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. enoughznough

    Anyone who's ever been married knows there is a hell..

    September 24, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • NOBOZO

      "Is Hell for real?" Only for Liberals....hehe

      September 24, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • Amniculi

      Yep, and it will be hell on earth if Romney is elected.

      September 24, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • sam stone

      Nobozo: Good job making this political, d-bag

      September 24, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
  2. Doug

    How can the pleasant view of God be "equally ancient" and at the same time "going right back into the New Testament era"? That doesn't make sense. There's an OLD TESTAMENT too, man. The wrathful jerk view of God is a lot older.

    September 24, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
  3. David

    People can be offended by hell, and yet they are not typically offended by justice when it becomes personal. If someone harms your child, you want justice. God likewise desires justice which his children are harmed. Yet in Christ, He is also merciful desiring that none should perish. And he made that possible through Christ's shed blood on the cross. Christ warns of danger ahead. And He does so out of love. Any loving parent knowing that danger is ahead would warn their child. And so Christ has warned us, too.

    September 24, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • Doug

      That's dumb. Parents punish children to prepare them for the future. Hell is eternal. Get a grip, fundie.

      September 24, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • oneworld2

      Except for those that have no bible, like jungle people.
      So i guess they are doomed from the start?

      September 24, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • John

      I love the woefully inadequate comparisions of some Christians of God's alleged Justice and to that of human Justice. No Crime is worthy of and unending torture by fire. No just person would do that to even his worst enemy and only a hypocrite would do it after telling us to love our enemies.

      September 24, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • ME II

      Torture for eternity is not justice. It is evil.

      September 24, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • sam stone

      Loving parents don't blame their child for what others do. Vengeful, petty pr1ck gods do, though

      September 24, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Then why would you choose that? You do concede that man goes to hell by his choice and not by God's do you not?

      September 24, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
  4. Ahkmed the Terrorist



    September 24, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • Tick Tick Tick...


      September 24, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • Ahkmed the Dead Terrorist

      D@mn...I always suffer premature detonations. 🙁

      September 24, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  5. RichardSRussell

    One of the most reliable bets on the internet is the frequency and enthusiasm of the gleeful gloating with which Bible-believing Christians assure atheists that they'll soon enuf know about the reality of hell. Really, they practically cream their jeans over the prospect, the perverted sadists.

    September 24, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
  6. ProperVillain

    Mark Driscoll = Everything that is wrong with American Christianity...

    September 24, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • Amniculi

      Christianity = Everything that is wrong with American Christianity...

      September 24, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Christianity = Everything that is wrong with global Christianity...

      September 24, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
  7. John

    So Mark Driscol, according to your good news, God sacrificed himself to himself to save us from himself? WoW! I'm convinced! NOT!

    September 24, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  8. jackenstien

    Read the the Gospels for yourself and get the Facts, not Frank Schaeffer's book. Your Eternity may depend on it.

    September 24, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • I wonder


      More like the "gossip-pulls" - 100% hearsay.

      September 24, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • sam stone

      jack: worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster....your eternity may depend on it

      September 24, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • sam stone

      The FACTS? Are you fvcking kidding? More like translated, edited iron age hearsay

      September 24, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
  9. Mark

    "Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones."

    – Attributed to Marcus Aurelius

    September 24, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      First corollary to Pascal's Wager?

      September 24, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • Jose

      We need more leaders like this. Though I don't know how good of an Emperor he was, he seemed better than most.

      September 24, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
  10. Atheism is Great for Kids and Grown-Ups Too!

    It's really best for all people including children to have an agnostic approach to god, and an atheistic approach to all religion. It keeps things simple for kids, and lets them be all that they can be. They just need to be taught that some things, like all religion, were just made up by salesmen and politicians from long ago. (Yes, charlatan folklore and spam started long before the Bible; what would make you think they hadn't?) And they need to be taught that other things, like God, we really don't know a damn thing about.

    Atheists have strong minds and don't need a religion. Many religious folk have the best intentions. But too often, religious folk run and hide their misdeeds within their religion (and by doing so, they disserve society). And too often, religious folk are easily offended when someone mocks their make-believe characters – and, as we can see they can get really CRAZY!

