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. robert ray


    October 11, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  2. robert ray

    Did you win your award for your pathetic coward censorship. you will hear from me-

    October 11, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  3. robert ray

    Prove your hell exists.

    October 11, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • Joey Navis

      when i get there i will send an email with pictures. (of course u will probly say they are photoshopped)

      October 12, 2012 at 5:03 pm |

    We should never abandon the idea of Paradise for good people;
    for it is thus an absolute Truth:



    October 11, 2012 at 6:01 am |
    • Arvoasitis

      What is your definition of "good people?"

      October 11, 2012 at 11:21 am |
  5. flambeauxfire

    Silly silly people believe in hell. Silly people.
    One afternoon in NYC I saw these hell-freaks screaming on the corner about hell. So I stood 5 feet away from away and started repeat-shouting the following mantra;
    "Stop shouting about Jesus
    You're just annoying the neighbourhood
    Stop screaming about hell
    You're only scaring the kids"
    Oh, how irate they got – even called the cops. But they have to allow it by law do you should try it when you next see these cowards spreading all their judgement and hatred.
    Try saying it now – it rolls off the tongue and is easy to remember when they are freaking out and bullying you so you can just keep going. You'll make a lotta friends

    October 11, 2012 at 5:22 am |
  6. BDL

    I will leave hell-anxiety to my Christian friends. However, I would point out one nasty equivalency set up by the author. Bush having "a special "heart" for the state of Israel" is compared with "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.” " So strong support for Israel is comparable with Jihadism?

    October 11, 2012 at 3:58 am |
  7. ohyeah?

    "Grammatically, there is no difference here between the length of time mentioned for “life” and that for “punishment”"

    HA! I just read through again and realized this is one of those pastors who has an advanced degree in self-referential BS. Gramatically? GRAMATICALLY?! The "evidence" you have for whether or not your god-monster wants to torture me for EVER or for just a while (only a LITTLE torture, really, it's MUCH better!) is going to come down to noun conjugations.

    Oh, boy, am I ever impressed with your scholarship, buddy. Guess that's why YOU'RE the Pastor!

    Seriously. This is how off-the-rails the Bible-believers really have wandered from reality. Whether your god is evil or super-evil depends on whether or not someone translated the poetry correctly out of ancient Greek.

    They never stop and ask, "if this god is real, do I WANT to believe in him? Is it moral to believe in such a monstrous concept, with only this storybook as evidence? If my belief is so extraordinary, and also so mean-spirited and disturbing, don't I owe it to myself and my community to question this? Shouldn't I try to figure out if the reality-describing claims of the Bible do, in fact, describe reality? Especially before I go telling this stuff to impressionable and ignorant people?"

    Instead, it's "nah, I'll just become a Pastor - it's way easier to memorize this BS and spout it back as if it made any sense! As long as the system's logic is INTERNALLY consistent, I'll look like I know sooooo much! Who cares who gets hurt! Not me!"

    October 11, 2012 at 1:04 am |
  8. ohyeah?

    How can you argue at all whether to believe in Hell without ditching the rest of this baloney? Is religion describing reality, or not? If so, how can you NOT warn people about Hell? That's like neglecting to warn them against walking out into traffic, isn't it? If it's real, then it's dangerous.

    And if you can ELIMINATE a real, ontological Hell as a potential threat, just by NOT BELIEVING in it, then how real could it have ever been? What other semi-real garbage can we eliminate just by REFUSING TO PLAY ALONG anymore?

    Here's a hint – it's not Tinkerbell.

    October 11, 2012 at 12:52 am |
  9. xirume

    It's just mind boggling to see how religious people can be so terminally ignorant.

    October 11, 2012 at 12:28 am |
    • Eric

      It's mind boggling to witness Mr. Schaeffer's utter ignorance of the Bible's basic message. He thinks that one can simply disect the attributes of God and simply live according to the ones which we are willing to accept? And he thinks that that approach will solve anything? What logic does he employ here? Accept the premise that God is real, logic dictates that you must then accept that what God has said is also real. Thus you must then accept that God came in human flesh in order to redeem those of mankind who choose to believe in Jesus and no longer wish to live under sin's power in their lives. You must also accept that sin is real and has real consequences. You must also accept that one of the chief angels fell from grace due to personal pride and was thrown out of heaven, it could no longer be his home. His name is now Satan. You must accept the reality that Satan is your adversary and not me.

      October 11, 2012 at 9:38 am |
    • lalaland

      It's just mind boggling to see how people (like you) can be so terminally ignorant about religion.

