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Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples’ Temple Essay


The tragedy of People’s Temple is one of the events that highlighted the danger of many destructive cults. This mass suicide took the lives of 918 people who voluntarily joined the religious movement. This paper is aimed at discussing social, cultural, and religious environment which emerged during that period. In particular, it is critical to show why many people were willing to join the organization established by Jim Jones.

Moreover, one should explain how this individual was able to convince hundreds of people to commit suicide. Furthermore, Peoples’ Temple should be compared to other religious trends that existed in the seventies. On the whole, it is possible to argue that Jim Jones was willing and able to appeal to people who represented diverse racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. They believed that he could offer them consolations and address their problems that they had encountered. This is the main argument that can be put forward.

At first, one should mention why so many people were willing to follow Jim Jones. It should be mentioned that in the early seventies, many American people were becoming disappointed with the society. In particular, they believed that the social reforms, which began to be implemented in the sixties, came to a halt. In this case, one should focus on African-American Civil Rights Movement.

Apart from that, the war in Vietnam led to the discontent of many young people who did not want to sacrifice their lives for the ideals that they could not understand. In the early seventies, there were many anti-government demonstrations that were supported by people who represented different age groups. In their opinion, the government did not want to bring any improvements into the lives of people.

These issues are important for understanding the motives that drove the members of Peoples’ Temple. Their frustration often prompted them to look for religious answers to their problems while Jim Jones made use of this opportunity. For instance, African Americans had to struggle with racism and discrimination, while Jim Jones often emphasized the idea that he could accept people with diverse racial or ethnic backgrounds.

This attitude prompted many people to become the members of Peoples’ Temple. Secondly, he was able to attract people who faced economic difficulties. To a great extent, he promised them a chance to live in a community in which there would be no inequalities. This is why Jim Jones often supported socialist ideology and gave charity to poor people. In his rhetoric, he laid stress on the notion that by joining this community, people would be able to create a just community.

This is why many of the members decided to settle in Jonestown which was a small colony built in Guyana. Nevertheless, the leader of this cult did not explain how exactly this new settlement could exist independently of different governments or societies. This is one of the details that can be identified.

One of the main tasks is to explain how Jim Jones convinced so many people to take their own lives. This outcome can be regarded as the result of long-term term. First of all, the leader of this cult often emphasized the notion that he had not been a conventional preacher. Instead, he wanted to be perceived a god-like person who could perform miracles.

This is why he staged the alleged healings of people who had been ill for a long time. Certainly, Jim Jones did not heal anyone, but these theatrical performances appealed to many people who believed in Jim Jones’ supernatural power.

Moreover, he created a cult in which every form of critical thinking was suppressed. Any disagreement with Jim Jones was either dismissed or disregarded. Even before 1978, he tested the devotion of his followers and some of them were ready to commit suicide for him. Furthermore, every individual, who intended to leave People’s Temple, was treated like a traitor who did not reach high moral standards set in this cult. After the murder of Congressman Leo Ryan, Jim Jones said that their community would be destroyed by the government.

Moreover, he frequently stressed the idea that the death would preferable to the life outside Peoples’ Temple. Some of his supporters did not want to commit suicide, but their objections were dismissed. Yet, one should not suppose that every member of this cult committed suicide voluntarily. Some survivors report that Jim Jones relied on coercion. For instance, some of his guards had guns and they could force other people to take poison.

Apart from that, some people intended to leave Jonestown, but they were not allowed to do it. Thus, this event can also be described as a mass murder. It should be kept in mind that, more than two hundred children were poisoned, and their deaths cannot be described as suicide. Overall, one can say that this tragedy can be viewed as the result of manipulation and coercion. This is one of the points that can be made.

To some degree, Peoples’ Temple is only a part of the religious and cultural trend that existed during that period. There were many cults which denied mainstream religions such as Christianity. Instead, the supporters of these cults paid more attention to Asian beliefs or religions such as Zen Buddhism. These movements were a part of the counterculture which existed in the seventies. Yet, unlike People’s Temple, these cults were not autocratic. The leaders of these religious organizations did not require complete devotion of their followers.

This is one of the distinctions that can be singled out. Yet, Peoples’ Temple is not the only authoritarian cult which emerged in the seventies. For instance, one can mention the Unification Church. The followers of this cult were also supposed to accept the decisions of the leader without any doubt or criticism. However, the movement established by Jim Jones can be distinguished among others because it led to disastrous consequences. These are the main aspects that can be distinguished.

Overall, these examples show that Peoples’ Temple emerged due to social, religious, and cultural trends that were prominent in the seventies. The main issue is that many people became dissatisfied with the lack of their social, political or economic empowerment. They turned to religion in order to find consolation and escape injustice. This is the main factor that shaped their behavior. In turn, Jim Jones alleged that he could create a different type of community.

The main problem is that individuals like Jim Jones strive for power and domination, but they cannot accept the idea that other people may want to think critically. Moreover, they are ready to sacrifice the lives of others, if they see that their authority is at risk. This is why such individuals are dangerous. Yet, they can achieve their objectives only at the time, when many people feel that they are marginalized by the society.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples’ Temple." February 1, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/jonestown-the-life-and-death-of-peoples-temple/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples’ Temple'. 1 February.

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