Lisa Miller, who has a recent book on heaven, maintains that 80% of Americans believe in heaven, but belief in hell is plummeting. She argues that this phenomenon is attributable to the rise in the view that there are many paths to the same God. Not only are vastly fewer people believing in hell, she says that those people who do believe in hell do not believe that hell is their destination. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/video/2010/03/27/VI2010032703846.html
In the Catholic tradition, there are three views of hell that I know about: The view that hell is permanent conscious separation from God; the view that hell is permanent suffering in fire; and the view that hell is death. I think the first view is the one most widely held by leaders of the Church; the second is a metaphor. The third draws support from two sources. First, if one believes in a loving God, the first two seem disproportionate (though a standard response is that hell is chosen and that the disproportionate idea misconceives the gravity of offending God). Second, the frequent biblical references to fire are references to trash burning in a constant fire around Jerusalem. The fire is constant, but the trash does not burn forever. On this theory, the reference to fire is a metaphor for death. In any event, it is not a metaphor for eternal suffering.