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Smith_Jonestown - The Devil in Mr Jones MS h Church For the...

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Unformatted text preview: The Devil in Mr. Jones MS h.._'__\_ Church. For the first time in western academic history, there were estab— 1 Iished two. parallel possibilities for the study of religion: it humanistic mode within the secular academy and a theological course of study within the denominational seminary. The original draft of the legislation had used a term coined four years earlier, proposing to call the new university department a “Faculty of Religious Sciences,“ but. after much compro- 7 The Devil in Mr. Jones My starting point in this essay will be three curious titles that are attach - '- by- my university to my name: “religion and the human sciences “ “ ligion and the humanities.“ “history of religions.” What might these te - - __mean? still three set religion within a context. All three suggestllimit' .- perspectives on religion: that it is human and that it is historical {tfl propositions that I understand to be all but synonymous}. all three su e (il Wflgflmlc conversation partners for the enterprise of the study of i'elifiiiiit" . pint ropology {in Its broadest sense}. humanities. and history. These ter oeate. the study pf religion. Religion. to the degree that it is usefull . Eggjsgpdfas an historical. human endeavor, is to be set within the large .1 mm c rameworlts provided by anthropology. the homanitics. and his—'1'. All three titles are as well hi ‘ . .’ . . ghly polcmtcal. Although their dari has“- been obscured by time. none would have been understood in acarillimicu IKE-LI misc. the older title. “Faculty of Theology.“ was retained. Nevertheless. dogmatics and practical theology. the central core of theological educa— tion. were removed from the curriculum. to be taught only in the semi— narics. Their place in the academy was taken by a new program in history of religions which was assumed to be more “neutral and scientific.” France followed soon after. In 1884 the French Ministry of Education abolished the state Catholic Theological Faculties and a year later replaced them [in the very same building] by the ”Fifth Section of Religious Sci- ences“ as part of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes. Religious study was added alongside the other four "sections“: mathematics. physics and chemistry. natural history and physiology. and the historical and philo- logica] sciences. The minister of public instruction charged the new fac— uity: “We do not wish to see the cultivation of polemics. but of critical research. We wish to see the examination of texts. not the discussion of dogmas.” In 1904 the University of Manchester. which was rare among British universities in being nondenominational and in applying no confessional tests to either students or faculty. established its new Theological Faculty which taught theological subjects and comparative religions but excluded courses in systematic theology and the history of Christian doctrine. All circles a little more than a century ago. Indeed, if understood at all they-t would have been thought to embod - - : if a contradiction. Alth , . to use the word t-hUmanitigSH tor llte human Scionces} asosufrllo::n::::il What was intended may be gleaned from the fact that James George . With liberal learnt w'tb ' ~ - , . Frazer was invited to join the faculty and teach comparative religions. I deio. and tend to idlfntify itsifgp: :iilrila’ifinlraihdn: the older Greek ooi- ." As stated at the inauguration of this new program. this was ”the first Fun I estudy ofthe Classmal I' occasion in this country on which theology. unfettered by [denomina— culture of our 0W" Past and the ~ . . is not its primary acadcmjc seng?lfy:::ni: Eigkicifigdgm E" '1‘! {his . tional] tests. has been accepted as an integral part of the University orv humanists ofth e fifteenth century. it had a more pointed a d v t e taliaIi : ganizatior'i and has been treated like any other subject.“' Rarely did any meaning. as first used by Coluceio Salutait a F] “rargumflnmwe other European country untiltoday followthis pattern. In most of Europe. “humane studies." the “human sciences" w l t b Urea me Chancellor, religious studies were part of the divine sciences. . _ “divine sciences"——that is to say the hu . ere l] l: mmmglfid ““11 ”1F ;.. In the United States. until some twenty years ago. when religious shitl- the study Of religion was anytbirl it wfn‘mfimi‘ “”1“ ‘hmlflgli- Thus, If 'j ics were recognized. a sequential pattern prevailed. it. doctoral degreem utterly ditferen t from the human 33 ‘15 l E study of that which was religious studies ata university had as its prerequisite abachelor of divinity ..n1_utualiy exclusive. sciences. The two were perceived to be degree from a seminary. It was not until the rise of programs In state " This was all Changed when o I 0 _ . universities. a development which followed the I963 U.S. Supreme Etlillfl