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. pvs53

    Hell is a man-made frabricated place to control people through fear. God is pure infinite love and knows everything always, the begining from the end. God already knew what would happen when he created mankind. God would not create loving children and then create a hell for those who disobey. An all loving God would avoid the creation of man knowing how it would play out. God leads through love not fear. Fear is the absence of guidance of the Holy Spirit. Read "Finding The Truth Of Life". It is a book that answers the question of why God created mankind and the true purpose of life. God belongs to no religion. Religions are a tunnel vision of life that blurrs and hides the greater purpose of God's plan. The truth of life is bigger than any one religion. The only hell is right here on earth, Satan's temporary domain.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  2. jemzinthekop

    Jesus was on the cross and called out "Peter, Peter I need you. Please come honor your messiah"
    So Peter tried to climb the hill to the cross and a Roman Centurion cut off his arm and kicked him down the hill.
    Once again Jesus called out "Peter, Peter I need you. Please come honor your messiah"
    So Peter tried to climb the hill to the cross and a Roman Centurion cut off his other arm and kicked him down the hill.
    Once again Jesus called out "Peter, Peter I need you. Please come honor your messiah"
    So Peter tried to climb the hill to the cross and a Roman Centurion cut off his leg and kicked him down the hill.
    Once again Jesus called out "Peter, Peter I need you. Please come honor your messiah"
    So Peter tried to climb the hill to the cross and a Roman Centurion cut off his other leg and kicked him down the hill.
    Once again Jesus called out "Peter, Peter I need you. Please come honor your messiah"
    Finally the centurion thought "Well all the guy can do is roll, why not let him do talk to the guy on the cross"
    So Peter rolled up the hill and said "I've made it my Lord, what do you bequeath of your humble servent"

    And Jesus said "Peter, Peter..... I can see your house from up here"

    September 23, 2012 at 11:48 am |
  3. Seyedibar

    Next we should debate whether Gotham city is real.
    I vote yes, because i read it in a book.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:48 am |
  4. j

    Hell is sharing a planet with anyone who believes in a God.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • edweird69

      LOVE THAT! Simple and true!

      September 23, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • Watchfuliiiii

      Big invisable guy in clouds. Fire down below. Simple answers to complex questions answered by uneducated primative people from long ago. Nice guys an all just ignorant. It was thousands of years ago for goodness sake. Truth is much scarier than beliving in some fantasy. Suck it up people.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  5. Debra

    The concept is a part of the rest of organized religion: manmade to keep the masses in check. It is a pure farce.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:45 am |
  6. trogiah

    Those who would present Christianities position on God's condemnation should make every effort to present it as Jesus did. According to Jesus, Those who earn God's condemnation are those who practice condemnation. "The measure with which you measure will be used to measure you." If you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will forgive you yours, If you do not forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will not forgive you." It is possible to live as though there is not hell. Just don't send anyone there yourself and you won't have to worry about being sent there. But if you are in the habit of sending people to hell, then you run the risk of going there yourself.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:44 am |
  7. whothefami

    Heaven and Hell are fabricated concepts, used by Organized Religions to practice Mind Control, Start Wars, and make lots of money!

    September 23, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • Debra

      Absolutely don forget the most important part: making money!!

      September 23, 2012 at 11:46 am |

    Why do the dogs keep barking?......'2Cr 4:4 In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.' .....There is a god in the world.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:44 am |
  9. G. Zeus Kreiszchte

    If religion is real, then there are only four elements in the universe: earth, wind, fire, and water. The sun, planets, all galaxies, black holes, dark matter, including all that stuff that is tens of billions of light years away, revolve around the earth. The earth is flat. We did not land on the moon or Mars. Dinosaurs never existed. It is all made up by the devil to fool mankind, because ancient religions written thousands of years ago are the only thing that will ever be true.....EVER!

    September 23, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • GrampaSez

      If "religion" is COMPLETELY DEFINED by your cartoon understanding of it, then I find nothing wrong with the rest of your logic, and conclusions.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • Bob Bales

      None of these statements have anything to do with religion.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      Nor does religion have anything to do with reality!

      September 23, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  10. If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

    We all know purpose of hell, to scare you into heaven .. but what is heaven for? Let's say you get in (woohoo!!) now what? What's the purpose, the goal, to what end do we spend eternity in worshipful bliss, what's the point in that?

