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CSI, Heaven’s Gate, and Evil
Please turn in your Bibles to the book of Proverbs, chapter 3, and follow along as I read verses 7-8.
7 Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil.
8 It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
CSI is a TV series which follows detectives working at the Las Vegas Police Department Crime Scene Investigations bureau. Since its debut in 2000, CSI has been consistently at the top of the ratings. Last week it was once again the number one rated TV show in America. It is also the most violent TV show in America. It has really graphic scenes of headless bodies and gaping wounds. The redeeming values of the show are that the plots are well-written, the actors do a good job, and the bad people die in all sorts of ugly ways. So the show often, but not always, has a moral: Do evil and evil happens to you.
I might as well ‘fess up here. I am a fan of CSI. That does not mean that I am not critical of the show, but I usually watch it.
Last week’s episode (October 13) was entitled “Shooting Stars.” The CSI team discovered eleven bodies in an abandoned military installation outside Las Vegas. They also found a round room with a sphere in the center of the room that would light up and create the effect of a meteor shower on the ceiling. It looked like the group was similar to the Heaven's Gate Cult. The eleven victims timed their suicide to coincide with a meteor shower that occurred the previous night.
In the course of the show, we learn that the group actually did not intend to commit suicide. They intended to take a potion that would render them unconscious and capable of communing with aliens in the meteor shower, but one member of the group is sure that by their deaths, they could be raptured out of this world and rise up to live on a higher, purer plane with powerful alien beings, or something like that. And she is certain that is what they really want, so she administers a lethal drug in place of a sleeping potion, and kills them all.
As I watched that show, I thought, It is amazing how easily we convince ourselves that something that is obviously evil is really all right. Now that CSI is just a TV show, but the way they depicted the murderer’s thought processes seemed all too real.
Do you remember the real Heaven’s Gate Cult? In 1997, thirty-nine members of the cult committed mass suicide. They were led by Marshall Herff Applewhite (b. 1931), the son of a Presbyterian minister. Applewhite attended Union Theological Seminary in Richmond for awhile and then served as music director at the First Presbyterian Church in Gastonia, N.C. before he went west and went weird.
Apparently, he and his cult believed that salvation is by UFO. In the mid-nineties, Heaven’s Gate got all excited about the approach of comet Hale-Bopp One photograph by an amateur astronomer seemed to show an object following the comet. UFO believers proclaimed that this object was a spaceship.
The Heaven's Gate cultists thought that this supposed spaceship had come to take them away before the earth was destroyed. They decided that the only way they could get to the spaceship, and be saved from total destruction, was by “exiting their human vehicles.”
On March 27, 1997, in Rancho Santa Fe, California, Applewhite and his disciples drank vodka and ate phenobarbitol-laced apple sauce. A video of the bodies in bunkbeds, covered neatly with purple blankets and wearing identical, brand-new, Nike sneakers, was shown repeatedly during the media coverage following the suicides.
The members of Heaven’s Gate were all ages, but mostly in their forties. They were mature individuals. The question is: How did they reason themselves into doing evil? How was it that thirty-nine intelligent and fairly well-educated individuals convinced themselves that committing suicide was a good idea?
We could ask the same question about Jonestown. In 1978, followers of Jim Jones committed mass suicide in Guyana at a site called, Jonestown. They fixed up a huge quantity of fruit punch laced with cyanide. They then made all 276 children at Jonestown drink the punch, then the adults followed. In the end, Jones killed himself with a gunshot to the head. 914 people died.
Why? Why would any adult assist in murdering 276 children, then kill themselves? That was evil. We all agree on that. Jim Jones was evil. Marshall Applewhite was evil.
How do we know this? By what they did. By their actions. And even before they acted, we could have known they were evil, by what they said, because they used words to justify their evil actions. Applewhite’s cult talked about “exiting the human vehicle.” Jim Jones had his people down in Guyana practicing suicide rituals. Again I say, it is amazing to me how people can reason their way into evil acts.
Perhaps the question for us today is: if you are around people who are reasoning toward evil, do you have the moral character to say, “No, this is not for me. This is wrong. I’m out of here.”
You might say that if they had just had religion they would not have thought in such evil ways, and a person with strong religious background would not have gone along with such people, but, in fact, religion is the motivating factor among such groups.
Marshall Applewhite had a strong Presbyterian background. His UFO cult was based on Christian apocalyptic ideas. Jim Jones’s People’s temple was a religious movement. Moslem terrorists claim to be doing the will of God. How can we know that they are not doing the will of God?
By their actions. When Moslem terrorists drove airplanes into buildings on 9/11/01, they did it in the name of Allah. They thought America was the Great Satan, oppressing the people of the Middle East, and the World Trade Center was the symbol of American economic power; therefore Allah would approve of them killing 3000 people—such is the reasoning of evil.
Obviously then Proverbs 3:7 is good advice: “Depart from evil.” The book of proverbs is a book of good advice. In chapter 1, wisdom is personified as a prophet and speaks to us, telling us things we need to know.
