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.”
Follow the CNN Belief Blog on Twitter
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.
CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories
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.
I love Franks veiw, but as a christian whose been to bible school the problem is its not that clear cut.
Taking the "hell" out of the NT equation has been done, but its still there and thats why there's a debate.
Frank is right Jesus died so we don't ever get hell, though we deserv it, but saying hell no longer is relevant for
the non believer is dangerious teritiory. So Frank, Hitler and Mother Teresa get the same eternal treatment?Actually, I respect athiest who will have none of the bibile, rather than christians who re-writie it.
Hitler could be in Heaven right now, right? All he would have had to do was accept Jesus just before he died and "POOF!", he'd be saved and sitting in Heaven looking down at all the non-repentant Jews he sent to the ovens burning again in Hell. Tell me, is that "Justice"? Is that intellectually satisfying to you? Does it demonstrate God's compassion?
Bob, why do you believe anyone would deserve to be tortured for eternity? NO ONE deserves that. Only Christians and other religious people who have been brain washed into thinking their natures are against the wills of some all powerful creator would believe that. Nothing anyone could ever do would make them deserving of an everlasting torture session. Have you ever been tortured? Have you ever had your freedom truly taken from you? Minutes of that kind of treatment is difficult to take. If you believe that anyone deserves an eternity of that then I say you are the one who is evil and I cant wait for you to step across that threshold.
How can you possibly know any of this to be true?
I'm not saying that a metaphysical world doesn't exist, I've just never seen, felt, heard, or experienced anything to suggest that it actually does exist.
When faced with a question that I can't possibly answer, I ask myself.. "What is more likely?" (it's not bulletproof, but it does offer some perspective). What is more likely? – A. The universe and everything in it was created a relatively short time ago by a timeless being that knows all, and has ultimate power over everything? or B. Religion has evolved from our collective ignorance about how the world around us really works?
Science gets results.
My idea of absolute hell is being locked in a room and forced to listen to Sarah Palin's shrieking, screaching voice for all of eternity. It's worse than scraping fingernails on a chalkboard.
People, this is volcano mythology. Its that simple.
Hell is a silly myth and Christianity is stupid.
Wanna make an eternal bet? I will live according to the bible now on earth. If I am wrong, I have lived a peaceful decent life having taken care of myself, my family and those around me with humbleness and prayer towards others. Then nothing happens. But...., If I am RIGHT!?!?!, Woe unto you because I receive an eternal reward and you get ___________?
Why take the chance with your life on this? Doesn't make sense...
Sam, do a google search for Pascal's Wager and see for yourself why this argument doesnt hold any water.
This is a tongue in cheek wager, I understand because, without looking at your google search suggestion, there is no way to make amends with the wagee. Christianity is a religion which will send anyone to hell seeing that you can't get to heaven through Christianity. Only By Grace, through Faith can you receive the gift of salvation. Whether Hell is real or not... I don't have to worry about it due to my decision of my Faith. If you deny Hell is real, then Heaven is not real either. If you deny you have a Soul then after life is nonexistent. If you deny God then Right and Wrong is up to mans discretion. I cannot change your mind, I can only answer your questions. That is for you to consider. I would love for all of the people here at this comment board to go to Heaven, but unfortunately not all will believe, not all want to. There is only one way. I can help you with the way but I can't help you with the belief. That is, again, up to you to consider. I can only provide the truth because that is all I am required to do. Do you really want to believe there is no reward to those who choose redemption and punishment to those who choose the world? Why do you even exist if it isn't to please your creator?
A 'humble decent life, taking care of myself, my faily and others' and 'in accordance with the bible' don't equate.
perhaps 'in accordance to a specific subset of rules found in the blble' but not 'the bible' in total.
There are to many things allowed in the bible that are not, according to today's society and views, 'decent'. Like slavery. Like treating your women like chattel. Like forcing other people to believe what you believe, or face death and punishment.
I'd rather live according to secular humanist theory. Treat others as I wish they would treat me. Seeing that following laws and getting along is far more conducive to a pleasant calm life, that being nice to others equates with them being nice back to you and being nice to others (pay it forward).
The bible is not necessary. In point of fact, the bible is confusing, as it has a variety of different codes of behavior, a number of which are not applicable to modern society, and in fact detrimental to such.
The only Hell is the hell we create in our own minds. Yes we have souls that continue to exsist beyond death. The soul is pure energy, not bound by pshyical laws. It is the disturbing litany of religious ideas that destroys mans ability to reason. Wake up people, enjoy your time here and if you are really lucky, you will not have to return.
"soul" is a nonsense term. It is gibberish.
Energy is measurable and there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever for a soul. Don't write your beliefs like their are facts.
Wow, your faith in this is incredibly strong or misguided. Why would you mock a God who you have no power over. I have a question for you... If you are right, If I follow your words of wisdom, what will I get if you are wrong? Will there be a rebate or can you prove to me that you are the only one right about this...
P.S. If you are right about this, how come your not preaching to the ignorant to correct the wrongs done by others? Please tell me where I can find you on TV, local area if you are so right on this subject.
