Why Peoples Temple?

by Caley Follmer

I wrote my paper as a requirement for the International Baccalaureate Program at Douglas County High School in Colorado. Or rather, it started out as a requirement, but for me, it turned into a great adventure. I ended the process, not with a sense of finality but with a passion to learn more, to write more, to research more. Something had built up inside of me and I thrived on it.

So, you might be wondering, what brings a high school student to do the research necessary for a 4000-word essay on Peoples Temple? I’ve always been fascinated with different, somewhat “out there” religions. The Amish held my first fascination. Just the idea that they led a life so different from my own made me want tHo learn more about them. But I wanted something more controversial.

My thoughts went from the FLDS to the Branch Davidians, but then I stumbled upon Peoples Temple. The idea that one man could inspire and move thousands to the point that they were willing to sacrifice their lives amazed me. I knew it had to take a gifted man, maybe not a great man, but definitely a gifted one. I found myself in an amazing library at the University of Denver pouring over Peoples Temple books until the late hours of the night. All of the stories, facts, and opinions kept me wanting more. I was so obsessed with learning more that it was actually hurting my research process.

After a while, I realized what I wanted to depict and analyze in my own paper. I didn’t want to criticize those who were in the cult, as they are the innocent, I didn’t want to write about a monster, because he wasn’t. What I decided to consider was whether the cult, the movement, was successful. Because, honestly, something amazing happened here. It ended badly – sure – but the leadership, the community, the change, was just mind-blowing. It was only at the very end of the writing process that I even discovered what I thought of the question, that the death of the community made their quest for equality and everything else they stood for unsuccessful. In my eyes, it was tragic, not just because people died, but because ideas died.

Unlike many students who may have struggled to come close to the 4,000 word limit, I found myself at around 5,000, with so much more I wanted to say – so much more that I wanted to educate others about, so much more I wanted to tell the world. I loved the feeling of knowledge that I had after eight months of research and writing. It was empowering.

So, with this essay I leave you just a piece of my knowledge, and I want to encourage you to find your passion, and to really and truly become knowledgeable. Because knowledge really is power.

Last modified on December 24th, 2013.
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