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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 • My Faith • Opinion

soundoff (7,963 Responses)
  1. Hoover23

    Are invisible friends real?

    September 24, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • BU2B

      Only if you convince enough people to acknowledge them with you.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  2. sid

    useless article... another way to provoke extremists... it seems like the author has personally visited hell... ridiculous

    September 24, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  3. Colin

    Dear Hell Fearing Christians:

    God here.

    First, I do not exist. The concept of a 13,700,00,000 year old being, capable of creating the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies, monitoring simultaneously the thoughts and actions of the 7 billion human beings on this planet is ludicrous.

    Second, if I “loved” you, like you claim, why would I not smite the devil? I’m all powerful remember. I could eradicate hell in an instant, but instead I prefer to subject billions of people to a grotesque eternal torture that would turn the stomach of the most sadistic of murderers simply for refusing to subject themselves to me.

    Further, if I did exist and wanted to stop you from burning in the pit that I myself laid before you, I would have left you a book a little more consistent, timeless and independently verifiable than the collection of Iron Age Middle Eastern mythology you call the Bible. Hell, I bet you cannot tell me one thing about any of its authors or how and why it was compiled with certain writings included and others excluded, nor how it has been edited over the centuries, yet you cite it for the most extraordinary of supernatural claims.

    Thirdly, when I sent my “son” (whatever that means, given that I am god and do not mate) to Earth, he would have visited the Chinese, Ja.panese, Europeans, Russians, sub-Saharan Africans, Australian Aboriginals, Mongolians, Polynesians, Micronesians, Indonesians and native Americans, not just a few Jews. He would also have exhibited a knowledge of something outside of the Iron Age Middle East.

    Fourthly, I would not spend my time hiding, refusing to give any tangible evidence of my existence, and then punish those who are smart enough to draw the natural conclusion that I do not exist by burning them forever. That would make no sense to me, given that I am the one who elected to withhold all evidence of my existence in the first place.

    Fifthly, in the same vein, I would not make about 5% of the human population gay, then punish them for being that way. In fact, I wouldn’t care about how humans have $ex at all, given that I created all of the millions of millions of species on the planet, all of whom are furiously reproducing all the time. Human $ex would be of no interest to me, given that I can create Universes. Has it ever occurred to you that your obsession with making rules around human $ex is an entirely human affair?

    Sixth, I would have smited all you Christian activists, and all evangelicals and fundamentalists long before this. You people drive me nuts. You are so small minded and speak with such false authority. Many of you still believe in the talking snake nonsense from Genesis. I would kill all of you for that alone and burn you for an afternoon (burning forever is way too barbaric even for a sick, sadistic bast.ard like me to contemplate).

    Seventh, the whole idea of members of one species on one planet surviving their own physical deaths to “be with me” is utter, mind-numbing nonsense. Grow up. You will die. Get over it. I did. Hell, at least you had a life. I never even existed in the first place.

    Eighth, I do not read your minds, or “hear your prayers” as you euphemistically call it. There are 7 billion of you. Even if only 10% prayed once a day, that is 700,000,000 prayers. This works out at 8,000 prayers a second – every second of every day. Meanwhile I have to process the 100,000 of you who die every day between heaven and hell. Dwell on the sheer absurdity of that for a moment.

    Finally, the only reason you even consider believing in me is because of where you were born. Had you been born in India, you would likely believe in the Hindu gods, if born in Tibet, you would be a Buddhist. Every culture that has ever existed has had its own god(s) and they always seem to favor that particular culture, its hopes, dreams and prejudices. What, do you think we all exist? If not, why only yours?

    Look, let’s be honest with ourselves. There is no god. Believing in hell and in me was fine when you cringed in fear during the Dark Ages and thought the World was young, flat and simple. Now we know how enormous, old and complex the Universe is.

    Move on – get over me. I did.

    God

    September 24, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • tiffanyhays731

      You are my hero. (Talking about you as in Colin, not the God/Jesus thing whatever it is people believe)

      Faith in humanity, restored.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • coxric

      Hilarious and sad. I don't understand how rational, thinking adults can buy this fairy tale hogwash. I guess that means most humans aren't very rational.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:49 am |
  4. nowwhat

    Hell is jut another fairy tale!! I thought everyone knew that.. lol

    September 24, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  5. John

    Hell was invented by early story tellers like Dante. Religious wackos make their beliefs up in the moment, and people are so very gullible that they buy it.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • Huebert

      In fairness to Dante, Hell existed, theologically, long before he wrote about it. Though Dante is the one who transformed hell from a generic bad place to an organized, systematic torture universe.

      September 24, 2012 at 10:56 am |
  6. Gregg

    The only people going to hell will be when the anti-christ converts all churches into extermination centers.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • Huebert

      Do you seriously believe that?

      September 24, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • Gregg

      Why not?

      September 24, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • Huebert

      You believe that a mythical evil is going to come to earth and turn churches in to extermination centers. And you ask me why you shouldn't believe this? I guess if this doesn't seem silly to you now it never will.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:07 am |
  7. peter strange yumi

    Hell is real, if Mittens wins the election we will see it.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:51 am |
  8. Everyones Friend

    idiots

    September 24, 2012 at 10:51 am |
  9. Hoover23

    Is Harry Potter real??

    September 24, 2012 at 10:51 am |
  10. jason

    We need to abandon the idea of religion, there's no sense in any of this. There is no evidence AT ALL of god, heaven or hell. It has caused more death and destruction than anything else. We are lucky to have been able to learn so much about science and the origins of life to know that god does not exist.... all we are doing is killing each other and separating each other because of it. Come on folks this shouldn't be on the news at all!

