Heaven’s Gate

Cult members were easy to recognize. Every time they left their Rancho Santa Fe mansion, they looked exactly alike: They all sported black clothing, Nike sneakers, and buzz-cut hair. When police entered the mansion and found the bodies, they at first thought that all 39 cult members were young men. One of the most puzzling aspects of this strange cult was their obsessive conformity. But the explanation is actually simple. The Heaven’s Gate taught a philosophy that teaches a hatred of all things physical—especially the physical body. The cult members believed that to achieve salvation, they had to shed their earthly bodies. They viewed the body as a sort of prison that has entrapped the soul and believed that salvation would occur when the soul left the body. That’s why they referred to their bodies as “vehicles” or “containers.” They prohibited marriage and all sexual activity and tried to avoid what they called “all human-mammalian behavior.” These beliefs may sound like some bizarre new religion. But in reality they are a modern manifestation of an ancient philosophy called dualism. Dualism is not just a danger in cults, it is a philosophy that has threatened Christianity throughout the centuries. Dualists believe in the existence of a radical split between the body and the soul, and that the human body and material world are evil. As Richard Wilkenson writes in the journal Regeneration Quarterly, dualism “led the early church to devalue the body, sexuality, [and] the arts.” But Scripture explicitly rejects this view. Genesis teaches that God created the heavens and the earth, including the human body. The apostle Paul refers to our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, and Timothy writes that “everything God created is good.” As Paul Tillich writes, this is the meaning of the first article of the Apostles’ Creed. “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” By this confession, Christianity separated itself from the dualism that was inherent in paganism. The biblical message is clear: The human body itself is not evil—it’s the desires of the flesh—things like fornication, jealousy, and drunkenness—that are sinful and must be brought under control. This devaluation of the material world still influences the church, particularly in relation to the world of the arts. Whenever the church today is infected by spirit-matter dualism, Wilkenson says, the church disparages the arts and culture as “secular”: “The God of the evangelicals becomes . . . the god of prayer, Bible study, and evangelism only.” That’s why it’s so important to grasp the full message of the biblical world view. There’s a reason we Christians don’t all run out and buzz-cut our hair and wear identical Nike shoes. We value the physical world that God has given us. And churches ought to be a place where people hear a life-affirming message—a message that values the human body, human creativity, and human culture. It’s a message—the orthodox Christian truth—that provides one of the greatest protections we can have against the confusion of the cults.


Chuck Colson


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