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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. Mick

    The sole source of Driscoll's ideas on Hell is a book that contains a story of a talking donkey.

    September 23, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
  2. Patines

    What a rational thinking is this, a loving father brings his children to the world to suffer and if you don't get satisfied with the suffering while you are here you'll be condemned to an eternal suffering in hell, another place created by him. Why were my rights to exercise my own will denied?

    September 23, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • Stephen Kranz

      Who brought you here? Did God the Father bring you here? Did your parents have anything to do with it? Do you blame God the Father for bringing you into a world full of suffering? Do you make others suffer? Do you let others cause people to suffer? Does Jesus cause you to let others suffer, or make people cause others to suffer? The kingdom of God is within you, and for the true believer in Jesus Christ we acknowledge that hell is within us also, a mystery held hidden until this day. Why choose death over Life? Why choose anger, ego, greed over love sharing and kindness. God is within you, stolen away by satan, and it's the God within you who condemns you. You condemn yourself. It is enough.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  3. G. Zeus Kreiszchte

    Now that Jeezus has been shown to have had a wife, that means folks like Martin Scorsese (Last Temptation of Jeebus) and Dan Brown (Da Vinci Code) are freakin' Prophets! They accurately predicted this! They must have been sent from GAWD! Follow the gourd! Follow the gourd!

    September 23, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • Stephen Kranz

      Jesus the Lord never had a wife. These lies are put forth to deceive. Besides, is there some perverted cause to not believe here? Do you have a wife? Do you want a wife? While the Lord Jesus does not, nor has ever, do you wish to say this to keep those from believing? What's the rationalization? Should we therefore not believe you because you have a wife also?

      September 23, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
  4. securemycloud

    don't know about you guys, but the Torah text is all screwed up; this is why this dude has an opposing opinion. So with that, all I have to say is: You better hope you're right...None of us know if there is a Hell or Heaven for sure. I'm not willing to gamble there isn't because I wasn't here when The Universe began; I simply do not have any knowledge of this, even by considering theories of the Big Bang, etc.

    What I am saying is, Nothing can create Something. There has to be a Something to create all this. And for me to simply say "There is no Hell" is like saying "There is no 4th dimension"..funny how I compared religion to science! But both statements cannot be either proven true or false. Hell could very well be another dimension we haven't seen or touched yet because of our current physical restrictions. Our DNA is considered 'our soul', but whether this 'soul' can switch to another dimension after death is a big question. The bigger question should be, "Is there a God?" heh

    September 23, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      If there is a hell than the god that created it is a sick sadist that would not deserve worship even if he did exist.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • Stephen Kranz

      hell is within you. The Kingdom of God is also within you. You have knowledge of both, and it is the knowledge that is. hell is fear, loathing, ego, a perverted self image, greed, and especially ignorance and want. These are all within you, these are the substance of hell. The Kingdom of God is Love, Grace, Truth – these are also within you. Permanent hell is choosing the hell within you over the Kingdom of God within you. When you choose those things which are the substance of hell here in this life, you choose them for exclusive permanence when you time for decision is up, you know not when.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • Stephen Kranz

      God the Father did not nor does create hell. God the Father created an Angel who betrayed Him. The angel who betrayed Him has stolen away from the Father. You belong to God the Father, and satan has spirited you away, while knowledge of both God the Father and he are within you. You create your own hell, you make the choice between the two. You decide to be selfish or sanctified, here now, and you are afforded more than ample time to make that decision. Do you listen to satan, or do you listen to God? A deceiving, lying cheat – violent or not – will not be allowed to continue in liberty eternally. You decide to follow the lying cheat or the Truth, and it is you who provide your end. God the Father gave us His Son for this very reason, as a testimony to envy and hypocrisy. When you choose Jesus the Lord, you choose His proven righteousness, you choose His saving grace and purity of heart. Justice and righteous are a part of the perfection of Life, and those who set themselves against it reap what they choose to sow. It is enough.

      September 23, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
  5. securemycloud

    I don't know about you guys, but the Torah text is all screwed up; this is why this dude has an opposing opinion. So with that, all I have to say is: You better hope you're right...None of us know if there is a Hell or Heaven for sure. I'm not willing to gamble there isn't because I wasn't here when The Universe began; I simply do not have any knowledge of this, even by considering theories of the Big Bang, etc.

    What I am saying is, Nothing can create Something. There has to be a Something to create all this. And for me to simply say "There is no Hell" is like saying "There is no 4th dimension"..funny how I compared religion to science! But both statements cannot be either proven true or false. Hell could very well be another dimension we haven't seen or touched yet because of our current physical restrictions. Our DNA is considered 'our soul', but whether this 'soul' can switch to another dimension after death is a big question. The bigger question should be, "Is there a God?" heh

    September 23, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • tony

      Start over. Nothing has been shown or yet been noticed to upset the laws of physics for the last 13.2 Billion years.

      If you want a god analogy. God clipped his fingernails. Thatwas the big bang. Our Universe is one fingernail spinning slowly down to the ground and eventual oblivion.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      A better question would be, "Is there any actual reason to believe in the transmogrification of a 'soul' aside from ancient folklore?"

