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. Ashhad Kamal

    I see many people here post things and views about religions which they dont even study, Many of u people dont know what the Holy Quran teaches us,, what are the teachings of our Holy Prophet. U people judge the religion by just seeing what other people are doing. those of u who utter things about our Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) actually are being treacherous to their own religions as every religion in this world teaches respect for other's believes.
    Just for the sake of Argument, Lets suppose that Quran is not the God's Word and Muhammad (Peace and Blessings be Upon Him) wasn't God's messenger ? Then how come is it that Allah said that Quran will stay the way it is,, till the end of the world. and yet after 1400 years it actually is that way .. Means that Quran is the Authentic Word of God for Guidance and true Faith. And it is written in Quran that Muhammad (Peace and Blessings be Upon Him) was the Messenger of Allah.

    September 24, 2012 at 6:27 am |
    • ameri2010

      I don't believe in the Quran. I believe in the Bible; the only book inspired by God.

      September 24, 2012 at 6:33 am |
    • sam stone

      ameri2010: The only book inspired by god? How would you be in any position to make such a statement?

      September 24, 2012 at 7:31 am |
  2. gadytko

    Hell has been described to me as pitch black darkness and the feeling was like there was a presence of no love. It was someone's personal experience that occurred suddenly and quickly when they just opened a door leading out to another room in a house. I'm one of the few that heard of this incident, I quietly happened to hear this person talk about it. I was very young about 10 yrs. old, over the years I have always believed in living my life to be as joyous and positive as possible etc...but trying to is difficult and you must, because you have to work your way in life to make it to Heaven when you die. Like I am earning my place in Heaven and Hell is the life here and now that I'm living and working my way through.

    September 24, 2012 at 6:26 am |
    • name

      I am so sorry that someone else's fear and their description of its manifestation had such a profound impact on you.
      I think that it is tragic that you cannot find a way to live well simply for the joy that living a just life brings. I would hope you find, one day, a way to enjoy life without the fear of punishment nor the promise of a distant reward. Anything worth doing is its own reward and if some god wants to judge me for that, then I'll explain to them how utterly petty and childish such behaviour is.

      September 24, 2012 at 6:40 am |
  3. Ricoshey

    i am a firm believer in christ and i believe with every fiber of my being that exist a hell. Lucifer is one happy camper for all the sinner and the non believers that he will get the opportunity to torment. Demon casting, it's real.....my grandmother exorcised demons out of a few people and the sensation is one to not trifle with. Reason atheist haven't undergone possession, is because they are delusional and too stubborn, making the work a lot easier for the gateways of hell a welcome mat.

    September 24, 2012 at 6:26 am |
    • name

      Australian aboriginals would 'point the bone' at those who had offended against the tribe and they would die.
      Belief is a powerful thing. We seek to describe the world around us, but in the end we describe what we _think_ the world around us is. Get raised in a christian culture and your world is filled with Jesus and demons; raised a few millenia ago in the right region and you would have described things in terms of Apollo. Grandmothers, then, were not to be trifled with either.
      Your beliefs are a function of history and geography. Nothing more.

      September 24, 2012 at 6:44 am |
  4. TruthAboutDeath

    There's no "Father" in life, nor will there be one in Eternity. You want to see the living "God" look into a mirror. Look at a loved one:, your child, mother father, brother, sister, soulmate. We live after human death for ever, alone as we are now in life here. But we will have each other, for eternity. There will be no more psysical pain, ever. Any pain we allow ourselves to be under will be guilt/regret, once we all get past that, it'll be great. And everlasting. I know this because I was visited by my deceased grandmother in a dream, she warned me that my dad would die soon and "be with her". 3 days later he died unexpetedly. Life's a pain. After death won't be – at least for long, once we get past everything we messed up in this life.

    September 24, 2012 at 6:25 am |
  5. pewpy dewpy

    Jesus love you exactly as you exist right now...even if you are broken and wretched.

    September 24, 2012 at 6:25 am |
  6. Ex-Mormon

    Is hell for real?

