The People’s Temple, also known as the Peoples Temple of the Disciples of Christ, was a religious movement of the 1950s. However, the movement is known primarily for the mass suicide, which its members committed on November 18, 1978, in Guyana (Moore 47). The doctrine of the movement was based on the Marxist principles, which Jones was inspired by. The movement was started by Jim Jones, who participated in the WWI. Belonging to both the Welsh and the Irish cultures, Jones was repeatedly told by his mother that he was a messiah.
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Inspired by his mother’s words and feeling consistently oppressed due to the injustice that Black people had to face at the time, Jones decided to herald a new era when people of the African-American descent could feel powerful and socially accepted as well. The People’s Temple was founded in 1955 and dissolved in the late 1970s due to the financial issues. Particularly, the organization went bankrupt in 1978. The movement itself began in San Francisco, where the headquarters of the church were located.
In many ways, the upbringing of Jim Jones and his childhood years defined the cult movement that he created. Jim Jones was born on May, 13, in 1931 in Randolph County, Indiana. He was born during the period of the Great Depression. Jones faced numerous misfortunes connected with the historical period. The very town in which he lived was small end extremely divided on the basis of racial differences. Jones’ parents had a farm. They lost it as many people during Depression. The family became extremely poor. Although great losses were typical experience in the 1930s, Jones’ family seemed to be the poorest in that small town. Jones realized that he was the poorest of the poor. This situation caused various inner sufferings and troubles. Jim Jones was ashamed of the fact that his family was the poorest, and his father was an alcoholic. This continuous feeling of shame and sufferings because of poverty led to the development of mental disorders. Consequently, the boy felt like an outsider in all social groups including school and even his family (Maynard par. 15).
The relations within the family were significant for the future development of the child. Jim Jones’ father was not an example to follow. As it has been already mentioned, he suffered from alcoholism. Jim’s father never devoted his time to the child. When he did, it was a sign of the future conflict. The severe separation occurred when Jim’s father refused to let the latter’s black friend enter into their house. Jones’ mother was a strong and hard-working woman. However, she neglected her child as well. She was always busy at work or doing some household chores. Jones’ friends remembered that the mother did not display any signs of affection towards her son. Such strained family relations provided a terrible basis for the future development of Jones’ personality.
Jones learned to read in his early childhood years and spent most of his time engulfed with nonfiction books. The environment, in which he grew up, however, caused him to develop severe mental issues. Being often abused as a child, Jim Jones used egocentrism as a self-defense mechanism, therefore, blocking his emotions and developing narcissistic tendencies. Studies show that Kim’s character traits led him to being socially ostracized at school (Maynard par. 3). The shame that he experienced as a result of verbal attacks by his peers led to a significant drop in Jones’s self-esteem. Consequently, he was growing up learning to keep his emotions bottled up and being ashamed of them.
The environment in which the infamous cultist was growing up could be defined as predisposing to the violence that he treated the members of the people’s temple with. While the above-mentioned consistent appraisals received from his mother, who, in all honesty, believed that he was a Messiah, the constant teasing of neighbors mocking his mother’s words made Jones feel unappreciated. However, tracking his early life down is quite complicated, as no records apart from his own recollections have been left:
Much of what is known about Jones’ early life came from his own later recollections. He described being a young hellion in his Indiana hometown: “I was considered the trash of the neighborhood.” He identified with the underdog, fighting off kids who bullied other children, rescuing stray pets, and taking home beggars. (“Biography: Jim Jones” par. 3)
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One must admit, therefore, that, from a psychological perspective, the behavioral patterns displayed by Jones during his childhood and teenage years were already quite disturbing. For instance, there was one time he, being disappointed with one of his friends for skipping a service at the church, took a shotgun and fired at the boy that hurt his feelings of a true believer: “On one occasion Jim was so upset with one of his friends for going home rather than going out and witnessing, that he grabbed his father’s gun and shot at the boys” (Pick-Jones par. 2). Therefore, even at a comparatively young age, Jones already displayed the tendency for deviant and, quite honestly, destructive behavior aimed at seizing control over his peers.
Despite rather dubious relationships between him and his parents, Jones attempted at creating his own family in pursuit of happiness. It is remarkable that, though being allegedly involved in physical relationships with numerous members of his cult, he did not condone premarital sex among the latter and often emphasized the significance of family ties. Whether trying to follow what he was preaching or truly falling in love, he married Marceline Baldwin, one of the nursing students that attended the same school as he did. Evaluating the honesty of his feelings toward Marceline would be quite complicated, especially nowadays, when Jones himself cannot shed any light on the nature and specifics of their relationships. However, the little information that is left shows that the couple did not share as many intimate parts of their lives with each other as married people would be expected t. For instance, Marceline seemed to be completely unaware of the numerous instances of adultery that Jones committed with male and female members of his cult.
