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.
@Jimb - From your post I easily assume that YOU need a god in your life. Agnostics hope there is something that binds everything together - the planets, gases, stars, rocks, water, plants, and animals. Agnostics also refuse to believe that ANY church or religious doctrine that was formed by man is meaningful except to that religions followers. As such, we absolutely refuse to buy into these crazy fairytales of organized religiions. Short answer...Hell? NO.
38-second Proof that there is no God – Penn and Teller .,.,.,
Heaven is absolute peace... I.e... Nonexistence... Hell would then be to exist after death... So any idea of an "afterlife" is really hell... I don't believe in either... But I do believe in nonexistence... YOU ARE DEAD... DON'T WORRY ABOUT WHAT HAPPENS NEXT... WORRY ABOUT RIGHT NOW.
Thank you, Frank Schaeffer. As Christopher Hitchens so eloquently put it, "There would be peace, but the armies of God won't allow it."
Rationalism Breeds Atheism .,.,.,
If hell exists then 1. God is not omnipotent. 2. God is not everywhere. 3. God loses in the end.
Who do think controls hell? HINT: It's not Satan. It's hell for him too.
Here's the plan, all conservative Christians and Muslims get together in some desolate part of the world and sort this out. Winner goes to heaven, loser goes to hell, the rest of us live our lives in peace rid of your nonsense.
In case you haven't noticed, that is probably what is happening.
They already have an appropriate place. The Fields of Armageddon, outside of Jerusalem. It's a real place. A real big desert with nothing in it.
TO Bill Deacon;
Yes it is happening in pockets however I mean ALL in one place at the same time and let the rest of us in this world move on. Maybe god (either version) could wisk them all away to the moon or another solar system to continue their debate.
Hell is having to deal with adults who believe illogical fairy takes are truth, and base decisions that affect the world on "magic"
If you are right, nothing happens to those who follow this "imaginary" Christ as you say. But if we're right and your logic is wrong ... Do you really want to role those dice??? THAT would be illogical.
pasigirl – with that reasoning, you have a bunch of gods to grovel to.
pasigirl, first, it's "roll" the dice...
2nd, please give ONE shred of evidence for your god's existence. Just one. I'll wait...
Kind of illogical to me to believe that a monkey turned into a man. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Here is my challenge to you (if you are not too afraid of what you might find). Get the Bible on CD/Ipod/etc. and listen to it while you drive/commute – you will be changed.
Manwrench – I'll give you a few right now... (1) the fact that you are alive and able to think about a post on the internet and post it is evidence of God (2) the existence of the earth, flowers, stars (3) the existence of oceans, rivers, mountains, animals, (4) the fact that two small cells can get together and make a human. Magic? No – I don't think so. So are we supposed to believe that the earth and universe just "exploded" and came into existence by some random event? That takes much more faith than I have...
someone posted here that the christians believe hell is dark and burning.. How could it be dark with flames they asked.. Well, christians also believe their super god got tired after creating the universe. Go figure. Guess it's proof that god, heaven and hell are all man made.
How is your assertion proof of anything other than your ability to create a non sequiter?
Ok Billy, which is it?
Is god omnipotent, or did god need to take a day off to rest?
Can't really be both unless, you know, at least PART of the story is made-up. Nice try though.
The Scripture doesn't say God needed rest. It says he saw that it was good and on the seventh day he rested.. Actually in His rest he created the Sabbath which is a gift to us.
And what does a day of rest have to do with the presence or not of omnipotence? Oh yeah, it doesn't.
The Roman Catholic Church defines Hell as "a state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed." One finds themselves in Hell as the result of dying in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love, becoming eternally separated from Him by one's own free choice
What abject nonsense. Were you home schooled?
That sounds a bit generic, but I actually like this. It's only in general terms, that we can really say "accept God's love", and have it be meaningful, because different cultures have different notions of God, and have formulated theories that go into more detail but are unknown. I think if we define God as just "God", in general terms and without more specific names or details, then different cultures could actually move closer to being on the same page. Couldn't we all just be praying to the same God anyway, though we as humans may have assigned a different name to God, depending on the culture we grew up in?
In the same way that your fairy tale explains that partaking from the Tree of Knowledge results in being cast out of the kingdom of god and separated from him, right? In other words, anyone who actually HAD or ACQUIRED real knowledge could never co-exist with the idea of "god."
It's right there in your own fairy tale, Billy, and yet you STILL refuse to acknowledge it.
