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. Wastrel

    Religion should explain, or attempt to explain, a person's relation to the earth, to nature and to other people. Imaginary beings and places make no sense. Shamans (such as the writers of this article) created these beings and places and talk about them to obtain power over others by fear.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:43 am |
  2. CueBallSTL

    Interesting that Pastor Driscoll's first comment states that his job is to tell the truth, but his argument starts with, "Human beings were created by God with both a physical body and a spiritual soul." Pastor Driscoll, there is a huge difference between "truth" and "conjecture", especially when your statement is completely unsupported by facts. By making that statement regarding "souls" as if it's a fact, you're not telling the truth.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • lolol

      shut up. you exactly what he means.

      September 24, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • Drinky Crow

      Wow, you've been schooled, eh? Christians hate it when you think for yourself.

      September 24, 2012 at 10:50 am |
    • CueBallSTL

      lolol, so you're saying I should just take what Pastor Driscoll tries to pass off as fact, without questioning it? I should "just believe", because someone tells me they have the straight line to God, and God is whispering in their ear? Thanks, but I'd prefer to just believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster than to put my faith in someone who doesn't know the difference between "fact" and "conjecture".

      September 24, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  3. Omar

    Hell is not a physical place. The bible is very CLEAR on this. Yes people will die by fire and brimstone, however, a place called hell is a mythical scare tactic concocted by the church to keep people in their masses.

    Youtube this video: Doug Batchelor – Hell Fire. (it will enlighten the poor in spirit)

    September 24, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • Drinky Crow

      You mean the poor in thought processing, right?

      September 24, 2012 at 10:51 am |
  4. Gregg

    The only people going to hell are the religious freaks who invented it.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • Beth

      Sorry, dude, it's real. I've met two people who've been there when they were clinically dead. Don't find out when it's too late.

      September 24, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • BU2B

      Beth, more scare tactics. Dreams are not the same as reality.

      September 24, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • ME II

      "I've met two people who've been there when they were clinically dead."
      And there are people who've claimed to visit Alpha Centari during out-of-body experiences, and people who've claimed to remember past lives.
      Humans have quite a vivid imagination.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  5. Pat Savu

    Yes, there is a conservative group of Christian that believe what was stated in this blog. The difference with Christians is that we had the Renaissance and the secular world was created where religion and the state are separated and no one religious view dominates cultural values and the law. A Range of behavior is tolerated under freedom to believe and practice what one wants. Even though I was raised a Catholic, I do not believe that Jesus was the Son of God. As far as I can tell in the centuries before the Nicene council in the 4th century AD, I believe that I may have had plenty of company among early Christians

    September 24, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  6. MTP

    Years ago it was believed that the Earth was the center of the universe. It was also believed that chariots pulled the sun across the sky. There are plenty of these beliefs throughout history. Why would I think that your belief is any more valid than those? Because a book told you? Who wrote this book? People did. They believed they were spreading the word of god. So did the guy in the subway this morning.

    Sorry, until I hear it from the source itself I'm not inclined to believe any one group over any other. No matter how "right" you feel your beliefs are. Everyone feels they're right – so get in line.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  7. Bryce

    Terry, saying that you hate something does not prove it false. sticking our heads in the sand doesn't solve anything

    September 24, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  8. Naveenraj

    So if ONLY Christians are going to heaven...then the BILLIONS of people that lived on earth not as christians are going to hell...and only a minority are going to Heaven? As a Christian, I don't believe that....Take someone like Mahatma Gandhi...a man who lived a simple, non-violent life and inspired millions. He himself read the Bible and used the teachings of Jesus Christ, though he was born a Hindu and died a Hindu...so by the Conservative Evangelical belief, Gandhi goes to Hell??? That too me doesn't make sense at all. I believe there is a Heaven and a Hell...but I don't believe in a loving God that will torture even the sinners forever all eternity, and I don't believe in a God that will send honest, good, loving people from other non-Christian faiths to Hell.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  9. ThinkAgain

    Given that we are all HERE right NOW, I prefer to live my life the best I can, making the world a better place for having lived here.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • Biff

      Thats all well and good but if you don't confess your sins to god, according to the people writing this article, you are going to hell anyways.

