East Of Eden

"A curious mix of the relevant and reverential"


The Preachers: Rev. Jim Jones and the horror in Guyana.

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(Image and Caption from "The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones & The Peoples Temple")

 

I just finished "The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones & The Peoples Temple" by Jeff Guinn and, really, I'm not trying to sound cliched or hackneyed here, but the book is stomach-churning, frightening and by it's end, downright disturbing. This is actually a compliment to Guinn; he vividly captures the horror of the story of Jonestown and the turbulent societal years that led up to it.

 

Speaking of hackneyed, despite occurring a few years before my birth, I was quite familiar with the Jonestown Massacre. At least, I thought I was. Much like my experience of watching the OJ Simpson documentary "Made in America" last year, what I "kind-of-sort-of-pick-up-from-pop-culture" is most definitely not the same as learning the actual facts of a case. Below are some facts that surprised me most:

 

Jim Jones was no Christian.

So maybe you're all "Duh, of course that murderous maniac wasn't a Christian!" What I mean is, long before he went all culty (I know, not a word), he repeatedly and vehemently mocked the Bible and Christianity. Early in their marriage, his wife Marceline would learn he was not the man of God he had made himself out to be:

She’d married him with the understanding that he, like her, believed in the God of the Bible and trusted in His Wisdom. But the newlyweds were barely settled in their tiny off-campus apartment when Jim told Marceline that he didn’t believe in her God at all, since a just and loving Lord would never permit so much human misery. He would later say in Jonestown that “I started devastating [God], I tore that mother----er to shreds and laid him out to rest. . . . [Marceline and I would] fight, and she’d cry. We were washing dishes one time and [Marceline] said, ‘I love you, but [don’t you] say anything about the Lord anymore’. I said, ‘F--- the Lord’ . . . we ended up in some goddamn scrap and she threw a glass at me.” (Kindle Locations 928-932)

 

As a kid, Jones was fascinated by Adolf Hitler.

When Jimmy was ten, America’s entry into World War II provided him with a new obsession. Everyone in Lynn was gripped by war fever. It was a patriotic town. Boys in Lynn played soldier during every waking, nonschool, or nonchurch minute, all of them U.S. soldiers or sailors or Marines fighting pitched battles against the Axis and winning every time.

 

But not Jimmy Jones. From the outset, he was fascinated with the Nazis, enamored of their pageantry, mesmerized by obedient hordes of fighting men goose-stepping in unison. Then there was their charismatic leader— Jimmy studied Adolf Hitler intently, how he stood in front of adoring crowds for hours, claiming all sorts of powers, always keeping audiences engaged with a cunning rhythm of shouting, then hushed tones, then normal conversation building back up to a bombastic finish. American newsreels and newspapers were full of Hitler and his worshipful followers. Jimmy had no shortage of study materials. Hitler was a poor boy who’d emerged to lead a mighty nation thanks to his own determination and charisma. Now the whole world knew Hitler’s name, millions followed him, and multitudes trembled before him. He’d gained his power by overcoming powerful foes who looked down on him for his humble upbringing and controversial beliefs. It was inspiring. (Kindle Locations 591-592).

 

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(Image and Caption from "The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones & The Peoples Temple")

 

Jones became an avid student of Tent Revivals and Pentecostalism in order to recruit followers.

... he attended prayer meetings and healing services in tents and fields outside small towns in Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, and Michigan, places within reasonable driving distance of Indianapolis. Many of these featured several individuals preaching one after another: Jones paid close attention. What worked and what didn’t? Which biblical phrases and references regularly elicited the strongest response? How far did the most effective preachers go in espousing personal beliefs and biblical interpretations? Most of all, he studied healings. Driving out demons, curing cancer or other diseases, making the lame walk and the blind see by the laying on of hands or loudly petitioning the Lord— doing these things successfully and with flair guaranteed not only fame and money, but also allegiance by impressed members of the audience. And so, at first in small, primitive settings, Jones set out to heal. He recalled thinking that “If these sons of b------ can do it, then I can do it too. And I tried my first act of healing. I don’t remember how. Didn’t work out too well. But I kept watching those healers. . . . I thought that there must be a way that you could do this for good, that you can get the crowd, get some money, and do some good with [the money].”
(Kindle Locations 1065-1074).

