1980s >> 1980 >> no-914-october-1980

TV Review: Guyana Horror

On two Sunday evenings in July we watched in fascinated horror a reconstruction of the career of an American called Jim Jones.

Born in 1931, he “caught religion” at an early age. While studying to become a Unitarian Minister, he worked as an auxiliary in the local hospital where he met and married a qualified nurse who, despite everything, stuck to him to the end. After his ordination he was appointed to a church whose congregation never topped twenty. He built this up until the church was filled. However, he displeased his Elders as the faithful were predominantly negro in a city where segregation was fact if not law, and the Ku Klux Klan reigned. Dismissed from his post, he took to the streets and founded his own church, the People’s Temple.

At first his reputation rested on fiery oratory and the provision of welfare facilities for his deprived flock. However, soon he started to use his personal magnetism as well as fake miracle cures to dominate his flock completely. Absolute obedience and the making over to the church of all worldly goods was required. Part of the money so obtained was used for bribes and deals to buy into the city administration. Disobedience was published with public disgrace, beatings and even death.

Eventually his financial chicanery made it too hot for him and, with the law on his tail, he and 1,000 of his congregation went to Guyana to found their own community. His vanity and ruthlessness led him from excess to excess. From claiming to represent God, he progressed to proclaiming himself to be God. His sexual excesses with young people of both sexes multiplied yet his hold was such that the majority of his community continued to adore and obey him. In 1978 after the coldblooded shooting of a visiting Senator and accompanying newsmen, the end came. It is difficult to credit that his domination was still such that, when he ordered everyone to take poison — making his young son set the example all but three obeyed.

Those who saw the programme could not understand how so many could be duped into parting with all they had and, without question, obeying this man, even into death itself.

There is a far greater continuing tragedy than the one which happened in Guyana. The vast majority of the world’s population, the working class, are similarly deprived. They also accept without question the fact that they should spend the greater part of their lives working for the enrichment of others. They obey, with hardly a murmur, the edicts of their masters; in times of war even to death itself; and accept gratefully the crumbs from the rich man’s table. However, whereas everyone outside Jim Jones’ claustrophobic society recoils in horror at his merciless domination, only socialists appear to realise what is wrong with the capitalist world we live in today, and try to change it.

Eva Goodman

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