Heaven’s Gate: A podcast about the Heaven’s Gate cult.
What it is: An in-depth look at not only Heaven’s Gate, but the kind of belief that leads people to join, and even die for, a cult.
What I’ve listened to: Three of ten episodes
Is it good? It’s phenomenal.
Quick thoughts: I was about eight when the members of Heaven’s Gate committed mass suicide in California in 1997, but the snippets of news broadcasts about the event that I saw left an impression on me. It’s difficult to understand why people would believe something that defied not just their rationality, but their instinct for self preservation. Heaven’s Gate gets me closer to understanding the people who belonged to the cult, especially because its host, Glynn Washington, is speaking from the perspective of someone who was himself in a cult. At one point he describes how he used to sleep with shoes on, because Jesus could come back at any moment and he had to be ready.
Heaven’s Gate is fascinating to listen to, but it doesn’t feel voyeuristic. Washington treats the members of the cult with dignity and reflects on how he could have ended up in a similar position himself. He’s not going into this topic with an outsider’s curiosity; rather, he seems to be seeking some kind of understanding of his own life through understanding this tragedy. For Washington, the intensity of belief that I can’t wrap my head around was something that dominated a large portion of his life. When he talks to his interviewees—family members of the deceased, as well as former members of Heaven’s Gate—it’s from a place of common understanding. In general, this podcast presents Heaven’s Gate as more than just a cultural curiosity or punchline, but as a lens into understanding a specific kind of fanatical belief and the particular ways it can take over a life.
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