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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. LB

    HELL is an illusion created by the human mind as well as hate, fear, punishment, sin… these is what the bible teaches, to control masses as many as other structures. We are created in the image of God. The God Self is our higher self. In order for us to relate to God, there has to be within each of us already a self concept which fits into God because it is in its shape or pattern, an incarnation of God’s inner nature. We cannot escape from God anywhere because we carry the divine essence within us.

    Lucifer became the opposition of God and was called Satan which means opposition and accuser. Satan represents Doubt. God did not want Adam and Eve to eat of the Tree of Good and Evil. It was Satan, the most intelligent created being, who stood up against God’s word by claiming it to be enforced ignorance. Satan tells mankind to search for knowledge, even in forbidden places.

    Just ask your self one question, How many religions exist on planet earth? How many do exist in heaven?
    Doesnt that tell you something? Follow your instict and see the truth!

    September 23, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  2. mccgeno

    Of course there's a hell. If there's a Jesus, and a Santa Claus, there must be a hell.

    September 23, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
  3. sqeptiq

    If you know anything about Seattle, you know that Mars Hill is the center of the local christian taliban and Driscoll is the chief mullah.

    September 23, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
  4. End Religion

    Abandoning hell is another great move on the route to getting rid of all religion as it attempts to "modernize". I applaud abandoning the idea. Next up: abandon the idea of god.

    September 23, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
  5. Dr. Rick Stoppe

    Is it significant that the pastor advocating a real hell has a church named after a hill mentioned in the New Testament that honors Mars, the Roman god of war?

    September 23, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • Raed

      You should not mock God's Church,
      you are not smart enough to wage a war against God, and His Church

      September 23, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • truth be trolled

      "you are not smart enough to wage a war against God, and His Church"

      I think I smell a disgruntled ex Evangelical Fortune Cookie Co. "writer".

      September 23, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • truth be trolled

      (Raed that is . . .)

      September 23, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • Real Deal

      Raed,

      The thing is - it's not "God's" Church. It is 100% Man's Church. ALL of them are.

      September 23, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  6. JonJ

    What a silly article. The idea of Hell is arbitrary. First off, a loving god would not create a place such as hell. Second, "eternal punishment" is pointless. Isn't punishment supposed to teach a lesson or modify behaviour? How is eternally punishing someone doing any good for anyone? Do billions of people just burn forever? What's the point? Thirdly, how can a god who is "just" have only one punishment in the afterlife? This implies that a serial killer/rapist would get the same punishment as an atheist who's only crime was not believing and was otherwise a good person. That is not "just" in the least bit.

    So there we have a few logical fallacies that show why hell does not exist. If that doesn't do it for you, how about the fact that "hell" is a complete mistranslation? The words that hell is translated from, such as "sheol, gehenna, etc." do not mean hell, or anything similar. Also consider the fact that it is a direct rip-off of the Norse Mythology of "Hel", and I think it's pretty clear that this is a silly idea and a scare tactic being used by christians for centuries to scare people into believing. And now you can sleep peacefully at night knowing it doesn't exist. You're welcome.

    September 23, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • Ron

      Thank you, JonJ, for thinking.

      September 23, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • LB

      Excellent! Your words are just logical.

      Satan said let us test God’s word, let us not mindlessly believe all that God says. But there is a portion that we should test, and a portion that we should believe. Enlightenment is the ability to look past stated truth and dogma, and Lucifer represents our search for enlightenment. He was originally created to enlighten but he has corrupted his role. Lucifer has stolen ‘God’s’ power and reveals it to us as a new truth, that your consciousness is the light of your life.

      WE are GOD. We are ONE!

      September 23, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • End Religion

      @LB: is this the beginning of your new religion, one where god is fallible and errant? Because if he's all powerful I don't see how satan would be able to "steal his power" as you say. I think its just more religious BS that you've somehow justified to live happily alongside your fairy books yet again.

