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.
I really wish CNN would shut this blog down. There is nothing worse than oversimplifying religious ideas and then ending the discussion. The underlying implication of this entire piece is that intelligent Christians do not believe in hell and evangelicals do... As someone who majored in Comparative Religion and Philosophy I know quite well that this entire blog generally presents a false either/or dichotomy. How about a piece explaining Alexandrian Christianity instead of running a sensationalized story about the "wife" of Jesus (Origen must, literally, be rolling in his grave)?
Why in hell would you major in a subject like that? Just to teach it to others?
"There is nothing worse than oversimplifying religious ideas and then ending the discussion."
Yes because there's so much to be gained from further refining absurd magical constructs and then continuing on to elaborate upon the imaginary consequences of these constructs.
"Well, the Southern Irish counties believed their Leprechauns ranged between 2 and 2 and 1/2 feet tall whereas the Northwestern counties accepted that they very well might reach a full 3 feet in height. Clearly, the ramifications of such a discrepancy weighs heavily on one's self-perceived ability to first recognize and then capture said Leprechauns. It's very clear that the progressive Southern counties have strayed from the historical canons of Leprechaun doctrine in order to further enable the hope of identifying and capturing a Leprechaun by one's own works. The clear record of Leprechaun gospel indicates that, given their magical powers and crafty ways, one can only catch the Leprechaun and his gold by the sheer grace of the Leprechaun."
Hell? Hell is when people kill each.
my ex-wife has shown me that hell DOES exist
you once delighted in her fiery pit...
Hell is wherever Satan is in charge.... REAL MUSLIMS & CHRISTIANS should take note as these days Satan is often preaching in their Mosques and Churches recruiting for his next hate crime. Large acts with big victims like 911 or small acts with little vctims like child molestation :) Hell is on Earth then isn't it?
The hell Christians believe in is certainly not a place where Satan is in charge. Read up on the Christian myths. I agree, though, that we can make the world an unpleasant place. That, then, is our fault, not some imaginary being's.
the devil's children brought hell on earth
" So where does this leave the philosophers, scholars, and the world's great debaters? God has made them all look foolish and has shown their wisdom to be useless nonsense. Since God in His wisdom saw to it that the world would never find Him through human wisdom, He has used our foolish preaching to save all those who believe." 1st Corithians 1:20-21...
Most of us have read the bible. No need to keep repeating it ad nauseum. Come up with something original, why doncha?
prove to me hell doesnt exist
Prove to everyone that Zeus doesn't exist. And whilst your at it... prove all the other gods haven't existed.
Prove that unicorns don't exist. Haven't seen one yet? That's not good enough of an excuse.
For that matter, prove that we don't live in the Matrix, and only experience what the machines want us to.
Why is it the Christianity can claim that God made the world in seven days, committed genocide using a massive flood, and that the world is only 6000 years old, and insist that others must prove their claims false?
How about we start by having the Christians prove their claims are true? If they could do that, then we wouldn't have all these fragmented religions. We could all belong to the one that has proven itself, through objectively verifiable means. Do that, and maybe I'll believe. Until then, Christianity is just another religion, with no proof to substantiate it. It has no claim to validity greater than a belief in Zeus, except that it is a dominant religion today. In a thousand years, who knows what people will believe?
prove to me you're not the anti-christ.
Let me pose a question – do only evil governments have prison systems, but good governments let all people roam free, regardless of their crimes?
As a matter of fact, in Norway, no matter what your crime is, even if you kill nearly 100 people in one day, you get a maximum prison sentence of 21 years. You know what else? They have one of the lowest crime rates on the planet! It also just so happens they have one of the highest rates of atheism on the planet. An intriguing correlation wouldn't you say? Seems to me the less you fear, the better you behave.
There is no such thing as evil or good, particularly for governments. There are only people wishing to govern. Those people who've attained the power to govern may be selfish or selfless, ruthless or merciful, to various degree. They may seek sustainability or not, but they all have reasons which cannot be defined as good or evil since anyone opposing them may well have a different definition.
Whether then we cordon off or kill other human animals who are a threat to our herd depends on whatever societal rules we've decided on. It appears as we progress in human enlightenment that we are headed for not killing them. As time goes on fewer governments accept the death penalty as a solution to these threats. We increasingly choose to cordon them off from society (jail), to attempt to heal them if possible. Again this isn't good versus evil since others may disagree on that definition. Its simply survival reaction to dangerous animals in our midst.
"God is far more loving, kind and patient with his enemies than we are with our enemies"
I don't know. I get upset with people all the time for wronging me (such as cutting me off in traffic) but I don't torture them for all eternity. Neither do I wish to. Sounds to me like I'm much more forgiving than this so called "God." You shouldn't believe anything or act any certain way just because you are afraid of punishment. You should be ethical simply because it is right to do so.
As a side note: Why did God, according to the Hebrew Bible, kill everyone and everything of the planet, save one boat, in a great flood just because he lost his rag? (and how did trees survive if they weren't on the arc?)
