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.
Hell is no more real than heaven. We should abandon the idea of each.
TransHuman I feel sorry for you,I hope some day you will see the light and realize that GOD is within you.Sometimes it takes time and experience of life to finally see the light.
I turn on a light everyday.....haven't felt that I missed seeing it.....What light are you refering to?
Mark Driscoll can blow me.
No parent wants to be without thier children. Yet many wonderfull, caring, loving, parents have to cut off thier own flesh and blood beacuse, they were disobedeint, rebellious and did not wish to follow their parents rules. We all love our children, yet none of us will allow continual disrespect of our values, especially in our homes. Why would God be any diffrent? Its not even abot vengence, beacuse Jesus allready paid the price for our sins. But if we do not wish to be forgiven, then that's our choice. Those who wish to be home with God,can make that choice.
Why would God be any diffrent?
Illogical argument. You can't evaluate God in human terms. God wouldn't behave the same ways as humans. We can't know how God operates, it's way above our intellect and capacity.
And as difficult as it is for those of us who love our children, sometimes we must listen to the voice of God who commands us to sacrifice our eldest son and cook him on a stone altar and serve up the cooked bits to God so that we may enter into His Kingdom and bask in the glory of His radiant beauty for ever and ever and ever.
Sin wouldn't exist if the god who created the universe didn't will it into existence. So Jesus died for something that was god's will? Jesus died a horrible death because god was incapable of forgiving sin any other way? A god who could say, "let there be light" and will stars into existence couldn't just decide to grant forgiveness to man? He had to sacrifice his child–thought Jesus didn't stay dead. Remember? So what was the sacrifice?
Any parent willing to eternally torture a child for anything should be in prison. Eternity is a long long long long long unimaginable amount of time. We're on earth for, what, 75 to 100 years? And we get punished ETERNALLY for not figuring things out in the moments we spend on earth? Seems pretty steep. Why give us free will then punish us for using it? If god didn't want sin in his universe, he shouldn't have created it.
"Why would God be any different?"
Precisely. Because he's made up, it's likely he's going to 'embody' some of our traits.
'No parent wants to be without thier children. Yet many wonderfull, caring, loving, parents have to cut off thier own flesh and blood beacuse, they were disobedeint, rebellious and did not wish to follow their parents rules. We all love our children, yet none of us will allow continual disrespect of our values, especially in our homes'
A loving and caring parent would do no such thing!
A loving and caring parent would always have the door open for their child and will always be there for there child no matter what they have done.
Only a loving and caring parent brainwashed by this madness you call religion would reject the very child they brought into the world!
Is it any wonder I get so angry when I read this utter crap posted by religious people, and how so blinded by your beliefs that you would reject your own flesh and blood.
Why is this on CNN? Why is this considered "News"?
Who, in the wide world of sports, ever suggested to anybody that this was "news"?
Seriously, John. Who said this was news or where is it printed that this is news?
As usual you have one side that gives a logical, well thought out and reasoned argument and another side who is spitting fire and damnation and "Stop thinking, all the answers are in this book that has been edited a billion times but everything in it is from God and stop using logic to make me look like a simple minded dirt farmer".
Your argument is illogical. The fact that you disagree with the second writer does not mean that his response was not well written or well thought out. The second response was a very descriptive narrative to explain a Christian's believes.
Whether you accept it or not is your choice. God gave us free will, however, I bet you are the first one in line to say that Christians are closed minded and "judge" others. Your opinion, thoughts (even if they are educated) do not mean that the second writers opinion isn't well thought out.
YES, Satan is REAL, YES , Hell is REAL.
NOW , Get to GOD REAL GOD For REAL !!!
Thanks for straightening that out
ALSO, GOD WILL, OH CRAP – HOLD ON – MOM DROPPED HER PIPE AGAIN, I CAN HEAR HER SCREAMING AT THE OTHER END OF THE TRAILER – BE RIGHT BACK.
YES – the EASTER BUNNY is REAL! YES – SANTA CLAUS is REAL! YES – the TOOTH FAIRY is REAL!
Hell isn't in the bible... it's just an extrapolation by its readers, just like the individual who wrote the article contending the existence of it. Nothing he cited spefically said it existed just obscure descriptions of something.
Keep believing your feigned lack of knowledge of the absence of hell. You'll find out that you will successfully get there, unless you change your ways.