Is televised air time the standard by which you chose whom to believe, Sammy? Perhaps if you actually read a book (not the bible) or did a little research of your own, you could actually think for yourself.
@tallulah – I hear this a lot. I choose to type these words to you. Thats right, no machine or person is making me do this. I have faith in no person on this earth. I have no faith in what you tell me except that I double check to make sure it is accurate. How do I eat and breath and drive and talk and walk without someone brainwashing me to do so? I have to remind myself to obey those that control me every morning. Your blind mistrust in people have corrupted your thoughts and decisions otherwise you wouldn't call me a mindless robot. That is fine. I understand (because someone told me to understand). If you take the body in its entirety and break it down to the smallest part you will start to understand that the human body is extraordinary beyond human comprehension. The brain is the least known part of our body yet it is what we use to understand things. There are a billion bytes of information in each one of our cells and there are over a billion cells in our body. Our thigh bones are stronger than cement. Our eyes are the same size all throughout our life and they can focus on any object in less time than the most futuristic machinery we can create. Your brain records and retains everything it experiences and never gets full, yet we can't master the unlocking of its potential. These are just a few of a couple thousand awesome facts about our body much less anything else in this world that screams this didn't just happen. Then we can get back into is heaven or hell real. Take time and study for yourself without bias and let the truth speak to you. I can't persuade a mind made up but I can help a mind that is open. I want to see you in heaven but your words tell me your mind is made up already. Whether you believe real or not real doesn't mean that it doesn't exist...
@Sammy you're funny. Most biologists would accurately describe the human body as not very well designed, with numerous places for improvements, obvious flaws and weaknesses and susceptible to a whole range of diseases that could have been avoided with just a little thought and planning. If this was gods best work and he worked for me, I would fire him for gross incompetence. Hardly a work of art from a genius mind. More like a bunch of 8 year old's trying to build a car.
Last time I checked, pure energy was also bound by physical laws. But for the sake of argument, assuming it isn't, why is the soul bound to your body and cannot escape until death? Why is the mental functioning of an individual limited by the physical condition of their brain? What do you actually know about the soul that you are not making up as you go along to be what you want it to be?
@informed – When was the last time any human built anything that enable the user to totally abuse it and still get 70 years out of it? And that is the downgraded design. If you were as informed on theology as your name implies you'd know that the bodies we have now do not compare to those we had before the fall.
Oh my God, I don't know why I didn't consult CNN and not God's Word on the existence of hell. Of course, they have all the answers. Why wouldn't they believe in hell, I mean, they have made CNN blogs heaven for the atheists.
Ron, if your word of God is the bible, then you are just exhibiting circular reasoning. Ask yourself why your god can't do something better for marcomm than a stale old book, and maybe even produce his own web presence. That could get you on the right road to leaving your particular god fable behind, like humans have with so many other god and Hades stories that they've created.
Your religion is fading out. Get used to it.
yeah, you kind of missed that this article was written by two 'prominent Christians', who appeared in the film in question, each with a different view on hell right? this isnt CNN's take on what hell is or isnt.
Ron- Nice circular argument there. "The Buy-bull is true because... errr...duhh... because the Buy-bull SAYS its true! Ha! Take that atheists!"
This is very inflammatory. This is what CNN turns to? Wow! I had better re-think where I get my news from. I stopped reading after the third paragraph. It's a load of rhetoric and that is all.
Keep reading. Mark Driscoll's opinion in the second half might be more to your liking.
Also, this is not the News section, it is the opinion section.
MB I also read to the second paragraph and told myself I'D BETTER STOP.
So someone's freely expressed opinion is inflammatory? You must really hate living in the United States, where free speech is a protected right.,
How can Jesus be God when he called on God to save him in his most critical time ( time of crucifiction ) he coudn't even save his own self, therefor, how is he going to save you?
You need to believe in and pray to the God whom Jesus ( peace be with him ) prayed to. Which is God – or Allah in Arabic. Islam is the correct way- do the research. and God knows best.
Islam is the true way.Allah the All Mighty Says (what means): "This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favor upon you and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.” [Quran 5:3 hell is real and for every sin we commit if not forgiven for we will be sent there.God Made Laws just as humans made laws.
Think about what the world will be like if we had no rules.Same applies to the only God Allah.Rules are set NOT to control as some people state,but to provide a way of life.
Is not eternal punishment immoral?
Very true. Any deity that inflicts infinite punishment for a finite offense cannot claim to be either loving or moral.
Isn't mass killings (Sodom and Grimoria, the Floods) immoral? Apparently, God's will is "Do as I say, not as I do." (excuse the spelling)
Not just that Matt.
Any all knowing, all loving diety who would set up and allow to continue a situation whereby his creations would end up in eternal punishment (of the diety's making) is either NOT 'all loving' or NOT 'all knowing'.
It's a catch 22. If he was all knowing – he'd know this was the end to part of his creation, and therefore could not be all loving, given what he knew would come to pass. Conversely, if he were all loving, he could not have been aware (all knowing) as to the eternal punishment thing.
