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.
One thing, humorously enough, forgotten here is that the Christian belief in hell did not exist when the religion began. It was taken from 'pagan' influences. For example, Helhiem– where Loki's daughter, Hel, ruled over, was the last place any norseman wanted to end up in the afterlife. Add in some greek Hades and you get your modern, Christian "hell."
" It also teaches that Jesus death on the cross was for all the people of the world no matter who you are or what you have done for we all have sinned and come short of perfection. "
Meaning the cult of christ should be spread all over the world, like a virus.
Speaking of "sin"...how did that come about exactly? oh yeah that's right 2 people ate the "fruit" or some nonsense. so we'd all be punished for 2 people's actions. This is the basis of christianity and one of the most stupid doctrines i have ever heard
And that is your choice.
With republicans as president, yes it's real. Who else starts a decade war based solely on lies and ego and then leaves that mess for someone else to take care of? the Devil.
... and who kept it going four years after the "liar" started it?
God does not want anyone in hell and would not be happy with us christians if we caused the others to go there.
Hmmmm, why doesn't he just turn off the gas, then?
'Atheists have had terrible life experience, bad childhood and not being loved.'
Nope, wrong again. I had a great childhood, I have two loving parents, who never went to church on a sunday (they took me swimming instead). And now I have a young daughter who has two wonderful grandparents and she has a loving father.
We did all this without religion. We have lived as decent human beings without religion.
Because human beings can live a good life without an invisible friend.
You're just a very sad person, keep searching for those answers in a book and I will keep living my good life knowing full well there is no god.
This final statement of yours, the whole "invisible friend thing", is what separates the vast majority of Christians I know and the vast majority of atheists I know. Most Christians will speak of forgiveness, of redemption and assistance. The atheists are often condescending, indignant and self righteous. You say you're decent human beings without religion, so why resort to petty insults, seemingly as an attempt to dispel and prevent further discussion?
@ Mike–Well stated.
I believe that I was six or seven years old when I realized that if god loves everyone then hell can not exist. Why would god send those who he supposedly loves to ETERNAL d@mnation? Even the bible supports this.
1 Corinthians 13: 4-7
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Nowhere in that pas.sage does it say "Love condemns those who do not obey to eternal torture."
I agree Huebert...that's why I'm wondering how the author of this article gets off with saying that 13% (how do you calculate that?) of what Jesus said was about Hell.
This is 'Godly love' that says love me or I will kill you and you will be forever tortured. It's a special type of love.
You are missing a lot in your interpretations. Suggest you study the whole rather than bits and pieces. Example: If I study only your eating habits can I then form an accurate assessment of who you are in your entirety?
Believe in what the only sinless person to ever live (Jesus Christ) says about heaven and hell. Matthew chapter 7. Don't trust the lips of sinners, but God...
Yes, believe a 2000 year old book of fairy-tales written decades after the events contained in it supposedly happened.
which of the myriad of gods would that be?
I thought you Son worshippers also believed his mummy was sinless, no? Esecially after the Pope used his infallible wisdom to mandated a belief in Immaculate Conception.
Yet you trust the translated, edited words of iron age sheep mounters
Jesus lived, was tortured, and died. Then he rose from the dead with his wounds.
Jesus was a lich.
I would choose my own religion
And worship my own spirit
But if he ever preached to me
I wouldn't want to hear it
I'd drop him, a forgotten god,
Languishing in shame
And then if I hit stormy seas
I'd have myself to blame
i find it very difficult to believe that any christian or muslim has applied any critical thinking to their religion. the entire premise is absurd.
You're actually expecting Christians and Muslims to apply logical thought? Really?
When critical thinking is applied to religious beliefs, one inevitably reasons themselves out of the beliefs. Critical thinking skills to religion is like salt to a slug.
And what would you assume critical thinking is?
That everything just appeared out of nowhere with no outside influence whatsoever? That non-exsistent matter all of a sudden exploded and "shazam", the universe is here? That, is not very logical to me...
Leaving aside the discussion of heaven and hell, I do know this ... That Frank Schaeffer fellow is definitely wrong on several points:
1) The "religious war" did not begin on September 11, 2001. It began earlier than that. It was the mid 90s when Bin Laden declared war on the US. The embassy attacks in East Africa, and the bombing of the USS Cole were also attacks in that war.
