NEXT MONTH is the 30th anniversary of the infamous Jonestown Massacre (18 November 1978), in which Jim Jones, a charismatic cult leader, caused the “revolutionary suicide” of over 900 members of his People’s Temple.
Jones and his followers established a socialist, anti-materialist, Utopian, faith-based, theocratic community in Guyana. According to this Wikipedia article on Jim Jones, which is probably as useful a source as any for this topic:
Jones was a voracious reader as a child, studying Joseph Stalin, Karl Marx, Mahatma Gandhi and Adolf Hitler. He studied each carefully, noting their strengths and weaknesses.
Ah, strengths and weaknesses! Well, that’s a coincidence. Observe, however, there seems to be no hint that Jones studied evolution, or any other science. Here’s more:
In 1951, Jones began attending communist meetings and rallies in Indianapolis. Jones became flustered with harassment he received during the McCarthy Hearings, particularly regarding meetings between Jones and his mother with Paul Robeson. He also became frustrated with what he perceived to be ostracism of open communists in the United States, especially during the trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. This frustration, among other things, provoked a seminal moment for Jones in which he asked himself “how can I demonstrate my Marxism?
So he established the Peoples Temple. That article informs us:
Jones began to offer a deal towards a socialist collective, Jones then referred to as “religious communalism”, in which members would donate their material possessions to the Temple in exchange for the Temple meeting those members’ needs.
Ah, no material possessions. Many of these faith-based cults seem to reject materialism. How else, they say, can one escape the evils of this world other than by denouncing material reality?
We know of another movement that has certain similarities to the People’s Temple. The neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids) also advocate a faith-based, non-materialistic society. According to the Discoveroids’ Wedge Document:
INTRODUCTION: The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built.
Perhaps. Aristotle and his contemporaries may not have held that view, but they certainly embodied Western civilization. Anyway, that religious doctrine is not only a “bedrock principle” of the Discoveroids, but certainly of the People’s Temple. Jones began as a Methodist, learned faith-healing at the Seventh Day Baptist Church, then forged some kind of Pentecostal association, and ultimately ended up with his own, unique interpretation of Christianity.
More from the Wedge Document:
Yet a little over a century ago, this cardinal idea came under wholesale attack by intellectuals drawing on the discoveries of modern science. … This materialistic conception of reality eventually infected virtually every area of our culture, from politics and economics to literature and art
Can’t have any of that nasty science. It’s — gasp! — a materialistic conception of reality. The Wedge Document continues:
Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies.
Hey, what a coincidence — Jim Jones too! As the Discoveroids would like us all to do, Jones and his followers saw themselves as revolutionaries who had forsaken the materialist world. It is safe to say that there weren’t any materialistic scientists at Jonestown, and certainly there were none who had any knowledge of evolutionary biology. According to the inherent promise of the Wedge Document, the People’s Temple should have been free from all the evils of the world. Indeed, that was their purpose in establishing the Jonestown community.
Surely you can see the parallels. The Discoveroids advocate spiritual values and a rejection of materialism. So did Jim Jones, and we know how well that worked out. At Jonestown, we can certainly see — if not clear causation — at least a strong association between the principles of the Wedge Document and the deaths of over 900 people. Maybe there’s a problem with faith-based Utopian cults that reject the material world.
We don’t claim that the doctrines of the People’s Temple match up exactly with the Discovery Institute’s Wedge Document, but it’s a far better match than the utterly non-existent connection the Discoveroids allege between Hitler and Darwin.
Some will probably dispute our analysis. That’s okay. Teach the controversy!
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