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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. hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

    911 Operator: 9-1-1
    Caller: Please help my Mohammad
    Operator: what is his emergency?
    Caller: He is burning, I smell his burning flesh. Please help.
    Operator: What is the address? I am sending ambulance Sir!
    Caller: Ummm I don't know the address of HELL, but he is in some place called HELL, please send help.
    Operator: stop making prank calls Mohammad.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
    • callywag

      Moderator, this guy is a terrorist. I'm reporting him on behalf of the Patriot Act.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
    • greg

      lol!! well done...

      September 23, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
  2. CT24

    Frank Schaeffer’s take appears bizarre. Surely he has better arguments than (1) to demonize “conservative” believers by aligning them with reactionaries, (2) to adjudge strongly held religious belief as a predominant source of violence – in apparent dismissal of the tens of millions killed by atheistic Communism, or even greater numbers killed in immoral wars of conquest, ethnic cleansing or state failure, (3) to characterize retributive views of God’s nature as predominant in the U.S. or in U.S. policy, and (4) to assert that “believers in hell believe in revenge” without bothering to provide evidence for this assertion? In addition, Mr. Schaeffer fails to address the many Scriptural warnings about hell, judgment and responsibility, blithely pushing them aside as though he has authority to pick and choose the parts of Scripture that support his views, and dismiss all else as “closed-minded.” His statement, while showing preference for a kinder, gentler, and more “redemptive” emphasis in faith communities (also a strong Scriptural emphasis), uses only a “straw-man” argument against which to frame his preferred view. Whether one believes in the reality of hell or not – we expect better argument than this!

    In addition, has Mr. Schaeffer thought through the implications of his assertions? Would he have us believe in warm, fuzzy images of Deity that cannot challenge us or disturb our self-satisfaction? Would he have us speak in anger against those who take Scriptural warnings more seriously than he appears to do? Would he propose a “litmus test” of faith, a priori excluding those who believe in eternal consequence (however defined) as vengeful and potentially violent? Would not his followers, emphasizing one great truth of Scripture while rejecting another, soon develop their own ways of creating little “hells” on earth?

    September 23, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
    • CT24

      For a view more faithful to the Scriptural texts, I'd suggest Psalm 85, esp. v.10: "Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other." Also chapter 1 of the Gospel of John: "Grace and truth have come ...," and Paul's Epistle to the Romans 11, esp. v.22: "Behold then the kindness and severity of God ..." Although others may disagree, I understand these texts to mean that *all* divine virtues – "hard" truth and "forgiving" mercy, "demanding" righteousness and "refreshing" peace, "redemptive" grace and "severe" judgment – are all brought together in the Scriptural vision. Unfortunately, we – and the media perhaps more than others – tend to portray these virtues as opposites, or even as mutually exclusive. Perhaps, though, we should reflect more on what the Scriptures actually affirm, instead of imposing our preferences without taking time to study what is actually said.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
  3. Giuseppe

    Get real everyone. The only word that matters is as Aretha Franklin stated........................R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

    As it is now. NO BODY respects anyone else. It's the way it's been since the "Holy Crusades." What a joke. Religion doesn't matter. Respect does. NOW GO TO YOUR ROOM!!!!

    September 23, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
  4. truth be trolled

    Ricky Gervais – Losing Religion and Becoming An Atheist . . .
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cAfuKfmE1Tc&w=640&h=390]

    September 23, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
  5. ghostclown

    Anyone know a good website for the news?

    September 23, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
    • greg

      try CNN,Great news site,try it...

      September 23, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
  6. hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

    Ya, time to end little girls lover, filthy, skunk, HIS hind hurts, rumors hindu's Muslims have been spreading through Satan, denial of truth absolute 180* about non Muslims and others. Visit my link whymohammadwenttohell.com/blog.html and click on HELP to open file.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
  7. Jerry

    "Hell" is: a second Obama term..........

    September 23, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Poor little you, Jerry. Guess you'll have to bug out and go elsewhere. I hear Iraq is lovely.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
  8. Aristocles

    The person in the video is full of crap. YES, Jews generally do believe in heaven and hell, and so did Jesus.

