Science Fiction, Not Theology

Article excerpt

If I were asked to review the farewell videotape of the Heaven's Gate computer cult, I would, in the style of two well-known film critics, give it two thumbs up for science fiction and two thumbs down for religious message.

The tape shows smiling men and women with close-cropped hair and blissed-out eyes. They wear pajama-like uniforms with triangular "Heaven's Gate" arm patches that look like "Star Trek" emblems.

Their friendly, wide-eyed leader, Marshall Herff Applewhite, also called "Do," speaks a mixture of Christianity and Klingon. Human bodies, he says, are only "temporary containers" for the soul. A soul can evolve to a higher level of being, "disconnect" from its "container" and be resurrected in a higher life form. They sound like people with high IQs. They apparently were, judging by the endorsements voiced by customers of the computer Web-page business they operated out of a mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. They knew computers. They knew just the right combination of phenobarbital and alcohol needed to induce a peaceful death. But, if anything debunks the notion that high IQ is all you need to succeed in life, this bunch did it. "Do," a former music professor and church choir director, had been searching for flying saucers to take him away ever since the mid-1970s. Back then he was known as "Bo." Along with his partner "Peep," alias Bonnie Lu Trusdale Nettles, he left Oregon with a group of 20 people in 1975 seeking UFOs to fly to another world. Bo's wait ended in the San Diego suburbs. From the farewell tape and the group's Web sites, authorities pieced together this much: 39 of them, aged 26 to 72, each packed their bags, put a $5 bill and a couple of quarters in their pockets and drank a mixture of vodka and sedatives to "shed their containers" and catch a spaceship trailing the Hale-Bopp comet. What explains these suicide cults? We thought we had seen it all after the Rev. Jim Jones led 900 followers to take cyanide in 1978 in Guyana. Then David Koresh, assisted by a bumbling FBI, led his followers to a suicidal end in Waco, Texas, in 1993. …