In chapter 3, verse 5, wisdom says, “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.” Repetition of ideas is a characteristic of Hebrew poetry, and we find the same idea again in v7: “Be not wise in thine own eyes.”
Don’t trust human reasoning, human thought patterns, human attitudes; rely instead on God. In the past, several people have accused me of being too devoted to logic and reason. I tend to try to respond to situations logically and calmly. I suppose that is just my personality. Logic and reason are excellent ways to deal with the things of this world. The scientific method, which proceeds by hypothesis and experiment, is the best way of finding out things about this world. But neither science nor reason helps all that much when we come to the things of God. We cannot prove scientifically that God even exists. But there is a language of the heart, a language of intuition, that assures us that God exists.
The book of Proverbs speaks to us in that same religious language. It says, “Fear the LORD, and depart from evil.” Be in awe of God, treat the holy one with reverence, and therefore have nothing to do with evil. How do you know when you are in the presence of a man or a woman of God? A basic thing is that they have no evil in them. They are not talking about flying planes into buildings, they are not talking about taking poison to meet aliens. This does not mean that they are talking about God all the time. They may be talking about sports or the weather, or even TV shows, but they certainly are not trying to justify evil actions.
The book of Proverbs says that when we meet people who try to make those justifications, who try to reason us into the acceptance of evil, we should put distance between them and us. Have nothing to do with them. Depart from them.
And v8 assures us that when we act in this way, “It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones.” This is a healthy way to live. In Eastern thought, the center of your being is at the navel or just below the navel—what we would call the lower abdomen. I used to study the martial arts. In Eastern martial arts, there is a lot of literature about centering yourself on the lower abdomen. This is done usually by meditation and deep breathing. The theory is that when you are centered entirely on that area, you are ready to become the perfect warrior who acts with no mind.
Proverbs 3:8 has some of that way of thinking, but it goes in a different direction. Proverbs indicates that the navel is indeed the center of our being but the way we become centered is to live in the Lord and walk in his ways. V6 says, “In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” If we live in the lord, we will be guided by the lord. I said that the question was: How do we avoid evil ways of thinking? Proverbs says, if we are centered on God, God will guide us. Proverbs 1:7 makes this same point: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” What Proverbs says is that you do not know anything unless your knowing is permeated and saturated by reverence for God. This is the only kind of knowing that is worth having. This kind of knowing gives “marrow to your bones” and life to your soul.
This knowing is not just affirming some things about God. It is not just saying that there is a God. It is knowing in the marrow of your bones, in the depths of your being, that God is acting in your life for a purpose.
God acts. You might say that the whole Bible is not just about God; The Bible is about God’s actions. Genesis 1:1 begins by describing God creating. We read in Exodus about God acting to bring the people out of Egyptian slavery. The New Testament is about God acting in Jesus. The Bible ends in Revelation with God acting to create a new heaven and a new earth. The point is: God acts in time and space. God has a purpose. The purpose is the achievement of what Jesus called the Kingdom of God. Thus, the cosmos has a direction, toward the Kingdom.
God is everywhere, so that means God acts everywhere to bring about this purpose. God acts where we are. God acts in our lives. Our part then is to cooperate with God. We are to participate in God’s actions. We should move things, in so far as we are able, in the direction that God is going. How do we do that? By acting the way God has told us to act. Proverbs 3:1, “My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments:”
The purpose of the law of God is to keep us aligned with the divine direction of the universe. God is moving events toward the Kingdom. How do we know that we are moving in that same direction? We keep God’s law.
Look at it from the opposite way. The definition of sin is: Failure to keep God’s law. Question 14 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks: “What is sin?” The answer is: “Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” Sin is opposition to the way of God. God is moving events toward his kingdom. Sin is any hindering of God’s purpose. If you like images, you might say that God is going this way, and sin is an attempt to go that way.
But that brings us back to our question: How do we recognize the way of God and avoid the opposite way? I want to be part of God’s movement toward the Kingdom. How do I do that? Just saying that I am guided by God does not mean much, because Moslem terrorists say they are doing God’s will when they killing people. How can we know we are guided by God?
The New Testament reveals to us that God is love. Jesus summarized the whole law of God in terms of two commandments: Love God and love others. That is how we know something is of God; it is also of love. And the most basic aspect of love is to do no harm—to do not harm to others or to ourselves.
So if a person says to you, “I love God, lets all commit suicide.” You know you are not dealing with a person who loves God. You are dealing with a nut case. “Depart from evil.”
Whenever a person starts reasoning towards justifying doing evil to others, no matter how much that person invokes the name of God or Jesus, he has nothing to do with God and Jesus. That is not the way God is going, and that is not the way we want to be going.
You know evil by its actions. You know God by his actions, his actions of love. Every day, in every way, make sure which side you are on. Be on God’s side, keep God’s law of love. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 11/21/05