    Those who say otherwise are likely secular Jews who have abandoned their faith entirely, but call themselves Jews in name only.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • Niknak

      A jino!!!!!
      Can one be a rino and a jino?

      September 23, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
  9. truth be trolled

    Imagine If All Atheists Left America
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uuWjKqlRAUk&w=640&h=390]

    September 23, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
  10. Trahart

    I do not think that I want to live for eternity in heaven or hell. Eternity is a really, really, long time and I am tired already. Let's reset heaven to say 200 years or so.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
  11. Niknak

    No, we should abandon religion.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
  12. truth be trolled

    Welcome To This World
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Rwioe1SGkQ&w=640&h=390]

    September 23, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
    • Niknak

      What a horrible message.
      If that is what your religion is based on, fear and hate and "original sin," the more reason for me to be happy NOT to be a part of it.
      A mind is a terrible thing to lose, to religion.......

      September 23, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
  13. Mitch

    So this is journalism, eh?

    September 23, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • Niknak

      So this is religion, eh?

      September 23, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
  14. steve

    been a cleveland browns fan for 35 years, case closed.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
  15. truth be trolled

    Christopher Hitchens Destroys The Catholic Church.
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3766TOukRo&w=640&h=390]

    September 23, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • cobe

      Christopher Hitchens can destroy The Catholic Church as much as 'truth be trolled' can destroy hell.
      You don't have such power my friend,
      try again, maybe some music videos will work better :)

      September 23, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
  16. jungleboo

    Pastor Mark Driscoll: You are indeed living proof of HELL ON EARTH. That you could derive satisfaction from this role you play points to the chaos of your inner life. No intelligent life form would indulge these thoughts unless they were mentally ill. Spread your word. Spread your dis-ease.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
    • GregtheThird

      It is you who claim that I am self-appointed spokeperson. I do not pretend to be a preacher, I simply offer advice of how apply religious teachings to one's life. To do good, and to do no harm. One way to enlighten oneself is know the deadly sins, recognize when you are tempted and then to avoid comitting them. Either take the advice, ignore it, or if you are so compelled say that you disagree, there is no need to commit sin while rejecting it.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
  17. truth be trolled

    The Bible Is Not The Word of God
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ZrTeFLIR30&w=640&h=390]

    September 23, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      bible is hinduism, corruption of truth absolute by's, hindu pagans to justify hindu Mithraism ,savior ism under a new label.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
    • Jack

      Perfect Video. I always said that the bible was written by schizophrenics hearing voices from god, I should know since I am schizophrenic and constantly need to fight my feelings of grandeur .

      September 23, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Islam is corruption of Hinduism, religion but of Fat Allah, consti pation of truth absolute 180* and foundation of every consti pation on earth, heaven, and beyond where no man has ever gone before. TO LEARN MORE ABOUT MOHAMMAD VISIT http://www.hindiismtisthetruth.com/blog.html and click on Gandhi to open file.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
  18. ItSoNlYmE

    "Is hell for real?" Yep. It's contained inside your skull. We live in the hells we create for ourselves.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
  19. Gabe

    Is this article for real?

    September 23, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
  20. GregtheThird

    To those who would flame my previous comment I would say this: What do you pretend to know? Pride is another deadly sin which you display in full. In your mind you think yourself superior and worse your intent is to pass down statements with the intent to harm based on your false belief about your superiority. Pursing this path will lead you away from heaven's gate. To seek knowledge is essential as Jesus said, since ignorance leads to unnecessary harm and suffering. What I have learned through experience by encountering the divine is going to be more reliable than what any human being may say. Nevertheless nothing I stated about religion above is inconsistent with the teaching of Jesus or with common sense. All teachings are subject to the interpretation of both the writer and reader, especially after centuries and milennia. For example there is a passage in the old testament that God approved of throwing prisoners from a Caanan army off a cliff to their deaths, yet in the modern age everyone would agree that such treatment of prisoners is a sin. The bottom line is this, you must approach religion with an open mind, with your weekly sermon and book readings as your base. From there you must try to apply these teachings in order to improve yourself by living your life by them. From there you will gain religious insight, and perhaps even be blessed with a visit from the divine realm (which in my case was a single event years ago that I believe confirmed that I was on the right path.) Be warned, however as there will always be those who are self-righteous and narrow-minded who will challenge this enlightened approach to religion and try to lead you astray every step along the way. The alternative is to stop at the teachings, not apply them to change your behavior, not evolve religiously, and then use your teachings as a base to attack anyone not practicing them exactly the way you believe were told to.This is the way of ignorance and pride, to force conformity to a doctrine limited by the flaws of the person conveying their version of it. God undoubtedly does not appreciate this hateful approach to religion.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
    • jungleboo

