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. Clyde Farris

    I can't believe that people still believe this stuff that comes from a bible, authored anonymously, assembled by a committee, full of contradictions and wherever it says something about the laws of nature, it is wrong. Christians are generally Christians because they were born and raised in a Christian culture, and is is most likely they would be Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, etc. if they had been born and raised in one of those cultures. Christians find it so easy to be atheists as to Allah, Buddha, etc., but they cannot understand how anyone can be an atheist to Elohim/YHWH/Jehovah. When will they ever learn?

    September 23, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
  2. RichardSRussell

    Mark Driscoll starts out averring that his job is to tell the truth, then he proceeds to spread BS the entire rest of his article. He obviously wouldn't know the truth if it were his father and had been handcuffed to him since birth.

    September 23, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
  3. me

    Heaven is living in the direct presence of God All Light and Life flows from him.
    Hell is living completely blocked away from God. Total Darkness and Death.

    I can see why when people were trying to explain hell they conjured up the worst living environment they could for being cast away from the eternal presence of God would be completely unthinkable agony.
    Now one could say this is to harsh but those that get cast away have chosen not to live before God and forcing them to live with the one that they have despised would be equally bad.

    September 23, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • ge ratt

      If heaven is filled with religious zealots. ill take hell with my friends. thanks

      September 23, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
  4. Grumpster

    Of course it's not real. The only thing that is close is some place in the middle east where you'd be forced to live like a rat for your entire life and believe the garbage they believe or get shot or worse. If any one religion were right, then all the others are wrong? More like...they are ALL wrong and when you go...you go and that's that.

    September 23, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
  5. Jeff

    No. Hey CNN try reporting NEWS!

    September 23, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
  6. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    Just for Prissy:
    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vkduZs3ZPA&w=560&h=315%5D

    September 23, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
  7. That sounds likely...

    Jesus presides over Hell and tortures those that didn't realize he was real for eternity? And yet "God is far more loving, kind and patient with his enemies than we are with our enemies." Get a hold of yourself, dude.

    September 23, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
  8. willard43

    No...glad I could help.

    September 23, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
  9. Ranger X

    It disappoints me to see CNN give voice to Mark Driscoll, who is bonafide nuts. One thing he didn't mention to CNN is the voices he hears and the visions he sees. Don't take my word for it, read his:



    September 23, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  10. TexDoc

    I hope so. I'd like to think that evil is punished.

    September 23, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • Ranger X

      Hell doesn't punish what we normally consider evil. It punishes those who didn't accept Jesus. There are lots of perfectly moral persons, such as Ghandi, roasting in the flames right now. That's the whole point of it, our concept of good and evil has nothing to do with it, only obedience to god. Well, if you believe it.

      September 23, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • oy

      Why? How does that improve your life at all?

      September 23, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • redzoa

      And so self-evident moral behavior is trumped by obedience in what amounts to a spiritual Nuremberg Defense...

      September 23, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
  11. Johnny America

    Do these ignorant atheists just hang around all day on the Belief Blog trying to compensate for their lack of intellect by making weak comments? LOL, someone needs a nap.

    September 23, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • McBobby

      You're funny, now go thump your bible.

      September 23, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • Athy

      Studies have shown that atheists have more intelligence than religious people. Go ahead and Google it, if you're smart enough.

      September 23, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
    • Grumpster

      Do these ignorant religiofiles hang around on the Belief section all day? Boy you are dumb. We don't have a non-belief section on CNN, do we? Why not?

      September 23, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • oy

      Ignorant? The guy claims "He alone has risen from death" when, in fact, that is not true. Perhaps this PASTOR has forgotten about Lazarus? He also claims that death is not natural. Um, yes, death is part of life.
      Yet you consider us Atheists to be "ignorant", when someone who has been formally educated in religion couldn't argue his way out of a paper bag!

      September 23, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • LB

      Just ask your self one question, How many religions exist on planet earth? How many do exist in heaven?
      Doesnt that tell you something? Follow your instict and see the truth!

      September 23, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • End Religion

      LB, your circular logic yields no conclusion.

      September 23, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • AndyB

      Silly boy

      September 23, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • MDAT

      What love.No tolerance.It is blackmail.

      September 23, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  12. Josef F

    Is Hell real?


    Next stupid question?

    September 23, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • j

      Is Josef F going to hell ? yes
      next question

      September 23, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • elijahi34

      it will not be stupid when you end up there

      September 23, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • MDAT

      Hell is just the fear of death.

      September 23, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • oy

      Wow. Such loving and warm Christians responding to posts here...I'm sure Jesus would be proud!

      September 23, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Josef F has it right.
      Anyone who disagrees is welcome to submit photographic evidence.
      Come on, people, NOBODY HAS EVER SEEN THE PLACE! And yet we are solemnly assured by the deluded that it's just as real as Oz or Wonderland or Narnia. Grow a brain! You've been duped.

      September 23, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • j

      just telling the truth. how you know I was christian ?

      September 23, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • MDAT

      Hell is just fear.

