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. threeten2yuma

    How the hell did George W. Bush's name get a mention in this discussion? Geezaloo, does the poor guy have to get blamed for everything . . . including the existence of damnation!

    September 23, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • Bet

      Actually, it was eight years of damnation, it just seemed like eternity.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
    • threeten2yuma

      Gotta love so-called "Progressives" who just can't bring themselves to progress beyond their hatred of others.

      September 24, 2012 at 10:56 am |
  2. Heaven or Hell

    If you go to heaven your soul may have James Dobson, Ted Haggard, Ralph Reed, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Rick Santorum, Randall Terry, Mark Driscoll, and Donal Wildman as roommates.

    If you go to hell your soul may have Maurice Sendak, Gore Vidal, HG Wells, Woody Allen, George Carlin, Penn Jillette,
    Bill Maher, Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov, Anton Chekhov, Richard Dawkins, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Christopher Hitchens as roommates.

    Personally, send me to hell, as sharing heaven with the likes of James Dobson and friends would be hell twice over. If there were a god, this god would surely find the souls in hell far more interesting....

    September 23, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Both lists are comprised mainly of asshats.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Incorrect use of "comprised." Deduct 15 points from total score.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      How? Comprised means composed of.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Look it up. You're the brilliant one.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      And no, it doesn't.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
    • southerner01

      I agree with Rational. Neither group sounds like anyone I would want to spend time with. Also, the use of comprised is correct, although some archaic grammarians still insist it is not. See the entry on the Merriam Webster site for a nice explanation.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      No, it isn't correct, whether you're old or young. Too bad you don't know that. Too bad Irrational Libertard doesn't either.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Your mistake is that you're attempting to make "comprised of" mean the same thing as "composed of". They are not the same.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
  3. Archie

    This is exactly what's wrong with Society today and I'm sure some day Society will figure it out...

    September 23, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
  4. hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

    Hell is REAL my believer and non-believer friends, being a Mohammad follower, I have learned to hate everyone. I hate infidels. I hate Shia MFkers. I hate gays, lesbians, bi-secual, transgenders. I hate my parents for making me what I am, A MONSTER, a hateful person. YES HELL IS REAL AND I AM LIVING IN MY SELF-CREATED HELL, THANKS TO MOHAMMAD.

    September 23, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
    • Axel Segura

      You mean Mohamed Ali? 'cause i liked him too. I think he is still around.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      hinduism absurdity of a hindu, ignorant from hindered gutter of hinduism illegality called India. visit limitisthetruth.com to learn about hinduism, illegality of pot head hindu santatans, filthy goons of hinduism, denial of truth absolute.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
  5. religion source of religionfilthybrainwashism

    Religious deniers of truth absolute 360°. Religion from gutter land ancient earth kills human minds dead. Religious deniers of science, improved knowledge ism, deniers of repeatable, observable evidence ism. Absurdity of fairy tale adherence called faith. Belief in invisible sky man, practicers of inert hindu prayer. Make my football team win, pagan god! I win lottery next time, mithra zoroastrian hindu god, and at the internets.Praise science!

    September 23, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
  6. Gregg

    Evil anti-christmas kitty going to hell I guess


    September 23, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      did you get the memo all Cats a atheist
      they hate Dogma

      September 23, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
  7. srichey321

    Hell is being intelligent and having to live in a world where people believe in supernatural beings that send you to eternal torment in another dimension. If people had half a brain then maybe they would focus on making our existence a paradise instead of basing all their behavior on things that don't exist.

    September 23, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
  8. islam source of islamfilthystupidity

    Islam denial of truth absolute 360 from gutter land middle east. islam ripped off ism from hindu christ ism ripped off from juda ism ripped off from pre existing egypt ism, greek ism and mithra zoroastrian ism, deniers of truth absolute, absurdity called islam! religion written by pedophile opportunist arab nationalistic self-important megalomaniac business man ism, islam absurdity of false prophet mahound. go, slay the infidels where ever ye may find them ism! lie in ambush for them infidels and be sure they're killt good ism! and if you can't kill infidels be sure you destroy lots of property at random and who cares if you kill other muslims in the process ism! just destroy all you can ism to show you're pi$$ed off ism!

    September 23, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      hinduism, absurdity of a hindu, ID thief.

