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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. dasprink

    I pity people like Mark Driscoll. How brainwashed does one have to be to worship a supposedly loving deity who would torture people FOREVER? Threatening to burn someone in Hell for all eternity if they don't worship you is not unconditional love. It is extortion, and the "God" that Mr. Driscoll worships is evil.

    September 24, 2012 at 9:21 am |
  2. Jesus Christ

    Mark Driscoll is an abomination before God. To tell people that they must become a Christian or they will face the living fires of hell is even beneath CNN to allow. Frankly, I consider it a form of Terrorism because CNN is allowing this one single man to tell the rest of the world they will suffer, burn and die over and over if they do not follow his ways.
    I'd like to see each and every one of the quotes where I purportedly mentioned Hell (13 % was it? And how did he come up with that percentage against everything else I taught?). I'd also like to point out why Christians are becoming more and more unpopular in the modern world. I'd love to have this silly little man go up to anyone randomly on the street and tell them they are going to hell...then see his face get pounded in.

    September 24, 2012 at 9:20 am |
    • Amniculi

      Umm...isn't he just stating the basic beliefs of Christianity, i.e. worship God or burn in hell?

      September 24, 2012 at 9:23 am |
    • Jesus Christ

      Ummmm, no the basic beliefs in Christianity are to love one another, for this is the greatest law. Look it up.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:25 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Right.
      Love another – or suffer eternal torment.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:26 am |
    • Pamela

      Several of the other laws are about kowtowing to some vain jerk in the sky, so no thanks. Stuff your stupid old religion. The world is leaving it behind. It probably won't go away completely because we aren't short of fools, but eventually support for it will be negligible.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:28 am |
  3. BlindFaithisSin

    Relgion is Hell. God could care less about religion, which is an invention of human intellects. Religions try to establish authority and right vs wrong. This idea of rightousness and justice does not exist in the afterlife. Rather, only our freewill matters and ability to accept God's love of us. This is hinted at in all religions yet lost in the details (I hear you objecting already!) No one will believe this message. Many will deny it or attack it. Just remember that none of this stuff in physical existence matters. When you pass from this world and feel lost or guilty or grieving or angry, know that He loves you and the door will ALWAYS be open. You are not judged - rather, it is you who ultimately decides - when you forgive, so does He. Until then, enjoy the gift of life!

    September 24, 2012 at 9:19 am |
  4. Answerman28

    Obviously all religions are a joke and all believers are egotistical fools. If you even have to ask yourself if this nonsense is real, you should have yourself committed. Religion is the biggest lie and waste of time and resources in human history. Approximately 3 billion people have died in the last 10,000 yrs due to religions wars and persecutions. Just imagine where mankind would be by now if it weren’t for religion, the dark ages and all we've spent on related wars. Although all of the results of religions have been horrific to man kind, one of the most devastating part is that it has clearly and greatly hindered our potential as a species. It’s just sad all around and there's no end in sight as these Muslims have no education and the Christians have egos larger than Texas. We should just nuke the place and start over. What a trash can religion has made the world.

    September 24, 2012 at 9:19 am |
  5. Amniculi

    We should abandon all ideas of Hell, Heaven, angels, demons, gods, demi-gods, sons of gods, prophets and apocalypses. It's time for the world to grow up and set aside childish Bronze Age mythologies. Once we do that humanity can focus on bettering the here and now rather than waiting for the end of days.

    September 24, 2012 at 9:19 am |
  6. wisdomVS

    ...to those who think I'm an atheist, I am not. I just don't believe everythihng that rolls off the tongue of fundamentalist preachers. I guess you'd have to call me a Gnostic Christian. It's a inner spiritual thing, not a "standard of religious business" for me. The Gnostic Christians were hated and abolished by the early church because they wouldn't follow the "guidelines" of standard religion. Guess what? We're still around, always have been, always will be.