      September 24, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • Religion is Not Heathly for children or ANY living things

      I prefer to enjoy a full and virtuous life right now in REALITY while I can enjoy my friends and family and actually help real living people instead of wasting my REAL life on some pointless fantasy of "future magical make-believe nonsense" while forsaking the VERY REAL life that I actually have... You can PlSS YOUR life away chasing some illogical make-believe fantasy while treating your neighbors as enemies for "not believing exactly what YOU believe" or you can enjoy your VERY REAL PRESENT life and actually show some respect and concern for your fellow humans! The choice is yours, so CHOOSE WISELY!

      September 24, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
  10. what?

    why does the pastor say death is not normal or natural? death is as natural as birth – everyone must go through it. I like how this article opens up with a totally unbiased rather well written piece about hell and then devolves into such drivel. I understanding that this is the religion section – but why propose a question that your just going to have some guy shoot down with the same stuff we've always heard?

    September 24, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • tallulah13

      Driscoll calls death unnatural because he makes money off of people who are afraid of death.

      September 24, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • Nielsen

      An interesting article which unfortunately became less interesting towards the end. It is beyond me that in the 21st century religious beliefs are still treated in mainstream media as on par with agnostic our atheistic views. No pastor, reverend or bishop has ever produced a single piece of evidence to support the claims there be a heaven or hell. Thus, it should be assumed that there is no such thing. This is not to say it is not of importance given the size and profoundness of the universal delusion. I do wish that one day the so-called believers would wake up from their fantasy and face facts. That being alive is an incredible privilege, that on the backdrop of the vastness of both time and space, we have been given the opportunity as consciousness beings to ponder the universe, thus being part of its own self-discovery. This is truly an awe-inspiring idea, which no established organised system of faith can even come close to.

      September 24, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  11. Jokesterer

    If you want to believe, then there's enough evidence to convince you. But if you don't want to believe there's not enough evidence to convince you. Strange. This not only applies to Gods and Hells but also to political candidates' qualifications and abilities.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:40 am |
  12. no answers here

    I wouldn't presume to tell another person that their faith is wrong or right...just not my place (so long as no one's getting hurt in their practice). Hell's existence requires some tough questions though. If there is a hell, then we were created as a cosmic gamble. Will you do as your told? If not, then get ready to feel some serious wrath for ever...no second chances, all of eternity to pay for your sins commited in a very finite period of time. If you're going to buy into that, then the follow on question has to be (in my mind at least) "Is God all loving and forgiving, or is He a bit of a sadist in that he's leveraging an eterinty of pain and suffering as payment due for 70 years of your decisions." An ETERNTY to pay for 70 years.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:40 am |
  13. Biff

    Have you confessed your sins to jebus? If not, according to these guys above, "yer going to hell!" So you could live a life of pure goodness, heal the sick, feed the poor, etc and you're going to hell if you just don't understand how a trinity works. Y'all suck for that.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:39 am |
  14. correctlycenter

    The stubborn, hardheaded people of Israel before the invasion by the Babylonians are like the unbelievers of today's world. The prophet Isaiah, revealed by God, says this about them in Isaiah 47:8: " You are a pleasure-crazy kingdom, living at ease and feeling secure, bragging as if you were the greatest in the world! You say, I'm self-sufficient and not accountable to anyone!

    September 24, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • Mick

      Actually, I'm NOT pleasure-crazy and don't brag that I'm the greatest in the world. I'm NOT self sufficient nor am I accountable to no one. And I can't remember bragging that I'm "the greatest in the world". I'm just a non-participant in your fantasy...it's that simple.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • Religion is Not Heathly for children or ANY living things

      incorrectly-centered – It is ONLY weak-minded religious sheep who cannot live a life of truth and virtue WITHOUT the constant THREAT of a make-believe HELL that will burn your soul forever as PUNISHMENT if you do not follow the rather QUESTIONABLE advise of your local preacher! Atheists DO NOT need the constant THREAT of a bogus "hell" in order to live a virtuous life for the sake of HUMAN-KIND and FUTURE generations! It is a shame that you CANNOT find the will to live your life with TRUE AND HONESTY without the FEAR of a bogus HELL! You must be very weak and evil-minded!...

      September 24, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
  15. dude

    If hell is real then I hate God

    September 24, 2012 at 10:38 am |
  16. MarylandBill

    The biggest problem I have with Mr. Schaeffer's argument is that his position seems to not consider whether Hell actually exists or not. That and the notion that Hell (and religion) is the reason people kill. Last century proved that you can get people just as worked up, just as violent for secular beliefs as for any religious belief (i.e., communism and nationalism). Any person who thinks that getting rid of a religious belief, or religion all together will solve anything is the biggest fool in the world.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • tallulah13

      I actually agree. Humans will fight over just about anything. At least getting rid of religion would get rid of one excuse.