    Although there are many religious folk with good intentions – some selflessly helping others, religions and religious organizations are, as a whole, just big old clubs – each trying to out do each other and inspiring hate and division (often disguised as love) along the way. The problem is that people too easily buy into religion and don't realize how unfounded it all is. And when they buy into it, they buy into a lot of really old, really weird tenets that are nothing but harmful for the human species.

    Take Christianity, for instance. Just look at all the things that Christians argue about amongst themselves today – abortion, men's and women's roles in the church, celibacy, contraception, acceptance of gays, etc. Most of these issues have their roots in the conflicted, unfounded tenets of early Christianity. Non-Mormons harp on Joseph Smith these days. But we really don't have any more proof at all to believe that Paul, the self-proclaimed "apostle" was anything more than an ordinary man who needed to make up religious "sales literature" to survive and spread his own personal beliefs. And yet a good chunk of the NT is attributed to Paul and accepted by many Christians. And a lot of what he wrote about has to do with many of the issues I mentioned above that have Christians fighting amongst themselves hundreds of years later. It's way too unfounded to argue over.

    Get a good cup of tea, and sit down and collect your thoughts. If you find it helpful to pray to a god, fine. But it is really healthier for the mind to leave behind all the characters that people over the centuries have invented or given powers to, for which there is little or no foundation. Because with those invented characters and powers – that's where division and hate join the little party in your mind. That's where, in your mind, you are inheriting the division and hate from ordinary politicians, lobbyists and salesmen from long ago. My goodness.

    mama kindless

    September 24, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Are you and Reality and "prayer changes things", related... the cut and paste form of martial posting that you three use is propaganda that the Nazis would be proud of.

      September 24, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • Finally see the Light

      WHy is it that almost all atheist post suggest that atheist have a corner on intelligence. In other words all people who claim to have faith are 1gnorant? The arrogance of atheist is mind boggling to me. I am also struck by how much you know about people of faith and their hearts and feelings and thoughts. It's almost as if atheist see themselves as gods, thats wy they don't believe in any other options.

      September 24, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  11. RichardSRussell

    Hell is a fairy tale invented to scare the daylights out of little kids, then the priests discovered that even some adults were dumb enuf to believe it. The rest is history.

    September 24, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • Toonces

      And that pretty much covers it. Thread over.

      September 24, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  12. truth be trolled

    Hitchens, Dawkins & Grayling .,.,

    September 24, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  13. rc

    When you die your mass is turned into energy that's it, bye bye have a nice day. Religion is a good way to control others who don't want to think. And now we have the two grand political parties Oh sorry religious parties telling us what is right. Science is what it is today because you have to think. The glass isn't half full or half empty, it holds 10 ounces and at this point in time it has 5 ounces. Done! no interpretation necessary.

    September 24, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  14. Broc Nor

    "No Hell": Pope
    Last Updated: Thursday, July 29, 1999 | 5:52 PM ET
    CBC News

    A hell without fire and brimstone. That's the Roman Catholic Church's latest view on what life in the hereafter might be like. And it comes straight from the Pope.

    The Pope made the statement yesterday in the Vatican City.

    At this morning's mass at the basilica of St. John's, news of the Pope's statement caught most of the people completely by surprise. "The Pope said what?" asked one man. "I'd have to see it before I believe it."

    The Pope said WHAT?
    The Pope said WHAT?

    For centuries the popular image of the wrath of God has been fire, brimstone, and every imaginable – and unimaginable – horror. The modern teaching of the Catholic church does not refer to hell as a place.

    So, for many practicing Catholics, like Frank O'Leary, the Pope has simply confirmed what they believe anyway. "A lot of these things are metaphorical," he says. "I never really thought of heaven as a physical place. It is not surprising to me that the Holy Father would point out that hell is not physical in the sense of this physical plane that we're on right now."

    The Pope isn't saying there's no hell at all. He's saying that hell is the state of eternal torment a soul ends up in when it cuts itself off from God.

    No fire. No brimstone.
    No fire. No brimstone.

    And so another piece of religious folklore gives way to the rational mood of our times. It was only last year that Catholics heard from their Pope about the need to build more bridges between faith and reason. And just last week he set the record straight about heaven. Not as a place in the clouds but as a state of eternal union with God.


