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. Jason

    Jesus spoke about hell more than any other subject in the gospels, "where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" and hell fire references throughout. People don't want to believe in hell because they are too afraid of going there. Anyone who doesn't believe in hell is in danger of going there. If you don't believe in it, then you will when you get there! Pray and be holy now that you will be saved and you can avoid it. Amen.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • Ed

      Jesus would have had the education of a 5 year old today.

      God does not exist, hence there being no proof that any god ever existed.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • Peace on earth

      Not scared of hell & cannot be bribed into thoughts of Heaven

      September 23, 2012 at 11:35 am |
  2. Peace on earth

    Heaven = Bribery, Hell = Scare. Do not need any of them in my direct Love with God which = Friendship. Some promise Virgins in Heaven & some try to scare you with the fire of Hell

    September 23, 2012 at 11:31 am |
  3. mama kindless

    Mother nature gives us a decent soul. It comes to us biologically.

    Some people think they need to dress up their souls. Adopting Christian fable is like trying to dress up your soul with accessories from K-Mart. Adopting Islam fable is like trying to dress up your soul with junk from a flea market. (And Catholics shop at the K-Mart too, they just spend too much time at the costume jewelry department.) No matter how much you try to dress yourself up with religion, you are just making yourself outdated, false, and cheap. And you look that way too!

    September 23, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • This again?

      This mother nature that you speak of sounds like your god.

      September 24, 2012 at 7:52 am |
  4. HillClimber

    Ah, you stand with no bearing yet you shout to the world? This discussion is drivel. Understand, that while religion fully embraces God, God does not embrace religion. You use the Bible for reference and that is somewhat like using a flat tire to run the Indianapolis 500 – not something useful at all. Yes, there is some right information there, but there is so much wrong information there that it misleads and distorts the truth. All of the prophets ever here have come with the sole and soul purpose of trying to teach again how to reach God. God is not unreachable! Seek Him through meditation and you can meet with Metatron, the Third Eye, the Voice of God. Hell, you ask? As each life ends, you compare what you were to have learned against what you did learn and you spend a period of learning and evaluating in the Spirit World, our true home. There you study until it is time to put to practice what you now should know – you incarnate. For some, the period is short, usually a mere 20 or so years, but for others the period might be far more. Ivan The Terrible studied for 350 or so years, wile the soul that was Judas has yet decided to reincarnate. My own period was 24 years, almost to the day. Learn to reach God, drop the religious doctrine that destroys your thinking, and the world will be far better off.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • Effed

      Why not end your post after this sentence, ""Ah, you stand with no bearing yet you shout to the world? This discussion is drivel.""

      September 23, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • infidelio666

      Jesus the prophet did not necessarily come with the sole. Perhaps he came with the haddock!

      September 23, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  5. Rainer Braendlein

    Actually the Islamic issue was yet settled 300 years ago with the Great Turkish Wars when the Ottoman Empire (an Islamic Empire) was completely humiliated by the Holy Roman Empire (today Europe). And as the Islam is always connected with temporal power also the Islam as a religion was totally humiliated.

    It is astonishing that the Islamic beast raises its ugly head again, yet I suppose this are only the last convulsions of an almost dead body. The Islamic states don't have (at least I suppose that) the military power to unite for a war against the Western states. The few Muslim idiots which blow themselves up will not manage to erect a new Islamic Caliphate but only cause that the poor ordinary Muslims more and more get unwelcome everywhere.

    Anyway the current problem of the world is neither Islam nor Catholicism (Catholicism has also caused a lot of bloodshed during the dark age) but our current godless, materialistic Western rulers. I think in the eyes of Mr. Obama reflects always a dollar sign, and he is a real "Uncle Sam".

    I guess many Arabs, Turks and other nationalities which prefer the Islam as religion have noticed for a long time that their governments don't work for the interest of their own country but for the benefit of Washington. Hence, they feel fooled, and that causes terrible hate.

    Better Obama and the whole American administration would finish the manipulation of administrations of Muslim countries, and on the other hand honestly refuse the Islam as a religion which is not legitimate. This would cause that the Western World and the Muslim World would get comletely separated from each other with some economical damage for both sides. Yet, better facing some economical damage than that eternal suicide bombing and lying by Western politicans.

    I think the clever Muslims (the Muslim terrorists are mostly very intelligent Muslims) have noticed for a long time that neither Obama nor Merkel nor any other Western politican likes the Islam but that it is all about economy, resources, etc.. Certainly the West only needs resources and extremly cheap manpower for assembling the Western goods.

    I am sure that Obama has yet been told by many honest historians and theologians that Muhammad was a brigand indeed, and it would be a great crime to venerate Muhammad as respectable man, or even divine prophet or Apostle/Messenger of God. Like the popes of the dark age Muhammad was only a criminal which was greedy for honor, power and riches and used religion as a smokescreen for his malice. Furthermore, the Koran is not the holy word of God but a cheap novelette made-up by Mahomet, and the Islam is no legitimate religion but a dangerous cult.