      September 23, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • Margie

      Please don't wait to die to find out if hell is real! Hell was prepared for Satan and his demons if anyone goes to hell it's because you chose to to go . You turned from God and chose hell instead. Make the choice and accept Jesus as your Lord and savior and chose eternal life. He loves you.

      September 23, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • AndyB

      People are created against their will, and those who do not follow the right bunch of arbitrary rules because of where they're born burn for eternity? Of course it's not real.

      September 23, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • End Religion

      @margie: "if anyone goes to hell it's because you chose to to go . You turned from God and chose hell instead. Make the choice and accept Jesus as your Lord and savior and chose eternal life. He loves you."

      If he loves us, why would he torture us for eternity for disagreeing with him? That doesn't sound like love to me.

      September 23, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
  13. B

    We all want the same things out of life... To be happy, to be loved, to be safe and to have these things for our family &friends (& those you dislike). No need to judge anyone's religion or hate. Believe what you believe, share your views to those you ask! No need to force your views on others. Que sera, what ever will be will be after this life. Love your friends love your enemies. Be a good person because you want to be, for how good it makes your soul feel. Treat your body and mind right and everything will be ok.

    September 23, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • oy

      Best post on this page by far! Thank you!

      September 23, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
  14. McBobby

    Love me or suffer forever...sounds like blackmail to me.

    September 23, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • oy

      Blackmail and completely egotistical! I agree!

      September 23, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
  15. AndyB

    God who could make good children as easily as bad, yet preferred to make bad ones; who could have made every one of them happy, yet never made a single happy one; who made them prize their bitter life, yet stingily cut it short; who gave his angels eternal happiness unearned, yet required his other children to earn it; who gave his angels painless lives, yet cursed his other children with biting miseries and maladies of mind and body; who mouths justice and invented hell–mouths mercy and invented hell–mouths Golden Rules, and forgiveness multiplied by seventy times seven, and invented hell; who mouths morals to other people and has none himself; who frowns upon crimes, yet commits them all; who created man without invitation, then tries to shuffle the responsibility for man's acts upon man, instead of honorably placing it where it belongs, upon himself; and finally, with altogether divine obtuseness, invites this poor, abused slave to worship him!...

    "You perceive, now, that these things are all impossible except in a dream. You perceive that they are pure and puerile insanities, the silly creations of an imagination that is not conscious of its freaks–in a word, that they are a dream, and you the maker of it. The dream-marks are all present; you should have recognized them earlier. Mark Twain

    September 23, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
  16. Bootyfunk

    "God is far more loving, kind and patient with his enemies than we are with our enemies."

    that's completely untrue. no human has the power to torture someone for eternity. and to be honest, i doubt any human would have the will. only a disgusting god of blood and torture could do such a thing - like the christian god. some compassion... torture someone forever... really think about that. they can't die, so you can torture them in ways you couldn't here on earth and they will NEVER die. so the pain you can inflict is a 1000x what someone could take on earth before dying - which would end the pain. but not in hell. it goes on forever, even if i completely disembowel you and cut your head off - you'll live through it and feel every bit of it.

    the christian god is abhorrent.

    September 23, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
  17. ayshun

    Hell is religions way to motivate people to join their churches with fear. Its a scare tactic, if the catholic church was really a house of god, than they wouldn't change the way they worship in order to retain as many followers as possible.

    September 23, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • anna

      noone is forced to attend church. they can just read the bible at home and follow the instructions written there.

      September 23, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • situationalawareness

      @anna: the bible says to attend church.
      Thus nullifying what you said.

      September 23, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • Daveq

      @situational...that vile little book also says you should murder kids for being disobedient.

      September 23, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • oy

      Anna...even the "instructions" that contradict each other?
      Here's a thought: why are you following "instructions" from a 5000 year old book? Everyone knows how to "love thy neighbor". Let's just start with that.

      September 23, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
  18. steve

    Is Mark Driscoll any relation to Phil Driscoll?

    September 23, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • Bizarre

      Dunno... or maybe he's related to Bobby Driscoll, the fantasy actor (Peter Pan, Treasure Island) from the 1950s...

      September 23, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  19. allen

    TO the second person, mild grammatical correction. You cannot "rescue" someone from a punishment you intend to inflict. A murderer cannot "rescue" their victim from being murdered by deciding not to kill them. They have simply decided not to commit murder. By the same token the proper phrasing of God/Jesus's intentions in your description is that they/He will punish all those who do not believe with eternal torment, suffering, pain, anguish, terror, fear, ect ... They are not really offering to rescuing people from this fate (as if it isn't their will), so much as, on your, view threatening people with such a fate 'unless'. I'm sure you see why I'm correct here ... I mean if we're going to be as totally honest as you say, we might as well say it.

    September 23, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
  20. amengeo amengeo

    Don't be ridiculous! No amount of punishment conceived can equal the hell many humans have suffered here in this life, from cancers to wars to personal despair. Is it not time we stop inflicting this imagined masochistic belief system called religion on ourselves and our young? Will we ever mature as human beings?

    September 23, 2012 at 4:30 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.