I especially like how Yahweh indiscriminately killed all the innocent land animals except for a chosen few. Why did those innocent animals have to die? And why only land animals? The bible doesn't say that aquatic animals or even amphibians and microbes had to suffer the same fate.
And what did the carnivores on the ark eat? And how did they deal with all that manure? Oh – wait – religion is very good at ignoring giant, obvious piles of BS
It is easy to beat god at his pathetic torture game - stop breeding! Then god won't have any more souls to throw into hell for eternity. Game over, god! You lose! Of course, the probability that this could be pulled off by all humans all at once is next to nothing, especially since the dumber of our species tend to breed the most. A more likely scenario would be if a large asteroid or a gamma ray burst hits earth. Even if this never happens, it is safe to assume that our sun will eventually die (in hundreds of millions of years at least, but nevertheless inevitable). What about your "god" then, religious retards? "god" won't have anyone left to play with! Boo hoo!
edweird69 – But, we're all going to end up non-existent, non-comprehending, and gone from every physical and astral plane in existence, right?
So what difference does it make HOW we treat each other here on earth, and what we subject each other to? If, as you have indicated, the end result is a complete absence of every life, soul, and essence of every person on earth, past, present, and future – WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE? None of us needs to concern ourselves with being kind, loving, or compassionate, because, well, the end result is the absence of all that. Your stance is that there is no inherent value to our lives here, so why bother trying? You stance, taken to it's logical extreme, advocates some sort of runaway "MadMax" society, taken to the extreme.
The end result will be 0 anyway. So who cares about what YOU think, what I think, or how either of us treats one another?
No, because we live in the here and now.
@BRepub: this is why people like you are scary to those who feel morals can only be derived from religion. You have no concept of right and wrong unless you base it on a reward/punishment system and then attribute that to a god.
Most of the people I know would return my wallet if i lost it, with the cash intact. If I had an emergency and needed someone to return my car to my house and I gave them the keys, most wouldn't steal it. We don't need religion to teach us right from wrong, in fact, most religions are now considered to be on naughty side of teaching us right from wrong. For example, whereas the bible teaches us to kill people who work on sunday, secular law now overrides that silly holdover from the Iron Age.
All religion is a fraud. If you suffer from a brand of this delusion, it is no better than any other.
The pastor should start his sentence as "my job is to tell what I believe to be the truth".
As an atheist, aka rational person, I see no need to invent magical all powerful figures that created us. Creation can be explained very easily actually. It's called the big bang which was set off by quantum fluctuations. This created equal amounts of positive energy and negative energy (adding up to zero when summed). The positive energy coalesced to form sub atomic particles which coalesced into matter, stars, and then planets. Random arrangements of of amino acids formed the first simple life forms that through evolution created man kind. This can all be proven with exact verifiable evidence, modeling. and experimentation. All of this using physics without the need for a god. Where is YOUR proof there is a god?
Where is your proof there isn't? I'm not attacking your opinion I am just curious how saying there is no proof of God existing is any different than having no proof there isn't a God.
If physics is deterministic and our creation can be traced back to the beginning of time itself, why would we need a god? Where as his part in all of this?
atheist, AKA devils son
j, AKA devil's sidekick
I'm Jesus Christ's follower, that's why my words are making every non believer of God so upset
We're not upset, just laughing our asses off.
j, so tell me, as the devil's sidekick do you get a little cape and mask to wear? do you have special hellish tights to wear when you help the devil fight goodness in the world? any special, cool weapons aside from your powerful "words that anger"?
@ J – hey, are you, like, Agent J from Men in Black? Anyhoo, you're a follower of Jesus? Why? There was no sacrifice involving Jesus. Now follow along:
Your god is infinite, omniscient, omnipotent, right? God knows all, and can do anything, right? Right.
God sends an infinitesimally small bit of himself to Earth, manifested in human form – Jesus.
This tiny bit of God is on the earth for about 30 earth years or so – no time at all really for an infinite being.
The Jesus bit "dies", is ""dead" for 3 days, then is reanimated, walks around for a bit, then scoots back to join itself – God – wherever God hangs out – which ie is presumably everywhere.
So, god knew beforehand that he would send a tiny bit of himself to earth for a tiny period of time, knowing that he would get that piece back – no risk at all.
So where is the sacrifice that you are basing your life on?
CNN went to pick up a pastor that teaches traditions based on the Church of Rome! 1st he calls Jesus God, when he contradicts himself quoting the bible text " God gave his son for humanity" so if God gave his son, how can the son be God at the same time?? 2nd he says there a hell... If there is why when God condemned Adam and Eve he said to them in Genesis, " you are dust, and to the dust you will return" not even mentioning to them that there soul was going to hell??...
The contradictions you've perceived are a result of the fact all religion is a fraud. If you suffer from a brand of this delusion, it is no better than any other.
