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 • Opinion

soundoff (7,963 Responses)
  1. joe schmoe

    If I wasn't religious and died and then saw god my first question would be "why hide, threaten people to believe in you or face dire consequences when this all contradicts the life you are telling people to live? clearly you cannot set an example to follow, if you do not folow the path yourself".

    September 24, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  2. RC

    Hell is just an abstract concept made up to instill fear into people. There is no evidence for hell nor will there ever be any evidence for hell. Let's not continue to waste our time speaking of fairytales and let's get on with real issues that go on in the real world.

    September 24, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  3. saba

    My religion" Islam" endorses the existence of heaven and hell. Until one has a concept of rewards and punishments, one will not be inclined towards good deeds and refrain from evil. This is a natural tool that we even apply on our children in daily life. Also the punishments ordained by police is also a shadow of what is going to happen in hell.

    September 24, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • sam

      No, I'm sorry, but humans can tell right from wrong without a crazy vengeful god to force them into it.

      September 24, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Apparently they cannot sam or we would all choose the right wouldn't we?

      September 24, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • R.Williams

      @Bill and Saba
      Then why are our prisons so full of people who claim to be religious? Belief in that book and it's punishments don't seem to make people be good.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
  4. Scott

    Rality is that which exists whether we believe in it or not. Hell does not qualify.

    September 24, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  5. sam

    you can choose...its your choice...and i hope and pray that you choose to believe in a God who loves you...who created you with a plan and purpose....

    September 24, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Sure. Pick a god – any god....
      Eenie, meenie, miney-- Queztlcoatl!

      September 24, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      I would like to choose not to be eternal in any regard. Why is this not a choice that your God can offer?

      September 24, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • I believe

      Is that the same optimism you deal out to children kidnapped for sale into the s e x trade? African babies dying under the burning sun from starvation? To children turned suicide bombers by radical influences?

      It certainly is easy to dole out denial with a full belly and civil rights from the comfort of your recliner.

      September 24, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  6. Mr. Carlin

    Religion has actually convinced people that there's an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever 'til the end of time! But He loves you. He loves you...

    September 24, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • bingernosh

      okay then.....why is there something rather than nothing?

      September 24, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
  7. Doc Vestibule

    "Desperate, tenacious, clinging like a grain of sand
    Watching its foundations wash away
    Drunk with the assertions they know they can't defend
    Confident that they might live again"
    – Dr. Greg Graffin

    September 24, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      "clinging like a grain of sand"?

      September 24, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  8. Kevin

    If you had a child and that child murdered a woman and that woman was pregnant would you send you child to a place called hell knowing they were gonna suffer for ever? Would you be comfortable knowing they were (down there ) suffering? Knowing that they were crying every day for mercy and yet you feel totally comfortable with that? I think not. Hell is a ploy to scare the masses into serving the church. The church can't survive without fear of Hell. Other wise the masses would tell the church what to do with itself.

    September 24, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  9. Pete

    "Is hell real?"


    I guess we should also be asking if Gotham City is real, or better, is Wonderland real?

    Should we abandon the idea of Hobbit Land?

    September 24, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • New Twizzard

      Hey! My diploma from Hogwarts is very REAL!! If you don't believe me then I shall turn you into a newt!!

      Don't worry, you'll get better...

      September 24, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • Batman

      Sir, I am very real and where I live in Gotham is real as well, thank you.

      September 24, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
  10. John

    @Ariana Hutchinson and @ jd33t
    It is indeed my own opinion and conclusion of my spiritual quest. I'm not depressed or anything in fact, I cherish life to the fullest. What, on the other end has saddened me so completly, is to see my brothers, my fellow human beings, kill each other for a cartoon, a movie. the opinion I have expressed above, on it's own, would be sufficient to get me killed in certain parts of this world. Thank you all for the opportunity to express my beliefs without a death sentence.

    September 24, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
  11. Aaron

    As you lay dying, you will be truly and utterly alone. You will reflect on your life, and there will be no lying or excuses because the only one there is you. You will be happy with your efforts if you did your best and did right by others, or you will feel shame and regret. It will be your last experience. That's what heaven or hell is.