    September 23, 2012 at 11:44 am |
  11. Sean

    You have your nut job Christians on side of the hell fairy tale and the Muslim nut jobs on the other side and the rational people of the world caught in the crossfire.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • edweird69

      Another great post! Love it!!

      September 23, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  12. Sommerville

    How exactly, in plain english, did Jesus "suffer" for my sins? What are the precise schematics? I wasn't born until 2,000 years after his death. Did he travel forward in time to my death and then back? How does that work? Besides, I never asked for him to do that. How can modern humans believe any of this junk?

    September 23, 2012 at 11:43 am |

      Maybe you don't have the capacity to believe?

      September 23, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • Sommerville

      Have Mud: Maybe you don't have capacity for reason or free thought. Capacity for being gullible is nothing to boast about.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      Sommer ... you gotta love believers "capacity" to answer a very simple and legit question.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:50 am |

      Sommerville, you still lookin' for that free lunch? You will get your wages, don't worry about it.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:53 am |

      Plain English? I recommend the KJV and if you quote it, your chances of being sued are a lot less. Now quit being so lazy and do your own research.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      "Do your own research" is another way of saying I have no answer or I don't know.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • Bob Bales

      Jesus received the punishment for your sin, the punishment that you would otherwise have had to receive. We know, according to the Bible, that He carried the sin of everyone, past, present, and future. The answer to how that is possible may be that God is outside of time. The exact nature of what happened, we will have to leave to God.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  13. hellraiser101

    Who the hell cares?

    September 23, 2012 at 11:42 am |
  14. 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 these 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 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 countries 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 completely 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 like 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 been told by many honest historians and theologians that Muhammad was a brigand indeed, and it would be a great crime to venerate him 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 true 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).

    September 23, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • truth be trolled


      September 23, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "Rainer Braendlein", but all of your assertions are unfounded. The degree to which your assertions may represent correct statements is 0.0. To help you understand the degree to which your assertions may represent correct statements, I will access my Idiomatic Expression Equivalency module (IEE). Using my IEE module, the expression that best matches the degree to which your assertions may represent correct statements is: "TOTAL FAIL".

      I see that you repeat these unfounded statements with high frequency. Perhaps the following book might help you overcome this problem:

      I'm Told I Have Dementia: What You Can Do... Who You Can Turn to...
      by the Alzheimer's Disease Society

      September 23, 2012 at 11:52 am |
  15. seafriend

    The very idea of an eternal hell suggests a god that cannot forgive; a god that cannot get over him/her self. Christianity's whole platform of existence is based on the concept of hell. It (hell) is a tool to scare people to adhering to this religion. What kind of a god would so narcissistically need to do that to have followers?

    September 23, 2012 at 11:42 am |

      Sounds like a comment a nerd in the dorm would make on a friday nite. No offense, OK?

      September 23, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • Seyedibar

      The kind that is just irrelevant fiction written by flawed men a very long time ago.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • Bob Bales

      Hell is is tool to scare people into Christianity in exactly the same way that lung cancer is a tool to scare people into stopping smoking: the purpose is not to make people afraid, but to convince them that they should change a behavior that, if continued, will have undesirable effects. Yet, "if you continue smoking, it is very possible you will end up with lung cancer" is considered a needed message, while "if you continue sinning, you will end up in hell" is considered mind control. The purpose of mentioning hell in Christianity is (or should be) to let people know they don't need to go there. If someone does, it is not because God can't or won't forgive. It is because that person won't accept forgiveness.

      September 23, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  16. nealjt@yahoo.com

    Great Topic CNN.. you realy know whats news worthy... can't wait for op ed on Santa and the easter bunny... hop to it!!

    September 23, 2012 at 11:41 am |
  17. Seyedibar

    if you study the history of the concept of Hell, you can literally see the idea of a charnel pit turn into the idea of sinners in a lake of fire, even etymologically speaking. Once you realize that the Christian concept of Hell/Sheol/Gehenna refers to nothing more than a city dump, it's quite difficult to take any of the judaic god's threats seriously. The underworld only took on the aspects of evil when earlier christian writers mingled the concept with Hades.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  18. Mandor

    is Valhalla real? Is Sovngard real? Same answer.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  19. PraiseTheLard

    What a bunch of nonsense... Discussing fairy-tales as if they were based on facts is nothing short of m0r0nic...

    September 23, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  20. Greg

    And Santa will bring you all presents on Christmas day. Religion was created by man to control man.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:39 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.