Thursday, March 26, 2015
A Thousand Lives by Julia Scheeres
And the story is... really heartbreaking.
Jim Jones, the founder and pastor of People's Temple Full Gospel Church ("Temple" for short), started out with a message of racial equality. But in the end, he let almost 1000 people, about 300 of them children/infants to their deaths in a mass murder-suicide. Why? This book charts the degeneration of Temple, and the deception of the congregation, who honestly believed that by following Jim Jones, they would be working towards a fairer, better America. But in the end, through fear and persuasion, they all drank poison and died agonising deaths, with very few survivors.
What I noticed, was that the more Jones twisted the Bible, the more he started to use fear, threats, and intimidation to rule his congregation. In the end, Jones declared himself God, but instead of performing miracles, used tricks to keep people in line.
Another thing that struck me is the number of people who are complicit in this crime. Jones grows increasingly deranged and fanatical as time goes by, but if it weren't for the lawyers or members of government (both in the US [at the start] and Gunyana), the press who allowed themselves to be bought and all the members and accomplices that helped him carry out his tricks. True, some defected, but until they defected, they carried out a lot of serious damage. This tragedy wasn't the work of one deranged man, it's the result of a lot of misguided people unknowingly working together to help a madman.
This book is eye-opening. I had not heard of Jonestown and this tragedy before, and I wonder why it has been forgotten. It's a reminder that tragedies are around the corner, and that things with the best intentions can be twisted, and people with the best of intentions can be deceived.
My thought when I finished this book was "what a waste". If Jim Jones had kept his grasp on sanity, and a firm grasp on Scripture, we could be now reading about how the Temple was a driving force for equality and racial integration in America. Instead, we're now reading about how a madman managed to kill so many people.