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.
Lewis Black – The Old Testament .......
Hell is another word for grave or resting place! Hell fire is another false teaching from the church leaders! They are reaping what they sow! Not to mention child abuse!! The false church teaches the it is God'd falt for all these problems! It is written : GOD IS LOVE! Mankind has cause all these problems not God! You lie,cheat,steal,murder.kill, cause wars and then you blame GOD! What morans!
Spell much, Frank?
God is love, but he'll torture you for eternity for not loving him?!? How can you believe something as ridiculous as this?
Frank: Your little post, written in true sixth-grade style, clearly brands you as a bible babbler. Man, it is uncanny the way you religious folks identify yourselves by your juvenile writing skills.
If god is "love", if he is this perfect being that has no evil in him, then why would he have any inclination at all...ANY at all...to create a world with evil in it, with pain and suffering in it? Why would he have any inclination to create a hell to send people to or to create a world with evil in it so that he would have to send some of his "children" there? I love my children completely...I would NEVER EVER EVER want them to EVER have pain or suffering or experience evil (I know they wil because that's just reality, but do I ever want that for them? NO!)....and I am NOT a supposedly "perfect" being that is incapable of evil and is pure "love." It makes no sense. It is illogical.
Frank Schaeffer: “God is a merciful father who loves all his children equally”
That’s why he let 250 million children die of smallpox in the 20th Century alone, and millions of children die of starvation each year.
Frank Schaeffer: “God is far more loving, kind and patient with his enemies than we are with our enemies.”
According to the Bible, God commands the killing of men, women, children, and unborn fetuses. Here's but one example:
13:15 Every one that is found shall be thrust through; and every one that is joined unto them shall fall by the sword.
13:16 Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled, and their wives ravished.
13:17 Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them, which shall not regard silver; and as for gold, they shall not delight in it.
13:18 Their bows also shall dash the young men to pieces; and they shall have no pity on the fruit of the womb; their eyes shall not spare children.
Then there’s that flood story, where he drowned all those children and fetuses. Yes, he's a very loving father. LOL
I could never be a Christian, it requires one to shut off part of their brain.
Don't just limit that to Christianity. ANY religion requires that of you. I find it funny that parents will read a fairy tale to their children with trolls and giants and such and say "Those aren't real, it's just a story, a fairy tale" but then take their children to church on Sunday and tell them that all of that tripe is real or that a talking snake was real or someone rising from the dead is real or that some guy made a boat that could house two of every animal on the earth (even the ones not indigenous to that area!) along with all the fresh water and food needed to keep them alive all that time...all absurd nonsense fairy tales and no more real than the troll under the bridge or the fairy godmother in Cinderella.
In order to get people to do what you tell them to do, whether what you're telling them to do is best for them or only a means to power over them, you must convince them that there is a negative for not doing so. When people tell their children that if they're not "good" Santa won't bring them any presents, it is an example of this. The myth of "hell" is the same thing. There is no hell, there never was, and the god or gods of any religion that has been created by man's imagination do not and never have existed either. It is simple logic. If God is really "perfect" and all good with no evil in him, he would have no desire whatsoever to create a place like hell in the first place and second to ever send anyone there. If there was a god and he was all perfect and all good he would have had no inclination whatsoever to create a world with evil in or people capable of doing evil in order to have need of a place like hell or need to send people to it. If god is omnipotent and all knowing then he would have no reason to create an "experiment" where he gave people supposed "free will" and the presence of evil to deal with to see what would happen and how they'd handle it. He would know from the beginning of creation every person that would ever exist, what they would do, whether they would be "good" or not, etc etc. Also let's ignore the fact that for at least 100K years, probably longer, people existed on this planet before the supposed "revelations" of the judeo/christian/muslim "god" and Jesus and the average life span was in the 20's to early 30's at best, people died from things like an abscessed tooth and did horrible things to each other yet "god" looked on all this with indifference for so long before finally deciding about 3K years ago to intervene and then to have all these supposed revelations of his existence and his "rules" for us and what he supposedly wants revealed in only one small area of the whole planet to probably one of the farthest behind civilizations at that time on the planet. It makes NO SENSE. If people would just for a short time set aside their biases from their upbringings and really look at things with a clear head and with simple logic they would see how absurd all religions are and start seeing the real reasons why religions exist and why they preach what they do. This world will never ever know real peace until we outgrow religion.
