Heaven's Gate: America's UFO Religion

Heaven's Gate: America's UFO Religion

Heaven's Gate: America's UFO Religion

Heaven's Gate: America's UFO Religion

Synopsis

2015 Best Book Award from the Communal Studies Association

In March 1997, thirty-nine people in Rancho Santa Fe, California, ritually terminated their lives. To outsiders, it was a mass suicide. To insiders, it was a graduation. This act was the culmination of over two decades of spiritual and social development for the members of Heaven's Gate, a religious group focused on transcending humanity and the Earth, and seeking salvation in the literal heavens on board a UFO.

In this fascinating overview, Benjamin Zeller not only explores the question of why the members of Heaven's Gate committed ritual suicides, but interrogates the origin and evolution of the religion, its appeal, and its practices. By tracking the development of the history, social structure, and worldview of Heaven's Gate, Zeller draws out the ways in which the movement was both a reflection and a microcosm of larger American culture.The group emerged out of engagement with Evangelical Christianity, the New Age movement, science fiction and UFOs, and conspiracy theories, and it evolved in response to the religious quests of baby boomers, new religions of the counterculture, and the narcissistic pessimism of the 1990s. Thus, Heaven's Gate not only reflects the context of its environment, but also reveals how those forces interacted in the form of a single religious body.

In the only book-length study of Heaven's Gate, Zeller traces the roots of the movement, examines its beliefs and practices, and tells the captivating story of the people of Heaven's Gate.

Excerpt

Black uniforms. Matching “Away Team” patches. New Nike shoes, the “Just Do It” swooshes still vibrant white. Purple shrouds. Rolls of quarters and five-dollar bills in their pockets, duffle bags at their sides. Circumscribing themselves with these elements, in March 1997, 39 people in Rancho Santa Fe, California, ritually terminated their lives. They did so in waves, with each wave cleaning and tidying after the previous, until all 39, including their founder and leader, lay dead in a multimillion-dollar mansion in a posh San Diego suburb. Days after the suicides began, a former member, tipped off by his compatriots as to their intentions, stumbled into and then quickly out of the house. The rest is history: Heaven’s Gate.

To outsiders, it was a mass suicide. For insiders, it was a graduation. This act was the culmination of more than two decades of religious and social development of the group, a movement that took several names over its years. It began as a loose collective formed by two self-proclaimed witnesses, Marshall Herff Applewhite and Bonnie Lu Nettles, and ended as Heaven’s Gate, the monastic religious movement still led by Applewhite. Along the way the group developed a complicated theology fusing Christian, New Age, and American cultural elements, and a set of religious practices likewise drawing from multiple religions, science fiction, and pop culture. The group ended on its own terms, but not without outside influence. Rumors of an unidentified flying object (UFO) or spacecraft trailing the Hale-Bopp comet precipitated the timings of the suicides, as . . .

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