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. Tim Jordan

    Hell is just as real as Mitt Romney's personality, the Tooth Fairy, and Zeus. The idea of hell is just a scam for religious leaders to manipulate people and take their money.

    September 23, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  2. Josh

    Which of these two to believe? The one whomakes no mention of biblical passages and relies only on his misinformed opinion and misdirected philosophical thinking ir the one who relies on the Bible for all the arguments he makes. If you don't believe in hell it's to your own damnation, but don't call yourself a Christian, because christianity is found only in the Bible and the Bible is clear about the reality of hell.

    September 23, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      And the bible is simply a collection of stories written over centuries by people. So what?

      September 23, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • sam stone

      it may be clear on the concept of hell, but in order for it to be clear on the "reality" of hell, hell would have to be shown to be a REALITY.

      September 23, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  3. 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 2:46 pm |
  4. nemo0037

    What I would like to know is why would a god create Hell when we have Syria, Rwanda, the Killing Fields, the Holocaust, the Trail of Tears, the Inquisition..... etc. etc. etc............

    September 23, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  5. Annie

    Mr. Driscoll says, "...my job is to tell the truth." Be very, very wary of such people. Whatever the truth is, it's yours to discover for and by yourself–not to have it dictated to you by others.

    September 23, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
  6. JD

    Yes, there is a hell but I'm not going there!

    September 23, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
  7. 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 2:44 pm |
  8. scottclark52

    We can't abandon hell. If were to be abandon there would be no way to contain the crazy Christians. Let's not forget what religion truly is. It's control and power. That's what it was invented for.

    September 23, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
  9. Bill the Deist

    The atheist att-itude of accepting things simply as not knowable is dangerous to the progress of humanity. Many things were not knowable in the past that are knowable today. All religion is bad, though, none worse than the Church of Atheism.

    September 23, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Bill, what exactly are you trying to say? Atheists simply say they are not prepared to believe in something until they are provided with sufficient proof.

      September 23, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • t3chn0ph0b3

      Deism is way more dangerous that real religion. Deists can justify anything they want using their religion because they don't have anyone like a priest or a like-minded religious community guiding them.

      Rationalists are the only safe people to be around. No religious person is a rationalist.

      September 23, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
  10. simplehonesty

    The flame of this fight doesn't ignite from the difference in religious values, it burns from illiteracy.

    September 23, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
  11. End Religion

    If you're inclined to be a believer, what if the true test of the one true god was the opposite of what every religious person believed?

    September 23, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  12. thx1111

    There's a hell alright. I just turn on the TV and see Snooki, go to work and deal with the insane management, yes, hell certainly does exist, I am in it now...

    September 23, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  13. correctlycenter

    Atheism is the real myth...

    September 23, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • Kingofthenet

      Because the concrete proof of God is so good....amirite?

      September 23, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Hey, correctly – how long did it take you to come up with that zinger? Wow – you really smoked the atheists with that blast of brilliance! Got any more for us? I think you missed a couple of atheists hiding over in that foxhole over there! Go get 'em!

      September 23, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
  14. truth be trolled

    Who needs Jesus when we can have a King??????

    September 23, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      The 23rd chromosome was added by man? I just love the science lesson in there. HA HA HA! How retarded does one have to be to buy into this $h|+?

      September 23, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • truth be trolled

      the first time i watched this i literally fell out of my chair laughing.

      September 23, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
  15. Kingofthenet

    So Jesus is going to control and punish the Devil in end times, but he doesn't do it NOW when it would actually do some good? methinks if there is a Devil, it is a lot more powerful than Jesus is letting on, maybe more so than god itself?

    September 23, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • correctlycenter

      Another one re-interpreting God's true word ha? The world is full of them. Blessed are those who believe in the LORD and His word...

      September 23, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      @ incorrectly – which Lord? There are thousands of gods out there.

      September 23, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • Observer

      The Bible is so full of contradictions and hypocrisy that it always requires "re-interpreting".

      September 23, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • Josh

      How can a created being be creater than its creator? Gd allows sin to ultimate fulfillment until sin is detroyed once and for all by God. God allows sin for man to see the pain it causes and to drive man to hate sin and turn to Him. satan only acts as far as God lets him and for now it is God's purpose to let the devil reign. A simple reading of the book of Revelation shows that God will ultimatly destroy satan in eternal hell.

