The Meaning of Jonestown


The anniversary of the breaking up of my cult is coming up. It’s been almost a year since that night. Since the world found out how just evil our group had been.


This week I’ve been thinking a lot about it. Remembering the poor boy who lost his life in my last week of college. The anniversary of his death is coming up, too. It’s weird how, even though I no longer believe he was killed by God, his death still doesn’t seem random. It seems like the logical culmination of all our hysteria and hatred.


Just like *Betania’s.


The truth is, wherever spiritual oppression exists on that level, tragedy is not far off.


To help me process, I’ve been doing some journaling about those events, focusing especially on the last month of college leading up to the death of my friend Jordan*. It’s just so chilling. I get chills whenever I have to go back and read what I’ve written, and I don’t think I fully realized how scary things were already getting, before we even moved to Kansas City.


The lies. The control. The way *Timothy would speak through people, so you would hear their voices but the words coming out of their mouths were not their own. The way the most innocent pastimes were blasted as idolatrous, while hateful and murderous ideas were blessed with transfiguring grace.


The whole sequence of events reads like a freaky dystopian horror. But it all really happened.


And writing about it, and thinking about it, I was reminded of this passage in a book that I ran across on my trip to the library on the morning of November 10, 2012, just a few hours before the Group was exposed before the world.


It’s from the book Ponzi Schemes, Invaders from Mars, and More: Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, by Joseph Bulgatz:


“Nothing that had gone before could have prepared the public for what happened at Jonestown . . . Sorcery seems the appropriate term, suggesting both the astonishing influence Jones had over the group and a mysterious, even otherworldly cause.


“In listening to the tape or reading the transcript of the temple’s final minutes, one begins to feel separated from reality and wonders whether the individuals who cheered Jones’s plan for revolutionary suicide and then lined up in orderly fashion to die had not been taken over by some mysterious, alien influence.


“Perhaps more apposite than the image of Kurtz in Heart of Darkness surrendering to his savage self is the sinister method by which people’s souls were stolen in The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In that film classic the horror was heightened by the silent and invisible process by which plantlike beings from another world invaded and took over human beings. In some mysterious fashion an individual’s very soul was destroyed and he continued to exist only as a robot.


“A similar feeling can be detected in the shocked reaction to the Jonestown deaths. How, we ask, could all of those people somehow be transformed into mechanical beings who, when directed by their master, would not only agree to kill themselves, but do it enthusiastically? How could mothers, insensible of the powerful urges of motherhood, poison the infants in their arms? Somehow the souls of these people, or their very identities – the most fundamental, private and cherished parts of their being – had been surreptitiously stolen. Only words were needed and the process was completed while the victims went about their daily tasks . . .”


“In the years after World War II, when civilized nations were still shocked by the policies and deeds of the Nazis and struggled to understand how such evil could have taken root in the cultured soil of Germany, psychologists showed rather conclusively through experiments that anyone could be conditioned to treat his fellow humans in the most bestial fashion. To the revelation that we are all potential Nazis, Jonestown now appears to add the awful truth that each of us is vulnerable to having his or her precious individuality stolen. Perhaps we only think we are strong individuals, self-reliant, and rational at all times.”


One thought on “The Meaning of Jonestown

  1. Pingback: Link the Hedgehog (Photographs) | thetalkingllama

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