Since Jones did not conform to the moral principles that he preached and had numerous liaisons with the female members of his cult, the exact number of his heirs can hardly be calculated. However, even the children that he claimed as his could be characterized by extremely diverse backgrounds. Particularly, Jones fathered not only African American kids but also Korean American and Caucasian children. Due to the numerous cultural heritages of his children, Jones often referred to the latter as the “rainbow family” (“Biography: Jim Jones” par. 7). According to the wills that Jones and his wife signed, the couple had seven children: “Timothy Glen Jones [also known as Timothy Tupper]; Stephan G. Jones; Jim W. Jones Jr; Lew Eric Jones; John Moss Jones; Agnes Pauline Jones; & Suzanne O. Jones” (“The Wills of Jim Jones and Marceline Jones” par. 3).
While one must give Jones credit for providing parental care to a large amount of offspring, it is still rather doubtful that the relationship between him and his kids could be better than those between Jones and his parents. A closer look at the family hierarchy will show that he, in fact, did not try to be a better parent; instead, he focused on the needs of the people belonging to the Temple community, whereas the needs of his own family were often left unattended.
Despite the problems in the ethical makeup of the organization, it provided significant support for its members. While focusing primarily on the needs of African American people, the organization still should be credited for assisting the members of its community extensively. Particularly, People’s Temple offered significant support to the members of its community by creating the so-called Agricultural Project, also known under the title of Jonestown.
It should be noted, though, that, while Jones’ intentions regarding the resurgence of the Black culture and the restoration of the Black community were good, the execution of these objectives gave the organization a bad name and exposed the depth of its leader’s insanity. On the one hand, the idea of helping the local African Americans to find social justice was very noble; on the other hand, the massacre that occurred in Jonestown was y far one of the most tragic events in the U.S. history.
In other words, Jones provided sufficient financial help for the members of the community by investing in its projects. In addition, the members of People’s Temple were provided with enough moral support and encouragement to follow the guidelines of their leader. Nevertheless, the support provided by Jones was only a cover for the further acts of insanity to unravel.
In addition, the financial support, which the members of the community received, often came at a price for the newly recruited members. For instance, the newly recruited followers of the People’s Temple were supposed to give all of their possessions to the organization so that the needs of the rest of the participants could be met: “Jones convinced members to sell their homes and sign over their paychecks and life savings to the movement” (“Jim Jones Jr. Speaks Out” par. 4). Thus, from a financial perspective, the People’s Temple could be defined as a nearly self-sustained organization, as Jones hardly contributed anything to it after the Temple was established as a cult.
One might argue that the close relationships that the members of the community had with each other and especially with Jones served as the means for maintaining some form of order in the community. Although the specified phenomenon cannot be defined as positive, since it was obviously a symptom of these people’s misguided concept of interpersonal relationships, it still provided sufficient support for each resident, therefore, eliminating the threat of rebellion among the members of the organization.
As it has been stressed above, Jones assumed that he had intrinsic leadership qualities and believed that he could be a spiritual guide. However, the specified characteristics of his personality would not have led to him creating his own religious philosophy unless he had had a conflict with the local clergy. After Jones had taken the position of a minister at Somerset Methodist Church, he had a strong conflict with one of the church members, which resulted in Jones’s dismissal as a minister shortly afterward. According to a recent study, it was Jones’s passion in addressing the issue of Black culture and segregation that sparked a conflict in the specified setting (Lundahl and Lundius 311). Since the local clergy refused to incorporate the issues concerning the segregation of African Americans into the set of problems that the church addressed, Jim Jones decided to start his own one.
Being the project based on the denial of racial profiling and the demand for racial tolerance, the People’s Temple movement heralded two key ideas as the tenets of its philosophy. Particularly, the concept of radical racial tolerance and sharing, as well as a consistent mutual support among the members of the church, were promoted actively among the participants of the movement. In other words, the representatives of the people’s Temple believed that all people must be equal no matter what race or ethnicity they belong to. In addition, the traditional Christian values were reinforced in the specified organization to the nth degree (Mazur 198).
Despite the fact that the People’s Temple was a cult with rather dangerous philosophy, the number of Jones’s followers was enormous. Apart from being instantly interested in the religious doctrine that Jones created, people seemed to accept the principles that he heralded as the basis for a true believer to evolve on far too soon and without proper thinking. However, a closer look at the subject matter will reveal that Jones, in fact, affected people on not a spiritual but a social level by appealing to their concept of social justice and equality.
As it has been stressed above, the organization managed to grab people’s attention by confining its members to committing a mass suicide in Jonestown. However, before from the specified event, Jones had managed to put the People’s Temple into the limelight quite a few times. Specifically, he emphasized the political implications of his organization’s operation and stressed the importance of restoring social justice in the United States. Particularly, Jones managed to create strong ties with the political organizations that were powerful at the time, therefore, making sure that the People’s Temple could receive enough support from the local authorities.
In addition, the agreements that Jones managed to sign with several political parties were discussed largely in media; as a result, not only the local authorities but also the residents of the communities located in the vicinity were aware of the organization, its operations, goals, and key accomplishments. As Jones gained ab increasingly large attention among the U.S. residents, the People’s Temple the organization was discussed and joined by increasingly more people.