 

 Jones gathered such a devoted following by not just talking, but doing.

Jim Jones barreled into the room and, instead of signaling for the singing to commence, asked a general question of all present: “What’s bothering you?” A hand toward the back went up. An old black woman stood and complained about the electric company. There was some problem with her service, and even though she constantly complained, nothing was done to fix it— but the company still sent monthly bills. When she demanded maintenance before she paid, the white people she dealt with threatened to cut off her power. There were murmurs of assent. Almost everyone present, certainly all the blacks, had endured something similar. The woman told Jones that she felt she had no choice other than to pay without getting the requested repairs. Her family, which included grandchildren, couldn’t live in the dark. She was ready to give up— she didn’t know what else to do. Jones did. He ordered Marceline to fetch a pen and paper. “Let’s write a letter,” he told the old woman. Then, with Marceline serving as secretary, Jones dictated a message to the electric company, citing the lady’s constant attempts to get her problems resolved, and explaining that all she wanted was the service she paid for....


The next day, Jones promised, he’d personally deliver the letter to the electric company’s main office. While he was there, he’d find out who was the right person to discuss the matter with face-to-face, and he’d sit down with him or her and explain how a wonderful lady was being treated unfairly— things had to be, would be, made right....


At the next Sunday service, Jones asked the old woman to stand up and tell everyone what had happened. She joyfully reported that her problem with the electric company was resolved— somebody had come out and things were repaired. She thanked everybody for their help, Pastor Jones most of all. Together they’d stood up to the white people at the electric company, and they’d won. Jones crowed, “See? When you come to this church, you get something now.” (Kindle Locations 1167-1185)

 

Screen Shot 2017 04 22 at 10.34.44 AM (Image and Caption from "The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones & The Peoples Temple")

 

Years before Jones moved to South America's Guyana, he tried and failed at ministering in Brazil.

Jones came to Brazil with the announced intent of preparing the way for a full-fledged Peoples Temple exodus there. After two years, it was apparent that wouldn’t happen. In Belo Horizonte and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil took no notice of Jim Jones. Its vastness, and the extent of its impoverished class, defied his best efforts to become someone of consequence. Even if he brought the loyal remnants of his once impressive congregation there, they’d no longer see Jones as a great man who brought about significant social change because, in Brazil, he wasn’t. Instead, he was a pastoral nonentity, no different from the black ministers in Indianapolis he’d mocked for having occasional meetings with important people but never making the slightest difference. (Kindle Locations 2009-2015).

 Screen Shot 2017 04 22 at 6.02.36 PM

(Image and Caption from "The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones & The Peoples Temple")

 

It wasn't Kool-Aid.

Pretty much synonmous with Jonestown is "Don't drink the Kool-Aid" or some variant. But the powdered drink mix used in the fatal cocktails was not that brand.

... Jones winced and asked her, “Is there a way to make it taste less bitter?” and Katsaris shook her head. Somewhere in Jonestown, human guinea pigs had sampled the deadly potion. Jones asked Katsaris, “Is it quick?” She replied, “Yeah, it’s really quick, and it’s not supposed to be painful at all.” Jones nodded and told her, “Okay, do what you can to make it taste better.” Larry Schacht had spent months perfecting the perfect blend of Flavor Aid, tranquilizers, and potassium cyanide. (Kindle Locations 7445-7449).

 

Jones's California ministry had him in contact with some pretty big names: Jane Fonda, Harvey Milk and First Lady Rosalynn Carter.

 

I definitely recommend "The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and The Peoples Temple" by Jeff Guinn, out this month on Simon & Schuster.

 

 

 

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