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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. Kebos

    If you are a weak-minded person who believes everything you're told including the drivel that comes from the bible/koran/talmud and what you're local snake-water salesman (aka priest, imam, preacher, etc) says then yes, hell exists.

    But if you're someone who is well-grounded in reality, hell and heaven do not exist. And god doesn't exist either. Although if you have to believe in anything then stick with Zeus and Neptune. They're some major dudes!

    September 23, 2012 at 8:34 am |
  2. truth be trolled

    Penn Jillette on God, No!, Atheism, Libertarianism, & More . . .
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aN3-3oNmOMo&w=640&h=390]

    September 23, 2012 at 8:33 am |
  3. Troy

    Ugh, I hate the fact that this is even debated. People that believe in Hell should go live in storybook land with mother goose.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:33 am |
  4. Moo

    I'm a Cleveland Browns fan.

    I know hell exists for sure after what has happened since Art Modell stole our team and moved them to Baltimore..

    September 23, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • snowboarder

      I believe the team belonged to art.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:36 am |
  5. Patrick

    Hell is real, just like Heaven is real. You will go to one or the other after you die......... Regardless of what you would like to think.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:31 am |
    • Troy

      The fact that you think you could know something like that makes you arrogant and childish.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:33 am |
    • Patrick

      "The Holy Spirit teaches thus: There is no hell. Hell is only what the ego has made of the present. The belief in hell is what prevents you from understanding the present, because you are afraid of it. The Holy Spirit leads as steadily to Heaven as the ego drives to hell. For the Holy Spirit, Who knows only the present, uses it to undo the fear by which the ego would make the present useless. There is no escape from fear in the ego's use of time. For time, according to its teaching, is nothing but a teaching device for compounding guilt until it becomes all-encompassing, demanding vengeance forever.
      The Holy Spirit would undo all of this now. Fear is not of the present, but only of the past and future, which do not exist. There is no fear in the present when each instant stands clear and separated from the past, without its shadow reaching out into the future. Each instant is a clean, untarnished birth, in which the Son of God emerges from the past into the present. And the present extends forever. It is so beautiful and so clean and free of guilt that nothing but happiness is there. No darkness is remembered, and immortality and joy are now." – A Course in Miracles

      September 23, 2012 at 8:38 am |
    • Damocles

      @Patrick

      Ok, I went to Gettysburg, PA about a month ago with a friend. I know I went there because I have some fairly compelling evidence that I went there i.e. pictures, video. Do you offer up any evidence that supports your claim that heaven and hell exsist?

      September 23, 2012 at 9:02 am |
  6. Just A John

    Faith (one definition)...belief that is not based on proof.

    If you believe in hell, I feel sorry for where your mind is at; for those of us that do not believe in your hell, could you just keep your idiot opinions to yourself? Thank you, you are scaring the children and weak of mind.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:31 am |
  7. Mark (not Driscoll)

    Frank Schaeffer makes a giant leap right at the start of his section that is so egregious that I had to comment. He says ("from born-again American military personnel to Muslim fanatics, who seriously believe that God smiles upon them when they send their enemies to hell.")The US military does nothing in the name of religion. There might be people in the military who do believe this but not the military as a whole. And George Bush, whatever you may think of him, sent the military in response to a terrorist attack. Schaeffer makes it sound like it was a jihad from the west. That might sell books (as I am sure that he has) but it is an illogical leap at best. So please, do NOT lump the US military with Radical Islamist who kill innocent people. And do not lump Christians (born again or not) with Radical Islamists. Trying to paint a group of Christians with a broad brush is stereotyping and dangerous. It does not properly inform but inflame.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:31 am |
  8. truth be trolled

    Who needs Jeezbub when you can have a King????
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVkoQHCXSK8&w=640&h=390]

    September 23, 2012 at 8:30 am |
    • Kebos

      Mindless zombies. The speaker does a good job. Marketing is his forte.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:51 am |
  9. Louie

    Religion = The ultimate insurance scam. It's hey day was the Dark Ages when the masses were kept uneducated and afraid, forced to accept the doctrine of the Church and the word of their nobles who liked to keep them ignorant less they burned, tortured, and killed. What could be a better way to buy in this everlasting insurance policy than frightening people with talk of fire and brimstone?

    September 23, 2012 at 8:30 am |
  10. Ken

    of course hell is real wake up

    September 23, 2012 at 8:30 am |
    • Troy

      Of course it is. And the way to get there is on green unicorns. That fly. Wake up!

      September 23, 2012 at 8:35 am |
  11. Iggy Magnark

    Main point of article:
    Seeing how many idiot theists can dance on the head of a pen.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:28 am |
  12. truth be trolled

    Bill Maher – Atheism Not a Religion + Mitt Romney in-Law Unbaptism
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A41WZBcmnfc&w=640&h=390]

    September 23, 2012 at 8:28 am |
  13. BD70

    So who is right? I believe in reincarnation...by the way...if you are dead and in spirit ...how do you gnash your teeth?

    September 23, 2012 at 8:28 am |
  14. Trevor

    People's relationship with god is a perfect example of an abusive relationship. Do as I say or you will burn forever in a lake of fire...but I love you. George Carlin said it best:

    Religion easily has the greatest bulls**t story ever told. Think about it, religion has actually convinced people that there's an INVISIBLE MAN...LIVING IN THE SKY...who watches every thing you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a list of ten special things that he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish where he will send to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry for ever and ever 'til the end of time...but he loves you.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:28 am |
  15. truth be trolled

    The Bible – Fact or Fiction – Penn &Teller Bullsh it!
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZaLaTMaKjdY&w=640&h=390]

    September 23, 2012 at 8:27 am |
  16. Glenn Ross

    It's the boogeyman, Santa Claus or any mythical being designed to change behavior or to conform those who go against societal norms.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:27 am |
  17. Rob

    Hell is real. Ask any person who is clinically depressed.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:26 am |
  18. Dick Izinya

    Hell will be ruled over by Jesus, and everyone present — humans and demons and Satan alike — will be tormented there continually in perfect justice.
    LOL, do what I say or I'll hurt you. There's Christianity in a nutshell, ladies and gentlemen!

    September 23, 2012 at 8:26 am |
    • coalterrain

      No, Dick, it is your ignorance in a nutshell.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:29 am |
    • Troy

      It's hilarious and scary that @coalterrain is the average mindset. Somehow, beliveing in fictional characters and lands makes him smarter than someone who uses logic? Sad state of affairs we are in.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:39 am |
  19. Ben

    Of course Hell isn't real. Like its context material, it is a fictional place. You might as well ask if Narnia is real.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:25 am |
    • Troy

      I think the chances of Narnia being real are slightly higher actually. Talking animals is at least genetically possible, whereas nothing could survive in a place full of lava and fire.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:37 am |
  20. .

    If you don't think there's a hell, ask one of the 24 million people who have given up hope of finding a job to support their families.

    We're in the Jimmy Carter phase of the next Ronald Reagan Revolution.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:25 am |
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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.