    Is CNN for real? Are leprechauns found at the end of a rainbow with a pot of gold?

    Is CNN trying to compete with Fox News for the ignorant viewers?

    Answer: No one ever has nor will anyone ever reach the depths of Fox News ignorance. Don’t even try. I suggest that you pick up a book and learn something before you type one more word.

    September 24, 2012 at 6:25 am |
  7. ameri2010

    @sam stone: It's evident because no person is sinless. Do you know of any person walking this earth that doesn't sin?

    September 24, 2012 at 6:23 am |
    • sam stone

      depends on your definition of "sin".

      September 24, 2012 at 7:33 am |
  8. Mohammad Omer

    @Some Guy – Please don't judge me, i'm not here to prove right or wrong – I'm here to find the truth. I don;t want to offend anyone's faith. But i have a right to question every faith and get answers in order to find the truth. i came across a very healthy debate on youtube, you might want to have a look at it.


    September 24, 2012 at 6:20 am |
  9. thinquer

    Hell is unscriptural teaching that does not reflect God's thoughts as brought out in Jeremiah: "And they built the high places...in order to burn their sons in the fire as whole burnt offerings to the Ba′al, something that I had not commanded or spoken of, and that had not come up into my heart.”’ Jer. 19:5

    Jesus never taught a burning hell for the wicked , but simply destruction. That's it. The opposite of eternal life. The Truth is simple.

    September 24, 2012 at 6:19 am |
    • ameri2010

      To the contrary, Jesus taught about hell and warned of it more than He did anything else. Hell is as real as heaven.

      September 24, 2012 at 6:25 am |
    • sam stone

      finally something we can agree on. hell IS as real as heaven

      September 24, 2012 at 6:41 am |
  10. Islam

    You have to read a looot about Islam about judging it like this agressif way! we,muslims,we respect all prophets but u u don't!! Islam is not about we're better than u islam is about let me show u somthing that is better for u,it's the way of life,the only one! we feel very safe near of our god and religion that's why in isamic coutries u find rarely a suicid! Read about Islam!Read what said well-know personnalities that are non-muslims about our prophet! Do that before u start to judge us!

    September 24, 2012 at 6:19 am |
    • Satan

      Except the only true way to know you will go to heaven is if you die in battle. Hope your a perfect little muslim because that bridge is really wide!

      September 24, 2012 at 6:22 am |
  11. Satan

    2:191 And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter. And fight not with them at the Inviolable Place of Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you (there) then slay them. Such is the reward of disbelievers.

    2:193 And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah

    2:216 Warfare is ordained for you, though it is hateful unto you; but it may happen that ye hate a thing which is good for you, and it may happen that ye love a thing which is bad for you. Allah knoweth, ye know not.

    2:244 Fight in the way of Allah, and know that Allah is Hearer, Knower.

    5:33 The only reward of those who make war upon Allah and His messenger and strive after corruption in the land will be that they will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off, or will be expelled out of the land. Such will be their degradation in the world, and in the Hereafter theirs will be an awful doom.

    September 24, 2012 at 6:18 am |
  12. Terri Baker

    The problem with some over the top religious people in a position of political power is that they think that they are gods and can punish people any way they see fit. They're not part of this world because they believe that they are superior to everyone else. They can lie about you if they don't like your beliefs, discriminate against anyone they want to, bully people into conforming to their will, and cause people to want to commit suicide when they can't take it any more. That's what happened in some cults like Jonestown , the Branch Davidians, and the Manson family. They are often sociopaths who blame everyone else when they've caused harm. Some of these groups can be very dangerous when they are of the mindset that they can deny peace and good will to other people.

    September 24, 2012 at 6:16 am |
  13. Kebos

    "The truth near-death experience will produce a drastic change of life." but death is even more drastic. Although one never knows because, well, they're dead.

    September 24, 2012 at 6:15 am |
    • Satan

      Ha love it!!!

