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. Hemet Jeff

    Might as well read Aesop's Fables or Grimm's Fairy Tales...it's the same thing.

    September 23, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
  2. jojo

    Absolutely! The last few years of my marriage proved that to me.

    September 23, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  3. Tim

    The author tries to lure you into believing, at the beginning of the article, that Jesus died for everyone and everyone is saved unconditionally. Yet, and this is the catch with Christianity, is that you must "believe" and deditcate your life to Him before you are saved. Not an unconditional salvation. An economic boon to those who preach it–absolutely. And a tax free as well. It's a billion dollar racket.

    September 23, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • DJones

      Salvation is universal and free to those who "believe" because God isn't going to force salvation on anyone. True salvation results in changed behavior, so yes there is a correlation.

      We expect our leaders, especially our courts and our police to uphold the law. There is divine law based on absolute truth. God is the judge who will judge all by that law and he could not be just if he did not enforce or adhere to that law.

      September 23, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • redzoa

      @DJones – so please explain how "judgment" in the form of directly or indirectly slaughtering children who have had no opportunity to "choose" evil makes your god a "just" one?

      September 23, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
  4. John

    Religion was created to answer questions that we cannot answer. Attempts to legitimize mysticism and empowers others to control those who are weak minded and want to be lead.

    There will always be people like this and unfortunately religion will never go away, but the good news is that in more progressive countries the idea of religion is being held as true by less and less people and soon they will be in the minority. Just have to be patient!

    September 23, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  5. John

    The Catholic Church wanted to rule over nations through fear. But, the stole the texts from the Jews. The parable of the unforgiving servant shows that he'll is not eternal for men.

    23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold[b] was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

    26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

    28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.[c] He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

    29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

    30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

    32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

    35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

    September 23, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  6. chicago7

    It is said that Man created God, but I think it's religion that is Man's creation. Personally I believe in God, and I believe that God and religion have nothing whatsoever to do with one another. The former gives and the latter takes. The best way I can describe my opinion of organized religion and its concept of the way God works in our lives is to quote one of the greatest comics and observers of the human condition:

    "Some people believe that there is a man who lives in the sky, who watches everything you do, every day, all day. And there are ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these things, there's a place he send you to where you will burn and suffer and be tortured every second of every day for the rest of eternity. But he LOVES you. He loves you. He loves you and he needs money!"

    ~ George Carlin

    September 23, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • j

      george carlin is the devil in flesh

      September 23, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • truth be trolled

      The only kind of "trickle down" that actually works:

      Little ho mophobic troll idiot degenerates to:
      "truth be told" – degenerates to:
      "just sayin" – degenerates to:
      "captain america" – degenerates to:
      "Ronald Regonzo" – degenerates to:
      "WOW" – degenerates to:
      "!" – degnerates to:
      "j" – and many other names, but it's still the same disgruntled ex:
      Evangelical Fortune Cookie "writer".

      September 23, 2012 at 1:52 pm |

    Christianity is so unbearably stupid

    September 23, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  8. Doodlebug2222

    I like to steer away the retribution part – and try to give myself comfort when someone is cruel to me, by thinking they will later get punished. Even though I am a Christian, I was taught to live my life guided by what was right and just – but wish no ill on those that did not follow my same path. The more we think about how someone has wronged us, the more we think about how they will get "theirs" – in my opinion that makes us smug and condecending and -not- christian like.

    See to me – it IS about those feelings and emotions others stir up in you – and how you – allow them to affect your thinking, your heart and your life. We should not say 'because we feel they are bad and evil – they SHOULD suffer' – that ... is incorrect. Instead the real power comes from stepping over them while looking ahead – and walking forward... not giving them even one moment of regard. We should not allow – others behavior to taint our own goodness. I would like to believe there is more than I know now – but I am here – now... and I live in this moment and then the next. What we do... during this time – is what is the most important. Our actions, our inactions – and how we – most of all.. learn to live with each other and handle feelings and emotions that we will struggle with through life. THE most important thing to me – is keeping some measure of control over who I am.. who I really am – and be able to face that truth, and do something about it – when I need to...

    September 23, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  9. Atheism is Great for Kids and Grown-Ups Too!

    It's really best for all people including children to have an agnostic approach to god, and an atheistic approach to all religion. It keeps things simple for kids, and lets them be all that they can be. They just need to be taught that some things, like all religion, were just made up by salesmen and politicians from long ago. (Yes, charlatan folklore and spam started long before the Bible; what would make you think they hadn't?????) And they need to be taught that other things, like God, we really don't know a damn thing about.

    Atheists have strong minds and don't need a religion. Many religious folk have the best intentions. But too often, religious folk run and hide their misdeeds within their religion (and by doing so, they disserve society). And too often, religious folk are easily offended when someone mocks their make-believe characters – and, as we can see they can get really CRAZY!

    Although there are many religious folk with good intentions – some selflessly helping others, religions and religious organizations are, as a whole, just big old clubs – each trying to out do each other and inspiring hate and division (often disguised as love) along the way. The problem is that people too easily buy into religion and don't realize how unfounded it all is. And when they buy into it, they buy into a lot of really old, really weird tenets that are nothing but harmful for the human species.

