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.
if there is a hell -- show me -- put up or shut up -– anyone can write something and say its true but can it be backed up???
Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us, only sky
Hell is real....real awesome!
I want nothing to do with a "god" that is capable of conceiving of a place like hell and would create a Hell as described in the bible to send the vast majority of the creatures he made. I would rather spend an eternity suffering in hell then waste one moment worshipping such a hedious monster!
And the fact is that if you don't change your mind you will be. Hell is saved for those just as you spoke. Who are in rebellion towards God. He is a compassionate and longsuffering God. Everyday is His grace towards you, and all who oppose Him.
Andrew.Peter: Not sure how I am rebelling against something that is merely a figment of your imagination, but if it floats your boat to persist in believing that guys like me are going to some imaginary hell, then knock yourself out. I will continue to have pity on you for being such a gullible fool. And to repeat, I would rather spend an eternity in hell then waste one moment worshiping your sick and twisted "god."
You'll likely get your wish.
Just-A-Guy, such a "god" as the one described by most Christians does not exist. According to scripture such a "god" is something that people have created in their minds. Scripture teaches that this God is loving an caring to the point that anybody who dies (good or bad) goes to the grave (not heaven or hell) and awaits there for Jesus second coming to receive eternal salvation, or eternal death. Is there going to be a punishment at that time for those that did not accept the gift of FREE salvation? Yes, but it will not be, them burning in hell forever and having God's enemy (Satan) in charge of torturing God's creation. If that was the case, instead of punishing Satan, God will be rewarding him. The Bible teaches that God will destroy Satan and his angels and unfortunately many people that choose not to receive eternal salvation. They will be destroyed and will be consumed, they will not burn forever, but the consequences will be eternal. How could a person that is in heaven enjoy paradise as family and friends are burning forever, that is not the kind of God that the Bible teaches. He is a loving God. It is true that He chastens and punishes those that He love. Because of His love for us He will eradicate sin (sin brings pain, suffering,death and all the negative things that we see today.) forever and that includes Satan and his followers. God is doing everything possible to save humanity, but He can't violate the freedom of choice. We need to make a decision to follow Him not out of fear, but out of love for Him. May God bless you, and I pray that you can see this God that the Bible teaches and not the "god" that many teach about today (a non-existing god) a "god" that punishes his creation forever and ever and that enjoys that.
Religion is rubbish and people who believe in things unseen are stupid.
Although I basically agree with you (especially regarding religion), your remark makes no sense with regard to thinks like "gravity" or "electromagnetic current".
pcoder – bother gravity and electromagnetic fields are both predictable and measureable.
hardly comparable to the unknowable "god".
Hell is living on earth with drama.
I know it exists for certain. I married her and subsequently divorced her over 10 years ago.
Amen to that.
Yes, Hell is real! It's called CNN.
"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."
– That would be one hell of a line!
– I hope the airlines would still be operating, it's one hell of a trek from here to the Holy Land!
– Can someone recommend the best law firm for appealing the sentence?
– Can I get out on bail?
I'd like to know when Judgement is going to come?
Just so that on the night before I can switch off my alarm and have a nice long lie in.
What a rediculous article! How could someone seriously compare Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush? CNN should be ashamed that they allowed this on their site.
George W. Bush in no way needed Christianity to justify his actions. Any atheist president could have done the exact same things.
They both saw themselves as participants in a holy conflict, so the comparison isn't unjustified.
I'm sorry, but this has to be one of the dumbest things to ever be put on CNN. The 2nd guy argues that "hell is real", Jesus is the way to be saved" and "But death is not normal or natural".
Is THIS really who CNN has working for them? Because this is just silly. Why not have 6 year olds writing that SPiderman and Superman are real?
Doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand the shallow mind of a religious follower, just a good video.
"But death is not normal or natural"
Says the 2nd author... And it's a good thing we believe someone who thinks this way.
God is real. Say you feel sorry for me. Say I'm lost. But I am the one who is sorry for you. After your short lives, you'll see that an eternity is waiting for you.
"God is real."
Are you that shallow that those who disagree with you must suffer painful agony for ever and ever and ever and ever?
It's not my rules. It's not my choice what happens to you. I wish you get everything you want. But the problem is you want a Godless life. This world isn't Godless. Because of that want of yours, you must pay. Not because I say so. Because God says so.