Very well said! If humanity is to survive, religion must be eliminated. The only thing that will be important is innovation and logical thinking. People can be good and most of those without religion are good.
Is it really news that professional critics are out of touch with the modern public?.. I mean isn't that what they're paid to do.. to fill the niche left out of social media and media outlets and earn their worth with snobbish lists? Who cares then that their reviews are meaningless for all pragmatic purposes?
Dear Mr. Christian, had you been put up for adoption and taken in by a Muslim family, you'd probably be Muslim right now. Yep, that's how random this religious belief thing is. There's no "truth" in it, just upbringing preference. Essentially a club of choice.
So making 'hell' unreal will help us? Just give it up, use your brain, and ditch beliefs in ALL religion, unless you want to appear moronic, and increasingly, dangerous to the rest of us on the planet who are SICK AND TIRED of you religious freaks battling it out with real guns, and killing real people.
The burnt offering of the Hebrews and Gehenna are both references to hell. So is the Jewish holocaust under Nazi Germany. Actual Hell was probably ignited, however, when the son of God was tortured to death on a Roman stake.
Ohhh.... actual hell as opposed to fake hell? Where did all the bad people go before actual hell was made?
It's possible for born again Christians to accept that Hitler himself may have got "saved" in that bunker just before dying, and is even now happily in heaven watching all the Jews he sent to the ovens burn for eternity just because they didn't accept Jesus within the lifetimes he so brutally shortened. Where is the "justice" in something like this?
Actual hell started for me when I was forced to listen to a sermon in church when I was about 10. Geez, what absurd nonsense. But I had to sit through it. Never have since and never will again.
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.
Actually, studies show that those that are devoutly religious live happier and longer lives.
Actually that could be true. Religious people tend to be quite a bit simpler than atheists. Ignorance is bliss for them. It's like the "what, me worry?" syndrome.
Hell is imaginary. Just like heaven.
Actually, Hell is a small unincorporated town near Ann Arbor Michigan. Unofficial population is about 250. Apparently there is no town in America named Heaven. So the only place we can really go to is Hell.
"But death is not normal or natural—it’s an enemy and the consequence of sin." – that has to be the most ridiculous statement I've ever heard. Life & death is a part of the natural cycle of the physical body. I do believe that our energy remains and is recycled & consumed & feeds new life – the circle of life. Our physical body was never meant to last eternaly to house our 'souls'. They are a temporary vessel. It is fear of death (the unknown) that these book religions play upon & the idea of hell to keep their flocks in the pasture. I believe in hell but not in the sense that they do. For me, personally, hell is an adjective for a state of mind and mental or emotional suffering. Book religions just don't make sense to me except the parts for how to live a long healthy life and the common thread of peace between our fellow man the goal of our lives. I look to the natural world for guidance and the science that uncovers bits & pieces of it's workings for help in understanding. I am Pagan. Yes, I do believe in spirit. It is the spark that resides in everything – animals (such as ourselves), plants, even stones. Hell is when we do not look at our dark side and find acceptance of it and choose not to act on those things that cause suffering and pain to others.
"Yes, I do believe in spirit. It is the spark that resides in everything – animals (such as ourselves), plants, even stones."
That says all we need to know about our educational system.
