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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. Richard

    My firm approach to the problem is to laugh out loud at anyone over nine years old who claims to have imaginary friends and enemies. Their choice to believe that garbage was an appeal to emotion, so an appeal to emotion is all that will work to undo such a choice and I find the best way to do that is to laugh at them. Besides, they have made it quite clear they have no interest in reasoning with anyone about their beliefs.

    Laughing at them does not deny anyone their civil rights and no one dies over it. They just have to decide if their beliefs are worth being laughed at by the rest of the intelligent world. It's their problem, not mine. My problem is living alongside them.

    September 24, 2012 at 11:05 am |
  2. Lokust

    It's as real as Wolverine and Magneto.

    September 24, 2012 at 11:05 am |
  3. slupdawg

    I bet Mark Driscoll is just a hell of a lot of fun to be around. Just like licking a flyswatter.

    September 24, 2012 at 11:04 am |
  4. snowboarder

    it is unbelievable that christians use the irrational fear of hell to influence believers and nonbelievers alike.

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

      How is the fear of hell irrational? If hell is real, it should be feared and to no fear it would be irrational. If hell is not real, then fearing it would be irrational.

      The difference comes down to belief. Since we do not KNOW if there is a hell, we can only act rationally based on our beliefs. Therefore, those who believe in hell, fear hell, and are rational in so doing. Someone who does not believe in hell, generally is not afraid of it and is also acting rationally.

      Considering that there is no evidence for or against anything in the afterlife (being a complete unknown), any philosophically valid belief is rational, since there is no evidence against it and reasonable cause for belief.

      It is not hard science, but niether is it irrational or illogical.

      Note than many believe in it without thought (rational or logical), but their example does not affect the underlying arguments.

      I could even throw in Pascal's wager if you wanted a rational basis for why a belief in hell is supior to the lack of a belief in hell, but you can go google that if you want to see why it is so (and it does nothing for directing one to "which hell" only to the supiority of a belief in hell).

      If one is looking at Islam or Christianity and comes away with hell as the focus, however, they are doing a poor job of servicing the faith. Both faiths are far more about living right, avoiding wrong, and achieving paradise – Christianity by being forgiven of sin through Christ and freed up from the law to do good, Islam through total submission to Allah in every act.

      These are exclusivistic faiths (they cannot both be right) and they are both evangelical faiths (attempting to convert others with the "good new" or "right teaching"). This means they will often come into conflict despite sharing many of the same moral norms (not killing, stealing, or blashpeming God being high on the lists of both).

      September 24, 2012 at 11:26 am |
  5. Peter P

    I believe that we're in Hell right now, here on Earth, and that conservative Christians and Muslims are the cruel devils and demons tormenting us while we do time here.

    September 24, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  6. fiftyfive55

    Sure there's a hell.It's where politicians and businessmen go when they die.

    September 24, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  7. coffeemaker

    The only real hell is going to catholic school back in the 1960's A 300 pound nun whipping a kid with her rosary beads,
    or pushing a kid's face into the water fountain screaming out " I'm going to drowned him" THAT'S HELL. Listen to the 300 pound nun preaching to resoect your body then smash your head into a blackboard THAT'S Hell.

    September 24, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  8. Richard

    "“Our God,” Muslims are asked to recite, “You are peace, and peace is from You.”"

    Who cares, if "peace" means we've all been killed in a holy war?

    September 24, 2012 at 11:01 am |
  9. 1word

    http://www.lightsource.com/ministry/changing-your-life-with-gregory-dickow/bill-wiese-23-minutes-in-hell-294853.html

    September 24, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  10. Gary Sumner

    I'm with SillyBean. If Heaven is full of Right-Wing Republicans like Rush & Hannity, then take me to Hell! When are we going to stop with all this religious nonsense? There is no invisiblt god, or heaven or hell. Fairy tales like that are so out of date its ridiculous!

    September 24, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  11. Deb

    Is hell real? Has the writer of this story never been married?

    September 24, 2012 at 10:58 am |
  12. Zach

    We are one planet in an infinite universe full of uncomprehending distance and space, time doesn't even count outside of this solar system. We should be focusing more of our energy trying to figure this stuff out instead of wasting our time, energy, and resources debating amongst ourselves who's imaginary friend is better then the others. How can we claim to have the answers to life and everything from a book written by people who thought the earth was flat and the sun was just miles away? it's ridiculous in every way that people still base their lives off of this nonsense, and go even farther to judge by and force their religion down unbelievers throats. As a human race, we are just starting to really understand a little bit of the universe around us, and our relationship to this planet, if we would focus on this, our home where we are actually alive and breathing on right now, we would realize that we are just killing it with our pointless wars. Stop living in the imaginary world of heaven, hell, and wonderland, get your head out of your ass and deal with life right now! Get out and have a little fun, as long as your not hurting anybody why drive yourself crazy with worry that you might sin? Life is happening RIGHT NOW people, so please, please enjoy it for that!

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

      A sane comment! Perhaps there is hope for humanity after all.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • Ted

      As an old gay man, I've had a lifetime to see how unfair Christians can be in America. They have actively withheld my rights as a human being by using their 2,000 year old religious text as justification to stop me in my tracks. Every piecemeal advancement that gay Americans have made have been due to democratically minded individuals who don't belong to the conservative Republican party. Every roadblock that has been put up to block my participation in life has been placed there by conservative Republicans. It seems so bizarre to hear them chastise Islamic countries on a daily basis for doing the exact same things that Christians do in America. We despise the possibility of an Iranian Islamic theocracy, but strive to create the same Christian theocracy here in America. I would never in a million years work to deny others of continued advancement in all areas of life. I don't believe in God, yet I am more Christian than any Christian I know.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • Athiest

      Great post.