      September 24, 2012 at 6:19 am |
  14. TampaMel

    I feel sorry for those who believe in a God that is just like us. Retribution is a human characteristic. If anyone believes in a God that is better than us then that person MUST believe in a God that is free from human frailties. Not physical frailties but this God must be free of the emotion and feeling that sets one human being against another. Why does religion tell us contradictory things about God. On the one hand God is forgiving and on the other God is vengeful. God cannot be both. The God I believe in is one that is better than myself. One that sees my shortcomings as my being 'just human'. When I die, if there is an afterlife (I am still unsure of this at the moment), I believe that God will show my spirit the 'error of its ways' as it were. That my spirit will be allowed to understand how it can could have been better towards others (which, to me, is the main purpose of our lives). Once my spirit comes to understand this then it can remain in peace with the spirits that have preceded me. I am sorry if this conflicts with your religious view of eternal damnation but my God is better than that.

    September 24, 2012 at 6:14 am |
  15. Susan


    September 24, 2012 at 6:11 am |
  16. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    September 24, 2012 at 6:10 am |
    • Susan

      ...ridiculous statement.

      September 24, 2012 at 6:13 am |
  17. Britney

    Jesus talked a lot about Hell in the Bible. He said its much better for one to rip off his arm if it makes u sin than to be cast into hell. Also when he spoke about the story of Lazarus and the rich man it was NOT a parable. Jesus never mentions names in parables. For the Christians. if u believe in the Bible than Hell is part of it. For the non Christians: If you dont believe in Hell, you will one day. I also wonder why media stream also shows the good Near death experiences, but never shows the ones where people went to Hell. The truth near-death experience will produce a drastic change of life.

    September 24, 2012 at 6:09 am |
    • sam stone

      Britney: Do you really expect that people can fear retaliation from a being in which they do not believe?

      September 24, 2012 at 6:12 am |
    • Kebos

      Yeah, well, Jesus was a delusional idiot.

      Hell doesn't exist, Heaven doesn't exist. God doesn't exist. It's really quite simple.

      September 24, 2012 at 6:12 am |
  18. ameri2010

    @Mohammad Omer: I think it's evident that every person, including Christians, sin. The only person to never sin was Jesus. No person will ever attain a sinless nature. Heaven is a free gift to all. The Bible clearly states that good works will never get a person into heaven to prevent people from boasting about how good they are and they they somehow deserve heaven when others do not. Heaven was made possible to sinners through Jesus Christ sacrificing Himself to pay for our sins – past, present, and future. The only way to enter heaven is to accept that Jesus Christ died for your sins and that you are not worthy to enter heaven on your own good deeds. You need a Savior – Jesus Christ and you acknowledge that He made it possible for you to enter heaven through His blood. He was the sacrificial Lamb of God. God said that you would know a saved man from his works. While a Christian will never be sinless, a true Christian will always be striving to live as close a life as Christ did as possible. A person who says they're a Christian, but then turns around and murders people or robs a bank most likely is not a Christian. There should be a heart and lifestyle change that is consistent with the Holy Spirit that dwells within true Christians only.

    September 24, 2012 at 6:09 am |
    • sam stone

      how is this evident?

      September 24, 2012 at 6:20 am |
  19. Mohammad Omer


    Who is the true Jesus? [ Full Debate Shabir Ally & Jay Smith ]

    September 24, 2012 at 6:09 am |
  20. gdytko

    Hell has been described to me as pitch black darkness and the feeling was like there was a presence of no love. It was someone's personal experience that occurred suddenly and quickly when they just opened a door leading out to another room in a house. I'm one of the few that heard of this incident, I quietly happened to hear this person talk about it. I was very young about 10 yrs. old, over the years I have always believed in living my life to be as joyous and positive as possible etc...but trying to is difficult and you must, because you have to work your way in life to make it to Heaven when you die. Like I am earning my place in Heaven and Hell is the life here and now that I'm living and working my way through.

    September 24, 2012 at 6:07 am |
    • JonnyJive5

      Yeah, sometimes it is dark when you open the door to go outside. It's called nighttime, not hell. Hope that clears it up for ya!

      September 24, 2012 at 6:28 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.