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.
The writer of this article does not seem to understand the true spirit of evangelical Christians. Hell is not God's revenge but a place where all people are headed thanks to the sin nature inherited from Adam who chose to sin. This nature was passed down to all of us. If one jumps from a building and is killed it is not revenge, it is just the way of this world. Jesus came to correct our path and give us a choice of where to spend eternity. He will not force anyone to believe, accept or serve him by force but he calls those who want to come to him. As far as the war being about revenge I disagree with that as well. It is about self defense. The radical Islamist in those countries want to fight us and kill us. They brought it to our soil and we responded. We are there to protect Americans not reap revenge.
Willy, original sin is a horrible doctrine that has no basis in reality. There WAS no "Adam or Eve." We evolved from primates.
But even though I am an atheist, I admit that one cannot use "evolution" as an argument against the existence of god. A god COULD have assigned evolution as a system to create intelligent beings who were conscious and had enough brains to understand the Universe (at least partially).
In fact, I think that your churches could teach evolution right in their own buildings, as a "proof" that god exists. Evolution is as good an argument for god as the bible, and probably a better one.
In fact, I think that your churches could teach evolution right in their own buildings, as a "proof" that god exists. Evolution is as good an argument for god as the bible, and probably a better one.
Original sin is in the bible. If you do not believe the bible I can see where you might say that original sin is a poor argument but when something is true it does not have to make me feel good or align with perfect logic. I have seen things in life that did not make sense to me but yet they were true. I was simply giving what I have learned from bible teaching on this subject. I have heard of contradictions in the bible but every example given can be foiled with more research. That being said I would still believe what it said as a matter of faith. Thank you for your thoughtful comment and not calling me a name. I have learned that an honest exchange usually cannot occur when name calling starts.
Hell is making a sane man read CNN belief blog and endure the crazies that post here.
Really ? Someone is holding a gun to your head ?
of course there is a hell -– i work there L O L
Hell is just a scare tactic to keep the sheep in the pasture. How so many folks still believe in this nonsense is very scary.
i suppose we will all find out one day whether or not it is real. however the risk you take as a non-believer is far greater than the one i take as a believer. see if you are right, then i just die and do nothing. but, if i am right then you die and go to hell to suffer an eternal fire. hmm not a chance im willing to take i guess. you must be very "courageous." beast!
Yawn, pascal's wager.
America...America?? Are we still discussing that which the natural mind cannot conceive apart from a relationship Christ. How can we judge that which we've never sought. For once in our little tired, sappy lives, try Christ for yourself. It seems that man fears religion because he cannot manipulate it. The world's wisdom has crumbled. Seek truths from a personal relationship God. Not man. If it doesn't satisfy you, then you have lost nothing. It is not only smart to be a BELIEVER, but WISE.
You can't have a relationship with a dead guy, sorry to break it to you. That voice you hear in your head is still your own voice.
Society is in pergatory and our decisions are going to make or create heaven or hell on earth.
If people spent as much time concerned with the here and now as that which is spent worrying about a notional after life we could all be living heaven on earth. Humanity can reach its pinnacle if we give as much effort in dismantling each other in advance afterlife with a great deal more humanity to man. Stay true to faith but avoid religion(s) which proclaim to have ownership of your beliefs. Right and wrong are not tenets of religion but innate human attributes to be nurtured.
There is no hell, no. Stop telling people things you do not know.
How can YOU be sure?
Because there is no evidence.
Candace, just by using common sense. Nothing in reality has ever hinted that hell is real. Just because a book says it is, doesn't make it so.
basically, Pastor Mark Driscoll believes the vast super-majority of humanity will go to hell, as the vast majority of humanity does not believe in his version of jesus. There's 7 billion humans. Only 2 billion Christians. You do the math. Horrible religion.
(yes, I'm aware Muslims believe in jesus too. Add in their numbers and most of humanity is still hell bound by this ideology.)
doesn't even answer what happened to everyone before Christianity was invented. Guess almost everyone who has ever lived is burning. Funny, he doesn't mention that.
Indeed. Out of all the silly superst.itious beliefs of the Christians, I think the myth of hell is my favorite. Think it through. I don't have to kill, I don't have to steal, hell, I don't even have to litter. All I have to do is have a reasonable, honest and rational disbelief in the Christian god and he will inflict a grotesque penalty upon me an infinite times worse than the death penalty. And he loves me.
Let's subject this "cherished Christian doctrine" to the probing light of say.......fifth grade mathematics.