2) The "religious" nature of the war is completely one-sided. It is the Al Qaeda side that is fighting a religious war. Our response is because we were attacked, not because we disagree with their theology. They attack us because of their religion. We respond because we were attacked. Our response is not religious.
3) There is nothing in Christian theology that would lead anyone to believe that "God smiles upon them when they send their enemies to hell". I don't know where he gets that. The Bible, while teaching that unbelievers will end up in hell, does not give any indication that there is any pleasure derived from that. The teaching of scripture is not that God will enjoy sending people to hell, but rather that because he loves them, he has provided them with a way to avoid that end.
Yes, let's completely ignore history. For Muslim extremists the Crusades never ended. Bush didn't help the situation any when he used the term "Crusade". This war is nearly 1000 years old, and it's not going to end any time soon. Yay religion!
Seriously, god sends people to hell "because he loves them"??? What kind of twisted love it that? That way of thinking is messed up and why we have so many serial killers on the loose here.
Informed- sounds kind of like an abusive spouse. "I beat you because I love you".
Informed and Ncanon,
Reading comprehension is important.
I did not say that God sends people to hell because he loves them. I said that, according to scripture, god provides a way out because he loves them. There is a difference.
Jesus freaks pounding on my front door. That is hell.
When you have an ex who brain washes a 9 year old to tell disgusting things about his dad, "Hell" is all real. Infact I will be looking for hell when I kick the bucket since it will be little bit more forgiving than what I have seen here on earth!!!!
Why are the only people that believe in hell so dang tragic? You're all freakin' martyrs!
That situation sucks man, that really sucks. :(
My mom did the same thing to me when I was 7-8, and it strained me and my dad's relationship once he finally got full custody (my mom was an alcoholic and unfit to raise children). I'm 25 now, and I still don't have a great relationship with my dad. I blame it on him never wanted to get close to me because I never wanted to see him because of what my mother told me.
My mom is gone now, so I can never confront her about it, and I'm still shaky about telling my dad the real reason why I never wanted to talk to him through my childhood.
All I can say is, don't give up. Your child will grow older and start to see through the BS your ex is brainwashing them with. Just be waiting with open arms instead of holding a grudge like my dad did.
You will have opportunities to rebuke any lies through your behavior. You cannot disprove them with words, only with actions. Be calm and show your child (and your ex) that you are not a bad person.
@Achex, and @David,
Thanks for your kind advice. There is no way I'm going to give up on my little one and take anything personal what he says. He is my future folks. Thanks again.
God is alone, he has NO SON nor he is a son of someone.
Hell is nothing more but a christian thing to get people to go to their services every week. it is also like saying I spent a week in Hoboken last night.
Absurd and pathetic, how egotistical can a deity be? Love me, worship me OR ELSE! Religious minded people often try to draw a distinction between the old and new Testament (which was put together by man from a bunch of manuscripts that suited the needs of the leaders at the time). If it is the word of God, then you take it all or ignore it all. Love thy neighbor but stone those poor girls over there.
and yet they have no problem with the OT for creationism or for example, psalms. it's such a mess i'm glad i left it years ago
Jews do not believe in Hell, because by definition, Hell is the place for the ETERNAL punishment of the soul, in the next life, for the sins committed in this life. Although Judaism certainly believes in a punishment in the next life for the sins committed in this life, Jews do not believe in Hell because we believe Gd to be forgiving, compassionate, and merciful. So, the idea of an ETERNAL punishment makes Gd look Cruel, and prevents us from believing in a hell.
Every time in the Christian translation of the Hebrew Scriptures the text reads, 'hell,' it is a bad translation. The word usually MIStranslated this way is the Hebrew word, 'Sheol,' which comes from the same word meaning 'question', and so 'Sheol' is 'the Unknown.'
By the way, please note that the verse from Ecclesiastes reads:::
Ecclesiastes 12:7 Then shall the dust return to
the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return
unto Gd who gave it.
It says, 'the spirit returns to Gd,' not the 'Good Spirit,' and not even 'the Jewish Spirit.' Jews do not believe that only Jews go to heaven.
