Sunday, February 28, 2010
Altruistic suicide results when the level of social integration is "too freat, the collective consciousness too strong, and the individual is forced into committing suicide". While neither Jim Jones nor Marshall Applewhite forced followers to commit the suicide, they were so heavily integrated into their cults that they did it in an enthusiastic, voluntary way. George Ritzer further explains that many feel that it is "their duty" to commit suicide, and it is often tied to their beliefs about life.
In both cases, the suicidal cult followers believed that something greater was present after death. They chose to shed their earthly bodies in order to pursue the higher level of life. Paradoxically however, the Heaven's Gate cult looked down upon suicide, stating that they had been given their "containers" (or bodies) by the extra-terrestial beings, and that they must respect these earthly shells. They did not view their killing as "suicide", but merely as a passageway into the Next Level.
Another aspect to note is that the level of integration may have been so high for both groups because of the persuasive leaders. Both Jim Jones and Marshall Applewhite were charismatic, knowledgeable men with impeccable oratorial skills. They were able to convince their followers to do just about anything: leave their families, leave their children, flee the country....and even end their lives.
The People's Temple and Heaven's Gate are not drastically different in their reasons for committing suicide: both did it for religious reasons. Being so tightly knit within their respective cults, many members felt obligated, and even excited, to partake in the adventure together. Most followers viewed the experience as a release and as a hopeful experience, which supports Durkheim's statement that this type of suicide "springs from hope", depending upon various outlooks on life.
- A CNN Report of the Heaven's Gate Suicide ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQba3ry4IBg )
- Heaven's Gate Cult Initiation Video ( http://youtube.com/watch?v=AqSZhwu1Rwo&feature=related )
- A "Heaven's Gate Exit Interview", filmed days prior to the mass suicide ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhYrSF3ubBc&feature=related )
The model of Nike shoes worn by all Heaven's Gate members during the suicide. After the event, Nike discontinued the selling and manufacturing of the shoe.
A chart detailing the membership of the People's Temple by both gender and race. As can be seen, black females held the highest attendance, followed by black males, and then their white counterparts. The high population of black members can be attributed to the message of racial equality and freedom that Jones promised to the Temple.
A chart depicting the racial breakdown of Temple members living in Guyana. As can be seen, blacks populated 68% of Jonestown, whites populated 24%, mixed races populated 5%, and other races populated 3%.
An aerial view of dead bodies surrounding The People's Temple compound in Jonestown, Guyana. Approximately 914 people committed suicide in November 1970.
For additional videos, please visit the Cult Suicide video bar at the top of the main blog page.
The People's Temple was founded by James (Jim) Warren Jones in Indiana. Initially founded as an inter-racial mission for the sick, homeless, and jobless, the Temple defied social norms by being one of the first inter-racial organizations of the time. By the mid-1950s, the Temple had adopted approximately 900 members. Kevin Hozak of The University of North Dakota explained Jones' mission for the Temple as such:
"He preached a 'social gospel' of human freedom, equality, and love, which required helping the least and the lowliest of society's members. Later on, however, this gospel became explicitly socialistic, or communistic in Jones' own view, and the hypocrisy of White Christianity was ridiculed while 'apostolic socialism' was preached."
It sounds as if The People's Temple's original mission was admirable, no? Helping the least and the lowliest, just as Jesus commanded in the New Testament. So, where did Jones go wrong? What happened to the Temple?
Government Investigations Begin
As the Temple's number of followers grew, so did Jones' "spiritual" license. He began to develop odd and unsafe cures for medical maladies such as cancer, heart disease, and arthritis. When the government began an investigation of these practices, Jones moved the Temple to Ukiah, in Northern California. He then began to preach that a nuclear war was inevitable, and according to Esquire magazine, Ukiah was 1 of 9 American cities that could survive a nuclear attack.
In the mid 1970s, Jim Jones and The People's Temple were featured in a New West expose. After this article was published, the government was once again on the hunt to uncover the truth of the Temple. Allegations of "suspicious illegal activities" arose, forcing Jones to move the Temple members to Jonestown, Guyana.
Life In Guyana
The People's Temple leased approximately 4,000 acres of dense jungle land from the Guyana government. At this point, they began calling themselves "The People's Temple Agricultural Project". Keeping in a purely agricultural mindset, The Temple raised animals for food, and grew and sold assorted tropical fruits and vegetables.
The Beginnings of Mass Suicide
Jones developed a theory called "Translation" , in which he and The Temple would all die together from a self-induced poisoning. This death would act as a "release", in that the followers would move to another planet for a "life of bliss". Jones even went as far as to have practice sessions for the suicide. Members would drink fake poision and then fall to the ground, as if dead.
During the late 1970s, Jones began abusing prescription drugs and started to become increasingly paranoid. Rumours swirled that human abuse was occuring within the Temple, and there was an unsteadly influx of members into the group. Some people left the Temple, while countless others continued to join. Tim Stoen, the Temple's attorney and best friend of Jim Jones, started a group called "Concerned Relatives", which reported that the Temple had become like a concentration camp, with people being held prisoner within the institution.
Congressman Ryan's Intervention
After hearing of the dire situation in Guyana, Congressman Leo Ryan (D-CA) visited Jonestown in November 1978. Ryan was extremely involved in the eradication of destructive cults, which led him to research a testimony written by John Gordon Clark, a Harvard psychiatrist, about the health hazards surrounding cults.
When Congressman Ryan first arrived in Jonestown, the visit went very well. However, it did not take long for the situation to turn sour. On November 18th, 1978, 16 Temple members decided that they wanted to leave the Temple with the American visitors. This disloyalty greatly upset Jones and the rest of the Temple community. While Ryan and the others were waiting at Port Kiatuma airport, an airstrip near Jonestown, heavily armed Temple security guards began shooting. Leo Ryan and four others were killed; three were press members, the other was a Temple member who wanted to leave Jonestown. Eleven were wounded.
The Case of The Kool-Aid: The End of The People's Temple
After the murder of Congressman Ryan and the four others, the Temple members began to fear trouble. They knew that word would spread would quickly of their actions, so they started discussing any viable options for escape from punishment. The final decision? Group suicide. Studies done on the bodies found that most members drank a grape drink laced with cyanide and a number of other substances, such as liquid Valium, Penegram, and chloral hydrate. Exactly what the grape drink was is still a topic of dispute. Some say it was the immensely popular Kool-Aid, while others insist that it was FlaVor-Aid.
Other members died through poision injection, according to the Guyanese coroner, who said that many bodies presented with numerous needle marks. Still other members shot themselves, while a very small number of members fled the suicide and escaped into the jungle.
Death Count of The People's Temple:
- 914 Total Deaths
- 638 Adults
- 276 Children
- Some reports say that 911 people died, but the exact count is difficult to determince since many bodies decayed beyond recognition when authorities arrived.
Robinson, B.A. "The People's Temple, Led By James Warren Jones." ReligiousTolerance.org. N.p., 9 Apr. 2007. Web. 21 Feb. 2010. http://www.religioustolerance.org/dc_jones.htm
"Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and the People's Temple," Department of Philosophy and Religion, University of North Dakota, at http://www-rohan.sdsu/~remoore/jonestown
"Leo Ryan." Biographicon. N.p., 12 Mar. 2009. Web. 21 Feb. 2010. http://www.biographicon.com/view/7ewun