The usual 'answer' that some try to shoe horn in here to try and fit this problem is 'free will'. Well, there are christian sects that don't believe in free will – those that hold a deterministic view, and believe in predestination. (Calvinists, anyone? Reformed Baptists and Presbyterians fall under this, for the most part)
Yet, how would 'free will' have any bearing on whether god knew all or loved all? He'd KNOW what people would do if he knew all, no matter what their free well caused them to do. Or he'd love anyway, no matter what as all loving.
I find this argument pointless. There is no physical manifestation of heaven or hell. Heaven or hell is what you perceive it to be based on your life. When you die, if you have nothing but regret and sadness to reflect on then that's your hell. If you die happy, with friends and family support and love then that's your heaven. Simple as that. There's a reason people say "My life flashed before my eyes".
I also find it somewhat ironic that the first gentleman says that there are zealots on both sides that feel that "god" smiles on them when they send someone on the other side to hell. By virtue of your beliefs, and that of the person who was killed, neither of your "Hells" exist so it's pretty much impossible to go there. In fact, you're probably sending them to their "heaven" because they died fighting for their beliefs. Oops....
Perhaps someone with less bias and more knowledge beyond his own flavor of Christianity should have written this article.
It's not an article. It's an opinion piece. Check first two words of the ti.tle: "Different Takes".
If people acted intelligently, then a requirement to being President of the US should be religious neutrality. Instead the Cristian militias have taken over politics and, like their corporate counterparts in business, control the destiny of a country through greed and self promotion. Ironically the US has so much in common with many Muslim countries, who suffer the exact same fate. Perhaps the true irony is that a belief in god is all that is needed to create a true hell on Earth.
Yes, there is a hell. It's called Cleveland.
lol... i like this one.
Kansas City might have sumfin' to say about that.
I agree. I spent a week there one day.
Bahahahahahaa. That was funny because it is true. What a hellish pit of a city.
yes the full answe can be seen at wwTheDimensionMachineDOM
When it comes to bullsh!t, big-time, major league bullsh!t, you have to stand in awe of the all-time champion of false promises and exaggerated claims, religion. No contest. No contest. Religion. Religion easily has the greatest bullsh!t story ever told. Think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there's an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things 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 you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever 'til the end of time!
But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money!
– George Carlin
Carlin was brilliant. Thanks for brightening my day with that quote.
R.I.P. George. Thanks for the laughs.
I cannot understand why so many people find it so hard to rationalize how a merciful, loving, God would allow people to go to Hell. The "merciful" and "loving" part was demonstrated at the Cross. Jesus paid the ultimate price for us. God demanded justice for our sins (yours and mine) and that price was paid at the cross.
Now...if after you die you find yourself in Hell, God isn't to blame for that!!! You can't reject Jesus, wind up in Hell, and then blame God for it. He made a way for you to escape it.
I know this analogy is used so much that it's almost cliche, but it does illlustrate the point nevertheless. If you have a disease that can only be cured by a particular medicine, but then you refuse to take that medicine and you die from the disease, you can't blame the doctor. He had the cure, and all you had to do was accept it and take it, but you refused. You're to blame for the outcome.
i thought your post was a joke when i first read it. the entire thought is so absurd.
any deity that requires adoration under threat of eternal torture is undeniably false.
no but i can blame god for sending billions of innocent good people to hell because they never had a chance to hear of your god
snowboarder- you are assuming that a their god (if real) would even care about us
Why you don't understand is similar to why a teenager doesn't understand why his parents won't let him do X with his friends.
Well I live in Seattle, and from what I know of Mark Driscoll, he's in line for Hell...so hey, let him believe in it. LIve by the sword....
Each of us have experienced a small taste of Hell in this life. All one needs to do is turn on the news or open a newspaper.
We've also experienced a small taste of Heaven in this life.
It's your choice which one you will have in the next life, which will be eternal.
A choice between eternal paradise and an eternal torturing is not a choice. God must send people to hell, no one would ever choose to go there.
Yet people in this life do choose "hell", Huebert. Addicts live in a form of hell that is of their own choosing. Adulterers create a "hell" for themselves. Poor choices result in suffering that was avoidable, yet every day, people make poor choices and suffer as a result.
if heaven and hell are real i would rather go to hell, then spend a life time worshiping a deity that sits silent while innocent people suffer but demand complete obedience. its elitism at its worst and i would rather go to the party where the host isn't judging everyone, than go to the party where the host checks out what religion you are wearing to entire.
The words you're missing are "free will". He gave man free will and with it comes good and bad. Without good you cannot have bad. If God did not give us free will then He would dictate our every move and we would be a society of robots. Part of free will comes the choices of bad people or bad choices, of which they can inflict harm on others, but that too is part of free will. Satan was given reign over the Earth for a period of time after which Jesus will return in the second coming and take over. There is nothing wrong with God. There is something wrong with your interpretation or lack of what you missed, "free will". Understand those two words and how they apply to God and it should explain itself assuming you are open minded enough to see a different point of view.
This is not to force anything down anyone's throat but rather an attempt to explain what you missed.
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.