diet Separated the theolo icai‘fr I1 I . ctober Iti‘i‘i', the Dutch Univeisities decision on the School District of Air-ingest v. Schempp. in whic r. I. Slerdam Ciro _ g dc“ Ilcb fll'the four state universities tAm- .Iustice Goldberg observed, ”it seems clear to me . . . Illa! ““5 9‘39“ ' . ’ ningen. Loiden. and UerChtl from the Dutch Reformed would recognize the propriety of the teaching about t'elIEI'Z'I'l 3‘5 distin- tbcological students were required to take work in comparative religions. It?! IN Chapter 7 guished from the teaching of religion in the public schools," that t. -' parallel course of religious studies in the academy, instituted a cent“ ago in Holland, became possible in this country. .. This political and legislative history, as important as it has been, shrimp not be allowed to obscure a more fundamental base. Simply put t generic religion as opposed to h torical, believing communities. But it is not this element, ' ' as it was, on which I wish to dwell. Rather it is the mood, . -. Enlightenment attitude toward religion that concerns the. .f- To put the matter succinctly, religion was domesticated; it was trait."- formed fromparftos to ethos. At no little cost, religion was brought with} 3; the realm of common sense, of civil discourse and commerce. Rediscovh ering the old tag, ”Nothing human is foreign to me," the Enlightenme t -_ impulse was one of tolerance and, as a necessary concomitant, one whicli refused to leave any human datum, including religion, beyond the pine ' of understanding, beyond the realm of reason. -: It was this impulse, this domestication, that made possible the entrance of religious studies into the secular academy. But the price of this entry;- , to reverse the Steppenwolf formula, is the use of our mind. As students” of religion. we have become stubbornly committed to making the__attempt {even if we fail] at achieving intelligibility. We must accept the burden of . the long, hard road of understanding. To do less is to forfeit our license .- to practice in the academy, to leave the study of religion open to then;- - charge of incivility and intolerance. ' Against this background, I have deliberately chosen for my topic art = event which is a scandal in the original sense of the word. Such scandals _. erupt from time to time and perturb the assumptions of civility. For the E Enlightenment faith in intelligibility, it was the shock over the utter dev- astation of the Lisbon earth Candied?!1 For 5:01] r.i.i., on is November 1973 in lonestown, Guyana. From one point of view, one might claim that Jonestowrt was the most important single event in the history of religions. for if we continue, as a profession, to leave it ununderstandable, then we will have surrendered our rights to the academy. The daring and difficult experiment in parallel courses of religious study began in Holland a century ago will have concluded in failure. One final, preliminary matter. To interpret, to venture to understand, is not necessarily to approve or to advocate. There is a vast difference between what I have described as “tolerance" and what is now known as ”relativism.“ The former does not necessarily lead to the latter. In the The Devil in Mr. Jones 105 sixteenth century, that great precursor of the Enlightenment, Mflnluigne’ argued in his essay "0f Cannibals : - . ' ' ' is not of his own customs; in truth EveryoneI:z:flscbfiébgr:g,geh;tggflhal is true and reasonable, except lhseeiitrainple and idea of the customs and practices of the country. In itch; we live. We may call them barbanansfithen, if we a: $1313: by the rules of reason, but not if we are Judtggigrfiyricompa . ourselves, who surpass them In every sort o a a y. ‘ ' ' -tion but he was also making a nor- as statin a principle of tolera , 1 :Zti; claim' Eve cannotjudge another culture by reference meflflrrfifiigfizi ‘ I . Ives} if our criteria ar _ ud e [both another and nurse , . 1“Eliitulrislswoi' regason.” The anthropology of the last century,rfithehs;ul;;layivteif religions in the academy, has contributed to making more SI cum m “in; ethnocentrie formulation of the ”rules ofreason, but this {TS :en i I? our that such ”rules” be denied, or suggest that we should s ac __J ts to formulate them. . . . _ atifiTspa far cry from the civility of Montaigne and his. Enlilghtfigfltflhteze'ir: to the utter conceptual relativism of D. 2. Phillips w en , Faith and Philosophical Enquiry: if i hear that one of my neighbors has killed another nElghgfiiif 3112:; ‘ven that he is sane, my condemnation is ll'I'I-I'flfidlflti. t then“ 1 d” not fi'llil some remote tribe practices child sacrifice. w a What would it It ow what sacrifice means for the ll'liilE'ln question. th‘ I know n to say I condemned it when the ”it‘ rcfers to some ing t child nmcftgiiling about? 1 would be condemning murder. But murder is no sac rifice.