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. reality1

    Any eligion is the root of evil. Man made here-say garbage! John said paul said etc.... The muslins and Christians sure are making hell on earth in their evil fight with one another. All other man needs humbled. I cannot wait!

    September 23, 2012 at 11:59 am |
  2. Watchfuliiiii

    Big invisable guy in clouds. Fire down below. Nice story.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 11:58 am |
  3. Ed M.

    Hell is real.
    I've worked there all my life ~whenever I wasn't self-employed..

    September 23, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  4. save the world and slap some sense into a christard today!

    Religion is bull sh it

    September 23, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • j

      Hell is real, you know why ? because people like George Calin live on this earth

      September 23, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You're even more idiotic than I thought. Carlin is DEAD, you bozo.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • j

      well then Carlin is a bozo in hell

      September 23, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • truth be trolled

      aww – has truth be told / captain america / ronald regonzo / WOW / ! / Atheism is not . . / etc. etc. been reduced to just a "j"???

      September 23, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      j, you dumbfvck. You don't have a clue who Carlin was.

      You're a real tribute to fundy-thumpers everywhere.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • j

      Carlin was an blinded atheist like you !!!

      September 23, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Until you saw this clip, you didn't even know he existed, you moron. How would you know anything about what he believed?

      What are you, 12?

      September 23, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • j

      why would I listen to an atheists ? I'm 30

      September 23, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Maybe because you need an education, and most atheists are better educated than most fundies.

      Otherwise, why stay here, j-dumb? Leave. Do you really think there's anyone here who is buying what you're selling when you're barely able to string together five words without screwing up?

      September 23, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      IF you're 30, which I doubt, you should be completely mortified by your ignorance.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • j

      just telling the truth Tom, look at Jesus Christ when He was on earth, many many didn't believe Him because people are blinded by the devil, how can they believe ? that's why I'm getting all these ugly responses

      September 23, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
  5. George

    We should abandon the idea of heaven as well. Hopefully, death is oblivoan. If God exists, he abandoned the Universe shortly after its creation.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  6. Paul

    Driscoll shows his inability to think and reflect theologically outside his conservative box of thought. I too was like him, then I went to seminary and grew up.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  7. 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).

    How to get certainly into the hell: Acknowledge Muhammad, the Islam and the Koran.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:57 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 11:59 am |
    • Arvoasitis

      Just curious, where does your fear and hatred originate?

      September 23, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
  8. whothefami

    If Christians, Jews and Muslims would come to the realization that their Prophets are False and their Gods Don't Exist, we could make a lot more progress as a species!

    September 23, 2012 at 11:56 am |
  9. 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 11:55 am |
  10. MagicPanties

    Yes, hell is just as real as heaven, which is just as real as middle earth.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  11. Rainer Braendlein

    According to the doctrine of the New Testament which is the consti-tution of the Christian Church there is no greater sin than teaching false doctrine (heresy).

    Hence, if any "Christian" acknowledges Islam as legitimate religion, the Koran as word of God, and Muhammad as Messenger of God, he will get condemned at Judgement Day by God, the Son, Jesus, and be cast into the hell or eternal fire.

    If you would like to make sure that you get into hell appreciate Muhammad, the Koran and the Islam.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • ....


      September 23, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      Wow! RainMan CAN write only a few sentences instead of taking up a whole page or two! Getting tired, there?

      September 23, 2012 at 11:58 am |

    I heard at my trailer park Obama is a moslem. Jesus will use his magic powers to defeat the liberals come Novermbur.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  13. IslandAtheist

    Yes, and heaven too.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:54 am |
  14. Reality

    Only for new members of this blog:-->>>>>

    Father Edward Schillebeeckx, the famous contemporary theologian, had a different take on hell. He reasoned that God does not tolerate imperfection in his spiritual realm. Therefore, any soul dying in mortal sin will simply disappear since hell the imperfect state does not exist.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • j

      any human living in sin, their soul will go to hell – from God....... if they don't repent from their sinful wicked way, and come to Christ !!