Traveller It's a direct copy from the catechism of the Catholic Church. Are you in the habit of insulting everyone you disagree with and are ignorant about? If you are an example of public education, I can see the decline people speak of.
manwrench, I'm not even sure what you are trying to say. I suspect you are trying to reduce the story of the Garden of Eden to the ridiculous and use your conclusions about it to bolster the argument against my statement on the Church's teaching about hell. Frankly, you take more liberties with the theology than can easily be discussed here. If you want to have an intelligent discussion I suggest you elevate your argument past the ridiculous
Sounds more like a bully than a merciful god, Bill.
@bill deacon - Public education. University of California. I predict you are catholic, and fill yourself with scriptures. Pity.
I almost choked on "As a pastor, my job is to tell the truth" – as a pastor, your job is to build upon 2000 years of lies and deceit, and nothing more, don't tell anyone that it is, and please don't deceive yourself that you do anything more. The church sells nothing but lies, pain and rakes in power and money – the only "harvest" they are interested in! The church is the greatest danger facing humankind today, and very likely the greatest evil the world has ever known.
So you are saying those steeples might as well have howitzers and rocket launchers mounted in them? I get there are "mistakes" you call lies that have happened over the last 2000++ years. Who says you know the truth? How do we know you aren't lying to us? We don't know from a logical perspective. Leave religion out of it and pursue this logically and you will find you know just as little in many ways. You can use atheism as tool like as any religion. Be careful where you place your anger and hatred of religion. It might be just as wrong and just as evil. Communism preaches atheism. We all know where communism leads don't we. For the record, I am not of any faith, religion of any kind. I plead simply, I don't know, but I plead it with an open mind. Not hatred, anger and self indulgence.
You make good points Roger that other atheists should note.
Mark Driscoll, you are in serious need of mental health treatment. I doubt there is time or space enough to enumerate on al lthe points for which you are so horribly mistaken, but it is absolutely correct to say that you are most certainly wrong in some egregious fashion on every point you have tried to make. Your faith is misplaced and warped. Get some help before you are too far gone.
I actually wasted perfectly good electrons reading this.
Then again, no electrons were created nor destroyed in the reading of this article...they were just re-purposed.
Not at all trying to step on anyone's toes, I really was looking for your opinions. I guess my question is silly, etc... as you all would say. Allow me to ask this: I understand that a common answer from christians when asked about proof is that faith is their proof. To a, atheist, that concept sounds very ridiculous, I get that. I have noticed that when an atheist is asked to prove it all doesn't exist they always say something about a "pink fuzzy" something or other that created everything and for the person asking to prove it doesn't exist. It seems that there is no real, logical talk about any of it. That if either christians, or atheists could prove their case there would be no debate just like anything else. It is another thing in this world that can not be proven or disproven. Does that make it wrong for me, as a Christian (and no, not a church once a year, I'm Christian because grandma said so, kind of Christian), to ask a non-believer what their point of view is? For lack of a better term what they are placing their faith in? That is what it all seems to boil down to. Faith. I have faith in my beliefs, doctrine, etc.. and an atheist has FAITH in theirs. I am in no way trying to act like I know everything or any of that. I for sure have more questions than answers! I am not trying to push my beliefs on others or anything like that at all. I would just like to get the point of view of others, both christian and non-christian, that is all I seek. Thanks!!!!
If we were better Christians you wouldn't have to ask what people believe.
quick – you seem to misunderstand the meaning of the word "faith". not believing in something does not require faith. faith is something you must have when your beliefs are not based on reason.
You really do not understand the difference between FAITH/BELIEF and the absence thereof.
The problems are people thinking that they are nothing without "faith" and people of Faith thinking that those who do not share their faith believing that those people are lost. "Faith" is the problem. Man thinks that man has all of the answers and that answering the question of our "purpose" on earth or why we're here on earth have an answer or have to be answered–as if they are valid questions that need to be answered. Why can't we see ourselves as animals that live, die, and decompose just like all other animals without worry of Heaven, Hell or whatever is on the other side?
there is no hell, there is no god, have a nice day
At the very least we all make our own heaven and our own hell. At that very base level there is a metaphorical heaven and hell. It does not take rocket science to start to see that this belief system may have elements of truth without crossing over into any magical or supernatural situations. If we lived by having a little fear of losing our immortal souls we might just live a different and perhaps better life. Most people will be more apt to be better people if they fear losing their souls to hell for all eternity. It doesn't even matter if it exists or not, that is not the point. The point is getting people to believe. When they don't they become very angry, evil, self centered and narcissistic. If religion of any kind does anything right this is what it does the best. It protects man from his own self cravings. It also corrupts too, and therein lies the opposite problem. Small doses of religion and faith might just make a person a better person, and too much will either make them great and wonderful people or tyrants.
