Heavens Gate Essay

Heavens Gate Essay

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On March 26, 1997, in what has become known as one of the most noteworthy mass suicides in history, thirty-nine men and women affiliated with the Heavens Gate cult took their own lives by ingesting a combination of Phenobarbitals mixed with applesauce and alcohol. Each was dressed all in black, their faces covered by a purple shroud. Those who wore glasses had them neatly folded next to their body, and all had identification papers for the authorities to find. The house was immaculate, tidier even than before the victims had moved in. It was as if, in preparing for their death, they were heeding the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live.” And while their abrupt end may seem rather strange, the way they lived is even more perplexing.
The group came together in the mid 1970s under the charismatic preaching of Marshall Herff Applewhite, and his companion, Bonnie Lu Nettles, a former nurse. It enjoyed a short-lived burst of notoriety, during which time they referred to themselves as Bo and Peep, before the couple took it underground in 1976. After existing in deep seclusion in various Southwestern cities, the group surfaced again briefly in 1994, when members sought out recruits with a series of public lectures. In the group's documents, Applewhite and Nettles are described as representatives of an extraterrestrial plane called the Kingdom of Heaven, who have come to Earth “to offer the way leading to membership” to those who could overcome their attachment to money, sex, and family life. Such total separation, the group preached, was necessary because Earth's human structures --governmental, economic and, especially, religious-- were under the control of demonic forces: “Luciferians” and evil “space aliens,” in the group's terms.
In time, they began calling themselves “the Two,” a reference to the “two witnesses” of Christ foretold in the Bible's Book of Revelation. According to the Bible, the two witnesses are prophets who will be slain by a beast from the bottomless pit, then be resurrected and ascend to Heaven.
They were both anti-establishment and intolerant, calling for total separation from society, simple living with shared resources, and adherence to a rigorous moral code. Applewhite also required members of the cult to dress, talk, and look the same. He made them all wear the same clothes, shaved ev...


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...of the world turn violently against them, it added, the group would be ''mentally prepared'' for whatever came its way. They also allude to the example of the Jews at Masada who killed themselves rather than submit to Roman legions in A.D. 73.
Furthermore, the group said its understanding of suicide was not at all conventional: ''The true meaning of 'suicide' is to turn against the Next Level when it is being offered.'' In the group's thinking, a spaceship, thought to be following in Hale-Bopp's wake, would be offering just such an opportunity.
In conclusion, the entire aura of the Heaven’s Gate cult seems like something straight out of a late night TV movie. Like most millennialist groups, members held a firm belief in an oncoming apocalypse and that only an elect few would achieve salvation. The spread of their doctrine on the Internet brought about widespread concern over the power of the web. The argument has subsided, however, with the passage of time. I, for one, find the supposed link between the Internet and cult activities rather absurd. Extreme gullibility and brainwashing, I believe, would be the only ways a recruit would ever accept such an outlandish set of beliefs.

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