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.”

Follow the CNN Belief Blog on Twitter

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.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

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. Smokey

    I don't believe that hell is a physical place; it is a state of mind and something that exists here, in this world, in this life. Same for what Christ called the Kingdom of Heaven, it is real, here on earth and we are called to create it ourselves, in our own lives. I think this is the biblical view, based on my reading of the Gospels I think that this is a more biblical view than the usual view one hears espoused in church, which has more in common with Milton than it does with anything in the Gospels.

    September 24, 2012 at 12:08 am |
  2. grim reaper

    religion is the false prophet.life and death is part of the big machine theres no other way the universe must recycle to exist.be nice to each other no reason to kill rob hurt abd poison your minds with religion and this greedy system called capitalism......grimmy.

    September 24, 2012 at 12:04 am |
  3. csx

    That is why it is called faith. But, search Sheol and heel and you will see it is in the OT.

    The UNbelief (in Christianity) blog is amazing. Lost people attacking Christianity. Like is Jesus married.

    Why not explore the 72 virgins of Islam? Or Muhammad's 9 yo wife? I dare you CNN.

    Every knee shall bow and tongue confess, so start now.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:58 pm |
    • Damocles


      I fail to see how wondering if Jesus was married is an attack on belief. I also fail to understand how you can dismiss a person's belief in a 72 virgin afterlife as untrue, yet you have no problem believing in whatever afterlife you have concocted for yourself.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:06 am |
    • JamieL

      If you consider CNN a bully picking on Christians, why do you want them to start picking on Muslims instead of just stopping their criticism of religion altogether?

      September 24, 2012 at 12:11 am |
  4. Andrea Ludwig

    Thank you, Mark Driscoll, for telling the truth boldly. It was wise to use Bible verses, for there is power in the living word of God. I'm sure this forum was not an easy place to refute lies. May God bring many to salvation as they read this.
    True seekers will find the truth, but the unwise will never understand.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
    • Damocles

      I think you are mistaking Opinion for Truth.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:02 am |
    • Athy

      I think Andrea is mistaking bullshit for truth. Easy to do when you can't recognize truth.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:46 am |
  5. End Religion

    "Forget Jesus, the stars died so that you could be here today."


    September 23, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
    • Mark

      Love that comment, "the stars died so that you could be here today", because it is so true. Also an interesting video with Lawrence Krauss, on how to get a universe from nothing. The God of the gaps is dying, because the gaps in our knowledge is getting smaller everyday.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:20 am |
  6. Randall "texrat" Arnold

    "As a pastor, my job is to tell the truth." –"By Mark Driscoll, Special to CNN

    No, your job is to teach based on faith. You may see it as truth, but it's neither provable nor falsifiable.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
  7. joeknockz

    God is.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
    • End Religion

      ...a delusion.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:57 pm |
  8. Joe

    Thanks CNN, you asked two people who are far cries from "experts" to discuss one of the most contended ideas in all religion. I'm sure lot of good was done here.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
  9. truth be trolled

    Dawkins and Krauss on Mormonism

    September 23, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
    • Joe

      So, believing in a 2000 year old zombie and eating his flesh (transubstantiation) to gain access to a glorious afterlife that has pearl laden gates guarded by a Jewish Fisherman is more acceptable? Come on Dawkins, grow up.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:08 am |
    • truth be trolled

      what the hell are you talking about "Joe" Did you even watch the video? Please, tell us where he spoke of belief of something else? You're an idiot.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:15 am |
    • Joe

      Dawkins quotes, right at the very beginning, a politician who talks about not using his Catholic views in making policy. He doesn't knock it, even acknowledges it's validity.
      Ergo, you didn't watch the video, and you're an idiot 🙂

      September 24, 2012 at 12:26 am |
    • truth be trolled

      He did not acknowledge any validity of Catholicism. He merely acknowledged that the man's statement was consistent with the concept of separation of C&S in the U.S. – not bringing his religion in to policy. So I suggest you listen to it again. But I would admit that it doesn't help his argument on the Mormon issue at all to include the mention of the Catholic.

      September 24, 2012 at 1:23 am |
  10. jamesH28

    When broken down...every religion has a ridiculous set of rules designed to make you look like a moron for following them. All these 'gods' that these people are following the rules for...not a single one of these people has ever even seen one. I think the entire earth is a reality show for a higher form of life, taking bets on how ridiculously stupid we can all act. "We come up with a bunch of ridiculous stories to scare these stupid humans, then we get them all to kill each other over which of these ridiculous stories is the right one." – The Jeff Probst of Extraterrestrials

    September 23, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
  11. truth be trolled

    Brutal 4 Minutes for All of Religion – Christopher Hitchens vs. Your Deity – this is great!

    September 23, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
    • Jesus 666

      I don't know how you embedded these videos, but there's more intelligence in 1 second of these videos than all the aggregate hours of religious preachers prattling nonsense.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:03 am |
  12. Thegoodman


    September 23, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
  13. Elbonian

    Whatever finite sins one might engage in during life here on Earth, it is manifestly unjust to punish any such finite amount of sinning with an eternity of torture. Any God who would do that is manifestly vicious, cruel, mean, and even sadistic. Is that your idea of God?

    September 23, 2012 at 11:35 pm |
  14. CACkle

    If Mitt Romney wins it will be hell for everyone.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
  15. Observer

    Oh Franky, how can your hatred for your dad so control your life even now?!!!