Approximately one hundred and ten thousand million (110,000,000,000) people have lived on Earth. Given all those who have, over the centuries, rejected the Christian god, or who have otherwise committed mortal sins, there must be literally thousands of millions of people burning for all eternity in the cosmic oven of hell set up by their all-loving god. Some must have been burning for thousands of years by now.
About 100,000 people die every day. There must be a constant stream of thousands of forlorn souls every day into the one way pit of hell their “all-merciful” god set up and maintains.
But, far, far worse than sheer overwhelming numbers is the extent of the punishment. There is no way out, no parole, no time off for good behavior. You don’t just burn, you burn for all eternity. Billions of people and thousands of daily new arrivals burning for all eternity!
No criminal justice system in the history of the Human race, even those established by the most despotic of tyrants, comes close to matching the unfathomable barbarity of their “infinitely benevolent” god.
Hitler murdered six million Jews in his concentration camps, but compared to the Judeo-Christian god, Hitler was a bleeding-hearted wimp. A goose-stepping girlie-man. Their “all-caring” god not only burns billions more than Hitler, Pol Pot and all other dictators and tyrants added up, he keeps doing so to them for all eternity! I would not wish a bad sunburn on a person simply because they have a different religion to me, let alone fry them for all eternity.
It is also odd that their all-loving god is also all-knowing and knows which souls will go to hell before they do. He even knows it before they are born, and yet he still creates them. He is worse than a psychopathic teenager than breeds litter after litter of kittens so he can slowly roast them in ovens.
That is the problem with using the same deity to be both the carrot and the stick. It gets really silly really quickly.
How they believe this utter garbage in the 21st century completely eludes me.
That was simply brilliant! Well done sir.
So if wicked people (sinful descendants of Adam and Eve like the rest of us) are bound to go to hell, where did Adam and Eve (who because of their rebellion against God gave way to all of mankind's problems including all the unmentionable suffering) go when they sinned? Should they have received a more severe punishment than the rest of their descendants? – Then why do they only get to 'return to the ground, for out of it you were taken. For dust you are and to dust you will return' (Genesis 3:19)
Religion is a business that feeds off of fear of the unknown. Each religion has a single source for its beliefs, be it the Bible, or Koran. We should call religion by its true name "Psycological Terrorism".
wisdomVS, very well said. I couldn't agree more.
there is nothing unknown about God's word. he makes it pretty clear. if you dont understand it then i would love to help you. Jesus says that he "is willing that none should parish" thats why there is a hell for people that turn their back on him, on their own free will.
Yeah "religion" is the problem because "religion" is man made, causeing people to be able to put their own spin and twists on God's word. Take Constantine for example, he worshipped a pagan god named Mithra, then decided to become a "Christian" and wanting to grow his version of christianity he allowed all to come and keep their former gods and beliefs as long as they called themselves "christian", that is why we celebrate christmas as Christ's b-day but in all truth it is nothing more but a pagan celebration of various sun whorshipping pagan religions who all state that their god was born on Dec. 25th, seeing as how that is when the days start to to get longer thanks to the return of the "sun god"; Baal, Mithra, Molech, Tammuz etc.
Tat caused a whole new religion in itself named "christianity" but reallly had nothing in it that was truly Christian, they also like to whorship this goddess called the "queen of Heaven" or who Nimrod's wife/mother Semiramis supposedly transcened to become Ishtar, Ashtoreth etc, she had a baby by the god named baal before she became a goddess. Named Tammuz, they worshipped as the "new born sun god". There is a lot in between what i have briefly stated here but look up Babylonian history and Simon Magus, Constantine, and for the same thin in Judaism look up the Khazars. You will see how man following Lucifer's guidance has served to corrupt and confuse God's reletionship with mankind.
"from born-again American military personnel to Muslim fanatics, who seriously believe that God smiles upon them when they send their enemies to hell"
Please tell me where you find anything about Conservatives Christians believing that "God smiles on them for sending their enemies to hell" – I have been a Cristian for the better part of 66 years and everything I read in the Bible and have been taught says "to love your enemies" – not send them to hell. We certainly don't believe we have 72 virgins waiting for us – so please – if you call yourself a journalist – it might do you well to research your facts.
If I am a benevolent, loving father who is worried that my children, who I love very much, will not believe something I tell them, such as "smoking is bad for you," I should:
(a) have our family doctor explain to them the various ill effects of smoking.
(b) show them a film produced by the National Inst.itute for Health on the topic.
