Printer Friendly
The Free Library
22,728,960 articles and books

The lesson of Heaven's Gate.



By now the mass suicide Mass suicide occurs when a number of people kill themselves together and/or for the same reason. Examples
Mass suicide sometimes occurs in religious or cultic settings.
 of 39 members of the Heaven's Gate cult in California has been examined over and over again. Could there tee anything more to say about it?

The marks of the Heaven's Gate group were similar to other cult groups. They tended to recruit people who feel rudderless, unfulfilled and unhappy with the world and with the hand they've been dealt in it.

The cult offered a privileged path to "salvation" and the security in the meantime Adv. 1. in the meantime - during the intervening time; "meanwhile I will not think about the problem"; "meantime he was attentive to his other interests"; "in the meantime the police were notified"
meantime, meanwhile
. of a tightly organized community life where there are no choices about the time of rising, meals, work, leisure activities or going to bed at night.

To maintain the coherence of such a group, it is necessary to have authoritarian leaders to whom absolute and unquestioning obedience is given. Individuality is totally suppressed.

Thus, all wear the same hair styles and the same shapeless shape·less  
adj.
1. Lacking a definite shape.

2. Lacking symmetrical or attractive form; not shapely.



shape
 clothes to insure the negation of human sexuality This article is about human sexual perceptions. For information about sexual activities and practices, see Human sexual behavior.
Generally speaking, human sexuality is how people experience and express themselves as sexual beings.
 and gender differences. Ties to family and friends outside the community are strictly forbidden.

As some of us take our critical measure of the Heaven's (Sate group and of others like them, we should proceed with caution and not a little humility. After all, we had our own versions of Heaven's Gate in the pre-Vatican II church.

Women religious at one time were required to deny their feminine sexuality by shaving their heads and donning ample habits that covered and concealed the natural curvatures of the body. They renounced their baptismal name baptismal name
n.
See Christian name.

Noun 1. baptismal name - the first name given to Christians at birth or christening
Christian name

first name, forename, given name - the name that precedes the surname
 for new ones (just as the Heaven's Gate group took new names, some as silly as Bo and Peep), and many were given male names.

Every minute of the day was carefully regulated. Silence was enforced, even at meals, not just to encourage prayerful prayer·ful  
adj.
1. Inclined or given to praying frequently; devout.

2. Typical or indicative of prayer, as a mannerism, gesture, or facial expression.
 contemplation but to inhibit social interaction. Contact with the "outside world" was also meticulously controlled and friendships outside the community were discouraged. Although bonds with families were not totally severed, as with Heaven's Gate, home visitation was out of the question. Brief visits from family were allowed, but rarely.

Upon a parent's death, many religious women were forced to choose between attending the wake or the funeral -- but not both. And they were discouraged from grieving openly.

Male religious communities in the pre-Vatican II church were no less rigid or isolated, even if they enjoyed a greater measure of freedom than their women counterparts.

But the men -- diocesan and religious alike -- also concealed their sexuality under long, flowing habits and cassocks. Prolonged periods of silence similarly inhibited social interaction. Friendships outside the clerical circle were discouraged (friendships with women were simply unthinkable), and contact with one's family was limited -- more in the case male religious than of diocesan seminarians.

Unlike today, there was a severe stigma in leaving the group, and the fear of that stigma (a "spoiled priest" in the case of an Irish seminarian sem·i·nar·i·an   also sem·i·nar·ist
n.
A student at a seminary.

Noun 1. seminarian - a student at a seminary (especially a Roman Catholic seminary)
seminarist
 who quit before ordination, or a "shepherd in the mist" in the case of a man who left the priesthood itself) functioned as a strong deterrent.

This is not to say that members of religious orders before Vatican II Noun 1. Vatican II - the Vatican Council in 1962-1965 that abandoned the universal Latin liturgy and acknowledged ecumenism and made other reforms
Second Vatican Council

Vatican Council - each of two councils of the Roman Catholic Church
 are to be equated with cultists. Religious of that period were -- and still are -- people of deep faith and of profound, even heroic, ministerial commitment to the poor and the sick.

We are fortunate that much of this is ancient history for the mainline religious orders, male and female alike, and for diocesan seminaries. The habits and cassocks are, for the most part, gone, and so is the enforced isolation from the world outside, from family and friends, and from those of the opposite sex.

Some conservative Catholics complain about the changes: others are simply nostalgic for the "good, old days." But most Catholics recognize the changes for what they are: a leap forward from unhealthiness to healthiness (keeping m mind that the Latin word for salvation is salus, which means health).

But have we completely evacuated the Heaven's Gate syndrome from the inner life of the Catholic church? Unfortunately not.

Some of the new religious orders and movements, much favored by the Vatican, are throwbacks to the pre-Vatican II order, emphasizing the worst of it rather than the best.

Their leadership structure is just as authoritarian as the Heaven's Gate types Their denial of human sexuality (suggested in the restoration of the old-fashioned habits and cassocks) is just as pronounced. So is their rejection of the goodness of the human body (reflected in the practice of self-flagellation). And they, too, enforce isolation from family and friends, and apply enormous pressures against leaving the group.

They are traveling away from, rather than toward, the fullness of health promised in the gospel.
COPYRIGHT 1997 National Catholic Reporter
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

 Reader Opinion

Title:

Comment:



 

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:cult whose 39 members committed mass suicide
Author:McBrien, Richard P.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Apr 25, 1997
Words:775
Previous Article:Time to let Catholic college athletics go.
Next Article:Lovely Jerusalem is haunted by injustice.
Topics:

Terms of use | Copyright © 2014 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters