TW: mass suicide and willing castration
I find “cults” interesting. (I’ll get to why I put that word in quotations in a moment.) I find their beliefs, their leaders, their followers, their operations, etc all fascinating. They captivate me and have since the Manson family. I read a huge book about Jim Jones and the path to Jonestown that was very impressive and fit my needs. I definitely thought about cults in the way that I’ve always been taught via the media.
Then, I took a course on New Religious Movements. We talked about Heaven’s Gate and other alien cults, but mainly this one. Because my professor wanted to challenge us and the way we thought. Before all of that, he explained to us what cult means in an academic way. Literally, it just means that it ascribes to the beliefs of a specific religion (i.e. Christianity) and then is a very different sect with different norms and beliefs.
That’s all it is.
No brainwashing. No mind control. Nothing.
That’s what most academics think about when they talk about cults. Now, some academics have tried to change it to the more modern/media inspired definition. But, I don’t think it works and I like the original definition best despite the connotation.
I really wish that this podcast had taken those definitions into account because while it was so even-handed when discussing the difficult sides of this religion (and I will call it a religion because that’s how people involved viewed and view it), it fell into the same trap of using the non-academic definition.
And, this podcast was super even-handed. It could have blasted Ti (Bonnie Nettles) and Do (Marshall Applewhite) and their beliefs and made a mockery of those involved. But it never forgot that real people with loved ones were still there. I loved being able to hear from old members who didn’t go to the next level (i.e. suicide) with the rest of the class because it gave such a unique insight into what was going on.
What this podcast comes down to, for me, was a way to help cement my thoughts that this wasn’t a cult in the modern sense. It was a cult in an academic sense, but everyone was there willingly. People left and did leave from its inception to when the tragedy happened. Everyone there wanted to be there. They genuinely believed Do because most of them were people who were religious seekers and already had been exposed to ideas like this. People who didn’t want to commit suicide didn’t and they left.
I definitely would recommend this podcast for those who want to know more about Heaven’s Gate. The religion’s website is also still up. It’s very interesting to look at and read articles off of, so if you’re interested the link is here. This podcast is great for those who know things about it already and those who know basically nothing besides the name, but it has a bias where it wants you to think about this as a cult in the non-academic sense.