Sadly, an incredibly high percentage of people who call themselves Christians do not live in a way that reflects the teachings of Jesus. You never see a report on all the positives local churches are doing such as donating clothes, school supplies, food, building supplies and workers etc for helping the poor or disadvantaged. Media only reports whack jobs like Westboro Baptist Church, or outspoken opinionated agenda based Christian "leaders" A misinterpreted point of view through the media hurts the perception of Christianity. Do I blame the media at all? No. I blame the "Christians" that do not live and act in a manner that shows the true love God has for everyone. No one living is without sin. Therefore in Gods eyes nobody is greater than anyone else. He loves Charles Manson no less than Billy Graham. Repent or Perish. God is LOVE.
You wish there were someone who loves you. There isn't a god.
We humans are what we are .. humans crave for attention from outside of ourselves. Blather on about god is your own way of wanting to have others 'love' you.
you don't know what jesus' teachings were either. the books you believe are his teachings were written by men 100-200 years after his death, who did not know him, and the books werereordered, translated, changed, added to and deleted for many years afterward and still to this day. there isn't even a single shred of reliable evidence the man existed, let alone what his "teachings" might have been. its a delusion. your delusion is no better than anyone else's with regard to a god his plans for you, if any.
If hell was real, we are all in hell...all humanity is in hell. Only humans have the capacity to be compassionate and cruel.
How's the praying the gay away day going? Still getting those thoughts?
I think the problem with the first article is that it assumes a person (or God) cannot be both just and merciful, as if these two things are opposite. But that is not true. I think we all recognize the importance of forgiveness AND justice. Consider all of the people on this entire planet for all of time who have ever been wronged – murdered, molested, gossiped about, cheated on, tortured, wrongfully punished, left to starve. Would it be RIGHT for God to not care about the pain they have suffered? For God to look at Hitler and say, "What you did was not so bad, because I am a nice God, and I don't judge." Would that suit your sense of goodness? No! We all know instinctively that a loving God could not and would not simply excuse the deplorable things we do to each other as meaningless. God hates that we have all hurt ourselves and each other on a regular basis, and that is not cruel and wrong – we know instinctively it's right to hate that. At the same time, God loves us so much that he sent Jesus to pay the punishment for all of the times we have hurt others. Because he is merciful. Just because God acknowledges that wrong things are wrong and desires justice for the victims over those wrongs does not preclude him from also loving the wrong-doers and offering them a way out. It's like he is saying you DO deserve to go to prison, because it is RIGHT for bad things to be punished as bad things, BUT I will go to prison in your place if you let me. That's both just and merciful, and that is what love looks like.
KJC, this whole premise of Christianity that the death of the son of god would have been any kind of "sacrifice" and was required to deal with "sin" is utter nonsense. This is a supposed omnipotent being that we are discussing. Christians, think this through a bit: how come your 'omnipotent' creature couldn't do all that supposed saving without the loony son sacrifice bit? And for that matter, how was it a sacrifice at all, when an omnipotent being could just pop up a replacement son any time it wants with less than a snap of its fingers? Pretty feeble god it is that you've made for yourself there. Give that some thought and maybe it will help you leave your delusions behind. You will remain a laughingstock otherwise, and the more you dwell in your silly delusion and ancient myths, instead of keeping up with advances in medicine and technology, the more America slips downward relative to the rest of the world in science and other fields.
Jesus died hanging on a tree, which disqualifies him as the Messiah, so they spun this "sacrifice" theology idea as a save, but nobody has been able to explain it very logically.
Back up a little bit. Before contemplating god's brain, contemplate why he even bothered to bring us into existence when he already knew our fates. In other words, god doesn't exist.
Yup, God would have known what Adam and Eve were going to do before he even created them, right? So, why bother?
So why would a just and merciful god have created Hitler in the first place? Your god also created everything from cancer to child molestation by Roman Catholic Priests. You sure you're not really worshipping Satan?
Scripture also says that, "the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing."
Christianity is the only religion where you can do anything in life, literally anything, and still go to "heaven" if you believe in god. You're free to decide if that's good or bad.
I love the whole premise of all of you even beginning to think you can comprehend a being that created everything we see. Feeble minds at work.
Of all the people here who write nonsense, you are the exclusion, you make sense and it seems that you have educated yourself in these matters, it is refreshing.
The concept of Heaven and Hell is something physical and relates to this life.
The world of God or kingdoms of God is Spiritual and beyond this life
Heaven and hell is nearness to God, and obedience to the laws of God and not a physical space in the other life.
People have a tendencies to humanize God and bring writings in the holy books to human standard.
As humans we always do things ( pray, obey, ...) out of fear of punishment or hope for a reward. Hardly anything is done out of love for God or fellow human beings without expectation.
I believe that neither killing a fellow human being by Muslim, nor condemning and judging other people belief by christians will bring salvation or paradise to either group. It rather creates Hell on earth.
Is Hell real? I dunno. Is the moon made of green cheese? Is the earth flat? Do witches exist? Are people incredibly dense?
All "no's" except for the last one.
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.