My “Hellbound?” Bush, Hell, Bin Laden CNN Post

Here’s my CNN article on Hell, “Hellbound?” and the results of living in revenge/retribution addicted cultures (like ours)

[CNN] Different Takes: Should we abandon the idea of hell?

CNN Editor’s note: The new documentary “Hellbound?” explores Americans’ ideas about 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.”

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.

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 CNN commentary are solely those of Frank Schaeffer.

About Frank Schaeffer

Frank Schaeffer is an American author, film director, screenwriter and public speaker. He is the son of the late theologian and author Francis Schaeffer. He became a Hollywood film director and author, writing several internationally acclaimed novels including And God Said, "Billy!" as well as the Calvin Becker Trilogy depicting life in a fundamentalist mission home-- Portofino, Zermatt, and Saving Grandma.

  • Eric Fry

    Thank you for posting such clear and concise article on the subject of Hell and the general public’s love and addiction to it. I’ve had Richard Beck’s book, Unclean, rolling in my mind for months now, asking myself why we have kept this unscriptural concept of eternal torture for so many centuries. You hit the nail on the head; the primary addiction every human must break is the desire for revenge/retribution.

    Very glad I found your blog a few days ago.

  • Frank Schaeffer

    Hi Eric, thanks so much!

  • http://patheos threeten2yuma

    Hi again Frank. As you know, I’m an Evangelical with what some may term “fundamentalist” views of the Bible (like your parents), and I’ve never thought that the Bible presented “a retributive God just itching to punish those who ‘stray.’” Rather, when I read my Bible I find the gracious notion that God is not willing that anyone perish in Hell but that everyone should find Eternal Life with Him by forsaking their sins and following Jesus Christ. And speaking of J.C., what do you do with the all the passages in the Gospels wherein Jesus, Himself, warns His listeners to avoid ending up in Hell, the lovely “Sermon on the Mount, for example? And, finally, why the Hell can’t you leave poor old George W. Bush out of this discussion? Is the guy to blame for everything with you so-called Progressives, even the existence of Hell? Sheesh!

  • John Murphy

    Hi Frank: Drawing a straight line between belief in hell and 9/11 strikes me as well….unhinged. The terrorists attacked because they believe in hell and George Bush responded because he believes in hell. Now where exactly are the facts to back that claim up?

    • Frank Schaeffer

      Hi John, well no more unhinged than the very specific writings and ravings of bin Laden on Hell, and the destiny of all infidels, the exact same teaching accepted by evangelicals but in reverse. If bin Laden and his suicide bombers didn’t believe that they were sending their enemies to hell and themselves to heaven then they sure wasted their time saying so and amazingly were acting on the idea unto the death just as Bush started a war for no reason with Iraq with some idea he was helping the State of Israel in which — like all evangelicals — he believes plays some special part in the end times and return of Christ. Yes, this is all unhinged. But you must be asleep to not have noticed how religion is impacting American policy and Arab/Muslim policy. What do you think all the fuss over Israel is if not rooted in religion on all sides? And what do you think the evangelical Zionists believe about the “lost” — say all those Arabs they cheered Bush for murdering in cold blood for no reason in Iraq?

      • http://patheos threeten2yuma

        OK, Frank. If it’s your thesis that we need, “[a] time for the alternative of empathetic merciful religion to be understood,” then why can’t (or won’t) you exemplify it more in your writings? If you really believe this, then why in your political/theological rants do you sound like you wish that your opponents were all dead and burning in Hell? That’s not what the “Jesus” even you espouse taught, is it?

        Sometimes in your fiction you achieve real art and beauty. But then when you lapse into the dark side of your Jekyll and Hyde personality you sound like you’d fit right in at Westboro Baptist Church!

        This is coming from someone who loves you, Man. Hope you can take it.

        • Frank Schaeffer

          Hi of course you may be right threeten2… but then again I thin you need to understand that blogging is a very different animal than writing for books. Maybe because I really don’t mind being attacked in blogs I assume everyone else feels the same and understands this medium. Moreover look who I picked to go after: a multi million corp attacking a young artist, a homophobic bunch of bigots fighting against gay marriage, in some bullies. Why shouldn’t I take the gloves off? These aren’t babies or innocents.

