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Violence and New Religious Movements$
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James R. Lewis

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199735631

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199735631.001.0001

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The Euphemization of Violence

The Euphemization of Violence

The Case of Heaven’s Gate

(p.173) 8 The Euphemization of Violence
Violence and New Religious Movements

Benjamin E. Zeller

Oxford University Press

In 1997 the members of Heaven’s Gate, a small UFO religion, committed mass suicide in Southern California. Given the group’s original teaching of bodily ascension into waiting UFOs, analysts have often called attention to the contradiction between its early eschatology and its later valorization of suicide. This chapter takes a new approach by considering what it refers to as the “euphemization of violence”—the rhetorical transformation of (self-)violence into a more benign act. After providing an overview of the group’s history, the chapter traces this transformation through three phases of the movement’s twenty-year history.

Keywords:   Heaven’s Gate, euphemization, UFO religion, New Age, suicide, mass suicide, rhetoric of violence

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