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Out of this World (April 23, 1997)

The recent suicides of the Heaven's Gate 39 met with nothing but horror, condemnation and ridicule from the American media and public. Time issues a special report — “Inside the Web of Death”; the Sheriff in charge is upset that he can't find anything to charge them with — or anyone left alive to charge; Jay Leno and Letterman make stupid, insensitive jokes; blurred and ghastly photos of Applewhite, the Cult's leader, adorn the covers of magazines and serious warnings about cults, recalling Jonestown and Waco, are issued by writers advising anxious parents to beware of sinister influences on their young. Stressed are Applewhite's homosexuality and the fact that some of the cult members were castrated. (The sex angle — even in a group that tried to overcome sexuality.)

One would think from all this fuss that no American should conceive of believing the nonsensical idea that people are more than their bodies and that after death they go on to a higher plane. And that to reach a state of elevated being, they should subdue their more animalistic urgings.

Yet this is what forms the basis of most religions — a denial of death, a belief that humans enjoy an afterlife, and that somehow, whether by virtue, the performance of certain rituals, or mere faith, they will somehow escape their inevitable mortality and spend eternity in a heaven of bliss. For Eternal Life is the tenet of most religions, and castration or chastity has been the goal of ascetics ever since religion theory has been recorded.

Before voicing horror or scorn over the voluntary deaths of people who believed that by dying they could transform themselves into higher beings and enter heaven in a spaceship in the wake of Hale-Bopp's comet, perhaps we ought to compare their beliefs with those of our established religions:

Some believe we rise up intact from the grave and ascend to Heaven en masse on Judgment Day. This bizarre concept is held by some Christians even today. Reincarnationists hold the weird belief that their souls will somehow be transferred to other living beings, animal or human, after death. Taoists once believed that when they died they would enter an afterlife ruled by a fairy queen or by a Jade Emperor. Confucians worship their ancestors.

Religion has also given us some pretty strange rituals. Human and animal sacrifices. Commemoration of the death of a god through virtual cannibalism. Circumcision. Long, enervating fasts. Self-flagellation. Peculiar prohibitions of certain foods, clothes and even hairstyles. The presumed ability to atone for a community's sins by transferring them to animals or human scapegoats.

Before we condemn or deride the beliefs held by “cults,” people should read more about the established religions we hold in such a reverence.

Religions are one of the prime causes behind the bloodiest chapters in mankind's history. Not just in the days of the Inquisition or the Crusades, or in bygone persecutions of non-believers and bloodbaths against dissenters, but up to the present day in Ireland, Bosnia, and Cyprus and elsewhere.

Ever since man became conscious of self and aware of his eventual death; ever since he has failed to acknowledge that his mind is incapable of understanding nature, whether in his environment or in himself, he has created myths to explain the inexplicable. He invented gods, rituals and laws and visualizes heavens and hells for his own ends. Under it all is an atavistic, tribal mentality terrified of death and of anything that threatens his familiar idols — his “way of life.”

Differences between cults and religions are hard to define. Some cults which practice celibacy, like the Shakers, eventually die out. (Which is what would have happened to the Heaven's Gate group had they waited long enough.) Others, like Islam, Judaism and Christianity increase their numbers only to later split off into various schisms and denominations that sometimes fight each other as fiercely as if they had different origins.

They are all The One True Faith, and, except for the occasional pacifistic groups they contain, they will kill anyone who thinks otherwise.

Perhaps the easiest way to distinguish a cult from a religion is that it doesn't have respectability, millions of followers, elaborate places of worship, real estate, political influence or tax-free status.

(I heard that another way to tell a cult from a religion is that a cult doesn't have a university or a football team.)

3 Comments

  1. Douglas Coulter July 6, 2021

    The government claims that a hero who dies in combat goes to heaven. In America the government can kill you or order you into suicide attacks but you cannot kill yourself. You can kill your baby via doctors but you cannot end terminal illness with a doctors aid.
    If you even mention suicide around the VA you get locked up for 72 hours without due process. It is quite traumatic and they dream it will erase hopeless feelings.
    And you call others cults?
    A tri folded flag for families to treasure.

    • sawyer July 15, 2021

      well said. there is a vast hypocrisy that the Heaven’s Gate people actions caused to come to the surface.

  2. sawyer July 15, 2021

    I understand that it takes a lot to try to understand TI and DO’s Heaven’s Gate group and it’s easy to lump them into other variations of belief system but portraying them as “dying” “transforming themselves into higher beings” shows not being aware of the reality of what they taught and what was required of the students to stay in the group, though the students (like me) didn’t know what all was really required.

    The students had to prove to the Next Level they were ready to exit their tasks and they were always open to exiting by a number of methods, least of which was by their own hand.

    I know it’s hard for some to conceive of the real existence of Souls and/or Spirits that are mostly undetectable by humans, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a reality. Perhaps it would help people with this dilemma that they often express certainty about, if they recognized that there have been many things discovered by science that shows there is so much happening that we can’t see – microbes, particle ionic communications, billions of galaxies not seen before because of better technology. And there were always those along the way who said what was not possible which is relatively impossible to do if we are the ones who designed most anything about our reality that we mostly take for granted.

    The religions are distortions and dilutions of the truth, what is real, why we exist and what’s potentially to come. That’s why they took on the same behaviors as the secular kings and queens, etc. in stimulated wars and retribution and greed and self defense to a degree of even mere suspicion someone else might be out to get us so they justify to blow them away first in case they are right. These are all primitive behaviors of people who even with their tail feathers of degrees and fame and wealth are near completely unaware of what’s been real the entire time that they just can’t see so they deem non-existent.

    It’s as illogical to think a sophisticated jet fighter or even automobile just so happened to develop. Who are the real ones filled with superstitious beliefs but those who aren’t even willing to open their heads to consider what more there is that is real, some of which is described in the records of thousands of years. So sure the religions are all distortions but even a distortion can have some clarity to it so to throw them away is like throwing away the baby with the bathwater. There are reasons they came to be.

    So if anyone wants to really understand the Heaven’s Gate group who stand way, way out from all the other groups in their perspectives of reality, they will have to seek it out and all the information they left behind is still freely available and there is a huge amount of data to examine but one doesn’t have to see it all.

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