If believing that you are better than us because we don't believe the silly things you believe helps you sleep at night, than power to you.
I never said I want a godless life. I simply want evidence for something before I believe it.
If we don't believe this fantasy - can't believe it - shall we pretend that we do?
joek: Pascal's Wager. Just google it and learn.
I'm just shaking my head in disbelief, all you scoffers. It hurts me to know that you have a choice and you choose to blasphem or deny God. It really is true, that, in the Bible, it says narrow is the road to Heaven, few are those who will enter. I used to believe that probably, everyone would go to Heaven. Now I see that most are destined to Hell only because they feel superior to God. I"m praying for you all and our country.
Please pray and not prey by attempting to use the power of government of stomp me.
So I'm going to hell am I? Well, I'll show you! Now you've gone and made me have to crush your tiny little head between my thumb and finger. I'm crushing your head, I'm crushing your head!
Which version of hell?
Actually, don't worry about it because I don't care.
Continue shaking your head in disbelief, it might shake some common sense into you!
Oh and I'm glad that it offends you.
Katie, you are basically taking Pascal's Wager. Bad case. Suggest you google it.
Your next question ....Is there a heaven and how do you get there from here?
If there is a Heaven then there has to be a Hell as sure that, if there are 5 star hotels then there must be one star dives as well. :-)
So heaven and hell are hotels...ok I'll go with that.
I heard that there is a stairway you can buy. I think they sell it at Wal Mart.
@ attack- Faith and Grace, two very important concepts. You have to stand for something or you'll fall for everything. History and Science stand behind the biblical account, and the faith and grace support the rest. Look inside.
History and science stand behind the biblical account of what exactly?
i'm guessing you don't know much about science or history.
Science disagrees with the Genesis account, among other things.
History disagrees with several accounts in the Bible, like the Sun stopping in the sky for an extra long day, among other things.
In my experience, the concept of hell, and really, the entire concept of sin, is at best a means of controlling a group of people and manipulating the morality of a social group, and at worst, abusive and corrupting.
Of course, in the hands of true believers, those who believe with every ounce of their being, the concept is dangerous and can easily be turned to hatred, suppression and violence. This is true regardless of what religion we are talking about.
Right and wrong are not absolute. Morality is subjective. Belief in a god or gods doesn't change that. In fact, a thorough, honest look at the history of a religion will prove it.
If we live this life here on earth as best we can, what comes after shouldn't worry us.
"Right and wrong are not absolute. Morality is subjective. Belief in a god or gods doesn't change that. In fact, a thorough, honest look at the history of a religion will prove it."
Really? So according to you if someone feels like abusing or murdering little kids (or abusing and then murdering) it might not actually be absolutely morally wrong? Right and wrong ARE absolute.
Scott, I did not condone abusing or killing children.
I said morality is subjective. I personally can not conceive a situation wherein I would say that abusing children was morally right. However I do believe that all morality is relative.
I think we would all agree that stealing is wrong. But, can you not think of a situation where you would agree it was the right thing to do? Or killing. I think we all agree that killing is wrong. Yet, we sanction it when the state determines a human being beyond the ability to rehabilitate, when their crimes are so heinous that they can not be allowed back into a free society.
There was a time, not that long ago, here in the US, where we allowed children as young as ten to be married, with parental consent. Was that child abuse? It would be considered so today, wouldn't it? And yet, a hundred and fifty years ago, it was legal.
Wow Mark – Way to condemn the hundreds of millions, actually, as I think about it, _billions_ of people who haven't accepted your particular brand of make-believe. You must be fun at parties.
Again, he expresses the view common to fundamentalists. It is kind of like the old saying, "It's my way or the highway." Only in his case, the highway was expressed in a song by AC/DC.
Fundamentalists cannot tolerate any views other than the narrow ones they hold. Anyone who thinks differently is a sinner, and therefore beyond salvation. The thing is many of these folks are riveting speakers who can grab the attention of people more easily than those preaching a God of forgiveness and mercy. It seems their very stridency is what attracts their followers. Too bad most of them follow more the teachings of the Mosaic law and those of Paul in his usurpation of the teachings of Jesus, James and Mary.
Hell is for real, only if your a Republican and Obama wins again.
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.