The Jonestown Massacre: Mass suicide in the name of God
The Aftermath of the Mass Suicide
The bible warned us about false prophets and people claiming to be Christ. Most people claiming to be the second coming Christ have been wrong, but harmless. Surely people would ignore him and think he’s a madman. However, what about people who are desperate for a new way of life and see God as their only way out of their suffering. To have faith in God, for some, is difficult because we sometimes think of Him as a genie that can pour riches on us and take away our pain in an instance. For the faithful, God is a being beyond our understanding and His silence isn’t a representation of His nonexistence, but that He is listening and guiding you by from your belief in Him alone. For others, this explanation does not suffice and they need more; they need a beacon in the dark. For the 918 people who committed suicide in 1978, this beacon was the Reverend Jim Jones.
The reverend’s preacher uniform complete with the white collar, made people assume that he could be trusted. Jim Jones definitely showed all the right properties to be a pseudo-transformational leader or a leader who can bring great change, but not for the sake of good. The term pseudo refers to the fact that his intentions to lead people and transcend to reach a common goal were evil. He showed enthusiasm and charisma relaying his “inspirational” (but more like delusional) message to the congregation. His self-confidence that he displayed in his belief that he should be an all powerful leader tricked the people into believing that his actions were justified.
The techniques he used to persuade them included peripheral cues of superficial messages with lots of strength (appealed to self-interest, deeply held beliefs, and in-groups). Jones played on their emotions by telling his congregation that he promised them a utopian society. The people of the People’s Temple were mostly poor, black or women who were down on their luck in society. He brought them hope for a new future.
Somehow, Jones managed to persuade nearly a thousand people to eventually give up their lives in the United States and moved away to South America. But how? Jones used escalating commitments at first that started out smaller and grew larger and larger with each request. The congregation originated in Indianapolis, then he up and moved them all to California. He finally convinced them to move to Brazil and where they eventually settled in Guyana. Once there the population grew from 50 in 1977 to over 1000 in 1978. The move across the United States was small compared to a move to another country.
The reverend demanded that his cult refer to him as “Godlike” or “Christlike” in order to demonstrate their obedience to his authority. He forced the adults to call him “father” or “dad” and of course all their children had to call him their one and only “dad”. He took their children away from them, and only allowed their parents to see them during the day. This is a sign of his complete control.
With the use of normative conformity Jones made people afraid of the consequences of deviating from the norm out of fear of being punished. He held harsh sentences against those who tried to disobey him. People who attempted to run away were dragged back into town and drugged to the point of near-death. The children who disobeyed were lowered down a well and made to stay there sometimes all night.
The People’s Temple viewed themselves as one cohesive identity, no longer as individual people in a community. They believed they had the right to capture torture and even kill each other. In actuality they were still all individuals of a cult who had the right to leave or change their opinions if they pleased – but he took that away from them. His victims were so committed to the church they could not separate themselves from it or one another. They sought to work for a common goal such as the building of Jonestown and the creation of a utopia. They also shared similar attributes such as being poor, run down by the American system, and in hopes of finding enlightenment through spirituality as the fall of the church system became more prevalent in the seventies.
Jones expressed fear tactics to raise paranoia and grow closer to him. He created fears in their minds such as “others are against us” and “others will harm us” not really specifying how or why anyone would be after them. When the Congressman Leo Ryan flew in, Jones became increasingly paranoid and wouldn’t allow them to stay overnight. He told the people of Jonestown that the congressman would go back and tell lies about them, and the community would never survive if they let him continue harassing them. This is the way he convinced the snipers to kill the congressman and a few of his colleagues.
There also appeared to be conflicts between those with private conformity and those with public conformity. Some of the people who lived in Jonestown came off as never being happier in their lives and others opposed the conditions under which they were living. They had to conform at least publicly or risk being punished severely or ostracized. Due to the effects of role playing even the people who did not privately conform to his attitudes may have eventually convinced themselves of an attitude change with their own behaviors. These are the people who could easily take the poison and kill themselves and others. The rest of them saw the foolishness and were afraid to die for the delusional assumptions of their leader, but not very many survived.
He was like Antichrist for these people by substituting himself as a Christlike being. It’s obvious from the pass passage that the Reverend Jones had insecurities and a need to be admired by everyone around him. He did not achieve this admiration by honest means, but manipulated people suffering and promised them false hopes. In life, there will be people who attempt to take advantage of our weaknesses. It’s like a snake in the Garden of Eden knowing our naiveté and feeding on our vulnerability.
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