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Cults Part3: Killing in the Name of…

November 25, 2009

Cults Part3: Killing in the Name of…

Killing is almost universally condemned unless in circumstances of self defence. War may seem like the exception but it is often versed in the language of self defence and even armies these days are described as defence forces. Killing that is obviously not self defence is seen as repulsive and yet it goes on in epidemic proportions. How is it that we can find perfectly ordinary people involve in the absolutely extraordinary level of human degradation? How is that we can find people with highest of ideals, motives and piety transforming themselves into monsters without the slightest empathy for their victims?

In looking at this subject I decided to take a broader look than to just focus upon the ceremonial oddities of a few cults. There is an argument that terrorists can also be seen as versions of destructive cults and even mass killing armies in a similar vein. I will deal with this in detail another post but for now it is easier to look at why people murder in the name of cause rather than argue over who does it more often.

Mass Suicide

Mass suicide is has had a long history and as in the case of the Masada (first century AD) the mass suicide of 936 people was a response to siege by the Romans. When the Romans breached the wall of the fortress they found everyone dead either by suicide or murder rather than face capture or slavery. This single act has been pawed over by historians and used both as propaganda and as an example a fanaticism. The objective of the act was to rob the Romans of victory and to make a statement that would be heard back in Rome.

It is the statement of greatness and power that seems to dominate mass suicide. Jim Jones created Jonestown where 900 people died in mass murder suicide is another example of desperation turning into a statement. Jim Jones’ cult of the Peoples Temple was being investigated by US congressman Leo Ryan when something went terribly wrong with his white wash PR tour. A few people came forward to report abuse to Ryan and within a short period of time the murder suicide plot was hatched. Those who tried to escape were shot and others were made drink poisoned with Valium Chloral Hydrate and Cyanide, 70 of the victims examined had needle marks and cyanide in the blood stream. A tape recording made at that time has an argument between Jim Jones and another person who disagreed with the suicide. Eventually the person gave up after being shouted down by the crowd. The only survivors were those that escaped to the jungle or pretended that they were dead.

The Heaven’s Gate Cult was based upon UFO’s and promised to take people away in the spaceship. Some of the male members voluntarily underwent castration in order to prepare for their genderless life on a spaceship that trailed behind the comet called Hale-Bopp. 39 people committed suicide by mixing the sedative Phenobarbital with vodka then covering their heads with plastic bags. The bodies were discovered all dressed in black jumpsuits with white Nike’s and short cropped hair. There bags were packed as if in preparation for a journey and many had a $5 note in their pockets.

The Solar Temple also left 74 people dead in murder suicides. They follow some rituals of the Ancient Templers.

The Movement for the Restoration of the 10 Commandments left 750 dead in Uganda. The suicides apparently took place in a party atmosphere where crates of poison drinks were consumed.

The commonality in these groups is not the fact that they were religious rather that was the least common thing about them. Heaven’s Gate was a UFO cults and the other, Jim Jones a Biblical preacher, the Solar Temple were copying rituals of the Masonic Lodges and the Movement for Restoration of the 10 Commandments was a cult that had split from the Roman Catholic Church. On the surface their motive also seems very different. Jonestown occurred after Jim Jones realised that his empire was under threat and so he reacted by trying send a message to the world. The Movement and the Solar Temple were concerned with an impending disaster or apocalypse. Heaven’s Gate was using suicide as a passage to evolution. Yet there is a common point in each of these and that is one of suicide being permissible for extraordinary reasons.

The link between Masada and Jonestown is one that is made in the minds of the cult’s leaders. In the case of the Heaven’s Gate Cult they did refer to the Masada in there writings. The sense of the escape from terrible persecution or the escape to a better world can seem like the same objective. The answer to both problems is offered by the destructive cults in the form of self execution.

We may think that such groups are so removed from mainstream think that they do seem alien but are they? When people invoke call for suicide to escape the torments of life perhaps they are in some small way agreeing with the suicide cult mentality. And if faced with a threat, or a deception that makes life seem unbearable to the mass population how long would it take for there to be a call for mass suicide?

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