Features

Hell at Heaven's Gate

National | Computer cult merely a new take on ancient Gnosticism

Issue: "Spring Draining," April 12, 1997

The irony is complete: cultic mass death in gorgeous Rancho Santa Fe, where many people would love to live. In this materialistic heaven on earth, in this American Garden of Eden, the home of Douglas Fairbanks, Bing Crosby, Jimmy Durante, and Victor Mature, two weeks ago all hell broke loose. Thirty-nine mostly middle-aged, well-educated people willingly took their own lives in the name of religion. Is this event unique, the tragic end of one more nutty Californian sect, or is it a particularly jolting expression of the new pagan spirituality now permeating once-Christian America?

This cult of computer geeks, nourished on the sci-fi mythologies of Star Trek and Star Wars and the seduction of cyberspace, epitomizes much of the contemporary "spiritual" cutting edge of pagan mysticism, sexual androgyny, and opposition to the family. In our culture of death, with its new priesthood of Kevorkians, abortionists, gay shamans, and feminist witches, and its New Left gospel of unrestrained freedom, this ritualistic mass suicide functions as the ultimate religious act of human liberty and the individual's right to die. Oddly, Heaven's Gate is both very modern and very old, for it shares with the hi-tech scholarship of the "Jesus Seminar" and the heresies of ancient Gnosticism certain ideas about death.

Downloaded material from the Heaven's Gate website teaches that the human body is merely a "container" inhabited by a divine soul from the "Kingdom Level Above Human." Such "incarnate souls" find other souls to give them an "implant of knowledge concerning the TRUTH," weaning them from "humanness," in particular, making themselves genderless in preparation for the "disconnect," which is entry into the next world through a "clinical procedure."

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The ancient Gnostics spoke of death as "the day of release." One Gnostic text reads, "When the elect lay aside bestiality [bodily existence], then the light [within] will withdraw up to its essence." Beam me up, Scotty! In the meantime, according to the Gospel of Thomas, saying 114, women have to become as men [genderless] in order to enter the kingdom. Then as now, at Heaven's Gate there is a crush of androgynous beings.

The modern Gnostics of the theologically liberal group known as the Jesus Seminar also promote this way of thinking. Recently the Seminar issued a bestselling book titled The Five Gospels, which juxtaposes with the four Gospels of Scripture the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas. From Thomas, it asserts, come many of the original sayings of Jesus.

At the same time, the Seminar denies--for purely scholarly reasons, they say--the authenticity of the very central point of the four Scriptural Gospels, namely, the redeeming death and bodily resurrection of Christ. In a recent meeting, Seminar participants declared the accounts of the bodily resurrection an "obstacle to faith" and announced their belief that the body of Jesus had "decayed [in the tomb] in the normal way." As a body, they affirmed as much more plausible the notion that the spirit of Jesus went directly from the Cross to heaven.

In our day of confusing all-inclusiveness, Christians need to remember that ultimately there are only two worldviews: the truth and the lie, paganism or Christianity, even if part of that paganism masquerades as "biblical" scholarship. Each worldview is like a spiral, tending toward a consistent center. Individual people might be standing on the edges, or trying to join the two, but the twain cannot meet.

This is obvious, in particular, in the opposing views of death. The worldview of the New Spirituality promotes the original lie. "You will not die," sneered the Snake. But our foreparents did; so, as with any lie, the Father of Lies had to tell a bigger, better one: "Not to worry," he now whispers. "Death is your friend. You will be embraced by the light of the spiritual, Gnostic Jesus."

In the Christian gospel death is not a friend but the last enemy. The good news is the very opposite of what cults and apostate scholars want to give us. The enemy has been conquered not by the passing of a comet or by new Bible interpretation. The victory has been won by Christ's sinless life, his redeeming death, and his glorious resurrection.

Marshall Herff Applewhite claimed to be a reincarnation of the Christ. Alas, the inevitable result of that lie is a house full of rotting corpses, his own included. The proof that Jesus spoke truth and was truly the Christ is an empty tomb and his glorious resurrected body on Easter Sunday.

Mr. Jones is a theology professor at Westminster Seminary in California.

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