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In the Shadow of the Cult

Posted by Jedi Cool , 09 November 2011 · 1,615 views

I remember it must have been about 1980 or 1981. I was in 4th or 5th grade when a girl around the corner from our house in a small suburban Indianapolis neighborhood invited me to her house for a Bible study.

My parents said, "No". I didn't understand why.
"We don't know them". What did that matter?

As I understood things, the Bible was read by Christians and my family was Christian so, if I was being invited to a Bible study, it must have been held by fellow Christians. Why did not knowing them make a difference? After all, the Bible was the Bible.

I was told that some people don't use the same Bible. The end.

Flash-forward almost 30 years later. I was watching the History Channel and ran into a documentary called "Jonestown: Paradise Lost" about the deaths of over 900 members of Peoples Temple led by Jim Jones.

I knew little about Jones before then. I learned a lot very quickly. Such as, he originated in Indianapolis where he started his first congregation. The building still stands. Riveted by the documentary, I read more about Jones. How he started off as a minister, but began incorporating the works of Marx into his sermons and how he used Bible verses to justify Marxism, turning his church into what ultimately became an organization that was not based on Christianity, but of socialistic atheism. Jim Jones went from proclaiming God to proclaiming himself as God to proclaiming there was no God. Whether he ever really believed in God and lost faith or just knew early on that, by going into the ministry, he would have a ready-made flock to follow his whims is probably always going to be a mystery. Certainly many people left when he began dismissing the Bible and declaring himself God. Many people didn't.

His message appealed to the downtrodden, the idealogical young people of the late '60s and early '70s who had learned to distrust those in authority. Minorities. Hippies. The elderly.

From what has been said, Peoples Temple accomplished a lot of good, despite the message being preached.

Despite Jim Jones himself.

The 30th anniversary of the mass murder of nearly a thousand people has come and gone. I say mass murder because that's what it was. Almost 300 children didn't choose to commit suicide. Malnourished, exhausted, hopeless people led by a drug-addled delusional despot may have taken the poison themselves, especially after the loss of their children. But could one call that willingly when there were armed guards around them? There is evidence some were injected against their will.

In my readings, I've found the survivors have a profound sadness at the sense of community that they lost. And have never recovered from the loss of that community.

So, it was with great interest that I found a website called Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple. Operated by San Diego State University, the intent is to document the history and lives of those who were members of the congregation and to humanize them. To rebut the belief that they were a bunch of crazy cultists. Former members provide insight. Surviving family members and friends tell stories of the dead. Commentators exude their insights. The picture is of a caring, passionate, intelligent congregation of people as normal as you or I.

Nevertheless, I found myself getting really angry when reading some of the opinion pieces. One, in particular, laments she wasn't there when everyone died because Jones had insisted she have some much-needed dental work done. I mean, you can tell Jim Jones wasn't a monster because he insisted one of his most devoted followers have some dental work done outside the encampment, right? Meanwhile, according to another member, old people were refused food if they didn't learn Russian properly. The very tone of this Jones devotee's piece describes someone who was drinking Jones' figurative Kool-Aid long before hundreds of people were pressured or forced to injest poisoned FlaVorAid (Fans of my husband's writing will recognize this reference to his entry of 03/25/2007). Further, it sounds very much as if she is still drinking it. If one hopes to find one of those normal parishoners I spoke of in the previous paragraph, this one ain't it.

Speaking of how Jonestown has entered pop culture, consider this entry: http://jonestown.sdsu.edu/

This guy hates the term "drinking the Kool-Aid". I don't blame him. But his argument is that this irreverent phrase stems from the fact that 70% of those who died in Guyana were black. Because Society cannot take the deaths of black people seriously, we have to make jokes about it. And then he goes on to declare that this lack of consideration actually stems from an attitude about people of color that explains why people of the same color were trapped in New Orleans during Katrina.

in other words, if you use the phrase, "Drink the Kool-Aid", you're minimizing the deaths of hundreds of black people. You're racist. And you are of the same mentality as those who couldn't get their act together the week Katrina hit.

The U.S. Congressman, NBC cameraman, and hundreds of Peoples Temple members who were white are obviously not included in the joke, I guess? Just as no white folks suffered in New Orleans that first week either?

Let's be clear about this. "Drinking the Kool-Aid" has nothing to do with race. Prior to my learning about the Jonestown Massacre, I had no idea how many people of how many races comprised the Peoples Temple. Doubtless, a great many other people don't know either.

For better or for worse, "drinking the Kool-Aid" is used to describe someone who blindly follows a leader or doctrine regardless of how harmful, unreasonable or illogical it is. I've been told I drink the Kool-Aid just because I subscribe to certain religious or political views. In my opinion, the people who think the mismanagement of resources that led to New Orleans residents floating on water for a week had anything to do with race are also drinking the Kool-Aid. The term isn't applied to present-day situations based on race, so there's no reason why it should have originated there either.

It originated because people needed a reason to explain why caring, passionate, intelligent people as normal as you or I would let one man dominate them to the point where they fed their children poison and then took it themselves.

And that is a psychological condition that crosses all racial lines. And all ages.

Which is why, only two to three years after almost 300 children died a horrible death on the orders of a man who started by preaching his own version of the Bible...in Indianapolis...an 11-year old Hoosier girl wasn't allowed to go to a Bible study run by people her parents didn't know.

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