@Hemi – give it a rest.
Hemi1: Get off your knees
And it may turn out that there really is a hell and that God is so all almighty that He knows that certain people are only decent because they believe and fear hell, and He is well aware that there are of those of us who do not believe yet live decent lives. In his infinite wisdom, He will open the pearly gates for those of us who conducted ourselves like Jesus precisely because we didn't believe, while the believers who lead lives doing evil things like foisting their beliefs on the rest of us through government and hating gåys and Muslims, will be vomited up by Him into the fiery depths of hell for ever and ever.
Think about it. Is believing you're going to pass a calculus class enough? Is believing you will run a marathon enough? Hell no. You've got to actually do it. "Belief" may be Lucifer's most potent tools. 'course, that's only if you believe that stuff.
Right on the money. I suggest that brains that function at the level that humans do, would be a gift from God. To not use it, to not think critically and evaluate and question everything we have ever been told? That would be a sin!
Bible is NOT logical and you cannot interpret it with human mind. It is from the mind of God and in Spiritual and human mind cannot comprehend. Only Holy Spirit can lead you to understand and interpret scriptures.
2 Pet 1:20-21 "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. 21For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."
1 Cor 2:10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.
12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.
13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
decent and moral lives doesn't cut it. God declares everyone is a sinner. breaking one command, for eg; a simple lie, can put you in hell. Salvation is by Grace alone and not by works. Good works are only evidence of Salvation. Salvation is possible only through Christ, because he paid the ransom for a sinner.
Acts 4:12 Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.
xyx25 – you are full of sh it. And so was the self-proclaimed "apostle" Paul, who, like Joseph Smith, took it upon himself to create a lot of political garbage.
so I don't care if it's Acts, Corinthians or Galations – it is C R A P!!
But xyx25, you have provided nothing but an attempt to utilize your so-called "logical mind" to discount my use of my logical mind – the only difference being that your mind isn't so logical. Don't you fear that God sees through this and is angered that His precious gift to you of this human brain is being so utterly abused? Do you not fear that He shall cast you into the fiery depths of Hades because you tried to speak for Him with your puny, logical, human mind?
1. if a soul gets thrown in a lake of fire how does that hurt? You need nerves and a brain in order to interpret pain.
2. suffering is the ultimate motivator and by collecting more converts, you collect more power, with more power comes more money. Hell = golden ceilings in the vatican. There's a lot of people willing to pay a pretty penny not to feel god's wrath.
You can't buy salvation, it is only available to those who BELIEVE. Money can't save your soul !!!
I think the translation is not that the spiritual soul gets thrown into eternal damnation, rather that on the day of resurrection, physical bodies are resurrected either to eternal life or to eternal suffering. So, essentially, the physical body would be thrown into the fire... it would probably hurt.
Thanks for your post.
1. Souls will be reunited with their bodies.
2. You are right that some have used this Biblical teaching to scare people into giving money. This is wrong and Jesus reserved some of his harshest criticism for leaders who preyed on people. The truth is that no money can buy eternal life. Jesus already paid the price and all someone needs to do is accept the payment Jesus made. God does not need our stuff, but He does want our heart.
Well, I don't BELIEVE. There is no evidence that any of these fantasies are real. Shall I PRETEND that I do?
Almost 5000 comments along and the pattern remains the same.
Believers who are aghast at the idea that non-believers can reject God and eternal salvation vs. Non-believers who cannot understand how otherwise rational people can compartmentalize their belief in the supernatural.
We're not going to change each others minds.
Atheists think God, heaven, hell, souls, spirits, the afterlife...etc. are all delusions,myths, fantasies or simple wishful thinking.
Theists think God, heaven, hell, souls, the afterlife...etc. are all real existent things.
So if we can't change each others minds the only thing that remains is to agree to disagree.
So don't spout threats of hellfire and damnation and we won't attack your beliefs.
Don't try to impose laws based on religious dogma and we won't complain.
Abortion doesn't fit within your faith then don't have one. But let others who don't believe as you do to make their own decisions regarding reproduction.
Homosexuality is a sin so don't be gay. Just let others choose who they wish to be with or marry.
It all comes down to live and let live, which for some reason is terribly hard for most to do.
I agree with your overall assessment here... but, in the end would you rather be a theist and be wrong or be an atheist and be wrong?
If you believe in God, Heaven, Hell, and salvation and are wrong, what do you lose? If all there is after death is nothing, you aren't suffering or anything else... you just exist no more.
If you do not believe in the biblical teachings and are wrong, you would gain only Hell. Assuming the biblical hell is real and you disbelieve, you are condemning yourself to the eternal suffering in which you disbelieve simply by not believing.
Given the choice... worse case scenario of each side of the argument is either not existing or suffering eternally. Best case scenario is eternal life and joy or whatever non-believers believe in (nothingness or paradise or whatever).
If the Best possible outcome is the same, but the worst possible outcomes vary so strongly... I'd rather believe than not. Granted, I don't believe simply b/c it's the "lesser of evils"... I believe because for me there is no other choice. To each their own though.
AtheistSteve: "We're not going to change each others minds."
Probably right. But there's an implied equivalence in that statement which is incorrect.
Atheist/agnostic: "I'm not swayed by the evidence for God, Hell, or other unseen thing your religion posits; but I'm willing to evaluate any new evidence."
Religious person: "I believe in God, Hell and other things I've been taught and no amount of factual dispute is going to change that."
The two may appear to be intransigent; but *in general*, the freethinker is willing to change his or her mind in the face of new objective evidence. I would love to hear compelling evidence to support existence claims for supernatural gods; I just haven't heard any yet.
Hell is as real as Santa Claus. When we turn the page of history on all of that medieval hocus-pocus, it won't be soon enough. Doing good is its own reward.
The Bible clearly says you can NOT be saved by your works, only by your BELIEVING in the Son of God. Works, Money, is of no good for final salvation, it won't get you anything.
Hemi, preaching on an internet forum isn't getting you any brownie points, either.
Once again I say this is hell and we are finding out if you were good enough to leave or rot in ground.
Also these past four years Satan has been stocking the coals more than ever.
Anybody who's ever visited the south U.S., especially Texas, knows there is hell on earth. Anybody who blindly follows their religious "doctrine" is already living in hell.
Heaven and hell are real right here NOW in our earthly existence. The Kingdom of God, love, hope, grace (heaven) is real right here NOW in our earthly existence. Violence, hatred,retributon, revenge, distorted thinking, spiritual ignorance and turning against God is real right here NOW in our earthly existence. Take your pick
Yes! 1000x yes.
Funny how it seems that most who seek love, hope and grace later on, purposely live a life of hell, loathing and hate now.
I'd rather die believing in Christ and have it not be true then live the way of the world and die and be face to face with the One who created the universe. As Mark says, you don't get a second chance after death to believe and be saved.
So, you believe because you're afraid that if you admit that you actually think the whole thing is ridiculous, and you're wrong, you'll burn in hell? Better to lie to yourself than take that chance?
But what if neither are true? What if when you die you find your soul being weighed against the will of Ma'at...or needing to pay the ferryman to get to the Underworld where your eternity is determined by Hades?
What if you find yourself in the Summerlands or Elysium?
It isn't just one or the other.
Ah, yes Pascal's wager.
And the deity is cool with the idea that one's belief is a hedge against the bet that he doesn't exist? So, what's the threshold estimated existence probability that the deity is willing to accept? I'll assign an existence probability of 10^(-29) – does that count?
Yes it's real! I live in it 5 days a week in an 8 by 8 cubical!!
me too. what did we do wrong :/
Who made the cube? The Govt printed the money to produce the unnatural Job. We are living an unnatural perodine. We should be living off the land and not abusing and destroying natural resources. Govt decisions makes hell on earth. Abuse to our natural... we are not meant to be smart and advancing.
So stop using internet and electricity. And start using a cow, a plough and eating potatoes and wheat. No one is stopping you :)
I'm not saying its easy, I'm just saying we all were born into this hell and it is almost impossible to move the opposite direction. It would take a revolution and being content with what we have. No one thanks the greater being after slaughting a cow anymore. They use to before the bible. Be appreciative of natural. We live in a world of unnatural.
"no subgroups of humanity are more ingrained with the doctrine of hell than conservative Muslims and conservative Christians..."
Evangelical fundamentalism - Christian, Muslim, Scientology - is, and always has been, the bane of any organized civilization...
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.