      September 23, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  6. jemzinthekop

    September 23, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
  7. If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

    We all know purpose of hell, to scare you into heaven .. but what is heaven for? Let's say you get in, now what? What's the purpose, the goal, to what end do we spend eternity in worshipful bliss, what's the point in that?

    September 23, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • tony

      And without your IRA, stocks and tax avoided assets.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
  8. save the world and slap some sense into a christard today!

    The Bible Jews & Christians – Lewis Black . .
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=seuCWDSi8WQ&w=640&h=390]

    September 23, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
  9. Say it ain't so

    It's so funny to see these tossers get upset at the mere mention of a belief in God (which I do believe in). Yet it's these same morons that want war & more often show their contempt for anything peaceful & positive. I'm much happier believing in God & his son Jesus Christ & doing the best i can with the tools i've been given than be bitter with someone's belief, knocking them down, ridiculing & what not. That just shows a lack of character & poor personality, quite sad really & speaks volumes for what you stand for which is nothing.

    September 23, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • John the Baptist

      Thinking about winning the lottery gives me hope and strenth but deep down I know it's not going to happen. Thinking this way will make me careless about spending money. Nobody is against religion until you religious people use it as an excuse to kill foreigners in wars. You also brainwash your children before they are smart enough to make their own decision. The WestBoro Baptist people are a good reason not to choose religion.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • tony

      Better to stand for understanding that there is nothing, than blindly worship it and let it corrupt your own conscience

      September 23, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      You assume that those who don't believe in Jesus, must believe in nothing at all. Really great circular logic you have there. Surely you can see what a poor assumption that is to make.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  10. tukker

    Mr. Driscoll is wrong. There is a third option. If the question is irrelevant I have no obligation to consider a reply.

    September 23, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  11. zeigfeldf

    Hell is about as real as the boogie man. BOO!! Heh.

    September 23, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  12. tony

    Hell in an afterlife matters only to fools. Hell created here on Earth matters to the sane amongst us.

    We MUST educate all children everywhere to reject all religious teachings and save the World. The Internet may be our only hope.

    September 23, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  13. Mick

    "God is far more loving, kind and patient with his enemies than we are with our enemies."
    Gee, I don't know, last I checked, I never tormented anyone with "fire and sulfur" for eternity.

    September 23, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  14. Reality

    Almost every Sunday morning, the on-line version of CNN Headline News will highlight a religion story apparently to increase the number of hits (and ad money) on their Belief blog. This morning, the "highlight" is hell. The hits have increased from about 50 to about 1500 in less than 12 hours.

    And for those new readers:

    Only for new members of this blog:

    In the video, the speaker notes that there is no mention of hell in the Old Testament. Now turning to a new version of the Old Testament/Torah, Abraham and Moses also were not really there either since both were apparently invented by the Jewish scribes.

    To wit:

    origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482 NY Times review and important enough to reiterate.

    New Torah For Modern Minds

    “Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. (prob•a•bly
    Adverb: Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell).

    The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

    Such startling propositions – the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years – have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity – until now.

    The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument.

    The notion that the Bible is not literally true "is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis," observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to "Etz Hayim." But some congregants, he said, "may not like the stark airing of it." Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that "virtually every modern archaeologist" agrees "that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all." The rabbi offered what he called a "LITANY OF DISILLUSION”' about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he said, archaeologists digging in the Sinai have "found no trace of the tribes of Israel – not one shard of pottery."

    September 23, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  15. truth be trolled

    Check this out . . .

    List of atheists in science and technology (natural scientists):

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_atheists_in_science_and_technology

    (The number of Nobel laureates is astounding.)

    List (social sciences):

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_nontheists_(miscellaneous)#Social_sciences

    September 23, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  16. HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

    I think the holohoax was made up by evil democrats.

    September 23, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You're such a moron.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

      Stolen name. It was only a matter of time.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

      The real Mud is outta here. BYE BYE Flattery by enemies--not good.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
  17. Dave Harrris

    I would ask Pastor Driscoll, "And you know all this how?" Simply stating something as though it were a self-evident fact doesn't make it so, no matter what you think your Holy Book says. The desire of Christians and Muslims to see non-believers suffer eternal torment for all eternity would be considered psychopathic if it weren't cloaked in traditional religiosity. What evidence is there for a God who rewards narrow-minded, ignorant haters while punishing people who are better than them? If that's really the way the universe works, let me off now.

    September 23, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
  18. 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, 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 12:01 pm |
    • jemzinthekop

      Well Said

      September 23, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • 3vix6

      AMEN, RaMEN, or whatever. Loved it.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • j

      God made hell for atheists !!

      September 23, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • truth be trolled

      aww – truth be told / just sayin / WOW / captain america /etc. etc. has been reduced to just a "j".. too bad.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  19. HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

    I married my sister cuz I'm an inbred southern person. My opinions is valids. Praise him.

    September 23, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
  20. 3vix6

    Sure we should abandon the idea of hell... Just like we should abandon the belief that Jesus Christ and all other man made gods existed.

    September 23, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
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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.