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. DrCarrington

    Shouldn't this article be on the SyFy Channel website?

    September 23, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  2. Blondie

    "Hell? Oh hell is a TERRIBLE place....Maggots are your sheet, WORMS your blanket!" Jesus.....SAVE us from your followers!

    September 23, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • Freddie the Fly

      Hey, what's this about maggots?? Those are my kids!

      September 23, 2012 at 11:23 am |
  3. ankenyman

    OMG, this author is nothing but a propagandist for Obama and liberal causes. Comparing Bush and Bin Laden, comparing Christians with terrorsists. Now THAT is extremism, hate and intolerance on the author's part.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • Blondie

      Christians ARE terrorists.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • meg

      Blondie .... tell that to the Christians who run the food shelves, work in the soup kitchens, work/run the majority of hospitals in this country ... Not to mention THE one who went to the cross for you ...

      September 23, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      @ meg – the one who went to the cross? Right, you mean the little piece of god, that god sent to earth, knowing that the little piece of god would die, resurrect after 3 days, and then scoot back to heaven to rejoin itself? What about it? No sacrifice there.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • Rufus T. Firefly

      I don't know if it's fair to call Bush a terrorist, but he did take us to war and bomb tens of thousands of people under false pretenses. You may even recall he referred to it as a Crusade.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:26 am |
  4. noone

    What I want to know is, what is this soul people talk of? Where in the body does it reside? Why can't it be measured or detected in any way? And if it exists, why is it that it is supposed to live on after death, but can't even seem to live on when you go to sleep or get knocked out? Come on people, use your brains! It doesn't make sense.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:15 am |
  5. StayinAlive

    "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." – 1 Cor 1:18. So I guess that sums it up. Heaven and Hell don't exist – for those who are perishing.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • mama kindless

      Even more Paul garbage. As credible as Joseph Smith.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:18 am |

      mama, Peter or Paul never claimed to be the pope. Why the hate? The karma lovers will say they had their payback and you agree!

      September 23, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • Yes Seriously!

      StayinAlive – You put that SO well, thank you! May God Bless you and give you Peace.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  6. Gregg

    The truth is most people trapped in religion will not admit to being wrong, that would allow the fact that they wasted anywhere from 1 day to 60 years of their life. Like a human can do that !

    September 23, 2012 at 11:15 am |
  7. GrampaSez

    ROFL. So-called "ADULTS" urinate upon CARTOON RELIGION, and feel all self-satisfied. Confident that thinking CHRISTIANS are totally unaware that the attempt to impress "attributes" upon the INFINITE are artifical constructs that help us to understand the un-understandable. To call GOD "GREEN" would deny the RED AND BLUE ASPECTS of the infinite. To call GOD "FATHER" would be to deny the "MOTHER" or "BROTHER" aspects. To call GOD "HE" would be to deny FEMALE or ANDROGYNOUS aspects of "infinity". To say, HE IS MOVED TO ANGER, or HE THINKS, or HE ACTS inplies CHANGE, ascribing to THAT WHICH IS PERFECT, the ABILITY to "change".

    And if SOME OF THE MOST TALENTED AND INTELLIGENT PEOPLE have thought about this stuff for 2,000 years, you can bet there's some ADULT THOUGHT awaiting those willing to put away their DISHONESTY and desire to denigrate their CARTOON UNDERSTANDING of someone else's religion.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • GrampaSez

      Does the CHristian bible not say, "We will attempt to feed you with BABYFOOD until you begin to GROW UP"?

      September 23, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • Billy

      Mr. GampaSez, what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • Yes Seriously!

      GrampaSez – Apart from managing to fill a 30 pound sack with 60 pounds of horse manure – you haven't done anything really have you?
      No point; no sense; no meaning – Sad really!

      September 23, 2012 at 11:37 am |
  8. Dirty Bottom

    Hell is not checking to see if there is toilet paper before taking a nice sloppy gooey crap at your new girlfriend's place, while her parents are there. THAT is hell.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • old ben

      By the way – if you run out of TP, the book of Psalms is the most like Charmin.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • Dirty Bottom

      Now there is a good use for scripture! Thank you!

      September 23, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  9. truth be trolled

    Who needs jeezbub when you can have a KING!!

    September 23, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • Al Einstein

      Would I be wrong to state that everyone except Christians is doomed to eternal hell? This means that every Buddhist,Hindu,Muslim,Jew,Sikh and atheist born from the dawn of time is in hell. Must be pretty damn crowded considering!

      September 23, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  10. Yes Seriously!

    Our Lady Of Fatima [Portugal ] appeared to 3 children, Jacinta, Francisco and Lucia in 1917. After promising they would never go there, she showed them HELL. It IS real and it is dreadful!

    In October 1917, Our Lady , through the power of God, carried out the Miracle of the Sun. It was witnessed by 70,000 people.
    And before you start on about "Catholic mass hypnosis" and " Mass hysteria by brainwashed Catholics" etc - the 70,000 were 95% Communist and Atheist! Portugal, up to that time, was a Communist country. AFTER the Miracle of the Sun – it became Catholic. The journalist who reported it – with thousands of Atheist witnesses – was a Communist.