    September 24, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  15. truth be trolled

    Check this out:

    List of atheists in science and technology (natural scientists):

    (The number of Nobel laureates listed are astounding.)

    List (social sciences):

    September 24, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  16. truthbringsfreedom

    Anyone been to hell? Did you gather any data while you were there? Population details? Temperature details? Location? Instructions for how to travel there? Photos of Satan? Anything?
    Thought not.

    September 24, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • Amniculi


      September 24, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • Sylar

      Umm I haven't been there but I see it on TV all the time. Its called the Middle East. Why do you think everyone is so ready to die to get to heaven?

      September 24, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      You say the Middle East. Other who hate the American Inner cities point to news stories of crime and economics as their proof. Others will say that its the Arkansas and West Virginia mountain folks. ... blah blah

      September 24, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Dante's lowest circle of hell was a bitter cold frozen wasteland, but I think Sylar's got a point about why the people who invented the monotheistic religions would envision it as much like the Middle East.

      September 24, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • Amniculi

      But...but...Hell, MI is a real place...

      September 24, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • truthbringsfreedom

      I'm convinced! Hell, MI does exist. Now we can get all these silly questions answered. BTW, It looks nice enough, I look forward to going there when I die.

      September 24, 2012 at 3:19 pm |

    Keep God out of California!!!

    September 24, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • ujustgotserved

      Here here!
      Oh and Atheist Hunter I strongly believe in the second amendment.....I'll give you a minute to Google it and when you're done you are welcome to come by and I'll read you chapter and verse.

      September 24, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  18. hebrewseleven

    Consider my words with your eternal spiritual ears. If you call yourself a Christian and believe that the reason Messiah came is so that when you die you would go to heaven, then you got it wrong. If you doubt hell exists, then just look around. You say there is no hell or God, yet you throw up a fist at God when horrible things happen on Earth. Yet there is no hell or God?
    When the Apostles asked Messiah how to pray he replied with a very powerful prayer. I am sure even Atheist know it. Focus on the following part in the prayer "Thy will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven" Messiah came so that HE would bring Heaven to Earth through us. If you live your life in fear of what happens when you die, then you are not alive at all and you live hell now.

    September 24, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • Amniculi

      Blah, blah, blah. Where's your proof?

      September 24, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • Atheist Hunter

      hebrewseleven.........what religion are you, you speak of spiritual ears, christians, messiah, etc. but it seems you don't believe in a literal hell.

      September 24, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • Madtown

      How come God only sent 1 son, to deliver this message to such a small population of his creations on earth at that time? I just find it curious that God didn't send multiple sons/daughters to all reaches of the earth, to provide the 1 singular message to all his equal creations. This makes me think that there's not 1 all-encompassing message, and that all humans are equal and can have a notion of God that is legitimate, even if it doesn't fit the christian mold.

      September 24, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • SouthernCelt

      The others were called Prophets up to and including John the Baptist who was the last of that line. Jesus fulilled the prophecies and was offered as a Sacrifical Lamb for our sins. Only He could do that. Only He could make a full, perfectly sufficient sacrifice so there has been no need for one ever since.

      September 24, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  19. Seth

    Eternal punishment for finite crimes? This Jesus guys sounds like a real b@stard (see what I did there?)

    September 24, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • Atheist Hunter

      He paid for your crimes. You're just too blind and stubborn to see it.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • grist

      What a silly concept: a son of a god "paying" for my crimes. I take responsibility for my own shortcomings. I wish we all did.

      September 24, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • Sinfully Yours

      @ AH
      Sweet! I am gonna go steal me some high end TV's a couple of cars and maybe rob a bank or tow. If I get caught I'll just say that your "Jesus" already paid for my crimes so I can go free with my goods.

      September 24, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • Jeff

      I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own - a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty. Neither can I believe that the individual survives the death of his body, although feeble souls harbor such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egotisms.

      – Albert Einstein

      September 24, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • Atheist Hunter

      grist..............good luck with that, you'll need it.

      September 24, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  20. ujostgotserved

    Hell is real I work there. It's called Ralphs Grocery Company.

    September 24, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.