    Take Christianity, for instance. Just look at all the things that Christians argue about amongst themselves today – abortion, men's and women's roles in the church, celibacy, contraception, acceptance of gays, etc. Most of these issues have their roots in the conflicted, unfounded tenets of early Christianity. Non-Mormons harp on Joseph Smith these days. But we really don't have any more proof at all to believe that Paul, the self-proclaimed "apostle" was anything more than an ordinary man who needed to make up religious "sales literature" to survive and spread his own personal beliefs. And yet a good chunk of the NT is attributed to Paul and accepted by many Christians. And a lot of what he wrote about has to do with many of the issues I mentioned above that have Christians fighting amongst themselves hundreds of years later. It's way too unfounded to argue over.

    Get a good cup of tea, and sit down and collect your thoughts. If you find it helpful to pray to a god, fine. But it is really healthier for the mind to leave behind all the characters that people over the centuries have invented or given powers to, for which there is little or no foundation. Because with those invented characters and powers – that's where division and hate join the little party in your mind. That's where, in your mind, you are inheriting the division and hate from ordinary politicians, lobbyists and salesmen from long ago. My goodness.

    mama kindless

    September 23, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  10. 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 1:08 pm |
  11. truth be trolled

    The Bible Jews & Christians – Lewis Black . . . . . . .

    September 23, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
  12. truth be trolled

    George Carlin – Religion is Bull Sh it . . . . .

    September 23, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • Carlin123

      George Carlin is so right it's scary.

      September 23, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • j

      George Carlin worked for the devil

      September 23, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • truth be trolled

      "j": "George Carlin worked for the devil"

      Now see – that's why they let you go from the
      Evangelical Fortune Cookie Co..

      September 23, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Hmm. Weren't you leaving, j? That's what you claimed. Were you lying?

      If Carlin worked for the devil, how is it you knew nothing about him until you saw this clip?

      September 23, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • truth be trolled

      "j" was probably just leaving to jump to somewhere else where the small troll could write some ho mophobic drivel. I notice he has that agenda and applies it whenever possible.

      September 23, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • j

      just watching that video of him talking tells me he worked for the devil and did the devils will while he was alive. atheists also work and do the devils will on earth, now you know why God made a hell.

      September 23, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • truth be trolled

      Is that our sign, j? lol. Retard.

      September 23, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
    • j

      you're blinded by the devil too truth be trolled !!! just like carlin and the millions and millions people alike

      September 23, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • j

      I did leave for a bit, I'm at work right now, had step outside for a bit

      September 23, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Why? Did you fart?

      September 23, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • truth be trolled

      The only kind of "trickle down" that actually works:

      Little ho mophobic troll idiot degenerates to:
      "truth be told" – degenerates to:
      "just sayin" – degenerates to:
      "captain america" – degenerates to:
      "Ronald Regonzo" – degenerates to:
      "WOW" – degenerates to:
      "!" – degnerates to:
      "j" – and many other names, but it's still the same disgruntled ex
      Evangelical Fortune Cookie "writer"...

      September 23, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  13. Marie Asport

    We do things in this world to harm others, eventually we have to pay for that wrong doing, we will pay either in this world or the next (cause and effect) or (consequences) regardless what we call it.

    Our souls were created for eternity. and are meant to be pure. it will be hell to know that you harm others and live with regret for the rest of eternity. (the fire of hell)
    God in His mercy concocted this plan to send Himself in the person of Jesus Christ (his son) to save us from hell and to offer us the opportunity to be saved from our wrong doing. He dies for us (Yes he dies for us everyday) there is no time confinement in God, So when we offer His body and blood in the altar we are reminding ourselves that God the Father has already fulfilled our salvation through the dead of His Son, and we offer the sacrifice over and over for the salvation of us and the whole world. Anyone who has not sinned can come forward to declare himself in no need of God's salvation.

    September 23, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Delusional – simply delusional. there is no basis whatsoever for the crap you are spouting. it is simply one deluded person's warped wish-view of how they think and want the world to be.

      September 23, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  14. Nato

    If you chose to affiliate yourself with a group you only allow yourself to be lead by the masses and flocks of people with a fraction of knowledge the truth is everywhere think of it as segragation you might learn something not from people but teachings there were ment to guide you when put all together you free your mind from the breeders of docile minds wake up open that eye that has been shut how separation people groups become an individual.

    September 23, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  15. Mike

    Existential crisis averted. You're welcome.

    September 23, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  16. truth be trolled

    Why the Bible is Essentially Useless and Irrelevant
    (Originally t itled Bible Black – track from Randy Newman's Faust.)

    September 23, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
  17. John

    LOL, I am going to stick with the premise of Prometheus or some variation.

    Seems much more 'possible' than what religion offers.

    September 23, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
  18. GAW

    A literal view of hell is most likely to be held by Evangelicals and Fundamentalists. These are the groups that need to hold their followers in the highest amount of control and need to provide threats and strong incentives to those on the outside to convert.

    September 23, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  19. notea4me

    Churches need to be taxed.

    September 23, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  20. truth be trolled

    Bill Maher – Atheism Not a Religion + Mitt Romney in-Law Unbaptism (Real Time New Rules 02-03-2012)

    September 23, 2012 at 1:02 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.