      September 23, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  7. kwaku

    The Wicked Suffer in Hell
    What is the origin of the myth? “Of all classical Greek philosophers, the one who has had the greatest influence on traditional views of Hell is Plato.”—Histoire des enfers (The History of Hell), by Georges Minois, page 50.
    “From the middle of the 2nd century AD Christians who had some training in Greek philosophy began to feel the need to express their faith in its terms . . . The philosophy that suited them best was Platonism [the teachings of Plato].”—The New Encyclopædia Britannica (1988), Volume 25, page 890.
    “The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire.’ The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God.”—Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994 edition, page 270.
    What does the Bible say? “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, . . . for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.”—Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10, Revised Standard Version.
    The Hebrew word Sheol, which referred to the “abode of the dead,” is translated “hell” in some versions of the Bible. What does this passage reveal about the condition of the dead? Do they suffer in Sheol in order to atone for their errors? No, for they “know nothing.” That is why the patriarch Job, when suffering terribly because of a severe illness, begged God: “Protect me in hell [Hebrew, Sheol].” (Job 14:13; Douay-Rheims Version) What meaning would his request have had if Sheol was a place of eternal torment? Hell, in the Biblical sense, is simply the common grave of mankind, where all activity has ceased.
    Is not this definition of hell more logical and in harmony with Scripture? What crime, however horrible, could cause a God of love to torture a person endlessly? (1 John 4:8) But if hellfire is a myth, what about heaven?
    Compare these Bible verses: Psalm 146:3, 4; Acts 2:25-27; Romans 6:7, 2

    September 23, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • End Religion

      If you're comparing bible verses looking for answers, you're already in hell.

      September 23, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
  8. Dillard

    Hell is Phoenix Arizona in July, heaven is high in the Colorado Rockies.

    September 23, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • mccgeno

      Hey John Denver's back.

      September 23, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
  9. Luis Wu

    Hell, Haides, etc. came from ancient mythology. Ancient people trying to explain volcanism. All religions are just ancient mythology. Why anyone with even a little intelligence believes in any of that nonsense is beyond me.

    September 23, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
  10. dave

    Both of these guys lack a fundamental understanding of Christian theology. In the Christian tradition, hell is a place where God is completely absent for those who have chosen they don't want a relationship with him. He does not preside over it. Come on CNN.

    September 23, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • Ken

      Not scary enough to frighten people like little children, or just to frighten little children. It's really rather pathetic that Christianity needs to rely on this kind of tactic to bring people in, and even more pitiful that it manages to bring people in with it at all.

      September 23, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
  11. hokmah

    It all revolves around the law of action and reaction, merit and demerit, you can also say karma.
    Having an external god is a child step towards spirituality, however religion messes it all up.
    Faith is a good thing but a blind leading another blind will , well you know what will happen.

    September 23, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • End Religion

      @hokmah: So let's see, you're going to give us the old claptrap "my faith is the only true one" and then spout off about blind leading the blind? LOL, the village called, they want their idiot back.

      September 23, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
  12. *frank*

    "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."
    Here's another idea:
    Why don't you take your utterly baseless 'ideas',
    shove them up your ass along with your asinine threats of punishment in the scary place,
    and go fuck yourself?

    September 23, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
  13. harbinger58

    To me, it is just unbelievable that an adult really believes in this eternal torment stuff. Come on people. We have progressed further than this, haven't we? Even if you believe in religion, you can't possibly believe that eternal torment awaits you if you "sin". The concept of sin is so subjective that Jews and Muslims would have you believe that eating pork would send you to eternal torment. Anyone who believes this is an ignorant child and it is really not worthy of intelligent debate.

    September 23, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • Ken

      It's just a holdover from the Greek idea of Hades, where people who disobeyed the gods were subjected to ironic punishments. The early Jewish Christians wouldn't have bought this load at all.

      September 23, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
  14. HeavenSent

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8fheDIG_RA&w=640&h=390]

    September 23, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
  15. llɐq ʎʞɔnq

    In ancient Hebrew culture they took the idea of "Sheol", which was simply an underground "pit" or region where dead people went, similar the the Greek "Hades". and fused it with the location of Gehenna. There was no fire in Sheol. In ancient Jerusalem, outside the wall, there was a constantly burning trash heap, called Gehenna, which originally was a place where Israelites and other worshipers of Baal,and other gods,sacrificed their children. The siting is uncertain, as the actual location of the city walls is still controversial. So hell developed over a long period of time, and changed a lot. Humans used to think of it as the hot interior of the Earth. Now we know that is ridiculous. Hell is slowly going out of style, in the culture of religionists.

