Nielsen's Mirror of "Heaven's Gate"
Back to Psychology of Religion Home Page

Michael Nielsen's Mirror of "Heaven's Gate"

Here is my copy of the Heaven's Gate website. Thirty-nine members of this group, which combined Christianity with a belief in extraterrestrials and UFOs, were waiting for a sign that they were to shed their bodies and join higher beings. Their sign came, they thought, with the arrival of the Hale-Bopp comet. They committed suicide on Wednesday, March 26th, 1997, in order to leave their bodies and join the extraterrestrial beings. As you read this, I'd recommend that you consider two things. First, this is an example of how religion may affect one's behavior, even to the extent that suicide seems a reasonable option--indeed, it may seem the most desirable of all options. Religious beliefs can exert a strong influence on people, leading us to pray or engage in other kinds of rituals, change our diets, contribute money and time to the group and even, sometimes, kill ourselves. Now if that doesn't make psychology interesting, I don't know what does!

Second, notice people's reactions to this event. You probably have heard many people say things like, "Oh, those cults are full of crazy people," or, "Their beliefs were nothing at all like mine." But is that true? Let's consider these comments separately. I've heard on news reports that the group's leader had received treatment in a mental institution, so perhaps at least one of the people was mentally ill at one time. Still, when one considers that, according to research sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health, about 15.4% of the population suffers from substance abuse problems or mental disorders in any given month, or that 33% of people are likely to have some kind of psychological disorder or substance abuse problem during their lifetime, it seems important to me that we remember that these kinds of problems affect people in many walks of life, and not in just one.

As for the idea that the beliefs of people in Heaven's Gate have nothing in common with most people's beliefs, I think that a more circumspect approach is warranted. Chances are, you or someone you care about believes that we are actually a soul or spirit, which is housed in a body. From what I've read, that was one of the Heaven's Gate group's basic beliefs too. Perhaps with that in mind, you'll interpret their beliefs in a different light.

I have made this copy of the Heaven's Gate website in order to use this in my class. Feel free to look around and learn more about the group's beliefs. Of course, its use in this context is not a personal or institutional endorsement of the Heaven's Gate group. I do hope that this serves as a chance to learn more about people's beliefs and behaviors.

I have not altered these pages in any way, so you'll need to use the "back" button on your browser in order to return to my psychology of religion pages. Click here to view the Heaven's Gate webpage.

After you look around their pages, you may like to learn more about psychological perspectives on Heaven's Gate. For example, you can read Gary Peterson's commentary on the Heaven's Gate incident. You might be interested in Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Active New Religions, which describes this and other new religious movements, Hexham & Poewe's book about new religions, or you may wish to visit the Millenium Watch web page, which describes some related work. Chuck Humphrey, who was known as RKKody while he was with the Heaven's Gate group, had set up two web sites (http://www.rkkody.com/ and http://www.righttoknow.to) that included additional information about the Heaven's Gate followers and their beliefs, but the pages unfortunately are no longer functioning--RKKody followed Ti and Do and the others who were part of Heaven's Gate. Fortunately, you can use archive.org's WayBack Machine to view Humphrey's work through Gene Thursby's website. (Thanks, Tony, for reminding me about the WayBack Machine. It is an invaluable resource.) You also may be interested in this U.S. News story about the aftermath of Heaven's Gate, including a description of Chuck Humphrey's effort to move to the next level.

Comments are always welcome. I am especially interested in any additional information or useful material or websites you might have about the people involved in Heaven's Gate. Contact me by email or at:

Michael E. Nielsen, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
Georgia Southern University
Statesboro, GA 30460-8041
USA


Back to Psychology of Religion Home Page ...or.... Top of this file ...or... send feedback to Dr. Nielsen