Monday, November 24, 2008
Last Tuesday was an anniversary for my husband and I. It was the date four years ago when he proposed to me. It's also the birthday of one of my best friends, which is why I actually remember the date.
Another friend also reminded me this year that it was also the 30th anniversary of the Jonestown deaths. Thanks, dude. Way to go ruining one of my favorite days of the year.
I'm old enough to remember Jonestown. I was pretty young when it happened, but I know it was a big blow to the religious community my family belonged to. Although Jim Jones had been completely discredited by the time of the deaths, his movement, always viewed as somewhat eccentric, was seen in a good light by the charismatics. Here was a man who was making things happen in the name of God.
And even now, watching the documentary there are many positive things that he and his followers did. I find it sad that a movement, which could have been positive and peaceful, ended up being such a tragedy.
It was earlier in 1978 that my parents moved to North Carolina to join the movement of another Jim. Fortunately Jim Bakker never called on his followers to give up their lives. I never thought of PTL as a cult, but as I was watching the video of Jonestown I noticed many parallels between the two movements. Both men exhibited an extreme paranoia of the government and an ego maniacal sense of godhood. Both wanted to build an empire.
But for all I reject the teachings of the community, PTL was still a positive experience for me. People worked hard, often many hours without sleeping to make sure everything was perfect for Jim. Yet, for the most part we were happy. We were a community pursuing the same purpose. Parents felt safe about having their children there.
I think that there must have been an underlying sense that something wasn't quite right. How many people really questioned what we were doing? I know my mother had questions, but we stayed in the community. We continued as if nothing would ever change.
How many people at Jonestown felt the same way?
I guess I'll never know how far I would have gone in the name of religion. My gut reaction is that I would have never gone so far as to harm myself or my friends or family. But what makes a community turn from productive and happy to paranoid and deadly?