“For many years I had so much anger in me, but I didn’t know why. The only thing I knew was that I was angry at God every day when I woke up because he had let me live.”
Those words echoed the sentiments of several survivors that escaped one of the largest mass suicides in modern history.
As referenced in part one of this topic, it is evident that most of America does not seem to grasp the true nature of cults. The answer lies within its definition: “a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator.” In other words, a system of repair for an issue designed by the same ones that “decided” it was broken! It is just that simple. Those who understand how to take advantage of such systems leave a bloody trail of destruction, damaged psyches, tattered lives, and often bodies in their wake.
Case in point:
Some names are synonymous with their best-known affiliated actions. Benedict Arnold- treason; Judas Iscariot-betrayal; Apostle Thomas- his moment of doubt. Although the name Jim Jones might be counted among those few, it is for a far more sinister reason.
As a young man, Jones was a shy, very disturbed loner who had trouble meeting people, yet was a voracious reader, studying Marx, Gandhi, Stalin, and others. It was through this arena that he gained a knowledge of betraying others through their trust. Though he also studied Gandhi, his only extrapolation was that of how to attract others to himself through a mask of dedication and feigned piety.
However, it was his use (or abuse) of God that garnered him the notoriety he had been searching for. Through many ministries and “Christian,” endeavors, his ultimate ministry and legacy was the establishment of “The People’s Temple” in Indianapolis in 1955. It would be 10 years later when he would move the temple to San Francisco, where at its peak, his congregation numbered over 3,000 members.
It was also during this time that Jones began a rejection of traditional Christianity, abdicating it for a form of communism which Jones called “Apostolic Socialism.” The members that embraced him nonetheless were the subsequent catalyst for his final church. After convincing more than 1,000 members to move the temple to
Guyana, South America, he renamed it Jonestown.
A New Way of Life
After arriving at their new destination, everything changed. In an article from History.com, a much different Jim Jones was now in charge: “Temple members worked long days in the fields and were subjected to harsh punishments if they questioned Jones’ authority. Their passports and medications were confiscated, and they were plagued by mosquitoes and tropical diseases.
Armed guards patrolled the jungle compound. Members were encouraged to inform on one another and were forced to attend lengthy, late-night meetings. Their letters and phone calls were censored. Jones, who by then was in declining mental health and addicted to drugs, had his own throne in the compound’s main pavilion and compared himself to Vladimir Lenin and Jesus Christ.
Jones was convinced that the government, the media and others were out to destroy him. He also required Peoples Temple members to participate in mock suicide drills in the middle of the night.” By this stage California Congressman Leo Ryan got involved. After hearing from some of his constituents that their family
members were trapped in a cult, Ryan went to Guyana with reporters, photographers and several relatives of Temple members.
Jones welcomed Ryan and the others, even giving them a tour. During the visit, however, several Temple members asked the Congressman to help them escape. As he prepared to leave the next day, Ryan, along with his group and an escapee were ambushed at the airstrip; all were murdered.
Later that day, Jones told his followers that soldiers were coming “to torture them,” and ordered everyone to gather at the main pavilion to commit a “revolutionary act.” On that day November 18th, 1978, Jones conducted a mass suicide by consuming sedatives, cyanide and fruit punch, taking the lives of more than 900 people; 304 of them were children.
Incidentally, the Jonestown tragedy was the event that sparked the phrase “drinking the Kool-Aid.” Particulars aside, every cult begins and operates with the same goal: get as many as you can to drink the Kool-Aid and repeat the process.
The opening quote was from Leslie Wagner-Wilson, a Jonestown survivor who still struggles with the death-by cyanide that she and 11 others avoided, escaping just hours before their fellow congregants
took their own lives. While many cults have claimed countless victims, those most victimized are often those that survive.
Why do cults remain?
Some say it is due to the hypocrisies and falsities of religious organizations. While there may be some truth to that, one fact is inescapable: personal responsibility lies at the center. Those that operate cults and cult-like entities are counting on those of us whose arrogance and pride hinder us from self-awareness.
When we take responsibility, not just for the accolades when we and our children are successful, but also at those times as well when we fail, that humility provides the key to preventing any indoctrination or brainwashing- at least on our watch.