Hearing the Voices of Jonestown

By Mary McCormick Maaga | Go to book overview

1
Who Were the Members of Peoples Temple?

In contemporary religious studies there is "before Jonestown" and after Jonestown. The deaths of more than nine hundred people in a jungle commune, the vast majority of whom died by ingesting a cyanide-laced beverage, signaled the end of an era of relative religious tolerance in America and the beginning of a time of cynicism, paranoia, and fear about nonmainstream religions, variously referred to as cults, sects, alternate religions or new religious movements. Although Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church had been much in the news and the courts before November 1978, the widespread belief in new religions as irredeemably dangerous was not a feature of Western culture until Jonestown. Jonestown has become a watchword for the madness of charismatic leadership, the vulnerability of religious devotees, and the dangers of experimenting with religion outside the mainstream American religious institutions. Even those scholars and commentators who defend the right of people to choose nonmainstream religious groups generally accept the portrait of Peoples Temple as an example of the danger of too great a commitment to religious ideology as embodied in the person of a charismatic leader. The tragedy of Jim Jones and Peoples Temple, for even the most tolerant observer, demonstrates the proclivity for bizarre and dangerous behavior that most (if not all) new religions possess.

I elucidate the historical and sociological particularities of Peoples Temple and Jonestown to undercut the simplistic way in which "Jonestown" has been used to bring other nonmainstream religions into question. Before 1978 the Peoples Temple was not featured in the anticult literature; for the remainder of the 1970s and well into the

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Hearing the Voices of Jonestown
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Foreword ix
  • Preface xiii
  • Acknowledgments xvii
  • Introduction xix
  • 1 - Who Were the Members of Peoples Temple? 1
  • 2 - Deconstructing Jonestown 14
  • 3 - The Triple Erasure of Women in the Leadership of Peoples Temple 32
  • 4 - Restoration of Women's Power in Peoples Temple 55
  • 5 - Three Groups in One 74
  • 6 - From Jones the Person to Jonestown the Community 87
  • 7 - Freedom and Loyalty, a Deadly Potion 114
  • 8 - Conclusion 136
  • Appendix A - Jonestown Demographics 145
  • Appendix B - Suicide Tape Transcript 147
  • Appendix C - A Witness to Tragedy and Resurrection 165
  • References 169
  • Index 175
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