it.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things", but your assertions regarding atheism and prayer are unfounded. The degree to which your assertions may represent correct statements is 0.0. To help you understand the degree to which your assertions may represent correct statements, I will access my Idiomatic Expression Equivalency module (IEE). Using my IEE module, the expression that best matches the degree to which your assertions may represent correct statements is: "TOTAL FAIL".

      I see that you repeat these unfounded statements with high frequency. Perhaps the following book might help you overcome this problem:

      I'm Told I Have Dementia: What You Can Do... Who You Can Turn to......
      by the Alzheimer's Disease Society

      September 23, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  11. Oh boy

    I am supposed to believe in hell based on faith? Ya right.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:20 am |
  12. deep blue

    If those who do not find Jesus burn in hell, I would gladly burn beside Gandhi, beside the Dolly Lama, and beside the many other wonderful people who have committed their lives to committing good works to improve the lives of their fellow man. I can not possibly do enough in this life to justify to myself that I deserve salvation while they eternally suffer.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

      That's deep.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:34 am |
  13. Brad

    Let's be clear - this article is not about Americans, as it claims to be. It's about American monotheists.

    The #1 unspoken problem in world politics is that it's dominated by the three biggest factions of monotheistic religion. Christian, Muslim, Jewish - they all practice and preach essentially the exact same thing (one god, one holy book, one messiah, dualistic worldview, etc) and would be indistinguishable to anyone not from outside our modern epoch - but they brand themselves as different religions and then wage war on one another. Utterly, utterly crazy.

    So as to the question "should we still believe in hell" - first, the question is wrong: WE don't believe in hell. And second, the answer is on the wall. Since monotheism broke away from polytheism (essentially trashing 10,000+ years of wisdom, ritual, and experience in the name of an aggressive, zealous, male-driven cult that has little to no understanding of its own origins), more carnage has been reaped in the name of "religion" (and its opposite, atheism) than in all other historical wars combined. So if you want to end the hell-on-earth we have created... do a thorough examination of ALL world religions and spiritual traditions, and decide for yourself which ones embody wisdom, compassion, and a healthy approach to being a human being on Earth - and which ones are TOTALLY INSANE.

    (To everyone who thinks polytheism rejects the idea of One God: you're ignorant. Go do some research.)

    (To everyone who's offended by all of this: nothing personal, but you've been conditioned since birth.)

    (To anyone who thinks the "big three" should just learn to get along: it's not possible. The salient feature of the misguided monotheistic religion is that it was formed by the REJECTION of all other gods. Our problems today won't end until we collectively grow up and realize that there are as many paths to "god" (whatever that means to you) as there are people.)

    End Monotheism!!

    September 23, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

      Brad, the same? Hardly and a big gNOT to you.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:36 am |
  14. shiststone

    It's one thing to study mythology for life lessons in courage, love and forgiveness. It's quite another to actually believe that the figures of mythology actually exist and intervene in our lives...........that's delusional.
    Me and every atheist that I know has more morality than any "christian" I've ever known........because we've actually questioned, examined, reflected and came to a conclusion about what we believe and are courageous enough to voice and live by those beliefs. Most of the so called christians that I have met have never actually done this. They have never honestly examined the "program" that was drilled into them from birth..........they've never been given a chance and are now afraid to do so for fear of offending their relatives, friends or losing a business opportunity.
    I do believe the human race is waking up and more and more people are breaking the chains of religion. The sooner the better!

    September 23, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  15. Fred

    Mark Hill is just another Christian who doesn't like his life so he needs another. This life is enough for me thanks, and a god that could create a hell is actually the only one who belongs there.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  16. alien

    There is a hell its called the republican party, ran by the devil himself

    September 23, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  17. Arvoasitis

    Anyone who has seen even an animal in torment understands that eternal torment is eternal evil; therefore, a God that sanctions eternal torment must be infinitely evil. That is not my concept of God.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  18. meg

    To Greg – I would counter that hell is not a "perpetual sleep" ... Sounds pretty blissful in this hectic world we live in! - But a place of perpetual torment ~ with knowledge that by our own free will, we have turned our backs on the truth of God , while here on Earth. The bible speaks more often of hell, then it does of heaven ~ The greatest lie put forth by this present world is that hell doesn't exist.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • Peter North

      No, Meg – the greatest lie the world has ever been told is, "I won't j!zz in your mouth – I promise!"

      September 23, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • Arvoasitis

      Where were you for the eternity before you were conceived? Might it be the same place you will be for the eternity after you die?

      September 23, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • Yes Seriously!

      Well said, Meg! Excellent comment, God Bless you.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:29 am |
  19. doughnuts

    Is Hell real?

    Short answer: No.

    Long answer: Noooooooooooooooooooooooooo.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  20. halfbakedlunatic

    'god' is an idiotic idea promoted by immoral people to control and pacify the weak minded. The rest of the fairy tales that go along with it are just plain stooopid.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:17 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.