      September 23, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  15. RustyHinges8

    Mark Driscoll uses the Bible for all of his answers and beliefs. I don’t think he has a single opinion of his own. The Bible’s description of ‘hell’ can be any bad day….restlessness or stress, a fire, or weeping and sadness. He says “as a pastor, his job is to tell the truth”, but if he’s basing all of his truth on an ancient book that has been rewritten and amended many times, and versus actually deleted through the centuries….then he’s got to be kidding. If I was a physician and believed in the book ‘Gray’s Anatomy’, written 150 years ago….would I be your doctor? “Hell” no!
    Frank Schaeffer thinks people who love revenge will find the concept of “hell” more believable, because the revenge they see every day, isn’t enough. Those so-called funny videos on TV, showing people falling and getting hurt aren’t enough. Or gawking and rubber-necking while passing car accidents isn’t enough….and seeing the guy in the next cubicle get fired isn’t enough. So, let’s have a big “hell” at the end?

    For what it’s worth, I have an opinion, too. I don’t go along with Driscoll, because I’m too open-minded. My book reports in school were actually original. I can certainly understand Schaeffer’s take on ‘hell’. People just enjoy seeing others suffer, because it makes them feel better. But I think ‘hell’ is right here with us, whether we like it or not. We have our ups and downs…the good and the bad….the wonderful and the sad. Heaven and hell is what we experience every day. It’s not a magic room, or place in the sky…and it’s not a hot place somewhere. We experience them every day.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • Bud

      For 54 years I held the christian religions bible as "the actual word from god". Unfortunately I raised 6 children to follow the same narrowmindedness. Having finally questioned my beliefs about what that bible says, I've found out that what I it all comes down to; faith, hope and love, but the greatest is love. B.M.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
  16. carlos torres

    I'm a Christian and I don't believe in hel because the Bible does not mention at all that when we die we either go to heaven or die. I also beleive that nobody should be forced to accept a religion. Everyone has the right to decide for themselves.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • GrampaSez

      So, YOUR BIBLE says "In my Father's mansion, there are many rooms..." (And we Christians are uniquely qualified to TELL YOU about ONE OF THOSE ROOMS?)

      September 23, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • jemzinthekop

      The bible also doesn't mention gravity.... nice way to decide what is stupid and what is more stupid.

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

      Matthew 7:13-14

      September 23, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
  17. Loathstheright

    Abandon all religion, it is all made up in the imaginations of ancient man and is for some insane reason continues on today in people who simply have no reasoning power and are just willingfully ignorant. God never existed and never will.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  18. Wire Palladin S.F.

    Honestly, the only explanation of the afterlife that ever made sense is the one by the Mormons

    September 23, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • edweird69

      Do explain, please!

      September 23, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  19. KLM

    Any movement fueled by FEAR is a weak force creating shame, humiliation and manipulation. It is also predatory on the natural drives & needs of people and creates emotional problems. Add to that, when religion thwarts the education of normal biology & science, it damages human beings: keeping them in poverty, keeping them away from fulfilling their higher potential. If religion was so right, and if fear based tactics were so effective, we would not have as many people in prison as we do today. The life work of Alice Miller sheds light on the damage that religions make, how it has shaped our brains and facilitated abuse of human beings.

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

      Your ALTERNATE UNIVERSE ignores a number of things. Among them, is the false notion that CHRISTIAN/RELIGIOUS WARS have somehow equaled the KILLING done by the likes of MAO, STALIN, HITLER, etc.

      Second, you probably have no problem with thnotion that EXERCISING YOUR MUSCLES will give you STRONGER MUSCLES. Why, then, do LIBS ignore that EXERCISING RESTRAINT strengthens the ability to postpone gratification, which is usually defined as "MATURITY"?

      I won't bore you with other examples, because I sense that you are "comfortable at your level".

      September 23, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • edweird69

      @Grampa – I do believe Hitler considered himself an Xtian.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:05 pm |

      Fear is a weak force? UUuuummm, no.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
  20. 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? Can none of you give me an answer?

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

      Asking for a logical debate on the most illogical subject known to man... is... well... illogical! :-]

      September 23, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • Sommerville

      I just want to understand the psyche of an intelligent modern human (doctor, lawyer, etc) that believes in ridiculous fairy tales.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:53 am |

      Seriously? The AMA controls the supply of thug doctors. Dissolve the AMA and you wouldn't even think about gumit health care.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:04 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.