    September 24, 2012 at 9:18 am |
    • snowboarder

      i imagine that many christians would fall into that category privately, but not publicly to risk the wrath of the religious collective.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:24 am |
  7. Phineas Pharkle

    My opnion; It is time for everyone to step back, take a deep breath, and consider that
    1) there is a God (I'll provide my reasoning why below)
    2) everything written about him comes from the hand of some man somewhere and
    3) what has been written by man about God may truly be inspired...but we cannot know, and I suspect a lot of it is junk.

    So...what to think?

    1) Fact; our universe is entropic; it tends towards entropy, which is loosely defined as seeking a lower energy level, "dis-organized",,,etc...things decay when they die, our sun will burn out someday, etc...
    2) Life runs counter to entropic law. In the midst of entropy, we find ectropy. The combination of chemistry and spirirt drives forward with something that results in life. Organized, and capable of continuation.

    So, quick summary. Something "designed" life to be what is is in the midst of a universe that runs counter to everything life is! I believ that thought is inspiring!
    Direction; Respect other men's religions. They all have something good to add to the manual of how to live life. HOWEVER...there are elements in every religion that suffer from the hand and motivation of man...and these do not support respect for life. Avoid these thoughts and actions. Tolerance man...tolerance! If the fear of hell as described by some man keeps you on the right path..so be it. If it results in you assuming that is the only way, and the way everyone else should think and be, and you make other people feel bad about their beliefs, you need to reassess your motivations (ref 2 at top).

    God blss us all!

    PS...and for those who might be inclined to address me due to the reference of God as a "he"...get over it..don't bother....it could be a she, it could be ???? If you think you know..ref point 1 again....

    September 24, 2012 at 9:18 am |
    • Tebowing for Jesuses

      Amazingly you never explained your proof of the existence of a God. Oh wait, that wasn't amazing at all. Cling to your myths as much as you like, but keep them to yourself, cupcake. The rest of us don't need age old morality tales to tell us how to act. We're informed by law, reason, psychology, sociology, etc. May a big puff of air bless you, as that is about as tangible as the existence of a God gets.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:21 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      If you don't see entropy at play in life on Earth, you simply haven't considered a great enough time-span.
      Exctinction and degradation are the natural outcomes of our ordered lives.
      One day, this planet will be unihabitable by life as we know it.
      One day, the sun will explode.
      "Entropy – it's not a human issue.
      Entropy – it's matter of course
      Entropy – energy at all levels
      Entropy – from it you cannot divorce.
      And you pathetic modes of suffrage tend to lose all significance."
      – Dr. Greg Graffin

      September 24, 2012 at 9:24 am |
    • Nathan

      Outstandingly put...

      September 24, 2012 at 9:28 am |
    • Phineas Pharkle

      Doc..you are right on! I do see plenty of entropy here on Earth..thanks!
      Tebowing; good point. Let me be clearer. That there exists life at all, is a testament (at least in my small mind) that a divine hand somewhere is pushing, guiding, against all the established physical laws. Paddling against the current, pick your metaphor! Life shouldn't / wouldn't happen naturally. But it does, and throuogh it, you and I are able to consider and discuss our creator. That's wonderful. We are all on a learning curve, and we all get our diploma someday. (another metaphor...oh well..)

      September 24, 2012 at 9:44 am |
  8. setnommarih

    Anyone who believes this medieval, dark ages fiction REALLY NEEDS THEIR HEAD EXAMINED. The is the greatest lie ever told to and on mankind. Hopefully religion will become unprofitable and maybe then humanity can get this yolk from around our necks. Believers and non-believers alike have suffered enough.

    September 24, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • De Odorizer

      "should we abandon the idea of hell?" Please, if you wouldn't mind. And abandon the idea, along with it, that any particular religion would claim it has the Only True god. (hint: it's mutually exclusive).

      And then the comment from this freak pastor, Driscoll: "But death is not normal or natural"....
      Ehemmmm, even animals die, you know those who don't even know sin, babies die who don't know sin. It's the NATURAL way of things, dude. Are you so afraid of it that you have to delude yourself and make up some boogy man in the sky (the great loving one) who casts most of the world's population into H.ell because they don't subscribe to his party?