      October 12, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • person

      You know Eric, it's kind of sad how once you're dead, you're dead. You're living your life in a fantasy for absolutely nothing. Your life is a total waste in the end.

      October 12, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
  10. Karin

    Technically, having no nerves, brains or body utility to capture a pain signature, I say that hell would be a much grander location than worshiping a self-glorified warlord for eternity. As to my more reasoned contribution; neither hell or heaven exist. Until it can be proven, these places are simply based on the imagination of humans.

    October 11, 2012 at 12:18 am |
  11. Run A Mok

    "A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death"
    – Albert Einstein

    October 10, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • brad4nyc

      A ray of truth. Praise science and reason, for they shall someday banish the imaginary God from the minds of the ignorant. Find proof that God is imaginary at http://www.god is imaginary.com

      October 10, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
    • xirume

      @brad4nyc: The sooner the better. Quickly cannot be fast enough.

      October 11, 2012 at 12:24 am |
  12. NJGuest

    Heaven and Hell are illusions created in the mind of man. One can make Heaven as the best place to be and the Hell the worst. I wonder if the individual who coined these two terms got the interpretation reversed; that would be an interesting situation. I believe that it is up to us to make our lives as living in Heaven or in Hell.

    October 10, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      I wonder how many hell-believers would still consider it good and just the second after their god sentenced them to it for eternity?

      October 10, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Moby, speaking for myself and possibly other believers, we all know that hell is what we deserve. We've taken stock and found out that we all fall short of the glory of God on our own. So, as unpleasant as the prospect may be, that is, in fact what we deserve. Thank God his love for us overcomes our failure and has made a way.

      October 11, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • rick

      "we all know that hell is what we deserve."


      because it was written down by iron age man?

      do you beat yourself also?

      October 13, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
  13. Jim

    what does everyone think happens to the (pre-Columbian) American Indians?

    (a) all go to heaven
    (b) all to hell
    (c) some to heaven and some to hell.

    October 10, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • Philip Mark Edwards

      The end of time brings everyone to the same moment. The cataclysm referred to in many religions is something we should not ignore. As multidimensional beings, I doubt that we escape the final judgement unscathed. On the other hand neither are most completely consumed.

      October 10, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • Philip Mark Edwards

      I think the cataclysms have resonated through time and manifested as apparently separate events but they are connected to one central episode. I also suspect that the resonating manifestations indicate nodes and a central passage through the primary event. Observation of and the timing of these resonations might provide some clue as to characteristics and properties of a central passage. Measuring the interference patterns should reveal the mathematics that is if initiated prior to the onset of chaotic patterns. Nevertheless there are recurring residual patterns that suggest a manner of reducing the disonations to a commonalities. I have collected some of the patterns and attempted to extrapolate to a prehistorical chronology but I got busy with other things. It's hard to put this on a resume.

      October 10, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • Getting Hold of God

      The Catholic answer is (c). People who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ are not held to judgment on that account.

      October 10, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • krussell

      The bible says they all go to hell.
      They worshipped other gods
      They never confessed thier sins
      They never accepted JC into thier lives or his priests into thier anuses.

      No other answer can be found in the bible.

      October 10, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      They are probably in less danger than those who have heard and rejected or those who failed to teach when they could.

      October 11, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • rick

      blah blah blah. god is going to get you. what subservient drivel

      October 13, 2012 at 2:52 pm |

    We should never abandon idea of Paradise for good people.



    October 10, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
  15. Mom of Three

    Already have. But thanks. Didn't know I had to wait for the "experts" to "debate" on whether or not it exists lol.

    October 10, 2012 at 12:37 am |
  16. brad4nyc

    By Mark Driscoll, Special to CNN

    As a pastor, my job is to tell the truth. Your job is to make a decision.

    Dude, you who wrote this piece... you are one sick puppy for the hate and evil that you spew forth. Satan and Lucifer (both imaginary like your god) rebuke the words you write as lies of lies. Curse be upon you and your offspring for 100 generations as punishment for your false prophesy that innocent people will be tortured in hell forever. May karma have mercy upon you, but your hate has sealed your fate. Repent and perhaps karma will ease the suffering that is certain to come the way of you and yours.