Furthermore, if 'the dust returns to dust,' meaning that the physical ends, how can the tortures of a Christian hell be only physical, when there is no body to be tortured??
Hell is where we make it here on this earth.
Same for Heaven.
Yes–you hit the nail on the head...we can create heaven and/or hell here on this planet, in our hearts and in our minds. It's not some place you go too but is mainly from within and how we project that feeling from within ourselves to the outer world...or how we view the World. God is within us but our egos (aka our Demons/ the Devil) blind us to this simple truth.
Dad just texted me:
"Tell those silly CNN Bible thumpers to stop embarassing themselves and me".
Heaven and Hell are anthropocentric constructs that have nothing to do with the real Universe. Dwelling in eternal bliss or being tortured for all eternity? Neither scenario makes a bit of sense. And to quote from "The Sparrow" by Mary Doria Russell: I really resent the idea that the only reason someone might be good or moral is because they’re religious. I do what I do without hope of reward or fear of punishment. I do not require heaven or hell to bribe or scare me into acting decently, thank you very much.
My, my...all the self justified definitions of morality. That is, all the abject selfishness pronouncements of what makes a "good" person. There are 6.5 billion personal ideas of what makes a "good" person or a good system and not one has more merit than any other...the philosophy of a Hitler has no more or less merit than the philosophy of the Dali Llama or the the philosophy of any one else...just line up with what makes it work best for you. The one in vogue is the one backed by the most armour and people at the moment in different places and all that ebbs and flows over time. The only other choice is God and that is not a default choice of dreams. God is not only the realest thing any human being can encounter...He is also the most interesting thing. And it is His truth, His system, that will be forever when the sin problem has been finally handled (sin eradicated). stay tuned friends, momentous happenings are before us.
I've been a Sunday School teacher for over 40 years in a bible beliveing church and have come to know quite a lot about the bible. The bible certainly dose talk about hell. BUT, hell was not created for people, it was created for saten and his angles. People will put themselves there for rejecting the free gift of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The bible says " The blood of Jesus Christ, Godl's son, will cleanse us of ALL ( ALL ) sin. Even the thief on the cross beside Jesus simply admitted he had done wrong and ask Jesus to remember him in his kingdom. Jesus replied "today you will be with me in paradise." It also teaches that Jesus death on the cross was for all the people of the world no matter who you are or what you have done for we all have sinned and come short of perfection. Laroy
See? Worship God or burn in Hell. Such a wonderful system of beliefs.
A sunday school teacher said it, so it must be true!
Laroy, most people in the west unfortunately have had to put up with your bible stories being shoved at them. Too bad you haven't looked at those stories critically in your decades of inflicting them on others, and especially indoctrinating our kids with your bible rubbish Let's look at your Jesus story a little:
The whole premise of Christianity that the death of the son of god would have been any kind of "sacrifice" and was required to deal with "sin" is utter nonsense. This is a supposed omnipotent being that we are discussing. Christians, think this through a bit: how come your 'omnipotent' creature couldn't do all that supposed saving without the loony son sacrifice bit? And for that matter, how was it a sacrifice at all, when an omnipotent being could just pop up a replacement son any time it wants with less than a snap of its fingers? Pretty feeble god it is that you've made for yourself there. Give that some thought and maybe it will help you leave your delusions behind. You will remain a laughingstock otherwise, and the more you dwell in your silly delusion and ancient myths, instead of keeping up with advances in medicine and technology, the more America slips downward relative to the rest of the world in science and other fields.
Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement. Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.
Any sane person would reject a bogus "gif of salvation" as god doesn't exist. Thankfully i left this cult 12 years ago (not soon enough). life is so much better after it
you are proof of what church will do to you...intelligence is not on your side...stop hanging around with children and learn how to spell...then come and speak to the adults
But it's God who decided that we NEED this "salvation" that he's offering, right? According to his judgment we need this thing, but what if we don't think that we do? Isn't it like MicroSoft or Apple telling you that you NEED to upgrade your system when you're perfectly happy running the older one? Sure, they can force you to upgrade, but that wouldn't make them good guys, or God a good god for doing basically the same thing.
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.