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. Faris

    Read the Quran & understand what`s it was the "word of the God Allah"Almighty"
    then you can decide what`s true?

    September 24, 2012 at 3:56 am |

      Agreed with you Faris brother

      September 24, 2012 at 4:02 am |
    • Heat Monger

      Don't read any religious book until you understand where it came from and what it is. Neither the Quaran nor the bible are real books.

      September 24, 2012 at 4:07 am |
  2. ramsha khan

    Islam is the religion of peace if u need peace u need islam!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    i proud to say that i m Muslim i m proud of my Prophet Hazrat Mohammad sallalahualiehiwsalam no one has a right to insult our lovely Prophet because we dont insult ur Prophets we respect all religions with the core of our heart!!!!

    September 24, 2012 at 3:53 am |
    • Satan

      Religion of being blown to pieces. If you want to have fun join me. Who wants 72 virgins? Join me and Ill give you a million dirty s.lut.s who will blow your mind and curl your toes. Male of female your choice.

      September 24, 2012 at 3:59 am |
    • Heat Monger

      >>"no one has a right to insult our lovely Prophet"

      You have no right to not be insulted. That is freedom of speech. If your god can't withstand critical discussion, then he's not worth worship. Think about it – it is like saying that any negative speech against the president's policies is punishable by death. What you describe is a dictatorship.

      September 24, 2012 at 4:09 am |
  3. Penelope

    So, in order to secure our spot in the Safe Zone it is recommended (through love and/or fear) that we emulate Jesus. Yet Jesus will preside over Hell, God's torture chamber for those who misbehaved and/or were simply unlucky enough to have never received the (correct version) of the Word of God for whatever reason. Eternal torture as punishment? Really? Psychology is a fledgling science, but this is ridiculous. As advances in neurobiology come to inform our understanding of psychology perhaps these loose ends will finally be secured once and for all, and religious literalism, at least, will go the way of the Dodo.

    September 24, 2012 at 3:52 am |
    • Shamoononon

      Not too many people take the bible literal.

      September 24, 2012 at 3:53 am |
  4. Ahmad Atta

    The way to be away from Hell is mentioned very clear with step by step instructions on QURAN KAREEM. Please read it without any blend opinion.

    September 24, 2012 at 3:52 am |
  5. Amna

    Yeah there is hell and heaven. Everyone has to answer before Allah on the day of judgement. We Muslims believe that so do the Christians. Both Muhammd (PBUH) and Jesus gave the same message of Allah both of them are his special and most respected humans he choose to spread his message to other human beings. Even Muhammad (PBUH) emphasis on the day of judgement. We believe in one God and Christians too. We repect all the messengers of Allah he send on earth to teach and spread this message. For us Jesus is as respectful as Muhammad (PBUH) and this is what our and ur God has taught us. So please stop using abusive words or such films which go against the teaching of Allah. We as Muslims can never ever think of using any abusive thing about any messenger of God. It's a greatest sin one person does this is not freedom of expression.. I just have to say these words of Jesus As Jesus said on the cross: "Forgive them for they know not what they do."

    September 24, 2012 at 3:51 am |
    • khaild

      Masha ALLAH nice statement u posted Amna, i am 100% agree with you, every non muslim should read the Amna statement nd study our Holy book QURAN to know something, if you people wanna know, got it...

      September 24, 2012 at 4:20 am |
  6. Ray

    On a lighter note, Hell exists, and I've been there. It's a small town outside of Trondheim, Norway.

    September 24, 2012 at 3:49 am |
    • J

      The Bible and other religious texts continually tell us that God is inside every single person, so why are we so hatful to each-other? The way you treat anyone is how you are treating God.

      September 24, 2012 at 4:12 am |
  7. Ray

    How arrogant the human species has become to have the gall to ask questions like "Should we abandon the idea of hell?" or "Will science eliminate the possibility of god?" Honestly, the Truth doesn't really care what our answers to these self-important are (just like nature/the earth don't care about your position on climate change). When the time comes, the Truth will deposit you precisely where you are meant to go. Your question instead should be "What is the truth about (heaven/hell, god, sin etc.)?" and you should invest all of your physical, mental, scientific, spiritual power to seek out that truth. Don't let anyone (CNN, Yahoo, your family, your culture, your priest, your favorite music band, whatever) tell you what to believe. It is a choice, and it is your choice. Make a well-informed and careful choice, because at the end of the day, the Truth gets the last say in the matter.

