Jim Jones, Jonestown, and the Discovery Institute

Dead cultists at Jonestown

Dead cultists at Jonestown

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!

add to del.icio.usAdd to Blinkslistadd to furlDigg itadd to ma.gnoliaStumble It!add to simpyseed the vineTailRankpost to facebook

. AddThis Social Bookmark Button . Permalink for this article

20 responses to “Jim Jones, Jonestown, and the Discovery Institute

  1. Um, I think you may be equivocating between definition #1 of materialism (for Jones) and #2 (for the Wedge). Don’t get me wrong, they’re both kooks, but logical fallacies are their gig, not ours. We’re supposed to notice them, not make them ourselves. Everybody knows that! (see what I did there? I’m all witty ‘n’ shit)

  2. Okay, it’s not a perfect match. But still …

  3. Sure. Today you’re equivocating on that word. Soon, you’ll be doing the same for “faith”. Do you really want to go down that road?

  4. “Do you really want to go down that road?”

    Not nearly as far as they do in linking Darwin and Hitler. But a wee bit of their own medicine might be good for them.

  5. Don’t forget that Darwin wrote the forward to Mein Kampf, and he did the erotic charcoal sketches that opened each chapter. I know my history!

  6. Yes, and Hitler always kept a copy of Origin of Species under his pillow. Or was that Stalin?

  7. Stalin kept his in his excessively manly moustache, but we’re getting off topic.

  8. Brenda, that’s the one and only time you’ll ever spam this blog. You’re on “moderation” now.

  9. Poopikins, I told you not to call me that in public!

  10. Sorry about the confusion, doll-face. I had deleted Brenda’s post. Buncha spam about some mystical movement she’s enthused about.

  11. Ah. The best spam is the mystical kind, I find.

  12. You can read all about Brenda’s stuff here: Theosophy. At least she wasn’t selling meds or running an online casino. Just a kook.

  13. I can. Knowing a bit about it, I won’t, though. I’ve read on enough subjects that start with “theo” to realize that it’s Greek for “pulled it out of thin air”.

  14. I still dont understand how you connecting this atrocity with the discovery institute and creationists connecting hitler with evolution are so different. I will be the first to say that religion has had some disatrous periods. You may recall the crusades in which christions slaughtered thousands in the name of there faith. Was that wrong, sure as hell it was. However dont be so angry when we connect men like Hitler and Stalin to evolution, because there is a connection there.

  15. Dj Boschmann, you have so far contributed nothing but creationist talking points, none of which have any merit. There are entire websites devoted to that material, as I’m sure you know. I don’t want this blog to become another of those.

    Until you have a serious contribution to make, I suggest you spend your time here reading, and perhaps asking serious questions. Until you know what these topics are all about, your comments are useless.

  16. You are absolutly correct i am contributing a creationist point of veiw just as you are contributing a evolutionist point of veiw. However my quistion still stands. You say that the Jonestown Massacre can be a result of religious fanaticism , and your correct it is. It was an act of a deranged cult that was trying to find truth in a perverted way. So then would you say that Hitler and his Nazi ragime was an act of radical evolutionist views?

  17. I like Dj’s ideas, i personally dont agree with some of his logic but he does bring up some interesting points. Dj I think that your view of the Nazi party may be a little false. They took things to a whole new level and tried to implement things that where not at all evolutionist veiws!

  18. Dj Boschmann, I wrote an article on that. Please check this out: Hitler and Darwin.

  19. You made some very interesting points of comparison indeed, but you have misread Mr Jones very badly IMHO….and I wrote a thesis on him as part of my psychology degree. Jones was a power hungry control freak demagogue, and his move to S America was fuelled by a much more complex set of reasons than you attribute to it. It was more about isolation and control – the standard tools of any cult. He also realised his time at liberty in the US was running out, and his cult’s days were numbered.

    He may have at some stage studied socialism but he was anything but a socialist in reality. Mouthing propoganda and wearing a Che T shirt doesnt make you a socialist.

    Words are words, it is action that defines the man.

    A closer and more valid comparitor for Jones is David Koresh or Shoko Asahara. The Heavens Gate bampot was Jones Lite.

    I always think that Jones and his legacy is why you guys are so gentle with the equally lunatic Scientology cult…. you dont want another Jonestown.

  20. Sandman says:

    He may have at some stage studied socialism but he was anything but a socialist in reality.

    He studied it and he preached it. Did he live it? Only in the sense of being a totalitarian freak, albeit one who wouldn’t fit too well, say, in the British Labour party. Still, that was his line of patter, so it’s worth mentioning. And although it’s a stretch, I enjoy associating all things horrible with the Discoveroids. Goose, gander …