Violence and Religious Commitment
Implications of Jim Jones's People's Temple MovementBook - 1982
Was the tragedy at Jonestown "an isolated case," or was it "an example of extremist cult behavior that emerges in times of great social upheaval?" The answer to this question, according to the contributors to this book, is important to all Americans as a basis for evaluating social and educational policy. Part I considers the general topic of sect violence, offering three positions. Chapter 1 contends that societal disruptions of the 1970's spawned distortions of alienation and devotion, resulting in "both extremely hostile and extremely selfless behavior. " Chapter 2 denies that the People's Temple resembled other new religious groups in significant ways, maintaining that the Jonestown massacre was a secular rather than a religious event. Chapter 3 takes an in-between position, holding that the People's Temple shared apocalyptic and communitarian views with other modern cults, but differed in respect to its leader's radicalism and paranoia.
Part II presents three conceptual models for analyzing the People's Temple. Part III deals with reactions to Jonestown and other cult behavior, especially overreactions. Part IV, Chapter 11, is a first-hand account by a disillusioned former member who was murdered, reportedly by a People's Temple "hit squad," in February 1980, just after completing this chapter.