    No Christian is allowed to honor or acknowledge or appreciate Muhammad, the Koran and the Islam. On the contrary, a true Christian has to condemn the Koran, Muhammad and the Islam. However, we have to love our Muslim ordinary neighbours as people which have gone astray (Muslim terrorists are a case for the authority).

    A "Chrisitian" who recognizes Islam as a legitiamate religion will be condemned at Judgement Day, and be cast into the hell.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      Look out! It's RainMan with the usual dissertation on Christo-Fascist mumbo jumbo!

      September 23, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • Effed

      Nice post – until the last sentence. Proof that even intelligent Christians are asshats.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • Ed

      Christianity is hate.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • jemzinthekop

      You could have just written "my invisible, make believe, power hungry invention that reflects my own desires to rule people is better than theirs" I would have been much shorter but still to the same point.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Oh, brother. Another interminable post by the German Zeppelin-full of gas and bloated as ever.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • old ben

      They ought to let "no bRainer" and "ADburger" debate with each other in a room for a year or two. We should at least be able to harness some kind of energy from the waste of such an experiment.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      The room for such a debate ought to be a public restroom with only two toilets. The combatants should be seated, with their laptops, on the porcelain thrones. The first one to sh!t and get off the pot wins.

      Too bad no one will still be alive when the hot-air balloons finish.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:38 am |
  6. IMHO

    I've said for a very long time... when the world ends, it will be in the name of someone's god. Heinous acts require a suspension of values and reason. Religion is the perfect excuse and people are easily manipulated – the specter of a hell surely helps.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:29 am |
  7. Gregg

    Hell is the way Gibson yawns
    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VqA2qAWS-3M&w=560&h=315%5D

    September 23, 2012 at 11:29 am |
  8. Jonathan

    Next CNN frontpage story: Is Sasquatch real?

    September 23, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • Todd in DC

      And more importantly, is the McSasquach burger the next big thing...

      September 23, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • Chris

      Opinion 1: Sasquatch is real, and we should fear him.
      Opinion 2: Of course Sasquatch is not real, but garden fairies totally are.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • The Ghost of Bear Bryant

      There's more evidence for Sasquatch than there is for Christian notions of hell. At least there are grainy pictures of a guy walking around in a monkey suit.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:37 am |
  9. Andrew

    The teaching that God torments sinners forever in hell is a lie to make people want nothing to do with a hideous tormentor. http://www.helltruth.com/ Shows how God's judgement is His strange and merciful act to those who would hate to live and be tormented in the presence of Holy, loving beings throughout eternity.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  10. G. Zeus Kreiszchte

    Good thing I have Native American heritage. No "hell" awaits me...only a Happy Hunting Ground.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • Just a John

      @G. Zeus
      You are more than wecome to join the Pastafairians. Although we have a hell it is about the same as our heaven but the beer is flat and the str*ippers from the str*ipper factory are old obese and have a veneral disease, still much better than eternal agony.
      RAmen The FSM

      September 23, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • Panzarotti of Doom

      Hey, John – I'm sick of you FSM'ers! How dare you usurp the one true creator – me! I shall outlast your noodly-appendaged apparition, for i am the ONE TRUE GOD!

      September 23, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • Just a John

      As an open minded person I am wiling to listen, I am doomed to some sort of hell and will consider your version if better than that of the FSMs; the one caveat being no christians allowed.
      RAmen....for now.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  11. Geoffrey

    There are other alternatives. For instance, the basic Buddhist belief on the subject, which is not at all central to the practical aspects of Buddhism: a hell realm exists, it is one among six realms, beings live there as long as it is appropriate to their karma just as the other five realms. It is to my mind a place of constant suffering, whereas a being in the animal or hungry ghost realm may at least enjoy some moments of neutrality and joy while in that form. No eternal suffering, no eternal extinction – and ultimately no separate indivduality to suffer or go extinct. In the meantime, this.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:26 am |
  12. Catholics are not "Evangelical"

    @Just a John Go back to that priest and tell him to change his water.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • jemzinthekop

      By saying Catholics are not Evangelical are you proposing that Catholics are not equally as insane as these invented faiths of hillbilly, snake oil salesmen?

      September 23, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • Just a John

      Of course you are right, the priest accidently filled the asperisorium with gin, being drunk at the time, thanks for your acvice.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:42 am |
  13. Effed

    Eternity is quite a bit longer than... say... oh... about a 100 years – a maximum human lifespan. Any deity that would eternally punish his/her/its creation, wards, dependents because of something they did wrong in a blink-of-an-eye 100 years, is not worthy of praise or worship.

