The Words of the Colvin Family

Heaven's Gate Tragedy: The Great Escape

Media Coverage of Heaven's Gate
Alex Colvin

Since the bodies of 39 members Heaven's Gate were discovered, we have been treated to a media carnival. The story combined a lot of hot issues -- UFO's, the X-Files, the Internet, and the Hale-Bopp Comet. But the primary handle that the news media used to spin the story was "destructive cults." The cover story of the April 14th issue of Newsweek is fairly indicative of the slant. "Secrets of the Cult" is the headline splashed across the cover.

On one ten o'clock news program, I was treated to a self-proclaimed "expert" on cults. He informed the interviewer that there were more than 10,000 cults like Heaven's Gate in the USA with an average membership of 5,000 people. "That's fifty million people," I thought to myself. that would mean that about one in four people in the US belongs to a religious group that that is under mind control. That's ridiculous! Ask yourself: how many people do you know belong to a such a group. It's pure drivel perpetrated by people who want to make a living promoting fear and hatred of minority religious groups.

The death of 39 people by suicide caused a profound shock to our national psyche. No doubt, most people find the idea that by committing suicide one can join Jesus on a space ship that will take them to the Kingdom of Heaven bizarre. But lumping together of Heaven's Gate with thousands of other spiritual and religious groups that may or may not have anything in common does nothing to increase our comprehension or help us to learn any useful lesson from this tragedy.

The word "cult" has become a meaningless word. Many Protestants think the Catholic Church is a cult. Likewise, many Catholics may feel that certain Protestant sects are cults. The Jehovah's Witnesses, the Mormons, charismatic and evangelical groups, The Unification Church, Hare Krishna, the Church of Scientology, numerous new age groups, Hindu organizations, Sufi groups, Buddhist groups, and yoga organizations have all been called cults by someone or another. Yet these organizations vary widely in their beliefs and practices. Lumping them all together under one banner makes no sense. Some may be good and some may not but they need to be evaluated on an individual basis. Anyone who claims to be an expert on all of them is a charlatan.

It is unfortunate that the media perpetrates this abuse of understanding.

Equally ludicrous is the media's fear mongering regarding the Internet. Because Heaven's Gate was on the Internet, the media fanned the flames of fear once again. Cults on the Internet. Heaven's Gate was on the Internet. That's true. But no one joined because they were. In fact one of the reason's they felt that the end may be near was that they were receiving such a negative response to their web site -- not it's design, but its content. I've been on the Internet and I never heard of them.

In September and October of last year, the media pundits were proclaiming that every school child should have access to the Internet as though it would be a panacea for all of our education woes. That was mindless. Suddenly, only a few months later they are equally mindlessly spreading a gospel of fear of the dangers of the Internet. The ironic thing is that at the same time they were advertising websites that very few people would even know existed. For example, showing Charles Manson's website on the prime time news. Until they advertised it, hardly anybody new it existed. Most likely after they advertised the site it got thousands and thousands of hits. And people were probably disappointed by how uninteresting and unattractive it was.

As a result of the fear-mongering, the Anne Arundel County School Board in Maryland (where I live) actually banned students from using school computers to contact any web sites on the Internet. It's crazy. Six Months ago the Governor of Maryland was begging volunteers to help hook the schools up to the Internet.

So much for that. As you can see, I feel that the sensationalism of the major news media, feeding the fear and ignorance of the populace rather than informing them with accurate information, has a negative effect on our national psyche.

A Lesson to be learned from Heaven's Gate

I know very little about the teachings or practices of Heaven's Gate. However, for me, one point stands very strongly. Apparently, these people recognized that there are many evils in the world. Their response was that they wanted to escape. This, I believe was there fatal flaw. I don't think that God wants us to escape from the problems of the world. I think that he wants us to take responsibility and act as His instruments to try to solve the problems and make this world a better place. Jesus taught his disciples to pray that God's Kingdom would come on the earth. It is not enough for believers to want to go to heaven. We should be willing to take responsibility to become better people ourselves, to build strong loving families, and to create a more heavenly environment here on the earth. God gave us our physical bodies and our lives in the physical world for a reason.

Responsibility is a key issue in our society today. When people of faith take responsibility then miracles can happen. Not only do we make a difference in the world, we ourselves grow spiritually. People who fail to take responsibility either by blaming others or by trying to escape damage both the world and themselves.

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