Hell is real and so is Heven. I can't believe this, you people need God in your life.
You spelled heaven wrong. You are going to hell.
whew! for a second I thought you were saying "heaven" is real. I've got to look into this "heven" place.
Why do we need god in our lives?
While we are on the subject of religion...
God created man in his image, and god is the only one of his kind. Then why the hell does god need male genitals? Or is he into some sick fetish (banging the cosmos or something)?
I refuse to believe that, given the opportunity, you would abstain from banging the cosmos.
Not the entire cosmos. But let me tell you...those blackholes and nebulas. MEOW! They get me all worked up! :-D
this question betrays your ignorance
Now you know why its been dubbed the "Big Bang" Theory.
The Milky Way is cosmic ejaculate
The picture that Rev. Driscoll paints is typical of the view fundamentalist Christians take from the Bible. They have to paint a picture of eternal pain and agony in a misguided effort to make God attractive. What they always fail to understand is the message of love and forgiveness in the Bible. That's the God they should be using – the one that's truly attractive.
Instead, the image they convey is one of a God who would give life to his children, saddle them with a plethora of temptations, never give them any in-person training or attention, limit their life to about 85 years or so (even shorter in times past), then, if they didn't meet expectations, he sentences them to ETERNITY in hell. Eternity, folks. Endless, without end, never-ending, timeless, got it? Compare 85 years to eternity. Is that a fair, just, reasonable, and loving God? Not in my opinion. Write down a "1" followed by a page full of zeroes. Keep writing after that for the next day or two. Better yet, keep writing those zeroes every waking minute of every day for the rest of your life and that doesn't even come close to the meaning of Eternity. Now compare that 85 years to the idea of that "1" followed by the zeroes. Mistakes made in an infinitesimally small period of time are punished by ETERNITY in hell?
The fundamentalists can latch on to this idea if they want – I suppose they need it to make them feel more holy, more righteous – but that's not the God I believe in. And let's not even talk about how an eternal hell implies that God's love can be defeated. The all-powerful, all-knowing God we think of can't save the souls he created? Hmmm. Very odd. So get in your pulpit and go red-faced over this and frighten and scare people and look down on them knowing how you're saved and they will spend Eternity in hell (or so YOU say), but simply because you say it and may even believe it does not mean it's true. Or you could just accept the loving and forgiving nature of God, you could encourage people by kindness and charity, you could lead them to God via example, and you could avoid acting as if you know the mind of God and you know how everything is and how it will be (which is probably the biggest sin). The latter approach is more faithful to the Gospel, but it's harder and more nuanced, which is something fundamentalists don't like.
The image of eternal life or hell is not given or created by you or me.. it is given by God and Jesus speaks about it as well. If you want to create other images then that's up to you. Hell exists, God does not condem you. YOU condem yourself.
God has revealed his truth in his word to us. The most loving thing any Christian can do is to tell that truth to others. You seem to think that it is better to tell comfortable lies than uncomfortable truth.
SciGuy: And you seem to be under the impression that you possess the ultimate "truth"....
"The image of eternal life or hell is not given or created by you or me.."
That's right. It was created by MAN a long time ago
"God has revealed his truth in his word to us."
Well now, isn't that special. It's the same thing that Muslims say, and Mormons, and the ancient Egyptians, and even the Scientologists (in a different vein).
I do not believe that anything was 'revealed' to any of you. Shall I PRETEND that I do?
The description of Heaven and Hell is more detailed in the Quran. It should be presented as well.
yep, and it is just as [ir]relevant as the bible
If you don't profess belief in Jesus, he will torture you forever when you die.
Such a loving and merciful god. What's not to like?
do you think God is worried about you liking him? He has destroyed nations, civilizations, even almost every living thing in the world and you think he is concerned about who likes him? Also how do you know Hell is irrelevent? how can you prove that? you want proof that God exists but you offer no evidence or proof that there is no afterlife? I am not asking you because I want proof that life after death is real. I believe in it. That is enough for me. You dont believe and that should be enough for you.
anthony: you're the one claiming heaven exists, it's your responsibility to prove that it exists. It's absurd to claim something exists because its nonexistence can't be proven.
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.