    October 10, 2012 at 12:32 am |
  17. Tom

    If you believe in a Fundamentalist Christian view of Hell, then read this:

    October 9, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
  18. Markus O Negative (R.I.P. Peter 4/14/10)

    The problem with this is, does anyone- even most christians- believe in satan? If the bible is based on reality, and time is a constant and never ending, what happened before Genesis? What is the story of Lucifer? If the angels were actually imperfect, then wouldn't that make God imperfect? If God created the angels, Lucifer being one of them, why create humans? the bible seems to be a one-sided story, with a beginning and end clearly set in God's favor to win. But stories tend to be written to favor a character of the story, that's not the case in reality. What if 'God' became jealous of what he created when he created Lucifer? What if 'God' had gotten so jealous that he cast out Lucifer and any other angel that had looked at him (being that Lucifer was created as the most beautiful thing, but to only draw the gaze even more onto himself and the power that was God). If the bible is a representation of the real world- past, present and future- what if 'God' is really the 'evil' of the world, and 'satan' is what will actually save it?

    Now, with all that being said- there are NO GODS, no DEMONS and DEVILS, no Ra or Odin or Zeus. And if there is no 'God' then it's easy to say there is NO 'LUCIFER'. The characters that have been created in the bible are based on other religions that came before, and with no 'God' and no 'Satan' there is no 'Heaven' and no 'Hell'. All there is, is the world we exist in. The past is gone and the future hasn't happened yet so it can't be seen, all there is, is the present filled with seconds that pass away into our past- wasted time- wasted on debating on what happens AFTER we die, instead of focusing on the time we have living. What are we really doing for the world and the people that will be here after we are gone?

    October 9, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
    • Getting Hold of God

      I think that, if we consider the eternal questions in the right way, then we gain a better understanding of how to live in this life. So it's not really a waste of time. It's okay to wrestle with God, just don't let go. You are very certain in your views –dogmatic, even - but what is your justification? You seem like an intelligent and rational person, and i just don't find atheism rational. Peace

      October 10, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
    • T-Max73

      @ Getting Hold of God- You have yet to prove to anyone that your deity actually exists, and yet you make assertions based entirely on this premise. Do you understand logic? Do you know what it means to be delusional? Your rhetoric is simply white noise to the rational and thinking mind.

      "The mind is not very well trained when it assumes that which must be proved." ~Christopher Hitchens

      October 10, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  19. Wakeupcall

    Hell is a reality. We cannot save ourselves from Hell, but only God can save us from our sins. Because of the Son of God's ultimate sacrifice and the perfect atonement He accomplished on the cross, God's ability to forgive all of our sins is infinite and complete. Because of His one perfect and final sacrifice, whoever believes in Jesus has forgiveness for all their sins. Not one of our rebellious acts remains to be held against us to drag us down to Hell! What a great God we have! He provided a solution to our greatest problem! Hell and our sovereign God does not rely on the belief of mankind to exist. God is God whether we believe it or not.

    Romans 14:11 for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God

    October 9, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
    • brad4nyc

      The bible is a book of myths and lies. God is imaginary and so is hell. If God were real he would be an evil monster. Who gives a rat's behind what the bible say's because it's pure fiction. How can you worship a god that has killed innocent children? If you worship the god of the bible you worship an evil murderer. Thank god that god is imaginary. Only a monster would make people knowing that they would eventually wind up in hell- especially when he had the choice to not make them at all, thus saving them from eternal torture.

      Satan good. God bad. But only from a mythological point of view, because they are both imaginary. Check out http://www.godisimaginary.com

      Praise Lucifer, the bringer of truth, light and reason! Hail Satan, the imaginary adversary to an imaginary god, who has the balls to fight against god's evil ways!

      October 9, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
    • Eek Mctweekman

      Lol religion the greatest LARP evah!

      October 10, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • T-Max73

      Beware of any ideology that sells you the affliction and the cure in one stop. Peace.

      October 10, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  20. BRENT

    HELL=GRAVE/BURIED. No firey torment, no devil or demons there. That belief was added after the first century apostacy set in that Jesus foretold. Do your research Pastor. LOL Read Psalm 146:4 and Ecc 9:5&10 no thoughts after death until resurection after armageddon. I do like your illustration in the beginning about disconnecting from power. Man was designed to live forever on EARTH in peace under God's direction. God's purpose has not changed. In HIS eyes, it has only been a work week since man fell into sin and death. All the scriptures about lakes of fire and being there forever are FIGURATIVE. Soon the end will come and prove these words to be faithful and true. If you care at all about your future life forever on earth in peace and prosperity, the next time someone knocks on your door and offers you a free at home bible study, TAKE IT. This is intended for those who are serious about finding what the bible really teaches.

    Peace and good health to you all!

    October 9, 2012 at 7:08 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.