by Cinque Brown
* One year later: a look back*
"Those white people are crazy", was the sentiment that was echoed throughout most of the African-American community. After the death of 39 members of the religious group called "Heavens Gate" (HG). Of the HG group two were African-American. The mass suicide they committed sparked off a storm of controversy in the media and in churches/ranches (akin to Santa Fe). This is ironic considering that the U.S. was founded by religious dissenters.
I guess this misunderstanding lies in the fact that many people don't consider HG as a religious sect like Islam, Christianity or Judaism, etc.
The classification of what is a cult vs what is a religion has a certain "political dimension" to it. It is not determined by the amount of members or its charter. Many of our "major" religions have had the benefit of Jihads or Crusades to increase their membership to their present roles.
All the "major" religions require what I call a "Leap of Faith". This means that at some point you are told something about your raison d'être, or reason for existing, that is only beleivable to others in your faith. Most of what is explained to you, is bent on the fact that you must ignore conventional wisdom for the beleif in the "supernatural". Most of the general public tried to understand the HG group based upon "sound bites" the media supplied to them.
One example of this "sound bite" technique is that the HG group" believed in UFO'S" and that "some of them were castrated". Understand this, The Nation of Islam has been talking about a mothership (yes a UFO) coming to get " its people" since it's inception, words spoken by Elijah Muhammad and Louis Farrakhan. The process of castration has its roots in Christendom and is not a big deal if you aren't looking forward to having sex- but you better be "sure"!
These people were functional members of society and were not crazy. They were alleged to be very bright, unique certainly, and very nice. It can be said that they were serious about their religion.
In contrast almost everybody interviewed by the media, who knew the members personally, were simply explanatory in their narration and not judgmental of what had taken place. Nichelle Nichols whose brother committed suicide, (yes, that's the sista from Star Trek) said her brother made his choices and we respect those choices.
This group like other religious groups was simply trying to comprehend their raison d'être. Gordon Melton editor of the authoritative Encyclopedia of American Religions agrees that the group was different. "These people rather calmly exited this world in a very positive way, to a higher level of existence. They define death not as the enemy of life but as life itself."
When I think about "organized religion" and its "evolution" I find that the one mainstay is the fable, which usually has legendary connotations associated with it .
New applicants to any religion require only to be unsatisfied with present spiritual longing, a condition apt to strike even atheist at some point in their life.There is a "silent majority" of individuals searching for "something more" than what has been offered by "traditional religions".
To the etic or outsider most other religions seem profane and filled with lies. Let us consider the case of Christianity although at random we could select almost any religion to prove this point.
Consider the story of Noah's Ark in Genesis. Noah's Ark is said to have contained 2 of every living fleshly creature along with his 3 sons and their wives.The length of the Ark is said to have been 300 cubits (read cubic), the breadth 50 cubits and the height 30 cubits. This hardly seems big enough for all the species of life (most still unknown to us) to fit in. (Try a buoyant Empire State Building.)
The Ark was made of gopher wood, there is no wood in existence which would have enough compression strength to withstand all of Gods creatures constant movements for a week much less 40 days. What about all the natural predators accompanying one another in a confined space? If you take freshman level biology you will learn of something called Population Biology which informs you that to diminish any species to 2 of each or even a hundred of each is tantamount to extinction within 3 decades on this planet. Population biology, the study of changes in plant and animal populations, provides information necessary to biological research. It also assists in efforts to preserve rare and endangered species and to control agricultural pests. We use the foundation of this science for so much we can prove yet the Noah's Ark story is still believable?
As a Science Teacher, I try to resurrect data without bias. I am not blasphemous but "inquirous" (new word I just made up). I find this to be a necessary trait developed when posed to explain references to having Black skin as a curse (Shem) and typically Negroid features such as wide noses as defects (Leviticus ch.21 verse 16-24 specifically line 18). This analysis may help shed light on why three suburban white boys from a Roman Catholic Church could beat a 13 yr old defenseless black boy into a coma in 1997 in Chicago (BTW -what's happening with that case) When people learn things in their churches or ranches, I want to know how it may adversly affect others. HG religion didn't adversly affect me.
Religion has also helped uplift lives, without it there would probably be a thousand more serial killers. The bottom line in considering all of this, is that they all require a leap of faith despite how they may seem to the etic. So the worst legacy of HG may be that, 39 people sacrificed themselves to herald in a new millennial cause. With the prophetic 21st century near we probably haven't heard the last from the ranks of the fearful and apocalyptic. However to the next crew departing for the "Level Above Human", I suggest that before leaving their "containers" or bodies behind, they fill out some organ donor cards.