‘ I 1 IL un_ [f the skundalon of .lonestown requires that we 1113:2213; Sign“: side derstanding, it requires as well that, as members; o the Iattgr’gcg‘ncgptuai "a with Montaigne against Phillips. Forfundamenta to I . c may “m L ' ' ‘s the claim that, “what counts as true in my angnag 'hl : relatisgsmgli- to be described in yours. Translation becomes imp-ossi r; 1, FuenrinZiElet-‘i But if this be the case, the academy, the :Elinifci 1-:— . iihtferstanding, the human sciences themselves, become, 1 e i , . ' rises. ' possible in principle since they are fundamentally translation cnterp __ _ fl - lic record The basic facts concerning lonestown that are matters of pub 931 ' .“ James Warren Jones was born 13 MEY I . mfh h:mr:i:iliii3wh¢h1l?ir:::, Indiana. Like many other towns of Eggsrmegfifl hriid :f the time, Lynn was a seat of both Christian fun:::eli1ad been in Ku Klux Klan activity. [The Klan‘s national beaglqrhac late forties Jones Indianapolis.) There is considerable evidence that y 106 Chapter 17 was deeply committed to the former and had decisively rejected in favor of a vision of racial equality and harmony. In Willi Jones {now married}, moved to Indianapolis and. although not ordained, became a pastor at. the Sommerset Southside Church and director of an integrated community center. In difficulty with the Sommerset congregation for his outspoken views on civil rights, he left and, by 1953. had founded his .' own, interracial Community Unity Church, Iar cl sub ' ' ‘ - forts, including the door—to-door peddling of pefmbnkeyiflédijabiliil: :1; '- also servedas associate pastor of the Laurel Street Tabernacle, but again his integratlomst views forced him out. in mid. he founded the Iieoplei' -' Temple. an integrated but predominantly black congregation. He alsn' began the practice of adopting children of various races the was to ad t ' a total of seven] and urging his congregants to do so as well. Movingoiia I - larger quarters, he began his visits to a variety of evangelists the most ' Stgntficant being a trip to Philadelphia to talk with Father oivihe. By issn .' hrs efforts In community work had beeome so well known that he wad " appointed director of the Indianapolis Human Rights Commission and articles about him began to appear in the press. In 19m, the Pcbples .- Temple Full Gospel Church became affiliated with the Christian Church :" iDlsclples of Christ}, and. in l964, Jones was ordained a minister by that - denomination. In this same period. Jones appears to have introduced '- more discipline into his congregation lc.g.. establishing an ”interrogation I. committee"l and to have begun to practice increasingly vivid forms of -' faith healing; he claimed Ihat he had resurrected a number of dead indit- J vtduals [by Hill, he would claim to have resurrected more than forty} and i. that he was able to cure cancer. ["1" his latter led to an investigation by the state of Indiana, but the results were inconclusive.) In I'thfi, after reading an article on nuclear destruction in name, Jones predicted the end of the world in a nuclear he would occur on [5 July 1967. Concerned for the society that would emerge ' after this event, he sought to find sanctuary for a small. interracial rem- I nant. The magazine mentioned ten places as the safest from destruction including Help Horizente, Brazil. and Ukiah. California. Jones visited EI'ElZII, meeting with several of the leaders of messianic cults there as well as stopping off in Guyana on his return. He then moved about ISll meme hers of his congregation from lndianapolis to Ukiah, incorporating the Peoples Temple, Disciples of Christ Church in November 1945.5. He began a pattern of commuting between his Indianapolis and his California con- gregations, but increasingly concentrated his activities in Redwood Valley By I967. Jones was an important civic instil ution in northern California‘ Several officials had joined his church. He was the chairman of the local Legal Services Society and foreman of the Mendocino Grand Jury. Esquire Mdg- - I locau st which _- J the latter ' The Devil in Mr. James I'll? - By 1W2, he had expanded his activities. founding churches in San Francisco and Los Angeles. He published a newspaper. The People's Forum, which had a press run of SILIIEIII copies, and had a half-hour radio program. each week, on KFAX. In 19?}, he leased stone acres of on. developed land from the government of Guyana to serve as an “agricul- tural mission" and a “promised land." By 19H. his combined California congregations had grown to such a degree that the Sacramento Bee declared, "Peoples Temple ranks as probably the largest Protestant congregation in Northern California," and Jones became an important political force. Still combining his preaching I of racial equality with services of healing. Jones began to speak to, and attract. a different audience. While still predominantly a black and work- ing class congregation. he also brought into Peoples Temple a new. white. liberal, educated, middle class membership. in HE, he was named one of the hundred most outstanding clergymen in the United States by Re- ligion in Life. He also worked for the political campaign of San Francisco