    Even if a single human caused the demise of all life on Earth, he/she would not deserve eternal damnation. Life on this one planet, in trillions of planets, is not that special.

    btw, if you served a billion year sentence in hell for sins perpetrated in one lifetime on Earth, you would have a trillion trillion more years to serve. Then repeat a trillion times.

    I get the idea that those who are pro-hell don't really understand the implications of such a place. Small minded fools they are...

    September 23, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • Todd in DC

      Stop inflicting logic on a debate about the existence of a fairy tale.

      You need nothing but faith, to believe in the existence of a fairy tale.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:34 am |
  14. jemzinthekop

    Why didn't this "Great Santa Debate" include the opinions of Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Toaists et al? That way when the Christians shake their heads at the insane notions from other religions they will understand why rational people that don't jump of the lemming cliff of theistic insanity shake our heads at theirs.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:26 am |
  15. Elboe

    Mark Driscoll: tldnr. If you're going to appeal to the younger generation try a little of that humility Jesus preached and keep your in-print sermons down to 500 words or so. We in the reading audience aren't mesmerized by the Rasputin-like crazy emanating from your eyes like your live audience, so you'll have to catch our attention by being succinct. Allow me to summarize for you: I believe in a literal hell because my father abused me when I was a child, and luckily there are enough other child abuse survivors out there for me to make a living off them by preaching the idea of a power great enough to hurt abusers 4eva and eva in a lake of fire amen.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  16. Ernesto Castillo

    Is this really a news report for grown ups in the year 2012? Help!!!!

    September 23, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  17. Joe Labriola

    Why is this on cnn.com's main page? I have some great ideas for headline boogieman articles too!

    September 23, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • vincastar

      If you know the impact that God's love on Earth and eternal salvation of mankind has then I cannot imagine that you would want another headline. Have you ever preformed a thought experiment where everyone on Earth accepts God's love, obeys his commandments and rejects sin? God's will of love of others for the sake of the other and rejecting sin should be everyone's headline everyday. It is not a difficult concept, so consider what the root of the problem may be.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
      • Joe Labriola

        Fair enough, but that has nothing to do with this nonsensical discussion about whether hell is real or not.

        September 23, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  18. truth be trolled

    Check this out:

    List of atheists in science and technology (natural scientists):

    (The number of Nobel laureates is astounding.)

    List (social sciences):

    September 23, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • vincastar

      And how many of their and your founding fathers in all subjects were Christian? They may not know it but they are standing on the shoulders of giants. Those who do not know or acknowledge that, possibly either suffer from myopia or pride.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  19. Jason

    Since God is supposed to be the merciful almighty who forgives our sins, shouldn't Hell be more like a jail where we serve out our sentences for the crimes we committed instead of this eternal pit of damnation that we can never get out of?

    September 23, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • deep blue

      I may be wrong, but I think many view hell as the absence of God in your heart, so to some, hell is not God's prison, but one you built in yourself by not accepting Jesus as your savior.

      I'm atheist, so my statement should be taken with a grain of salt 'cause I don't know what I'm talking about.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • vincastar

      deep blue says "hell as the absence of God in your heart, so to some, hell is not God's prison, but one you built in yourself by not accepting Jesus as your savior" That is very interesting because whether you deep blue believe or not you are still correct. What I mean is that if you are atheist then you do not accept God and you build your future hear on Earth and in the afterlife...So, being an atheist is sort of a loose loose situation. If you are right according to you, you are going to your own hell and if you are wrong according to you, you are going to your own hell. It is like self-damnation. Perhaps you are only agnostic. I cannot imagine that anyone would have that insight and choose it as a rational decision. Growing up I never knew what agnostic was so I just told people I was atheist...I thought that if you did not believe then you were by default atheist. Then someone explained to me the difference and I realized that I was not in fact a true atheist but agnostic.

      September 23, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • Cedar rapids

      "hell is not God's prison, but one you built in yourself by not accepting Jesus as your savior."

      they call that blaming the victim

      September 23, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
  20. Catholics are not "Evangelical"

    Can't get my responses to post

    September 23, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      God is angry at you!

      September 23, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • Just a John

      Maybe it is you that needs the excorism.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • Steve Perry

      This whole article is ridiculous and I can't believe a reputable news site like CNN would even run it. How about a little science and reason here? Like WHERE IS HELL? How does your the knowledge in your brain, approximately 20 gigabytes worth, get transmitted to heaven or hell? Where is the data transmitter in your brain? We know the brain well, and trust me, no such structure exists. When you die, YOU CEASE TO EXIST. It's just like shutting off a computer. So get over it. When you die, you are not going anywhere!

      September 23, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • truth be trolled

      No matter – let me finish it for you. They are both CRAZY!

      September 23, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • vincastar

      Steve Perry that is so ironic because gigabytes are not real tangible things but a way of processing the ether world. And a play on words.

      September 23, 2012 at 1:12 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.