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Heaven's Gate: The Cult Of Cults

Parents need to know that Heaven's Gate: The Cult of Cults is a documentary series about a well known UFO religious cult whose members died in a mass suicide in 1997. The series traces the cult's origin and history leading up to the tragic events of 1997 using archival footage, including crime scene footage of the site of the mass suicide, and new interviews with surviving Heaven's Gate members and members' families. No violence or sexual content is shown, but the forced asexuality of the cult members is a topic of detailed discussion, and at one point a castration is described in detail. A theory is put forward that one of the cult leaders' repressed homosexuality motivated his actions within the cult, which may be interpreted as a homophobic line of thinking by some viewers. In general, the documentary paints a complex and sympathetic picture of the cult and what attracted and motivated its members. Younger viewers may have trouble parsing the complexity of the subject, but for older teens and young adults it can be extremely informative, as cults and cult-like organizations tend to target that demographic.

Heaven's Gate: The Cult of Cults


UFO cults and other fringe organizations are often treated like tabloid material or weird human interest stories -- Heaven's Gate: The Cult of Cults, by contrast, begins by taking the cult, its members, and their beliefs as seriously as they do. This allows the documentary to do many things at once. It seeks to understand the members, the leaders, and their seemingly bizarre and erratic behavior. It gives insight on how cults and cult-like organizations operate and their methods of manipulation and control. It places Heaven's Gate into historical context, alongside tragedies such as the Jonestown Massacre. Finally, it explores how the actions of the Heaven's Gate cult and its leaders traumatized everyone that came into their orbit, with a focus on how the survivors cope with their trauma. The series is not always easy to watch, but it is consistently fascinating and informative. Even those who might just want to gawk at people who believe they're aliens should find something of value here.

And once she eventually died, and Applegate was on his own (and absolutely bereft, it should be noted) those teachings became flexible in order to cope with the cognitive dissonance that her "leaving her vehicle early" sparked. That's when, Tweel asserts, Heaven's Gate became more about the messenger than the message, and Applegate transitions from kooky, fringey New Age leader to the leader of the, as he puts it, "cult of cults."

Most psychology research has focused on the unique characteristics of the people who join: their personality types, their lack of social support, or events in their lives that make them more vulnerable. Other research has focused on what happens to them after they join: For example, cults typically demand that members cut off existing social ties and strictly regulate members' lives in an effort to strip away their identities.

In the aftermath of a tragedy like the Heaven's Gate suicides or the revelations about the years of sexual abuse and manipulation taking place within NXIVM, it's natural to focus on the psychological factors that made such horrifying acts possible. But it's important to note that these cults have to successfully recruit everyday people in the first place. To my surprise, however, how and whether cults use these sorts of common persuasion principles hasn't been studied much.

One of the things that jumped out to me about the podcast and that I really wanted to include in the series was this idea of new religious movements and these types of groups and people looking for answers in times of societal chaos. When we started making this in 2018, the world was already in a state of anxiety and divisiveness in this country and it has only gotten more chaotic since, so I really gravitated towards that idea there could be cults that are going to be popping up and be more in all of our lives here in the coming years and in a more prominent way, so maybe this series can do something to shed a light on how these belief systems evolve and could become dangerous. Not all end in suicide clearly, but the levels and tiers of manipulation could be explored. 041b061a72


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