    September 24, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • NeilSalemMA

      I found this on a web site called Kheper:

      "A group of people was once traveling through a desert, when it so happened that three of them strayed away and got lost. Tired and thirsty this trio wandered around the desert in the hope of finding some respite. Finally their quest came to an end when they discovered a high well. The first man rushed to it, looked over the wall and found it full of delicious ambrosial water. He immediately exclaimed in a gesture of frenzied euphoria and jumped into it never to come back. The second too did the same. The third man finally walked over quietly over to the well, peeped over its high wall and then turned around and went back, returning to the desert to search for his other fellow travelers, to help guide them to this paradise."

      I believe this is how life is, even life after death. There is no eternal damnation. We are never alone – never abandoned, not even after death.

      If a man or a woman finds himself alone in the dark, it is only because he has lost his way. He need only listen carefully for his name being called out, calling him to safety and to love.

      September 24, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • The Truth

      "The third man finally walked over quietly over to the well, peeped over its high wall and then turned around and went back, returning to the desert for he was too smart to jump into the pit of vipers as did his companions in their imagined mirage which they had mistaken for a well."

      September 24, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • Aaron

      "We are never alone – never abandoned, not even after death."

      Sorry man, but when you die, that's it. We know what our bodies are made of, and we know that it is our biological machine that is the brain that houses our thoughts and our consciousness and our concept of "soul". There are no arrangements of atoms that persist to continue consciousness of the self after death, so when you die, you have no awareness of anything after that. It's a scary thought because it runs counter to our survival instincts, but when we die, there is no more. It's okay though – live life to its fullest and be good to others and be grateful for this brief blink of consciousness in this most amazing place.

      September 24, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  12. J Steffel

    Sure it's real, just like talking snakes and immaculate conception. Absurd.

    September 24, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • bingernosh

      why is there something rather than nothing?

      September 24, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • sam stone

      binger: how do you make the leap from a creator to a "god"?

      September 24, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  13. Sly

    Yeah sure, there are little men with red horns living in the center of the earth.

    And Santa Claus really does fly his reindeer on the 25th. And of course there are trolls under bridges.

    And yes dear, we all get 79 virgins when we go to heaven.

    And no ... there never were dinosauers.

    Why would any sensible person bother to ask these questions?

    September 24, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
  14. Dyslexic doG


    September 24, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
  15. John Coogan

    I found the greatest thing in all the world, a right relationship with my creator. You must discover Jesus personally, and you can. Ever since I asked Jesus to come and live in my heart, he did just that! At first I wasn't sure anything happened. But I tell you with all sincerity that he is real and alive. He has healed things that I have hated about myself. He get's into the secrets of your life and begins a life-long transformation process. What exactly did Jeaus do that was so objectionable? If the answer is 'nothing', then the only question that remains is "Why did he choose to die?". What would cause a rejected and hated person to choose to die? When you meet him personally, one-on-one, that's when you discover that his every though is only for you. It's not really wise to let skeptics or fanatics be your guide. But it is completely safe to let Jesus Christ be your guide. He's the way to God. He said so himself. Ask him into your life sincerely, and you will see he is true to his promises. I can't explain it any better than that.

    September 24, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • Gorp

      Id really suggest getting back on your meds and or going to school more

      September 24, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • Eric G

      Is it possible that you just fixed the things you didnt like about yourself all on your own? Are you sure you didn't pick up some self help tips subconciously while sleeping through a Tony Robbins infomercial?

      If you "tell me with all sincerity that he is real and alive", why don't you just present verifiable evidence and settle the debate?

      September 24, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • Sweepe

      This post has me thinking of the styx song "too much time on my hands"

      September 24, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • The Truth

      "I found the greatest thing in all the world, a right relationship with my creator."

      So you finaly named that voice in your head Jesus did you? Well have fun talking with yourself, I see lot's of people in the mental ward doing it and it seems to make them happy. Of course, the med's they are on probably help...