    September 23, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
  16. Ken

    Isn't the pro-Hell guy's basic argument "Believe in Hell, of suffer the consequences"? Step over whomever you need to, and embrace hate for everyone that your pastor identifies as a sinner, bow, kiss God's boots, and do whatever it takes not to end up on the tyrant's bad side?

    And people who consider themselves moral and compassionate buy this load? Amazing!

    September 23, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
  17. Mark

    9/11 was all about revenge was'nt it !

    September 23, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • Ken

      And so was Afghanistan, and on, and on ...

      An eye for an eye just makes the whole world blind, as they say.

      September 23, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
  18. j

    by reading these comments, Jesus was right by saying, the devil is the ruler of this earth

    September 23, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • Ken

      Just because someone disagrees with you they must be evil? You don't see the failure of that logic, do you?

      September 23, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • j

      not saying they're disagreeing with me, that would by ok, but what's sad is they're disagreeing with God, thw worst thing you can do as a human

      September 23, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      One can't 'disagree' with something one doesn't believe exists, j.

      September 23, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • truth be trolled

      The only kind of "trickle down" that actually works:

      Little ho mophobic troll idiot degenerates to:
      "truth be told" – degenerates to:
      "just sayin" – degenerates to:
      "captain america" – degenerates to:
      "Ronald Regonzo" – degenerates to:
      "WOW" – degenerates to:
      "!" – degnerates to:
      "j" – and many other names, but it's still the same disgruntled ex
      Evangelical Fortune Cookie "writer".

      September 23, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • j

      what do you believe Tom Tom ?

      September 23, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      My beliefs are none of your business.

      September 23, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      But since you ask, I believe you're a troll who never made it through college, works in a dead-end job, and clings to belief because he doesn't have anything else.

      September 23, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  19. R Burns

    Luke 12:4-5: ". . .I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell." 2 Thessalonians 1:9: "They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might " Whether you acknowledge it or not, our current state of being includes the spiritual companionship of God! Even "having a hunch" is a connection to our help and redeemer, and many experience much more than that, having accepted the Spirit. Luke 6:35: "he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil". We only THINK many others are going to hell, but consider Matthew 5:19-20: "Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and
    teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven" clearly does not indicate that all sinners will be sent to hell! Matthew 12:31" And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven" If we push away the core of our inspiration we condemn ourselves to darkness and separation from God, in a place that will be destroyed and those who are cast there along with it.

    September 23, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
  20. Dan

    HOW CAN A SPIRIT SUFFER IS AN IMPORTANT QUESTION? MENTAL SUFFERING SUCH AS THROUGH EMPATHY AND DEPRESSION CAN OCCUR AS CAN A SPIRITUAL SATISFACTION OF KNOWING THAT YOUR GOOD WORKS AND DEEDS WILL LIVE ON IN THE HEARTS AND MINDS OF THOSE YOU LEAVE BEHIND. ISN'T THAT WHY AT FUNERALS WE PRAISE A PERSON FOR THEIR GOOD WORKS SO THAT WE WILL HAVE A GOOD "ETERNAL" MEMORY OF THEM FOR GENERATIONS TO COME? NONE OF US KNOWS WHAT DEATH HAS IN STORE....WE HAVE BILLIONS OF PEOPLE WHO RESPECT THE WORD OF A "PROPHET" AS THE WORD OF GOD, SO WE TRULY DO NOT KNOW EVEN IF THERE IS A GOD. THAT IS A BELIEF NOT A FACT. THE BEST THAT WE CAN DO ON THIS EARTH WHILE WE ARE ALIVE IS TO LEAD A GOOD ENOUGH LIFE THAT WE ARE REMEMBERED FONDLY BY THOSE WE HAVE TOUCHED....IF WE DO THAT, THE AFTERLIFE WILL TAKE CARE OF ITSELF REGARDLESS OF YOUR BELIEF.....EVEN JESUS SAID THAT YOU WILL BE LIKE HIM IF YOU DO GOOD WORKS...IN OTHER WORDS YOUR GOOD ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN YOUR WORDS ABOUT GOD.

    September 23, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • llɐq ʎʞɔnq

      Turn off the caps-lock idiot. Why are you shouting ?

      September 23, 2012 at 1:33 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.