PRESENTATION: Jonestown massacre/collective suicide
The Jonestown massacre happened in 1978.
It was a political and religious cult called the Peoples Temple that was started by Jim Jones. Jim Jones was first an active KKK-member, then turned completely and began a struggle against racism. He met Father Divine (a legendary black pastor from Philadelphia) and was very inspired by his preaching as well as his control over the congregation. JJ founded the Peoples Temple in 1965 in Indianapolis. Later the church moved to San Francisco.
The church had from the start very positive engagements, such as working against segregation and racism, and they also did a lot of humanitarian work (soupkitchens, helping orphanage children). They were well respected in the community – as late as 1978, the year of the massacre, the famous politician Harvey Milk articulated his support for Jones – but ended up committing collective suicide costing 918 lives after moving to Guyana, South America.
There are many interesting and horrifying aspects of this cult.
- it wanted to do good to begin with. Had a visionary leader that seemed very generous and good. Jim Jones also had very good connections with respected politicians. He was well known and very appreciated.
- Interesting mix of beliefs: Christianity & socialism.
- Had control over so many (7500 people at one time)
- Goes so far. They´re prepared to kill other people and themselves for a cause- socialism- nothing promising on the other side.
I believe it is a myth that only weak, confused people end up in cults. It is a process of socialization that happens gradually. The signs aren’t noticeable in the beginning. In the case of Jonestown the good deeds, the fellowship, and a charismatic leader. Even the leader has probably good intentions to begin with.
The reaction of society towards a radical group can in fact strengthen the tendencies to fanaticism. When threatened and encountering external critique the group grows tighter and is strengthened in their beliefs.
No faith, dogma, or political ideology is safe from ending up fanatic and can all go this far.
The conclusion is usually that we need stricter laws and more control to prevent this from happening. But that could in extension mean making society more “sectarian” in not allowing anything that deviates from the norm. No system can guarantee absolute soundness. Does that mean that it is ultimately up to the individual?