      Our future is amongst the stars, to eventually leave this Earth and to colonise distant planets. This is our future.

      Religion is holding us back, we don't need it!

      September 24, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • P

      Zach,
      Christians believe that the Bible, while manually written by various human authors, are words inspired by God. While people at that time the Bible was written (and for many years after) may have believed the world was flat, there was a clear indication in the Old Testament book of Isaiah, that the earth was not: "He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth',(Isaiah 40:22). It is was also noted in the Bible long ago that the earth is suspended in space, that the earth is suspended in space:' He spreads out the northern [skies] over empty space; he suspends the earth over nothing' (Job 26:7) – something Copernicus would discover in 1475. To condemn the Bible as useless and ridiculous for people to base their lives on simply because the Bible existed when people believed the earth was flat (even though the Bible clearly said it wasn't) is to not be aware all that is offered in the Bible.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:44 am |
  13. Uniquitous

    Frank seriously needs a reality check. I do not know of any Christian that believes killing his enemy makes God happy. Any killing is wrong, but it is acceptable for God's children to protect themselves and their way of life.

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

      You're the one needing the reality check. Every human being on earth is a child of God. Every human on earth is equal in the eyes of God.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:03 am |
  14. Samantha

    Is this really appropriate to have on CNN?

    September 24, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • Amniculi

      Umm...yes. It's in the Belief Blog.

      September 24, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • sam stone

      In the Belief Blog? Yes

      September 24, 2012 at 11:01 am |
  15. Jeni1

    Frank Shaeffer's views on Christianity are absolutely nuts. He presents them as factual, whereas both view he holds (fundamentalist Christian view and the more New Testament jesus view) are BOTH incorrect. We do not desire to dispatch anyone to hell, while hell does exist. To say that our military personnel are out there itching to see people condemned for all eternity is vile. You can call yourself a "pastor" but not adhere to any of the major tenets of the faith, and clearly this is the case with Frank.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • slupdawg

      Are you referring to Mark Driscoll? He's the pastor, not Frank Schaefer

      September 24, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  16. SillyBean

    My idea of HELL is spending time in another realm, alcohol free, in prayer, singing devotionals hand in hand with Jerry Fallwell or the like ... I'll do anything to not let that happen.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:55 am |
  17. ron

    Of course!! We are living in it everyday, look around you!

    September 24, 2012 at 10:55 am |
  18. Aaron Burns

    SHOULD WE ABONDON THE IDEA OF HELL??? HOW ABOUT WE ABANDON THE WHOLE BS, SINCE NOW WE SEEM TO HAVE THE ABILITY TO CHOOSE WHAT MYTHS WE BELIEVE. SUCK AN EGG CNN.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  19. BEN

    The bible says "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast." (EPHESIANS 2:8-9)
    It's the simple fact that JESUS is the one true path to salvation, not works. Being a good person will not give you the key to the Kingdom of God. While doign good things certainly does make your life more enjoyable, and does fill your heart with joy, its simply stated that JESUS is essential to salvation.

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

      Another sheep trying to use the bible to prove the bible. Circular logic doesn't work, that is the "simple fact".

      September 24, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • Madtown

      JESUS is essential to salvation
      -----
      Ben, what happens to human souls who have never heard of Jesus? You know, there are cultures of humans on this planet who have no access to christianity, because it isn't practiced and doesn't really exist where they live. Are they any less a creation of God? Think outside your own little bubble every once in awhile.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • Religion is Not Heathly for children or ANY living things

      Well, Since you are quoting the bible, you have already thrown any and all FACTS out the window! That completely destroys ANY integrity that your little rant could possibly have contained!...

      September 24, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • BEN

      I cant pretend to understand God's will, he works in mysterious ways. i think it's sort of pathetic however that you're attacking someone for their beliefs... BUT for the people who live in distant villages in remote areas of the world who have neevr heard the gospel, i'm not entirely sure about their fate. However I do believe in a loving God, and i know that what he decides will ultimately be the best choice. I dont think he would punish someone for not being able to know the truth? That makes no logical sense. And to using th e bible to prove the bible? Theres nothing wrong with that? The bible is God's spoken word, and it brings light and truth unto the world. Even thouhg you don't belive in God, he stillloves each and everyone of you, and he sent his only son to die a painful death on a wooden cross for YOU.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • Madtown

      The bible is God's spoken word
      ----
      C'mon man, think for yourself. Just for a moment, think about things logically, without leaning on the religion rhetoric you've been told. The bible is MAN'S WRITTEN WORD. It's not "God's word", or it wouldn't have been written, edited, chosen, transcribed, translated, and re-issued in the form of mulitple different versions. Would God even approve of human beings editing his divine message? I'd think not. I also believe that your mind and intellect are a gift from God. Use it to think critically, question and evaluate. It's ok to believe in God, I do. But, religion is a creation of mankind. There are certain things we just can't know, and making up answers isn't the way to go.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • sam stone

      "I cant pretend to understand God's will"

      Yet, that is EXACTLY what you are doing

      "It's the simple fact that JESUS is the one true path to salvation, not works"

      It is not a fact, BEN, it is an opinion.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
  20. Madtown

    As a pastor, my job is to tell the truth.
    ----–
    I enjoyed Frank's column, retributive religion pits humans against one another simply on the basis of individual opinion, in lieu of actual proven fact. More humility and empathy from the worlds religions could have a very beneficial impact on humanity. But, in Mark Driscoll's column, I knew I'd be dismissing what he said based on his first sentence, that it's his "job to tell the truth". What arrogance. As if there's any "truth" to be known through religion? And, his "truth" is somehow superior to the "truths" that followers of different religions believe? This is the language of divisiveness. This is what pits humans against each other and creates chasms that we will likely not cross. People like Mark Driscoll represent the dangers of religion.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:54 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.