(c) set a good example for them by not smoking; or
(d) refuse to give them any evidence of the ill effects of smoking, insist they rely on faith and then take them out into the backyard and burn them to death if I ever catch them smoking.
For anyone to speak or write in absolute about God, Heaven, Hell, Christ, you should be checked for mental disease. Faith is based on no logic. How is believing in something without proof logical? Its more irrational than rational reasonable thought. I almost died once and didn't have a near death experience. I didn't go anywhere. No tunnel of light.. nothing! Doctors have already proven that near death experiences is the same chemical rather you have when dreaming. The brain releases a nature chemical created by the human body which is similar to taking acid. It allows us to create experiences based upon our subconscious .. If there is a god he's probably not thinking about you or your family..if you sin or not. Sin is a human representation of the basis for guilt. I don't trust any word written by man describing the ideals of any god.
More than 4000 comments on a topic that no-one in the first world would consider worthy of even looking at......(settled centuries ago in europe)
Only in America!!! (unfortunately)
The concept of Hell really does make sense.
Why, because the bible says so?
Only to a nut-job like you, Gopher.
We would solve almost all of the worlds problems in an instant if we got rid of all religious doctrine.
we already have done this. look at our country and it would appear that God has lifted some of his protection because we have taken him out of most everything in this country. congrats, we are headed down the toilet because you want to take doctrine out of the world.
The sooner we rid ourselves of these man-made hocus pokus myths, the better off we'll be. Science > Guessing
Well if the republicans get their way and lie thru the election process with Romney then Americans under the top 2% will know what H ell is like on a daily basis...
Your Da mnation starts with:
More tax breaks for the wealthy and the elderly and poor pay for the cut.
EPA rolled back to allow big business to profit more and polute cancerious environmental hazards for all....
Less restrictions on the Banks and Wallstreet as they have ahlzimers and don't remember the mess they left Obama at the brink of US crumbling in a depression. (Oh well Republicans can never be wrong)
Offshoring of jobs as this is what giving tax breaks to the top 2% spawn....
So welcome to future h ell if you vote this draft dodging Vietnam coward into office.
Religious war? It's religious in the sense that 1 religion, Islam, declared war against a country that happens to be officially secular and the response to that declaration of war was not a holy one. It was a secular military responding. Poor premise to start off because this is not a war of religions from one belligerents perspective.
I love how not raising taxes is viewed as a tax cut.
Some of these comments are so outlandish that I can't believe the people who made them actually believe it to be true. Poor souls...... Oh yeah, and many atheists who choose to venture out and try to prove God is not real and the bible is a story book, they actually became Christians them selves. So, If you believe so much that God isn't real, prove it!
"Themselves" is one word, Einstein.
If god were real it wouldn't rely on dolts like yourself to attempt to preach for him. go back to school and have a thought.
Using your logic, it is the task of people who dont beleive in big foot to prove there is no big foot. It must also be the task of people who dont beleive in fairies to prove there are no fairies. So please explain to us how it is even possible to prove something doesnt exist. How exactly do you, yourself, disprove fairies? Or do you beleive in them because you cant disprove them?
Generally the opposite is true: Believers start looking into exactly what they've been taught to believe, then realize that there is no evidence to support the existence of any god.
That is like me asking you to prove that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is not real. You cannot do it.
The problem is that everyone treats their own religion as the null hypothesis. That is not how it works. You don't get to assume your religion is true up front. The null hypothesis is that your god does not exist, and it is up to you to prove the alternative hypothesis, which is that "he" does exist.
I dont believe that you believe so I win
What you are doing is a fallacy, known as "shifting the burden of proof." It is always up to the person claiming that X exist to provide evidence for X. Until this burden has been satisfied, the rational decision is to reject X.
Janice, Faith is a personal thing. If you have it, good for you. As for me, I have my own faith (that there is no God), and I'm fine with that. There are many on these forums that are hate-filled radicals on every side. It's a sad fact of life. But their hate-spew is of no consequence to people of conviction, like you and me.
If you believe God is real, then you prove it. Athiests don't have to prove that God exists. They just have to show that you can't prove he does anymore than you can prove the existence of the Easter Bunny. Although...if there is no Easter Bunny, I don't know where all of those plastic eggs full of mini Snickers bars come from every April. So, bad analogy. It's easier to prove the existence of the Easter Bunny than God.
Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...
If hell is a life without knowing god, then hell is not such torture, people. If hell is a bunch of evil demons living under the earth in lava pits burning people's souls for eternity, then I guess Mary Poppins and Optimus Prime are real too cuz that fiction doesn't fly.
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.