      September 23, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
    • Jack

      Hey Hinduism boy! – look – someone put a cartoon of the prophet Mohammad! Go get him you DOG,

      September 23, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
  9. Chris

    The Atheists sure get mad easily. I wonder why. Why get mad if you know you're right?

    Oh I forgot, where did matter come from again?

    September 23, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
    • Observer

      God came from nothing and then created the universe from nothing. Right?

      September 23, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      "Your skifooza mutha's ass" as Silvio Dante might say.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
    • Paula

      You know what the difference between you and an atheist is? An atheist believes in one less god than you do. You are just as much an atheist as those you talk about.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
    • End Religion


      Sorry, thought you said "something FOR nothing"...
      Here is the one you're looking for, "something FROM nothing"


      September 23, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
  10. Ramesh Bobbu

    HELL exists here on earth, HEaven exists here too , that is what we make our life.

    September 23, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
  11. truth be trolled

    Why go with Jesus when you can go with a KING!

    September 23, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
  12. James

    The solution is simple. Atheists must take over the world and kill all the believers.


    September 23, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
  13. TonDef

    correctlycenter- your "undeniable" proof of God is the Bible? Sorry to break it to you, but I've got undeniable proof that at least half the stories in the Bible are fabricated or at least exaggerated. The proof: it's called science. By the way, I'm not an atheist, I'm just a free thinker.

    September 23, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
  14. correctlycenter

    Lst of some of the 108 prophecies Jesus Christ fulfilled : Micah 5:2, Isaiah 40:3, Isaiah 50:6, Isaiah 53, Zechariah 9:9, 12:10, Isaiah 7:14, 9:1-2, Hosea 11:1, Psalm 22, Psalm 16:8-10, Psalm 34:20, Psalm 40:6-8, 41:9, 45:6,7, 68:18, 69:9,21, Psalm 89:3,4,35-36, 96:13, Psalm 16:10, Genesis 3:15, Deuteronomy 21:23. Daniel 9:25.
    Luke 24:25-27 says: " Then Jesus said to them,You are such foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the scriptures. Wasn't it clearly predicted by the prophets that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering His time of glory? Then Jesus quoted passages from the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining all the scriptures said about Himself."

    Luke 24:44-48 "Jesus said, When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about Me by Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must all come true. Then He opeed their minds to understand these many scriptures. And He said, Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah must suffer and die and rise again from the dead on the 3rd day. With My Authority, take this message of repentence to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: There is forgiveness of sinsfor all who turn to Me. You are witnesses of all these things." Please keep in mind that Jesus was resurrected when He made these statements to His disciples, followers and other 500 or so eyewitnesses...

    September 23, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
  15. Grumpster

    It would be about time if we gave up this silly idea and those of 72 virgins, planets with wives pumping out babies (mormans) and all that rubbish.

    September 23, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Ya, time to end hinduism, rumors hindu's non Muslims have been spreading in hinduism, denial of truth absolute about Muslims and Islam.

      September 23, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
    • Jack

      Hey Hinduism boy! – look – someone put a cartoon of the prophet Mohammad! Go get him you FART,

      September 23, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
  16. Tom

    Religious fundamentalists are already in their own private hell. And they deserve to be there.

    September 23, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
    • What???

      Just like a butt everybody has an opinion?

      September 23, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
  17. deadwrestler

    I give you another theory, we are all in hell and dying is your release.
    It has seemed like the coals have been stoked even more these past
    four years, as the great Satan sucks more people down into hell with him.

    September 23, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      You must be having hindu, hell of a life.

      September 23, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
    • Jack

      Ya, time to end hinduism boy, rumors hindu's Muslims have been spreading through hinduism boy, denial of truth absolute about non Muslims and others.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
  18. skeptic

    As Carl Sagan says, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." This article was heavy on claims, light on evidence.

    September 23, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
  19. Jason

    Isn't it a remarkable coincidence almost everyone has the same religion as their parents? And it always just happens to be the right religion. Religion run in families. If we'd been brought up in acient Greece we would all be worshiping Zeus and Apollo. If we had been born Vikings we would be worshiping Wotan and Thor. How does this come about? Through childhood indoctrination.

    September 23, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • Duck Duucke

      You're absolutely right. I mean are 1.3 billion Chinese going to hell because their parents never heard of Jesus?

      September 23, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
  20. todaymessage

    Mark Driscoll said "my job is to tell the truth", ,,,

    I don't think so,

    September 23, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      If he knew The truth?

      September 23, 2012 at 7:52 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.