    September 24, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  11. correctlycenter

    The real "hell" for atheists is thinking they can't live a egotistical, self-centered life and actually be accountable to no one, not even God...

    September 24, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • karl

      hell and heaven are both here one earth.... show me any evidence to the latter and I will wholeheartedly believe. the current god is no more real than the previous ones zeus, etc yet for some reason zeus seems non-existant to you while the current deity holds supreme. Use some basic logic and understand that these were answers to questions unobtainable in a less technological time. Times have changed and we should not be held back by archaic views...

      September 24, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • tallulah13

      I find it hysterically funny when I'm called self-centered by someone who believes that a being capable of creating the universe is obsessively reading their every thought to make sure that they are obeying arbitrary laws written down by a specific group of middle-easterners, because if they don't, they won't get to live as immortals in a paradise created especially for them.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • sam stone

      Speaking of egotistical, how about the theists who purport to speak for god....

      September 24, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • sam stone

      you do not know what kind of lives we lead.

      we are accountable to civil authorities, same as you

      September 24, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • MiddleWay14

      Your post lacks logical parity and coherence, as you've used a double negative. Also, most atheists, agnosics, ignostics, secular non-believers, etc. do think that they are accountable to ohers (namely human society and the natural world of which we are a part). You are gravely mistaken in your mischaracterization of these people. These people tend to belong to the most well-educated, moral, and empathetic subsegment of our population, as they rely heavily on logic, reason, and the scientific method to describe what reality is (rather than impluse, intuition, erratic emotions, and irratonal dogmas).

      And do not fool yourself. You are a slave to the men who have authored the religion you follow. You submit yourself to their will. They hide their own will and intent behind the word "god" . You're whole life is a lie. Think about that for a second. Everything you know is grounded in falsehoods. I suggest dismantling your false conceptual frameworks of the world and reexamining it with fresh eyes. Don't waste the short time you have here trying to appel to something that does not exist. You can still be a good person without using religion as a crutch if you are strong enough. Good luck.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • Religion is Not Heathly for children or ANY living things

      Atheists understand the FACT that all humans are all accountable to HUMAN-KIND! That is something religion fails to comprehend! Atheists are not self-centered, they are HUMAN-CENTERED! Atheists strive to improve HUMAN-KIND and to remove Myths, Fantasy and other intellectual obstacles from the HUMAN persuit of TRUTH and Knowledge! Religion is the NUMBER ONE largest Obstacle to the persuit of TRUTH and KNOWLEDGE! Religion is based on MYTH and FANTASY!

      September 24, 2012 at 11:46 am |
  12. Buddha2112

    You Tube...George Carlin...Religion...Watch it.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:46 am |
  13. wisdomVS

    If God truly wants mankind of each generation to believe in him, he might try personanlly showing up once in a while. Offer us helpful guidance, offer medicine for what ails us, etc. etc. That's what my earthly father does for me, because he loves me... why can't the heavenly one do this as well. Why rely on an ancient book and the interpretation of man?

    September 24, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • Way Out There

      If He did show up, would you believe it was Him, or would you make up an excuse to disprove?

      September 24, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • tallulah13

      If your god was all-powerful, he wouldn't have a problem convincing people he exists.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
  14. glades2

    Ghosts sadly do exist as Jesus said to the Apostles in Luke 24:39, but as the Bible also states that does not mean ghosts are good, since they exist because they cannot enter Heaven are awaiting Judgement – as we all are. There have been rebellious times in my lfie when I tried very hard to live apart from God – and can tell you that especially when asleep I'd have some very frightening sensations – not nightmares as such, but experiences that definitely were not of God, and after returning to God in mind and spirit those frightening thoughts stopped – no coincidence, but as many say the devil also knows what we are doing, and waits for moments of rebellion to take after our soul...

    September 24, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • tallulah13

      I don't believe in god, and I sleep very well at night. I don't believe in ghosts, I'm not afraid of the boogeyman, and if I have a fear, I confront it. (I got over my fear of spiders that way. Now I rather like them.) I don't need unsubstantiated promises of hell or heaven to be an honest, decent person. I don't have time to fear the supernatural. I'm too busy dealing with the events of real life.

      September 24, 2012 at 10:52 am |
  15. Bishop Hairy Palms

    September 24, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • Religion is Not Heathly for children or ANY living things

      Excellent assessment of world religions! I couldn't agree more!!!

      September 24, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  16. Mike

    Who is douch advberg making a page long copy and paste of the bible. The bible doesn't have to do with heaven or hell. The bible was created by a human heaven and hell is not human. We are in pergatory or what ever you want to call it and our decisions will send us to heaven or hell on earth and we will go into the afterlife with what we create as a society.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:45 am |
  17. palintwit

    A teabagger's idea of hell is when the general store down in the holler runs out of Everclear.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • ME II

      palintwit's hell, no more teabagging

      September 24, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  18. Obamabus

    The afterlife is more like the movie "Defending Your Life" with Meryl Streep and Albert Brooks.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:43 am |
  19. Randy

    Driscoll gets it right – Schaeffer doesn't.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • ME II

      based on what, exactly?

      September 24, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • Slovensko

      The way they talk about it is even different. The first guy is just kinda like, hell is silly, doesnt really say why. Driscol backs up everything he says with scripture.

      September 24, 2012 at 10:58 am |
  20. jeff

    For those that believe in heaven, if it's the perfect place to spend eternity, full of eternal happiness, how can it be so if those our sons, daughters, parents, etc. that never made it to heaven because they did something very bad or didn't believe in god?

    September 24, 2012 at 10:43 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.