Observer – Everything has energy does it not? That is what I mean by spirit. I have no other word as yet of what it is that holds atoms, cells, & the entire cosomos together tho I'm sure there is one or will be. Excuse me for not being as educationally enlightened as you yourself think but I am working on it. ;-)
I grew up with the belief that there was a hell. When a friend of mine, who was an atheist, was brutally murdered I struggled with the black/white paradigm of heaven and hell. My friend was a very kind person. Her spirit burned bright as she lived life to the fullest. There is no way that God would condemn this young woman to eternal damnation after what she suffered in the last minutes of her life. So, now I prefer to believe that the things we call heaven and hell are as complicated as God himself. God is infinite – the alpha and omega. Infinity is word that we can define, but a concept we can't imagine. So, I'd like to think that the afterlife will be something we can't imagine. Therefore, putting heaven and hell in two neatly defined boxes just will not work. Is there a dark place in the afterlife made especially for the person who took my friend's life? I sure hope so. But, that is God's business. My business is to pray for forgivness of my sins; and have faith that I will one day see my friend again in an unimaginable utopia we call heaven.
So what you are saying is that you want the idea of a heaven and hell to be va-gue enough to fit to your terms and conditions on any given day?
What OneGodOneBrotherhood is saying is we cannot reason with the ideas of Heaven and Hell in the after life. Just like God as soon as we begin to reason and apply any sort of logic we are putting limits on Him, Heaven, and Hell. Things that we will not understand until after we are there and see them for ourselves.
Right, so what I said still stands. You are saying 'we can not define our deity so any definition that we agree with is what we believe'.
A true friend sees the heart of another. You seeing hers is a reflection of the depth of your own. May your loss be tempered with continuous healing and love.
God as a Maffia Boss where "salvation" is the protection he is offering to people to protect them from his hurting them. Good analogy!
This video is pure awesomeness.
Believe it or not, this caller is pretty typical of the kind of Christians who live around me.
Another good one.
I am a Christian, but this article Hardly talked about the muslims, and was poorly written. I demand better writers and most of all MORE Facts about the Muslims, and their stance on hell. This article never talked about what the muslims believe Hell is like and never took into account a muslims view of how to be saved or anything else about their view on their religion. CNN you made a poor choice on publishing this one sided article.
Work on your own writing. Take special attention to your capitalization rules. You should have learned them in the 6th grade.
Just how hard is another group's belief of an imaginary place going to impact your own belief of an imaginary place?
No god, no hell and no heaven- enjoy your life.
The Apostles' Creed 2012: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)
Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??
I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)
Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,
He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.
(references used are available upon request)
"The fool hath said in his heart, there is no god. Corrupt are they......" Proverbs of Soloman.
Pehaps you should ask yourself why you spend so much time arguing God's existence. Just who is it you're trying to convince?
Dk: Maybe you should ask yourself that same question. I drive by billboards for churches every day. I get proselytized to often. I get a religious doctrine jammed down my throat by the GOP. If I don't like that, then I have every reason to try and deduce whether it's right or not, just the way you've done with every other God except your own.
Seriously, CNN? This is "news"? Why don't you just ask the question, "Is Santa Claus for real?"
Why did god reveal himself only 2,000 years ago, when man had already lived for roughly 200,000 years before that?
God revealed Himself in the beginning to Adam and Eve. Then again to Moses, then to Abraham and so on. No offense, but read your bible.
Why should the bible be the truth on this? Because the bible says so? What a pile of bullshit.
Dk: Not exactly the type of helpful insight I was looking for. Most Christians do not take the Bible literally, so assuming that's the case, then what's your answer? Why did God sit silent for so many years until 2,000 years ago and the time of Jesus? I mean, prior to that, what was God doing?
Only for new members of this blog:
Father Edward Schillebeeckx, the famous contemporary theologian, had a different take on hell. He reasoned that god does not tolerate imperfection in his spiritual realm. Therefore, any soul dying in mortal sin will simply disappear since hell the imperfect state does not exist.
Of course this as-sumes there is a god.
Mark Driscoll has built a church that somewhat resembles a cult in the Seattle area.
He sounds like a strip mall church kind of guy. Imbedding the fear of hell in people (which, sadly, works) to get them to believe in an imaginary sky friend. Meanwhile, he probably lives high on the hog and drives a fancy car with a gold trim package. Sad and pathetic for both sides of that sham.
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.