    September 24, 2012 at 3:48 am |

      I will reply to you as i did to another person, Tom. On the Day of Judgement each body part will speak for itself. You will have no will power to lie. But this will be for Muslims because ALLAH, The Almighty, promised His beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), that no matter what a Muslim does in his/her life on earth, they (Muslims) will be granted the Blessings of Paradise. But the people from other religions, they will not be given a chance to speak, no, they will thrown into the scorching heat of the Hell where poisonous snakes and scorpions will be waiting to eat on their flesh. The people in Hell will die and reborn forever. There will be no mercy, the pleadings will be ignored and the punishment will sustain forever. So my advice to you, start some social work, get into knowing other religions and what they preach, and surely you will see that Islam will fit you best. If you die being a Muslim, you will see the endless Blessings of my ALLAH, the Paradise, the endless life you will have there. So please consider Islam for once and respect it instead of abusing Islam and making fun of our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Thank You.

      September 24, 2012 at 4:20 am |
    • Zack

      I read the article and people's reaction but I found yours to be the most sane one. Like all other scientific hypothesis, they should try to work/research on these ideas (God, Hell, Heaven, Sin) without any preconceived notions or bias. Though one should not need scientist in a Lab to prove them GOD. Keep it up!!

      September 24, 2012 at 4:22 am |
  8. adil

    hell is real and you will know one day but then no time will have with u to recall ur life... so i ask what is diffical in islam, islam teach u full life ,one one thing of our life.plz try it

    September 24, 2012 at 3:47 am |

      MA adil and i totally agree with you.

      September 24, 2012 at 4:00 am |
    • shabeeha

      very well said adil one can not abandon the concept of hell because it is set up by GOD either he is GOD of a muslium or a cristian or a jew or of any religion suppose if we verbally say that there is no idea of hell but how can we ignore the hell we r facing in daily life for example ;accidents,in curable diseases , murders of humanity ,they just are glimpse of hell . so, no one can get rid of the idea of hell but what we can try not to make ours n others life hell n stay helpful n peaceful

      September 24, 2012 at 4:40 am |
  9. Stu

    Religion was invented because we didn't understand lightning, fire, or death. Can we move past that point, and become serious adults now? Look at the world as it is, instead of imagining some ulterior purpose or external force? Take credit for our own successes and be accountable to our own failures? Oh, and maybe NOT KILL PEOPLE FOR THE INVISIBLE MAN IN THE SKY?

    September 24, 2012 at 3:45 am |
    • Shamoononon

      Maybe you can remind all the murders by non-religious folks, or by folks against other religions, or the slave trade, or the mass murder of the Jews by a person that is by most accounts an atheist, or Stalin, or Chairman Mao, or by Genghis Khan that they didn't murder or hurt because they are not Religious. Then, when you're done, you can explain to me how the idea of a God is any less crazy than thinking our existence came from absolute nothing to being. You can laugh about it all you want, but they sky is only as big as earth, the possibilities outside of that is endless.

      September 24, 2012 at 3:50 am |
    • CORWIN7

      @shananoooon Actually Hitler was quite extensively quoted as being a devout christian and using the betrayal of Jesus as his excuse for persecuting the Jews...try again please.

      September 24, 2012 at 5:04 am |
  10. rose

    Christ is not the Son of God There is one God only, that is, God

    September 24, 2012 at 3:43 am |
    • Stu

      Good call, well thought out. Sure you changed some minds there. Do you think spouting that nonsense is doing anything? Or is it just re-affirmation of some sort? Why just blast that drivel? What's the point? Honestly, I want to know what you think it does.

      September 24, 2012 at 3:48 am |
    • adil

      there is only one God...ALLAH.....love u ALLAH....live 4 u ALLAH and die 4 u ALLAH

      September 24, 2012 at 3:50 am |

      I totally agree with you that there is One God, ALLAH, and he has no parents nor any child. He alone is the Ruler of the universe and we shall all bow down to Him, The Almighty.

      September 24, 2012 at 3:57 am |
    • Heat Monger

      "there is only one God...ALLAH.....love u ALLAH....live 4 u ALLAH and die 4 u ALLAH"

      Would you seriously worship something that demanded you grovel to it and die for it? Why would anyone want to be a sheep in a totalitarian regime's flock? Get some backbone and stand up to being pushed around. By the way, the word "Allah" is "god" in English. We speak english here.

      September 24, 2012 at 4:12 am |
    • khaild

      rose plz use d ri8 word, its not god, the ri8 word is ALLAH

      September 24, 2012 at 4:26 am |
  11. Shamoononon

    I think articles like this just spawn more hatred. Look at the history of human beings, mass murders and war and there is only one thing in common – people. To try to put blame on Religious orientation is no less stupid than blaming race. Why can't people see that and why do articles like this from 'heavy thinkers' keep getting posted? I won't even bother reading this, it's disgusting. There are many religious Democrats too, by the way. But, I guess as long as you have a scape goat, it might make humanity seem more bearable.