      For the one who says there's countlss gods, that statement doesn't even survive simple logic, there can be only one creator, sustainer and spreme being; an almighty God of all.

      September 23, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
  16. gpvsn

    Google and read "Garuda Purana" for Hell

    September 23, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
  17. PHOTOMAN67

    Religion is just mind-control of the masses by instilling guilt / fear in people about something they will never know the answer to until they die.

    September 23, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
  18. Phoenix

    If CNN couldn’t think of a better idea of why hell doesn’t exist other that “it’s a dangerous idea” they should have invited a Jehovah Witness for a guest columnist. Witnesses don’t believe in hell. To sum it up their belief “The wages of sin is death.” Once you’ve died you’ve paid that price. What happens next depend on your belief in Jesus if you believe in God and his son then you can have hope in a resurrection. If not well…you’re dead. No fiery torment forever from a God who claims to “LOVE” you. JW belief is a little bit more complex and I can’t claim to believe all of it but I think they got the idea that a God who loves us, and more importantly one who would be worthy of our love in return, would never consign anyone to an eternity of torcher with no reprieve.

    September 23, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
  19. GregtheThird

    This article is a fascinating read, with compelling arguments for both sides. It is hard to know what God has in mind, having not met him in this life nor having been to his realm in heaven. Ocasionally bits and pieces of the reality there leak out from his messengers. I have had the good fortune of having encountered/experienced one of these messengers. One of the things it conveyed to me is that I "was saved." This messenger came the night after in my mind I realized that I was committed to doing the right things inlife, no matter how much people in life would punish me for doing them. Often this means blowing the whistle on people doing the wrong things, realizing those kinds of actions inevitably lead to harm to oneself, in addition to doing the usual good deeds for the day. It also means choosing to concoiously not do harm whenever possible, saving the few times where you must choose the least of of a number of evils. One interesting thought that came to mind afterwards is whether the reference to being "saved" means that this universe is akin to a computer program and God is the programmer/system operator.
    The key to this message for this topic is that to get to heaven you have to be saved. This means the alternative is not pleasant. It could mean wandering aimlessly after death, being at the mercy of whatever harmful elements you may face in the afterlife, or it could mean that there is punishment as well, as if the former is not punishment enough. One way I look at this conundrum is the same way I look at justice. If someone has proven that they cannot be trusted to uphold the social contract, which means following society's rules in order to be a member, then you are actively excluded from it. It doesn't matter what the reason, whether you mad or diabolical, you are put in prison or exile becase you proven to be a disruptive and harmful force when in a group. So I imagine God looks at departed souls in much the same way. If you are dead and wandering, excluded from heaven due o your misdeeds in life, then a second home might be with other exiles in hell, which would be a better fate than eternal isolation.
    I do agree that the punishment philosophy is the work of the devil. It stems from wrath, as it stems from a desire to hurt those who have hurt us.Fundamentalist who explopit this need to stop preaching it and repent.No human has the power to send anyone to hell, and God may not even do it, they may just end up there as it is the only community outside of heaven. There is nothing holy about this concept, yet this is what it iinvites. It is equivalent to the death penalty idea that we need to make this place ultmately scary to deter mad people from committing their sins. This is not necessary, as it should be scary enough to think that such people will be excluded from heaven and their punishment will come passively as I described above.

    September 23, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Another delusional child. Hey – buddy! Yeah, you! See that big lump of grey matter stuffed into your cranium (sorry, that's the word elites use to describe your melon)

      Try using it.

      September 23, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • t3chn0ph0b3

      To everyone who just read the above comment:

      This guy is a deist. That means he's religious but is not connected to a particular organized religion. See how weird and rambling and devoid of rationality he is? To all of you out there who are "spiritual" but aren't connected to a church of some sort, you are not very different from this schizoid.

      Religion of any sort breaks your brain. Take the above example as a warning.

      September 23, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
  20. A Frayed Knot

    Step right up and get your Free Gift (as opposed to the gift you pay for?), folks!

    Sounds like a pitch from some tabloid ad.

    September 23, 2012 at 2:34 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.