mayor. George Moscone. and entered into the center of West Coast pol- itics. ‘v'isibly active in support of freedom of the press causes. he received. in IQTIEI. the Los Angelcr Herald's Humanitarian of the Year award. He became active in the presidential campaign of Carter. turning out a huge audience for Rosalynn Carter’s appearance; he was later invited by her to the inauguration and corresponded with her in the White House. Appointed to the San Francisco Housing Authority by Moscone in Ill'l'd. he became its chairman in IWJ. and received the Martin Luther King Humanitarian of the Year award in San Francisco that year. Although there had been a few ”esposés“ of Paoptes Temple [most notably a planned eight-part series by Lester Kinsolving in the San Fran- cisco Examiner in l9i2, which was suppressed after four installments had appeared}, it was not until the l Auguet 19?? issue of New West Magazine with its lurid reports of financial misdealings, beatings. intimidation. brain- washing, and hints of murder that another side of Peoples Temple came into public view. After an unsuccessful attempt to have the story quashed, Jones left for Guyana. The mission in Guyana had been run. since its establishment, by a skeleton crew. In Elli, there were only I5 members in Jonestown. By 19in. when California's lieutenant governor visited the site. there were some 5".) individuals. in May 19?, there were Til full-lime residents. He- tween late July and December ISN‘T. Jones and some soc other clzltngt'lESlll'lls had moved to Jonestown. A core of about liltl members was left bEhil'ld to staff the California churches and provide logistical support fflr Ll“ community in Guyana. Between 1 April and 'l' November i973, there was a flurry 0f 1'33“: actions. Former cull members entered lawsuits against li'eolill‘as Temple The Devil in Mr. Jones M? _ Relatives ofcittzens or J i d Statcs con l ‘ ual numbers from the site of the first Tern le in Ultiah-R d d ‘v' II . . . onestown b .‘ 5” 1” Guyana on p ‘3 woo a ey Egorotattons of human rights and Eisigijliiilitiibilc statements chi".E _ {139'} and Los Angeles [13?]. . assuntlttezrj‘emple official filed an affidavit to the 'Lfljincstown. in June; . Slnce the events tn_Jonestown. l have searched through the academic a tyrannical hold over the “keg t“ ect that Jones . ,- Journals for some serious study. but m vam. Neither tn them. nor to the had become Pflfflnotd and was plan -”0 Temple members," that h' E hundreds of papers on the program of the American Academy of Religion socialism." in the same month Jameinggb mass 5U_Icide for the glory . _;- {which was in session during the event in limit and which meets each year Francisco. charging him with plannin “'5’ billed suit against Jones in San' - about the time of its anniversary] has there been any mention. For the ll'lfll'lfi death of minor children not cild rcilia;iii ward-er i that] Would resu] ' press. the event was all too nuickly overshadowed by other new horrors. In ormed decisions about serlous ma ug to make voluntary a .... bor the academy. It was as If Jonestown had never happened. The press. by and large, featured the pornography ot' lonestown—the initial focus on the daily revisions of the body count. the details on the condition of the corpses. Then. as more ”background“ information be- came available, space was taken over by lurid details of beatings. sexual humiliations. and public acts of perversion. The built of these focused on Jones as a ”wrathful. lustful giant": his bisexuality, his mistresses. his alt-night sermons on the “curse of his big penis.“ his questionnaires to adolescent members about their sexual fantasies concerning him, his ar— rest on a morals charge. his sexual demands on his congregants. including a secretary whose job it was to arrange liaisons for him with male and female members of his congregation, beginning with the formula. “ Father hates to do this. but he has this tremendous urge." Everything was sen~ sational. Almost no attempt was made to gain any interpretative frame~ work. According to the journalists Maguire and Dunn, it was an event be ' Wh' ' ~ I." 33:33:“5lflehflflrsed, the fimmdc or fil'fit'lifemlilrfigl: 1‘" Want that had “so bizarre that historians would have to reach back into Biblical timesl l] fruit drink nliis “Eli It was over. 914 pimple had die J.“ Peoples Temple to find a calamity big enough for comparison." It was not surprising. I suppose. considering the fact that a major met- ropolitan daily. the New York Post. found it impossible to mention the Ayototlah Khomeni‘s name without prefacing it by ”that madman.” that it was the language of fraud and insanity that dominated the accounts. There were several options: he began sincere and went mad; he began a fraud and went mad: he was always a fraud; he was always mad—or. sometimes impossibly. a combination of all of these. Thus Newsweek could. in one article. call tones: ”self-proclaimed messiah.“ ”a man wh...
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