      There's gonna be a nice surprise waiting for this joke of a pastor: there is no heaven, (ok, that might be disappointing) but there's also no H.ell, wuppeeeee, that's the Good News Gospel. So there's hope even for an imbecile like him. Amen.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:27 am |
    • Joe

      It's not enough to call it "fiction" without proving that it is. In fact, archaeological evidence seems to validate the Bible's historical claims over and over again. While it still takes faith to believe in the supernatural parts (fulfilled prophecy and other factors do keep it from being blind faith, though)...I have yet to hear one bit of "evidence" that proves the Bible is a fabricated story or a great big lie. Don't blindly believe what catchy British accents and vocal atheists tell you either.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:47 am |
  9. LookAndSEE

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rsfJ9DsgFqY&w=640&h=390]

    September 24, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • sally

      Oh I do miss the WW News..lol.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:22 am |
  10. derp

    Of course there is a hell. If you don't believe exactly the same as me, you go to hell; where Bigfoot force feeds you urine flavored snow cones for all eternity.

    September 24, 2012 at 9:17 am |
  11. Kevster

    Spirits? Pour me a glass, please!

    September 24, 2012 at 9:15 am |
  12. Tebowing for Jesuses

    Being as how there's no God, it's pretty safe to assume that hades, hell, purgatory, etc., are also manmade mythological realms, created for the purpose of enfocring social norms.

    Carry on.

    September 24, 2012 at 9:15 am |
  13. nojinx

    No, there is no hell. Stop telling people that.

    September 24, 2012 at 9:15 am |
  14. Dang Particle

    All of Pastor Driscoll's opinions cite Bible verses. Enough said.

    September 24, 2012 at 9:14 am |
    • snowboarder

      you say that as if it means something.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:17 am |
  15. Abi

    of course there is a hell for those who do wrong.. so let's stop the hate against religion already. Love everyone. Much love

    September 24, 2012 at 9:13 am |
    • snowboarder

      of course?

      September 24, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      What of all the religions that don't believe in hell?
      Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs to name a few modern examples...

      September 24, 2012 at 9:25 am |
  16. truth be trolled

    Hitchens & Dawkins Expose Mormon Religion
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Etownp_Rmw&w=640&h=390]

    September 24, 2012 at 9:12 am |
  17. Femur

    "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."

    Incorrect – Nowhere in the Bible is the body separate from the spirit. It is a Biblical doctrine that the body and the spirit are one. If the spirit or soul were to live on after death, then we would not be "mortal" beings and there would be no need for immortality. Also, the Bible says in more than one place that death is a sleep. Where are we when we go to sleep ever night? When we die, we sleep. If we were to live on in "judgement" after death, there would be no need for Jesus to return and take the righteous AND the dead in Christ.

    The Bible also speaks very clearly that after Jesus comes and takes the righteous and living to heaven, Hell and the lake of fire will be on this earth and consume everything. Eventually, God will recreate this earth to be new and reestablish this earth to what he originally intended.

    September 24, 2012 at 9:11 am |
  18. truth be trolled

    Things Obama says in reverse are satanic...
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mhY-CfyL-w&w=640&h=390]

    September 24, 2012 at 9:11 am |
    • truth be trolled

      Nah – silly of course. But I'm sure the "HeavenSent" / "truth be told" / "captain america" troll believes this. lol

      September 24, 2012 at 9:20 am |
  19. truth be trolled

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

    September 24, 2012 at 9:10 am |
  20. Aezel

    This whole article is a perfect highlight of the stupidity of religion. Grown men and women wasting time, energy, and money pondering the intellectual equivalent of the tooth fairy. Civilization won't be able to go further until we rid ourselves of this childish nonsense.

    September 24, 2012 at 9:10 am |
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About this blog

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.