    September 24, 2012 at 3:42 am |
    • CORWIN7

      I find it amusing in the extreme that you admit to not reading the article and yet feel your informed enough of it's contents to leave a comment...rofl

      September 24, 2012 at 5:09 am |
  12. adil

    follow the QURAN which is only the real Book in univers....i requst all of world,read the QURAN in your own language so u understand what QURAN tell us...i 100 % shure that all of people who will read and understan QURAN thy will accept islam..its my promis

    September 24, 2012 at 3:40 am |
    • CORWIN7

      Why don't you just stfu you 12 year old troll wanna be. Your pathetic attempts to portray yourself as muslim are an embarrassment to those of us (all) who see thru it. Go back to standing outside your Moms house holding a sign that reads "Please talk to me I'm SOOO lonely". It has a better chance of getting results.

      September 24, 2012 at 5:13 am |
  13. Tom

    we all need to grow up. we all came from star dust. if we as a species don't drop religion and just keep staying this course, we will return to star dust.

    September 24, 2012 at 3:35 am |

      You wish there was "Star dust" to return to, but in reality, it is The Almighty to whom we shall all return and answer to ALLAH for all the sins we did. On the Day of Judgement each body part will speak for itself. You will have no will power to lie. But this will be for Muslims because ALLAH, The Almighty, promised His beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), that no matter what a Muslim does in his/her life on earth, they (Muslims) will be granted the Blessings of Paradise. But the people from other religions, they will not be given a chance to speak, no, they will thrown into the scorching heat of the Hell where poisonous snakes and scorpions will be waiting to eat on their flesh. The people in Hell will die and reborn forever. There will be no mercy, the pleadings will be ignored and the punishment will sustain forever. So my advice to you, start some social work, get into knowing other religions and what they preach, and surely you will see that Islam will fit you best. If you die being a Muslim, you will see the endless Blessings of my ALLAH, the Paradise, the endless life you will have there. So please consider Islam for once and respect it instead of abusing Islam and making fun of our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Thank You.

      September 24, 2012 at 4:17 am |
    • khaild

      hahahahhahahahah nice joke Tom, try not to express that type of feeling, otherwise as u know people wl can't control their laughing

      September 24, 2012 at 4:29 am |
    • CORWIN7

      Your problem is you have NEVER TASTED BACON

      September 24, 2012 at 5:20 am |
  14. MARIE

    no adam to the flood were already judged when the flood came and destroyed them but they were looking for a promise the ones who were looking for the promise from the flood to the ressurection who had already gone on were brought forth when jesus arose. he went into the depths of hell and said here i am i am the promise you waited and hoped for. when he arose they came up with him and they are the 144,000 who are from the 12 tribes of israel who are sealed and under the throne awaiting the bride the church of jesus christ. when they are "raptured" out and jesus has returned to set up his kingdom those who are alive and remain will live in the millenial kingdom after that is the great white throne judgement the bride is not judged she was already made spotless. those who come thru tribulation and the kingdom era and the rest of the dead will then be judged by deeds and if your name is written in the book of life

    September 24, 2012 at 3:34 am |
    • sam stone

      oooh.....a book. pretty impressive, marie

      September 24, 2012 at 3:57 am |
  15. DocReality

    If there is a hell, you can bet CNN is the official news station.

    September 24, 2012 at 3:32 am |
    • Observer

      Nope. Faux News deserves the honor based on their record.

      September 24, 2012 at 3:34 am |
  16. Umar

    I think a normal child knows more things then this article. Everything is so simple. I think you have not made any research on anything mentioned above. Just look around and you will get your answers

    September 24, 2012 at 3:30 am |
  17. John

    Non muxslims will all burn in hell unless you believe and convert. Becoming a muslim is the best reward Allah has gave me.

    September 24, 2012 at 3:30 am |
    • Satan

      Whats a muxslim?

      September 24, 2012 at 3:47 am |
    • sam stone

      johnny.....empty proxy threats are amusing

      f you and f allah

      September 24, 2012 at 4:00 am |
  18. imanibrahim

    3. Aal-E-Imran (The Family Of 'Imran, The House Of 'Imran)
    Surah: 3 Aya: 59

    Indeed, the example of Jesus to Allah is like that of Adam. He created Him from dust; then He said to him, "Be," and he was.

    September 24, 2012 at 3:29 am |
  19. Gaunt

    You Christians are in for a huge surprise when you die and go before Allfather Odin, and he casts you into hell because you did not die in battle surrounded by the bodies of your slain foes.

    September 24, 2012 at 3:28 am |
    • Thor

      Right on Bro Gaunt ... there is one person here who truely understands this world we live in. Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women!

      September 24, 2012 at 4:48 am |
  20. john

    Do not believe what the bible say's. Become a muslim and read the holy Quran. Hell is where you will go if you do not believe. Jesus did not die, he rose to heaven and will return and proclaim he is a muslim. May Allah protect us all from evil an guide us to the right path. Ameen

    September 24, 2012 at 3:27 am |
    • Satan

      So what you are saying is that Jesus a Jew is really a muslim? Wow that is rich.

      September 24, 2012 at 3:45 am |
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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.