    September 23, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
  16. Dai vo

    Didn't we talk about this already? We are in a country of religious freedom. Believe what ever you want, but don't impose your believe on someone else, please!!! For me, hell does exist, just go to a slaughter house and you can find out for yourself. How come we are not born as those animal being butcher everyday huh??? Because, we are what we are, we have feeling and sympathy for other that why were being born human.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
  17. truth be trolled

    Christopher Hitchens Hitchslaps Silly Pastor – "Does god Exist?"

    September 23, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
    • llɐq ʎʞɔnq

      St. Paul believed we do not need religion, or god to be moral.

      Site Meter
      What the Bible says about Shrimp

      (God hates them.)

      Leviticus 11:9-12
      These shall ye eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall ye eat. And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you: They shall be even an abomination unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcases in abomination. Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you.

      Deuteronomy 14:9-10
      These ye shall eat of all that are in the waters: all that have fins and scales shall ye eat: whatsoever hath not fins and scales ye may not eat; it is unclean unto you.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:51 pm |
    • llɐq ʎʞɔnq

      And if you eat shrimp, you are going to hell. It is an abomination

      September 23, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
  18. JLS1950

    You know, belief in prison is also just such a demeaning idea. If we didn't have prisons, we probably would not have crime! Have you noticed that countries with the largest prisons and the largest percentage of their populations IN prison are also the nations with the highest crime rates? Do you think maybe there is a connection? Now if we just stop talking about prisons, all that criminal thinking will just go away and people will live beautiful lives all day long! Won't that be JUST WONDERFUL???

    "A fool and his thoughts are soon parted!"

    September 23, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
    • Mohammad Khan

      Excellent example. Peace

      September 24, 2012 at 12:13 am |
  19. Mohammad Khan

    Question should be if there is God or not. Hell or heaven comes later. The God debate will not be settled soon and believing in heaven or hell will not make it true or untrue. Majority vote does not count as at one time people believed earth is flat while we know Columbus did not fall off the earth. For those who believe in God have to think why would God create humans. Quran (Muslim holy book) gives two reasons. First this world is a place of test so we (humans) know (as God already knows) that we are good and worthy or not. So that if we go to heaven or hell (because God already knew) we will know that what we did in the world was truth (and not computer simulation as in Matrix) . Second reason given in Quran is to worship God. Usually Atheist make fun of this line and retort why would God need that. The answer lies in the world. Look around us our families friends the animal world how it is filled with love. In fact if you you remove love their is nothing much left of us humans we might as well be robots. Worship is just the extreme of love. May be you remember the line in love movies or stories: "I love you so much that I worship you."
    It is certainly a strange and frustrating and very imperfect world or is it? If God wanted to test us he will have to give us free will. He then cannot save us from our free will every time we do wrong. If God saved us from earth quakes Tsunamis Wars murderers and rapist, Bush and Binladin he will have to interfere at every step. If he executed every murderer and distorter of religion we may have one religion but thee there will be no free will. There is a Bazaar a market place of religion. You can go out and buy into any one you like. There is a variety of religious experience available. If you think that there should be No God as bad things happen then think the opposite. How would you have made the universe? Perfect? Well then it would be heaven. There would be no free will. We would be programmed to do the right thing. There will be no death and there will be no test. There will be no choice we will be programmed to love God. It is obvious that we do not live in such world. There is no chance that proof of God will be found beyond that we exist and the universe exist. According to the Quran we were created by evolution (surprise) yes Quran clearly talks of evolutionary process. "We have created you in numerous stages". "We have caused you to grow as an out growth from earth" We created you from black altered mud (organic material) "We created all life from water." "Travel in the land and see how we bring forth the creation and how we bring forth the late growth." Who traveled in the land? Darwin?
    Quran talk of many (infinite) earths. 1400 years ago just after the death of Mohammad (Peace) IbnZubair (nephew of the prophet) was asked to explain what does it mean about these other earths. He at first refused. He said if I told you the true meaning you may leave the religion. But later as people persisted he gave the answer. " There are many other worlds and they have their own prophets." What a profound statement for some one sitting in the tents of Arabia 1400 years ago without telescopes without knowledge of galaxies. As for those of you religious folks who do not believe in hell be prepared to sit next to murderer and rapist of a little girl who could be your daughter. Happy thoughts. Peace.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
    • Damocles


      1) Usually in movies and books the person who says 'I worship you' ends up being the fairly disturbed one.
      2) What you fail to realize is that a deity could make us any which way it wanted to and *we wouldn't know the difference*. What ths means is that, yes, a deity could have very easily made a universe in which nothing died and everything ended up being ok. The whole everything being a test is a ridiculous option because it does not account for accidental deaths or long, drawn out, painful deaths.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
    • Mohammad Khan

      Belief involves decision making process. Most people specially the intelligent kind like to believe that they make decisions logically. This is mostly not correct. Psychologists tell us that wen faced with a problem quickly subconsciously make a decision and then we use logic to justify that. So most of you believing or not believing in God have not made the decision logically. Do not fool yourself. You made that decision subconsciously and then justified it with your logic.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:10 am |
    • Damocles


      You seem to be making the case that a belief in a deity is illogical.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:20 am |
    • Mohammad Khan

      Belief or disbelief are intuitive subconscious decisions like most other decisions that we make. Then we use logic to justify them. Unfortunately most people get so hyped up in taking this or that viewpoint have no idea that they have arrived at that view point intuitively. Yes belief is based on a subconscious decision to believe but so is disbelief. However most disbelievers or atheist think that they have arrived at that decision logically which is false.
      Most important thing is to be truthful and not malicious and have a open mind.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
  20. truth be trolled

    Hitchens, Dawkins & Grayling [Short]

    September 23, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114 115 116 117 118 119 120 121 122 123 124 125 126 127 128 129 130 131 132 133 134 135
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.