Goths: Morose outcasts in dire need of acceptance

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/April 27, 1999
By Ann Rodgers-Melnick

On Thursday nights, David Hart dons a black trench coat, black shirt, pants and boots and heads for a club called The Soil, where heavily pierced patrons emulate Count Dracula and Morticia Addams.

The clothing is clerical garb for Hart, a fiftyish, Christian youth minister from San Diego. He's one of the few ministers who specialize in reaching out to the music-centered, underground youth subcultures.

These ministers say they doubt the youths who launched the massacre at a Colorado high school last week were true "goths," who Hart describes as gentle, passive souls who would shrink from harming others. Most likely the assailants identified with the industrial subculture, which can overlap with the goths on the left and the neo-Nazis on the right. Unlike the goths, which re-enact Victorian horror literature, those in the industrial subculture are more fascinated with video violence.

Though fed by other influences, the gothic scene was born in a London club called the Bat Cave in the early '80s, Hart said. It featured bands such as Siouxie and the Banshees. Depeche Mode popularized the sound, though hard-core goths loathe all popularizers, including Marilyn Manson.

Manson, an industrial artist who almost parodies goth, can be an emotional gateway to the gothic-industrial scene, said Walt Mueller, founder of the Center for Parent-Youth Understanding in Elizabethtown.

"Manson is the skinny little kid who was picked on all the time and is now responding to what went on in his life. His message is that he is calling the disenfranchised, the skinny little kids who get picked on all the time -- which seems to fit with the description of these two boys in Colorado -- to come together, believe in themselves and exercise their rights," he said.

In fashion and philosophy, goths style themselves after horror literature. Dabblers content themselves with Anne Rice. Devotees delve into Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker and Edgar Allen Poe.

"These kids romanticize death. They romanticize the blade, the blood that trickles down. They write very, very sad introspective, self-absorbed poetry," Hart said.

Hart's Web site, "The Sanctuary," promotes itself as "a fellowship of Christian misfits -- a spiritual alternative for the disenfranchised ... We are here for anyone seeking sanctuary and looking for answers in a big, dark universe."

Although their studied weirdness is calculated to invite rejection, that's the worst thing to do to these teens, the ministers say. They desperately need responsible peers and adults to listen to them, to understand their philosophy and to accept them.

In the wake of the Colorado massacre, "My question is, where was the teacher, or the Christian kids on the campus, who made an effort to make inroads with these kids? It was obvious that they needed healthy friends," said Hart, who has written for major ministries, including Youth Specialties and Focus on the Family.

Mueller said one former goth told him, "the people who look the strangest and the hardest on the outside are the ones who are the softest and have the greatest needs on the inside."

Mueller said, "Our typical response when we see them is to cross the street so we don't have to go close to them. What we are doing is pushing them further and further away. That is what they are reacting against in the first place."

Evangelical Protestants are not alone in reaching out to goths and their kin.

Some former punk musicians in California who converted to the Eastern Orthodox faith run the Death to the World organization. The name is a theological double entendre on a New Testament concept.

They find that goths are sometimes drawn to the Orthodox ethos of candles, icons, chanting and elaborate vestments.

Death to the World has more than a dozen coffeehouses across the United States, said Frederica Matthewes-Green, an Antiochian Orthodox writer from Baltimore. Although the group is not affiliated with a canonical Orthodox church, its theology is legitimate, Matthewes-Green said.

Hart began his work 15 years ago as a promoter for the Christian metal band Stryper. A former Navy drug counselor who was raised Presbyterian and graduated from the more Baptist-oriented Talbot Theological Seminary, Hart saw teens with profound emotional needs who wouldn't fit into any church youth group.

Hart started home groups for the goths, who dislike crowds. He urges them to give up drugs, promiscuity, cutting themselves and other self-destructive habits, but he urges their parents not to condemn the whole lifestyle.

There are clear signs that the killers at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., were not gothic, he said. Goths cut themselves with knives but eschew guns. Their politics run to the liberal, feminist and environmentalist. They fantasize about killing themselves, not others.

"Goth kids don't spend hours on the computer learning to build bombs," Hart said.

But they share some fashions and music and a death obsession with the more aggressive industrial crew. KMFDM, a German industrial band that Littleton's Trench Coat Mafia reportedly listened to, is similar in style to many neo-Nazi bands, Hart said.

Hart said most gothic and industrial youths come from intact, often affluent families in which both parents are dedicated to careers outside the home. These parents have extremely high expectations of their children but offer little emotional support, Hart said.

Believing they can never live up to expectations, goths withdraw into melancholic apathy while industrial teens lash out with anger and aggression.

Some puzzle pieces in the Colorado tragedy, including one boy's interest in fantasy baseball, suggest that the Trench Coat Mafia had desperately wanted to be jocks but were rejected, Hart said.

Unlike some youth subcultures that believe in God but reject organized religion, goths often reject God but keep religious trappings, Hart said.

Most religious goths are self-styled practitioners of Wicca, an ancient Celtic nature religion, he said, while others dabble in spiritualism, a religion that tries to communicate with the dead through seances. Few are Satanists, Hart said.

They can relate to the Jesus whose own friends failed to understand him, Hart said. He tells them that vampirism is a counterfeit of the life given them through the blood of Jesus, that his crucifixion was the piercing to end all piercing.

He recalled one girl who was 15 when he first saw her in a parking lot behind a club that held weekly gothic nights. She invited him to a ceremony in which participants cut themselves and bled into a cup, from which they then drank. She thought it was a spell to make themselves into vampires. Hart insisted that it was a fine way to get AIDS.

His arguments prevailed and, two years later, the girl became a Christian. Hart tries to help Christian goths sort through which parts of their lifestyle are acceptable and which they should give up.

There is now a Christian gothic and industrial music sub-subculture. Savior Machine is in the midst of producing a three-disc project setting the book of Revelation as an industrial rock opera.

A major breakthrough came four years ago, when Evil Eva of the gothic band Christian Death became a Christian, Hart said.

Evil Eva now performs Christian gothic as Eva O and has a huge following in Europe, Hart said. She is doing a two-disc project, the first of which reflects her earlier devotion to Satanism until the very end, when she cries out for rescue. The second disc will be her Christian testimony, Hart said.

As he reflects on the Littleton tragedy, Hart believes that teaching acceptance is the best response schools could make. Diversity education often addresses only racial and sexual issues, but cliques don't always form along racial and sexual lines. For many teen-agers it would hit closer to home if the jocks were taught to appreciate the computer nerds, and the computer nerds to accept the socialites, he said.

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