    So yes – first hand knowledge...........there IS a hell.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Holy (literally) FUK! You actually believe that???????????????

      How old are you? 2?

      September 23, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      The miracle of the sun – what, the sum came up one morning? Yup – qualifies as a miracle in my book. Granted, my book is for 2 year olds.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • noone

      Yeah, and Adolf Hitler appeared to me last night and after promising that I would never go there showed me Wal-Mart and all of it's horrors!

      September 23, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • Cedar rapids

      slight problem with your thinking Yes Seriously!

      first off Portugal was never communist. It became secular after the 1910 revolution and put in a separation of church and state, allowed civil marriages, divorce etc so reduced the power the church had. Yes they were against the catholic church but not communist.
      You claim that 95% of the crowd was communist or atheist is also false. For starters how you could you ever prove such a statement? secondly, the people that gathered did so because they were believers so that again makes your claim unlikely.
      You claim that portugal 'became' a catholic country after the 1917 incident is also wrong. Catholicism returned to a 'favoured' position after the 1928 revolution (which was actually an authoritarian, almost facist, right wing regime so yay for supporting that)
      And then another revolution in 1974 meant the reintroduction to separation of church and state and the reduction of power of the catholic church and other religions being allowed.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  11. theshoeminator

    The year is 2012, and we're STILL debating on whether or not mythological places actually exist.

    Grow up, humanity.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • BOb

      As a Canadian, I am shocked at how far the USA has moved backwards in terms of progress.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • StayinAlive

      Year 3000. Atheists and unbelievers are in Hell while the followers of Christ are enjoying a 1000 years without atheists.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Yeah, we're all in hell, kickin' back, having some brewskis with a bunch of really fun people, and we're all saying the same thing: Thank GOD there are none of those insufferable Christians here

      September 23, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • Zargoth

      Yes, please! Otherwise, given how well-armed we all are, it may the foolishness of which we will one day all perish.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:26 am |
  12. Doodad

    In order for someone to suffer they must be aware they are suffering.

    The whole idea that God eternally punishes people is absurd.

    Ecclesiastes 9:5
    For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • mama kindless

      More Paul garbage. Paul the self-proclaimed "apostle" is as credible as Joseph Smith.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:15 am |
  13. meg

    Where the author gets it wrong – Christians(even your most "radical evangelicals" do NOT rejoice at 'sending' anyone to hell ... Radical Islam, on the other hand, views anyone differing with their viewpoints as "infidels" worthy of hell. This is a key difference between the two most extreme factions of Islam/Christianity. I'm quite tired of mainstream liberal media trying to lump these two groups together. Big difference. Doesn't take a rocket scientist (or a "CNN/MSNBC/etc.- cynic) to see the slant.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • Lori

      I agree with Meg on her point, that Christians do not rejoice in the thought of anyone going to hell. That is the saddest thing to hear about any one person, no matter who they are. Out of God's presence is no doubt the worst place to be. Who would rejoice and wish that on anyone?

      September 23, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • Cedar rapids

      "Christians(even your most "radical evangelicals" do NOT rejoice at 'sending' anyone to hell "

      oh ive seen plenty of 'christians' posting on these forums that delight in the idea of the atheists going to hell.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:42 am |
  14. greg

    Its simple...hell/hades means death! Period, no bloody eternal punishment etc as mainstream christian have been preaching! As a human being, can you really commit one of your family member to eternal punishment regardless of what they have done? if god is loving why then would he commit people to this eternal punishment? The dead is asleep, not flying up so some bloody heaven or down to some hell!!....the bible clearly states the dead is in a deep sleep....an unconscious state.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • Yes Seriously!

      NOBODY commits anyone to hell! The only person who can send you to Hell is you yourself.

      Heaven is Light, and eternal happiness with God. Hell is eternal darkness and suffering. The ONLY way to Hell is to deliberately and knowingly deny God. Your choice!

      September 23, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • Cedar rapids

      "The ONLY way to Hell is to deliberately and knowingly deny God. Your choice!"

      sounds like god has some ego issues, he should seek help for that.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  15. AtheistHuman

    Yes. Hell is for real, and its calld the United States of America. : ))

    September 23, 2012 at 11:10 am |
  16. Norman

    Those who don't believe in Hell, have never lived in Tucson during the summer...

    September 23, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • old ben


      September 23, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  17. Joe Kit

    I cant believe in is 2012 and we are sill having this discussion. People still believe in a scary guy in a red body suit with a pitchfork in a fire pit. Please accept the fact that this is our one chance, so have fun and do it right.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:10 am |

      The culture confused you. You've got Santa on the mind.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:20 am |

    The average person has high expectations for Christians that are not warranted from the text. Only God has the capacity to love the world without participating in its corruption, i e John 3:16. God does not have that expectation of His sheep........'1Jo 2:15 Love not the world, neither the things [that are] in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.'.......The pop book sellers, media, and the 'I'm not a sinner!' crowd will not give up this delusion that has entrapped them.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  19. Ralph in Orange Park, FL

    If you take away Hell, how will the militantly religious be able to threaten people?

    September 23, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  20. Joe Jocla

    Hell is real. And if you're financially secure in this life, you're going straight to Hell in the next.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:09 am |
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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.