Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Jim Jones & Socialism

Last night's PBS series, The American Experience, broadcast a documentary about Jim Jones' "People's Temple." I caught about 30 minutes of the program.

I of course vaguely recall the mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana in 1978. I knew nothing more about Jones or his movement.

I guess I just assumed that Jones was always way off in left field. That's certainly where he ended up, but the program portrayed Jones and his movement as pretty-well connected up to the point that they moved to Guyana.

Jones started in the 60s, reaching out to the poor (particularly to African-Americans), and promoting a version of what he himself called socialism, albeit socialism motivated by Jesus' teaching in the sermon on the mount. Church members pretty much lived communally. When he moved the temple to San Francisco, he provided large numbers of members for demonstrations and electioneering. His assistance apparently proved pivotal in a close election between a liberal mayoral candidate and a conservative mayoral candidate. Upon winning the election, the liberal candidate appointed Jones as chair of the city's Housing Board.

This apparently perked things up a board meetings -- PT members would show up en masse to attend the meetings, standing up when Jones entered the room, and often cheering and applauding when he made a comment. This performance ultimately attracted the attention of the press, which then prompted the wholesale move to Guyana (although the land had be purchased for some time).

Things soon swung out of control in Guyana, as Jones became increasingly paranoid.

The documentary interviewed a number of surviving PT members, including Jones son, Jim Jones, Jr., and the documentary also showed a lot of film or video of Jones preaching in the temple, leading services, speeches & etc. His work was squarely aimed at ministering to oppressed peoples, and his worship services evoked services at many black churches.

I had other things to do, so I stopped watching when they made the move to Guyana. In any event, the show was disturbing enough up to that point, even if the mass suicide didn't occur.

I don't want to make too much out of Jones' left-wing orientation. Still, it was disturbing to see (and hear) Jones appeal to the Sermon on the Mount to justify the extension of control over every facet of his congregants' lives. Further, he preached against setting one's hope in a future heaven. He said that the only heaven that is, is the heaven that they make in the here and now.


Blogger CPA said...

Well yes, I remember that Jim Jones seemed like such a great guy before everyone drank the cool aid.

I also remember back when Robert Mugabe was a wonderful moderate, a former Marxist who realized the error of violent class struggle, someone the whites and propertied classes in Zimbabwe could work with and trust, etc., etc.

April 18, 2007 7:35 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

Yeah, although even before the move to Guyana the People's Temple was pretty screwed up -- that's why Jones moved everyone to Guyana just hours before the San Francisco Chronicle published an expose on the PT.

I was completely unaware of the political dimension of the PT while it was in San Francisco.

Echos of Munster all over the place.

April 18, 2007 8:56 AM  

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