I must be one of the few people in the United States who really doesn't care much about the whole Heaven's Gate mass suicide. I deduce this from the inordinate (and inordinately shallow, even by current standards) amount of press coverage and the amount of time my friends and acquaintances spend discussing the issue.
Like many others, I feel for the families and friends of these thirty-nine people; that's the terrain in which real tragedy lies. And that's precisely the problem: of all the tragic happenings in the world that I could choose to care about or get worked up over, the uncoerced suicides of a few dozen cult members is pretty low on the list. If people are really desperate for tragedy, why not worry about homeless children (120,000 in the US alone), alcohol-related deaths (4+ per hour), or even teen suicide (8 per day)?
But even more distressing than the public's seemingly endless need to agitate over distant problems while ignoring travesties right before their eyes is the tenacity of our mass media and their determination to find broad cultural the broad cultural relevance of events in which very little exists... and the depths at which this relevance exists is highly unlikely to be found through the shallow, pathetic grubbing of journalists and television "news" experts. Cults are nothing new, and their visibility is only going to increase as we approach the turn of the century. Anyone who is really interested in what is behind all of this would be well served by perusing some of the truly scholarly and well-researched material regarding cultists specifically or the broad thematic of fundamentalism generally. A few hours of such reading will illuminate one more than weeks of incessant babbling by the national media.
I'm sickened at hearing self-righteous newscasters and commentators judging and leveling criticism at events which they have no understanding of. I have listened to more than one nationally recognized commentator remark about "cheap roads to salvation" and "lazy attempts at reaching nirvana"-- remarks which are not only stupid and misinformed on their face, but which imply that the commentator has soe idea where the real road to salvation is or at least what this supposed right road looks like. This kind of drivel is not only pompous, but it belittles the very real and intense struggle for spiritual understanding that inhabits most of us. Perhaps these thirty-nine people were misguided and misinformed, I couldn't say for sure. But I can say that what drove them to their action is the same thing that drives many of us in our own quests for spiritual fulfillment, whether that results in a more widely recognized religion, art, violence or anything in between or beyond all of these.
Nor is the media content to denigrate others and elevate themselves. Once this has lost its appeal, and interviews with everyone from cult members families to former cult members to the waiter at Denny's who served them a SuperBird sandwich one time have dried up, they turn to tangentials which have even less relevance and then milk those angles for all they are worth. I really have to wonder if there is anyone out there who believes that the World Wide Web and the Internet have any substantial relevance to these events? Regardless of the direction one takes it, such twaddle makes no sense. The last time I checked, no one wanted to close or monitor the activities at music stores because some of David Koresh's followers worked there, nor have their been calls to do the same to televisions, telephones and bulletin boards (not to mention people themselves) Jim Jones used these methods to spread the word about his beliefs and recruit new followers. Yet this is precisely what people are seeking to do in the case of computer technology and the Higher Source suicides.
The simple fact is, it is people and their own need for something to believe in that led to these events, and occasional results such as mass suicide or violence for "religious reasons" is as inevitable as the sunrise. No amount of media moralizing, public hand wringing or water-cooler conversation is going to change that fact. If people really care, then they should direct their attention towards sources which give them some hope of actually understanding what is going on and what can be done to help those who will benefit from assistance, or find some issue that is not only easier to understand, but one which is preventable and impacting our lives every single day and one regarding which they could hope to make some substantive difference...
Until then, those concerned should just quit their ineffectual yapping and misinformed, pompous, posturing moralizing and stop wasting their time and mine... not to mention obscuring and belittling the real issues and the true tragedies of events such as those in San Diego, Waco, Guyana and elsewhere.