      And you are God's self-appointed spokesman here on Earth. Congratulations, but you probably don't need encouragement.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • End Religion

      @greg3: "Pursing this path will lead you away from heaven's gate"

      I see no evidence for the existence of a Heaven therefore I disagree.

      ***
      "To seek knowledge is essential as Jesus said, since ignorance leads to unnecessary harm and suffering"

      He also cast Adam & Eve out of the garden of Eden for eating from the tree of knowledge. That sounds like unnecessary harm and suffering for seeking knowledge. So which is it? Seeking knowledge is good or it's bad?

      ***
      "What I have learned through experience by encountering the divine is going to be more reliable than what any human being may say."

      It is highly probable your divine encounter was more mundane. Even though your emotions tell you otherwise, you simply encountered something you do not understand. There's no reason to insert god into what you don't understand.

      ***
      "Nevertheless nothing I stated about religion above is inconsistent with the teaching of Jesus or with common sense."

      Jesus' teachings themselves are inconsistent with one another. That's hardly teaching anything. If I tell you eating apples is good and then an hour later I tell its bad, what have I taught you? That I am either crazy, forgetful or a poor teacher in general. I certainly haven't taught you anything about apples. And so it goes with the bible. Contradictory and just flat out incorrect information passed off as teachings don't really teach us much of anything. If your commons sense was reliable it would show you the bible is a fraud.

      ***
      "All teachings are subject to the interpretation of both the writer and reader, especially after centuries and milennia. For example there is a passage in the old testament that God approved of throwing prisoners from a Caanan army off a cliff to their deaths, yet in the modern age everyone would agree that such treatment of prisoners is a sin."

      Absolutely false. Religious "moderation" or the interpreting and cherry picking of certain bible verses is proof of your atheism. God has commanded you through the bible. To defy his commandments is to deny him since you do not fear reprisal. Denying him is the one sin he doesn't forgive, and that means eternal damnation. What arrogance to assume you can decide which parts of his word to obey!

      ***
      "The bottom line is this, you must approach religion with an open mind, with your weekly sermon and book readings as your base."

      No part of the bible is up for interpretation. You have god's commandments. Follow them or admit your atheism.

      ***
      "From there you must try to apply these teachings in order to improve yourself by living your life by them. From there you will gain religious insight, and perhaps even be blessed with a visit from the divine realm (which in my case was a single event years ago that I believe confirmed that I was on the right path.)"

      Which of these teachings below best help me improve myself through emulation?
      Rev. 16:6 - Thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy.
      Rev. 2:23 - I will kill her children with death.
      Luke 19:27 - But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.
      Zeph 3:8 - All the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy.
      Hosea 9:16 - Yea, though they bring forth, yet will I slay even the beloved fruit of their womb.

      It is highly improbable you had a visit from a divine realm. You had a mundane human experience that you do not understand. There's no reason to fill that gap in your knowledge with a god.

      ***
      "This is the way of ignorance and pride, to force conformity to a doctrine limited by the flaws of the person conveying their version of it. God undoubtedly does not appreciate this hateful approach to religion."

      Speaking of pride perhaps you should heed your own warnings. You've appointed yourself spokesman for god? How arrogant. Oops, there goes another sin!

      September 23, 2012 at 11:13 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.