      September 24, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • John Coogan

      Hi Gorp and Eric. I'm not on any meds. I have had the good fortune of descent health. As for verifiable evidence ... "Come unto me all who labor and are weary, and I will give your rest", or "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come into him and dine with him, and he with me". These are just two promises that Jesus made. You can verify them. I hope that you do. They were said by the only person who loves you so much that he died for you. (and me). "Call unto me and I will show you great and mighty things that thou knowest now". He will!

      September 24, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • Translation

      Man I was totally fvcked up and needed a crutch so I decided to get myself born again. Now I am so deluded, I can actually get myself off by just thinkig about JJEESSUUSS and telling every body that they can become deluded too.

      September 24, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      John Coogan writes: "I'm not on any meds."

      Well, there's yer whole problem right there, John.

      September 24, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • Translation

      No really read this crap written like 1500 years ago about this itinerant preacher and his words will make you feel just swell and you won't even need meds any more. HALLELUJAH!!!!

      September 24, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  16. Walter

    Such a "god" as the one described by most Christians does not exist. According to scripture such a "god" is man made "god" that was created in peoples imaginations. Scripture teaches that this God is loving and 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.

    September 24, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
  17. David

    You people are going to hell.

    September 24, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • Gorp

      And your going back to read "How to Troll for Dummies"

      September 24, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • Sodomite

      Sweet. See you there.

      September 24, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • Louis

      How do you know?

      September 24, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Actually, according to the BIble and simple statistics, so are you. The Bible says only 144,000 people are going to get into Heaven, the rest are headed in the other direction. What do you suppose are the odds YOU'LL be among the thousand gross lucky enuf to make the cut? I don't buy any of this for a second, you understand, but if there were anything at all to it, the 144,000 would almost certainly be innocent infants who died within minutes of being born.

      See you in Hell. No, really, the Bible says so. You're going. Start packing. Don't protest, won't do you a bit of good. God doesn't care. He has spoken, his word is final. Sayonara, sucker.

      September 24, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • No Proof

      There have been a lot more than 144,000 infants who have died, so who makes the cut then?

      September 24, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
  18. Conversation Ender

    "But death is not normal or natural—it’s an enemy and the consequence of sin."

    As an atheist with no agenda or desire to hurt people, I struggle deeply with trying to hold my tongue when I hear complete lies like that. Whether we like it or not, death is perhaps the most natural and normal aspect of life. You can choose to do many things with your time on earth, but you cannot escape death. It inevitably and invariably comes to all living things. To make a statement like that as a basis for an argument and then to go on and build your case on that platform is nothing short of 100% falsity. We all KNOW this, so why do the believers among us accept being lied to in this manner? Shouldn't you demand more from someone who openly proclaims that their job is to tell the truth? It is time for all people to openly acknowledge that all religions are the work of men and are therefore fallible and, moreover, have no place for influence of any form whatsoever in modern society. In short, believe whatever you like, but do it silently. The world will be a better place for it. Trust me.

    September 24, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • snowboarder

      it goes with the christian human-centric view that the act of one man spoiled all the universe.

      September 24, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
  19. Steve

    No one gets to the Father(heaven) except through the son(Jesus). Period. Hell is a place you live your fears out for eternity. If you are afraid to die here, you are constantly being killed in hell but never die. if you are afraid of snakes, you'll spend eternity in a snake pit. Fire, fire pit: spiders, spider pit. No thanks, I'll walk the streets lined with gold in a light so bright there are no shadows.

    September 24, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • John Mann

      Wow. God sounds like a pretty mean guy to have created such a hell as you describe. I thought he loved us. Guess not.

      September 24, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • Gorp

      Steve is in his own hell, its called lack of education!

      September 24, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • TheSchmaltz

      So I'll spend eternity surrounded by Fundamentalists?

      September 24, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • Louis

      "Period" according to a particular, Christian belief system, not according to everyone else who believes in Heaven and to all those who don't. Now, unless you have some compelling evidence to add to the conversation, you can keep your opinion to yourself.

      September 24, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • No Proof

      I'm afraid of gorgeous women with big breasts. I guess I'll just have to live out that fear for all eternity...

      September 24, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  20. Gorp

    God does exist in the same way borders to countries exist.

    In the minds of men

    September 24, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
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About this blog

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.