      September 24, 2012 at 10:43 am |
  17. A Flock of Illegals

    Chuck Norris is actually the devil because nothing can beat him

    September 24, 2012 at 10:38 am |
  18. SDG

    There is no heaven so why would there be a hell?! It'll be to my dying last breath to try and understand why so many people believe there is actually a god in this tangible world we all live in. Brainwashed fools or just utter mental delusions?

    September 24, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • That guy

      There was a study done with pigeons which showed that if a pigeon was doing a specific action while food was dispensed (at random times) it would continue to do that action in order to receive more food – believing that it got the food because of whatever it was doing at the time. This phenomenon has been observed in humans too as "verification of God" lol. People truly are silly fools. People also experience elevated levels of Oxytocin, in both these phenomenon and while worshiping, which causes the "spiritual experience" of "bonding" with God. A persons ability to believe anything is simultaneously their greatest strength and darkest folly.

      September 24, 2012 at 10:56 am |
  19. LeeCMH

    The Bible is true because the Bible says so. - Circular Logic.

    Circular Logic is flawed reasoning.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • willy

      Yes it is. "Our scientist are correct because our scientific community say they are correct". lol.

      September 24, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • That guy

      You mean our scientists verify the observable, repeatable, and tangible evidence produced in a given experiment. Where religious really does just say "I know that I know that I know... in my heart" LMAO, what fools.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • willy

      Yes but how many people actually recreate those experiments and observations on their own? Very few. That means most are following blindly others that they trust to tell them the truth. They trust that these observations are correct and unbiased against any other possible theory. I don't see much difference from that and following what the bible says.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • LeeCMH

      Hey willy. Apparently you do not know any scientists involved in scientific experimentation. Criticism and independent verification are central to science.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • willy

      Yes, they are Lee. But interrupting what the data means is usually dependent on the observer.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • willy

      I wasn't really referring to scientist. The masses who reject what scripture says because of what they are told by scientist are in large part not scientist. They follow blindly. A trait Christians are accused of having. Just as centuries ago Godly people had to trust what the priest said was in scripture and what it meant because they could not read at all or could not read other languages. Today, people have to trust these scientist without being able to recreate the results themselves. Likewise they have to trust the way the results are interrupted. One false assumption can lead the whole construct to a wrong conclusion. When a conflict occurred in the church the authority that would decide what was correct was set before a group of priest who held largely the same assumptions and beliefs. This is what I see occurring in science. I know about empirical data but how it is interrupted is important. Some things are basic and easy to discern but harder concepts such as how we got here, how the first cell began to live have to be determined by experts above most common man's abilities. If those experts are biased in any way or make wrong assumptions then they can make wrong theories. Most are taught to be atheist at universities and gleefully rejoice when finding results that could indicate scripture has to be wrong and taking that path instead of having an open mind about it. If the data is placed before a panel of atheist then they will all come to the same conclusions. I would be more likely to trust an agnostic scientist as they have less to gain from disproving scripture.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • willy

      typo noted "interpreted" not "interrupted".

      September 24, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
  20. sanjosemike

    OK, here's what we CAN tell that IS true: Quantum mechanics, which has been proven accurate at every experimental juncture, describes the fact that on the quantum scale, reality is an "approximation" or a wave form that requires consciousness to settle (collapse) into particles with mass.

    Nobody really understands this frankly wierd connection with consciousness. It bothered Einstein terribly. The best we can tell is that there is a possibility, a strong one, that the Universe itself is conscious. An object can co-exist in different locations at the same time. Even objects that have a larger mass than on the Planck level.

    Is there a god? It seems unlikely. At least it's not likely to be the "god" that you learned about in Sunday school. Stephen Hawking said that (at least this Universe) could come to exist without any god or gods, all by itself. He does not mention the connection between consciousness and quantum structures.

    But...for sure there is something strange going on. Near death experiences are also strange. There is a demonstrable accuracy of some of them on a scientific level, which has been verified by some external observations.

    No preacher can tell you the truth, because nobody understands it yet. All that religious leaders can tell you is what they learned from ancients who didn't even know what an atom is. If any of the ancients (who wrote these religious texts) had left instructions for the Hadron Collider, I might seriously have listened to them. But, alas, they knew NOTHING.

    I don't know if there is a god or not. Probably not. But there is something strange going on in the Universe, and it is not easily pushed aside.


    September 24, 2012 at 10:36 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.