November 23, 2002 8:41 PM   Subscribe

Alternative Considerations of Jonestown & Peoples Temple. Was it a religion, a revolutionary social movement, a cult, or a combination of them all?
posted by semmi (5 comments total)
yet another dysfunctional cult with an insanely drug-addled messiah. sigh. i always wanted to be an insanely drug-addled messiah.
posted by quonsar at 3:18 PM on November 24, 2002

quonsar, it's not hard to become one. The hard part is getting followers.

I remember Jonestown as a media event. We always traveled up north to visit friends for Thanksgiving in those days (yikes -- I just realized my Dad was my age, then). There were some reports on the radio, and then when we got there we could see the TV reports. I remember being baffled as to why they'd killed a Congressman, because there wasn't much an individual Congressman could do. (Something like the old Hollywood joke about the starlet who was so dumb, she slept with the writer.)

I was also baffled about them leaving the country to start a religiously-inspired intentional community, but I now realize those were incredibly common during America's settlement period (and to a lesser extent, so were internventions and investigations).

But if nothing else, this event is important as a reminder that messianic cults aren't all from one cultural or political background.
posted by dhartung at 3:38 PM on November 24, 2002

What I find bizarre is that reporters who write articles about it, usually near the anniversary of the mass murder, still refer to it as a "mass suicide".

Please explain that one to me.
posted by titboy at 7:09 PM on November 24, 2002

titboy, "An audiotape seems to indicate general agreement with the plan to commit suicide." The tape's authenticity is uncertain, but there is other circumstantial evidence to support it. I suggest you read one of the transcripts. Jones certainly knew that the massacre of the Congressman and reporters would bring down the wrath of the law one way or another, and either as propaganda or paranoia persuaded his followers that they were in a war and suicide would save their children from being killed or "tortured" by US or Guyanese troops. Prior plans for an escape to (then-Soviet) Russia were dismissed as unworkable in the emergency. The transcript reveals open discussion of "choosing one's destiny", the prospect of death as peace, and even the fate of the children.

Unless one argues that some indeterminate number of the Jonestown members were non compos mentis, it's hard to escape the conclusion that they freely chose to drink the Kool-Aid, knowing it was spiked, because they had been persuaded that death was a way out.
posted by dhartung at 10:59 PM on November 24, 2002

"Alternative" to what? I wasn't aware that the world had reached consensus about what happened at Jonestown.
posted by adamgreenfield at 1:42 AM on November 25, 2002

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