In fact, Jones’ attempts at creating strong ties with politicians were not as harmless as they might seem. In return for the favors that political figures had to offer, i.e., media attention, Jones had to engage in a number of ethically dubious acts, such as the endorsement of a specific political party by the entire community: “He was able to get favorable treatment and political leverage based on his relationship with local, state, and even national politicians. In exchange, Jones would instruct his people to vote in a single bloc and to campaign tirelessly for Jones’s political allies” (Houchen par. 3). In other words, Jones clearly attempted at gaining political attention of the organization so that the People’s Temple could be lit by the local media. The methods which he used, however, were the exact opposite of the values that he preached.
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Although the background of the movement does not seem to be very trustworthy and appears to be based on a misconception about the very foundation of any religion, it would be wrong to claim that the movement had solely negative effects. On the opposite, the people’s Temple was favored in Indiana by a few people for its attempts at bringing the members of the Black community together and contributing to the fight for racial equality.
According to Jones’s doctrine, the requirement to “make a conscious decision to abandon the race prejudice that permeated the culture in which they lived” (Follmer par. 7) was included in the set of requirements for people to meet when joining the specified organization. In order to join the People’s Temple, the followers of Jones had to help the poor and engage in similar kinds of charity activities. In addition, it was necessary to reject racial and cultural prejudice against African Americans. In return, people were allegedly supposed to receive support from the Temple community.
The people that the movement consisted of could be described as rather inert and subdued. The specified characteristics of the target audience were predetermined by the restrictions that the church imposed on them so that they could follow Jones’s orders without questioning his choices. In late 70s, the People’s Temple was relocated to Guyana. The reasons for Jones to move his organization were rather basic. Disturbed by the contents of the article by Kurdiff, which exposed their tragic past and pointed to the fact that all members of the movement suffered some sort of abuse, Jones decided that the reputation of the movement may be blemished. Thus, he decided to move to the area where people could not learn the compromising details of the followers’ lives.
Unfortunately, Kurdiff’s report was true; the members of the organization were systematically abused by Jones. Particularly, the issues regarding gender profiling and discrimination of women can be listed as the key instances of abuse in the temple: “there are reports that women were frequently sexually abused by Jones and were forced to publicly complain about their husband’s lovemaking” (Pick-Jones par. 11).
While the history of the People’s Temple is rather long, the infamous Jonestown incident is, perhaps, what people remember best about the organization. In 1978, the members of the People’s Temple were subjected to an analysis carried out by Leo Ryan. Aiming at identifying the signs and effects of abuse in similar cult organizations, he inspected the members of the people’s Temple only to find out that Jones’s subordinates were abused severely on a regular basis. Jones attacked Ryan, which triggered further shooting and the following death of 909 Jonestown citizens and the suicide of the Temple members from poisoning. Jones defined the suicide as a protest against the corrupt system and the threat that he claimed to be posed to the Temple.
When it comes to identifying the reasons for people to follow Jones’s orders blindly and kill themselves, one must admit that the leader of the people’s Temple was capable of affecting people’s opinions and their decision-making process to a considerable degree. By depriving them of the very essence of their personality and subjugating them to regular tortures, he created the empire of fear, in which people could not possibly think of making independent decisions. In other words, he made the members of the People’s Temple dependent on him by convincing them that his philosophy is their last refuge.
The phenomenon of conformity, therefore, plays a central part in the analysis of the choices made by the members of the organization. For instance, the fact that none of the members protested against the inhumane treatment that they received from their leader points to the fact that the dictatorship leadership style chosen by Jones made people feel unable to make their own decisions and afraid of angering the head of the Temple. Group thinking, in its turn, also took its toll on the participants. Even though some of the members might have been able to fight for their rights, the lack of support among the rest of the teammates made resistance impossible. Being overly dependent on their leader as he robbed them of their sense of dignity and self-respect, the members of the movement refused to abandon Jones despite his shocking cruelty and complete lack of humanity.
Biography: Jim Jones 2015. Web.
Follmer, Caley 2015, Success in the Peoples Temple Cult. Web.
Houchen, Stephen 2015, How did Jim Jones manage to recruit so many people to Peoples Temple? Web.
Jim Jones Jr. Speaks Out 2015. Web.
Lundahl, Mats, and Jan Lundius. Peasants and Religion: A Socioeconomic Study of Dios Olivorio and the Palma Sola Religion in the Dominican Republic. New York City, NY: Routledge, 2012. Print.
Mazur, Alan. Implausible Beliefs: In the Bible, Astrology, and UFOs. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2012. Print.
Moore, Rebecca. “The Stigmatized Deaths in Jonestown: Finding a Locus for Grief.” Death Studies 35.1 (2011): 42-58. Print.
Pick-Jones, Antoinette 2015, Jim Jones and the History of Peoples Temple. Web.
The Wills of Jim Jones and Marceline Jones 2015. Web.