I was in middle school the first time that I heard about the massacre/suicide at Jonestown. I don’t think that I ever looked at Kool-Aid the same way again.
Truth be told. It wasn’t Kool-Aid but Fla-Vor-Aid, which is one of the many popular misconceptions about what took place on November 18, 1978. Led by the movement’s charismatic leader, Jim Jones, more than 900 people died from cyanide poisoning. The terrible incident took place after the death of a U.S. congressman and others that visited the Jonestown complex to investigate complaints about the group.
It is hard to believe that hundreds of people would kill themselves or that people would follow Jones based on what former Peoples Temple members have told about what went on in the cult. I don’t believe that all these people were crazy although some of them clearly were, especially Jones. Keep in mind that some of the people may have been killed against their will. A large number of the people who died were children or seniors.
Jones was able to develop a following for a number of reasons. First, he preached a radically different message about racial equality, social justice and spiritual community. Trained in the Pentecostal church, Jones learned how to work a crowd and knew how to manipulate people to get them to do crazy things.
The Peoples Temple did some very good things like giving hope to the poor, operating soup kitchen and senior centers. Jones actively championed the cause of minorities, which is one reason that many blacks were drawn to him. Jones own family was racially diverse.
From his bus tours to his rhetoric, Jones amassed a large following that worked tirelessly on the various activities of the church. Jones was obviously a gifted motivator and someone who was capable of building an effective organization. But his private demons and lack of oversight caught up with him.
People flocked to Jones because his message hit a cord with many who were disillusioned by race problems, poverty, ineffective government, materialistic churches, etc. Things were getting done and that was enough for some to look the other way.
Many of the followers were not aware of the inner workings of the organization. Like Hitler and other psychopathic leaders, Jones was able to compartmentalize the operation so that nobody really knew all the key details of the operation except for him. Many of the insiders knew enough to be concerned at times, but none of them knew enough to act. Based on what I have read about the movement, some of the leaders appear to have embraced Jones’ wacky beliefs about sex, God, discipline, etc.
“When you meet the friendliest people you have ever known, who introduce you to the most loving group of people you’ve ever encountered, and you find the leader to be the most inspired, caring, compassionate and understanding person you’ve ever met, and then you learn the cause of the group is something you never dared hope could be accomplished, and all of this sounds too good to be true-it probably is too good to be true! Don’t give up your education, your hopes and ambitions to follow a rainbow.” – Jeannie Mills, an early defector from the Peoples Temple
A number of things likely led people to drink the punch. First, many of the people viewed Jones as a prophetic voice from God. Some maybe even thought of him as God or at least their spiritual father. There is a danger whenever we put too much faith in any man. That is clear from this tragedy.
Many of the people worked long hours to build the church in California and even Jonestown. Exhaustion may have made people susceptible to Jones’ influence. Plus, they had spent a lot of energy and time following Jones. The community may have created invisible peer pressure that would be hard for someone to resist once they got in very far.
Temple members heard lots of indoctrination from Jones. When people got to Jonestown, Jones’ messages were broadcast regularly over loudspeakers, which may have reinforced his control on the people there. On the last day, he characterized communal death as a revolutionary act to walk to another, more beautiful world.“
If we can’t live in peace then lets die in peace. We are not committing suicide-its a revolutionary act.”—Jim Jones on the last day at Jonestown
Jones tried to make the people believe that they would all be killed by the U.S. government because of what happened to the congressman and the other Americans. He wanted them to control their fate instead of being left to the “mercy” of the U.S. government. Jones had successfully created an enemy, which was the outside world, especially the U.S. government. Then, he cast himself as the savior and protector of his people from this great threat. This tactic has worked well in the past to mobilize people to do insane acts. Hitler used the same approach to galvanize the German people against the Jews.
The People Temple also tapped into people’s innate desire to connect with the spiritual. Video tapes indicate that the church services were very charismatic with lively worship. There were both false and indeed real miracles that occurred according to written accounts. I believe that everyone longs for a deep spiritual connection with God although most will end up settling for counterfeits, such as false religions, drugs, personal escapes, inappropriate sexual acts or relations, etc.
The bottom line is that Jones offered something different, something that people wanted. The rub is that he didn’t really deliver in the end. People followed a dream and got a nightmare. The truth is that Jones could never really deliver on his promises. He supposedly was trying to create heaven on earth. The problem is that he left out Jesus. He turned the focus to the plight of men and ultimately to himself.
One thing is clear from the Scriptures, man’s effort to save himself will always fall short. That is why Jesus had to come to die and save humanity.Like any good counterfeit, the Peoples Temple looked like the real thing on the outside, but it lacked the key ingredient – Jesus. He is the way, the truth and the life not any man, church, movement or social cause.
Behind it all was a demonic, religious spirit that I believe orchestrated the entire thing behind the scenes. Sure, the people were responsible for their actions. But that doesn’t mean they thought the whole thing up by themselves. That even goes for Jones.
If you look through history, you will see that religious spirits have been the cause of some of the greatest tragedies, wars, false gospels, etc.
Today, we see radical Islam as the most prominent example of what can happen when a religious spirit has control over a group of people. I am reminded of the Crusades as another good example. The big problem with religious spirits is that they are hard to detect until it is too late. True believers think they are doing God’s will when their actions wouldn’t seem reasonable to any man, let alone God.
Religious spirits have a way of appearing good at first. Plus, we all are a little like Eve. We can be easily duped into thinking our actions are good when indeed they are centered on self and soulish desires.
Counterfeits also make people leery about the real thing. This can cause people to shy away from what God really wants to do. The devil wins by confusing people. I have seen this happen at times with legitimate moves of the Holy Spirit. People walk away from a good thing because they are worried about drinking the Kool-Aid.
Religious spirits tend to work hand-in-hand with sexual sin and pride. The Peoples Temple created their own community because they felt American society could not be saved. If that doesn’t smack of pride, I don’t know what does. It is Jesus who saves not Jim Jones.
Immoral sexual acts were common among the Peoples Temple community. Jones encouraged and participated in many of these sins. He used sex as a control mechanism over the members, especially men.
All of this works in conjunction with the spirit of the antichrist. Many people don’t understand that the spirit of the antichrist has been alive and well since the beginning of mankind. Although there will be one person who embodies this spirit at the end times, the world has suffered from the spirit of the antichrist throughout the ages. This spirit is anything that raises itself up to be God except that which is really God. This spirit denies that Jesus is God who came down in human form to save the world.
Jonestown offers many lessons. The primary one is that you can only find what you are looking for in Jesus. He is the one who offers the path to eternal life.