          • http://patheos threeten2yuma

            Pretty good bullshit, Frank, but to quote you, “As Jesus said on the cross: ‘Forgive them for they know not what they do.’” So I ain’t buyin’ what you’re sellin’ until I hear you say, “President George W. Bush, I forgive you!” C’mon, Man, you can do it. Just muzzle your inner junk yard dog, and remember, “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.” Go ahead now say it, “‘W’ is a child of God too, same as me!”

  • John

    Do you believe God is all-just? Do you think that we all merit heaven no matter how terrible we are? Do you believe that God will give everyone the reward of heaven even if they don’t want it? Your views in this article show a rather poorly reasoned argument. If there is no hell, then why be a good person? It seems you believe in a grandfather in heaven, not a loving father. A good father disciplines his children so that they can grow in virtue. Worst still, it seems you are dimissing the concept of hell because of the way people (perhaps yourself included) have misunderstood it or abused it. Hell is a place of our own choosing. No one goes to hell by accident. Hell is perhaps best understood as separation from God – a separation that the person himself has chosen by rejecting the grace given to us by God.

  • http://patheos threeten2yuma


    You kind of interrupted a conversation that I’m tryin’ to have with Frank here, but that’s OK ‘cuz Frank isn’t quite ready yet to tell President George W. Bush that he forgives him anyway, are you, Frank? Soon, hopefully, soon. But not quite yet.

    And that’s a good point you make that no one ends up in Hell that didn’t already choose to go there. In fact, the Bible says (I know, Frank, I know, the Bible says a lot of things, but let me finish my sentence, will ya?) Anyway, as I was saying, the Bible says that Hell was made by God for Satan and all his fallen angel demons. (OK, OK, I know that opens up another whole can of worms, but let me finish, alright?) Man, and by that I mean all men and women, were made by God in His Image to live forever with Him and one another in a love relationship that we’ve none of us ever yet experienced, but we still dream about it, don’t we? However, the first two people, and all of us ever after, have chosen to go the way of the Devil and we’ve done little else in the history of humanity but suffer the consequences of our waywardness ever since. Just look around you and see if that Biblical description doesn’t fit what you see better than anything else ever said on the subject. Sure some of us clean up and look a little better than others on the outside, but if you look inward, you’ll see the same murderous instincts that have always motivated our kind since the “Fall of Man.” We’re all of us fit only for the Hell God made for the Devil but we’ve chosen and always do choose for some damned reason.

    “But God so loved the world that He gave His only Begotten Son that whosoever would believe in Him would not perish but have Everlasting Life.” Jesus, whom Frank said he still talks to, is the only human who ever lived that didn’t deserve Hell, and we humans crucified Him on a cross. The mystery of God hidden for all eternity turned out to be that Jesus’ selfless sacrifice satisfied God’s rightful wrath for our sins and made a Way for us to be reconciled with God and with one another through Him, Jesus Christ! And to prove it all, God raised Jesus from the grave. He’s alive! Jesus is alive, and we can in fact “talk” to Him!

    Every human who ever lived or ever will live has access by God’s Command to this Good News. For some it’s as close as a neighbor who loves them enough to share it. For others, God has to move Heaven and Earth to reach them when they call. But God is bound by His own Word to get the Gospel to anyone who calls out to Him for salvation. If you’ve read this far, rejoice! God just reached you with the only way you can not only escape your personal place in Hell but also enjoy forever with all the redeemed the loving God who made you and died for you and more!

    There now, I said it. And I ain’t takin’ none of it back neither. Jesus said that unless you come to Him like a child still young enough to trust, you will never enter His Holy Kingdom. Join me, Brothers and Sisters. Join me! Like it says in the children’s song, “Get on board, Lil’ Children! Get on board, Lil’ Children! Get on board, Lil’ Children! There’s room for many a more!”