Theologies of Oppression

Arlander Cole
Arvella Cole
Photos Courtesy of California
Historical Society, MSP 3800

(Arlander Ronnie Cole was most recently interviewed in November 2019 for the Military Response to Jonestown website. He can be reached at

I cannot write for my entire family, but I can express my personal viewpoint on how I guard my emotional wellness after the Jonestown massacre in which my grandfather Mr. Arlander Cole Senior (Comrade Cole) and his companion Ms. Arvella (who raised me as a grandmother) died at the hands of Jim Jones.

Many of the questions are very emotional for me today, as if the Jonestown incident had just occurred, now in 2008. The condition of my mental state is that of guardedness and caution that fringes on paranoia every time I hear of similar situations occurring throughout the world and especially here in America where freedom of religion is within “our” constitutional privileges.

I like to preface my comments with a very scant historical overview as a backdrop on a collective experience Africans throughout the Diaspora have lived under in the name of Gods. As an African-American male, my discussions are from my personal and historical perspective and understanding. Christianity, and several other “religions” are shrouded in adversity, racism, bigotry, and murder. For the African and African-Americans throughout the Diaspora, there was and is a wicked and sinister duality with Christianity and Slavery, Christianity and the Nazi, and – in America especially – Christianity and White Supremacy. The dogma speaks of hope and the gospel songs ring with overcoming the despair. Aside from other ethnic groups outside the black population, there is Christianity and the “jackleg preachers” or charlatan ministers who exploit and usurp money from many congregations. Many of them are black, many of them are white. Their commonalities are evoking the name of God, and claiming a direct pipeline to this omniscient and omnipotent Creator.

Being a spiritually-oriented person, I can see the unlearned lessons that many people tend to either forget or ignore, simply because they don’t see it as their problem. But for me what Reverend Martin Luther King stated is relevant: “Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.” For the most part, what I see is that a vast number of societies are historically socialized in the Messiah syndrome. Just naming a few, their titles are: the messiahs, the anointed-one the enlightened-one, Pharaoh, pope, and Emperor. This notion of “the one” is central to the religions of Catholicism, Buddhism, Shinto-ism, and Islam, to name a few. This “the one” phenomenon even goes along with, one president or one king. But as a communal and community-oriented person, I believe in the entire group, not one person. No one human, on this earth has the absolute solution.

Another very salient belief is human sacrifice. In the Aztec and Mayan religions thousands of people were put to death in the name of a king. There are other ancient religions that slaughtered their populations centered around the king. Greeks, Cambodians, Jambis, Semites of Western Asia, the Cronois, the Priest of Dionysis… This list goes on and on, wherein children were sacrificed as burnt offerings, or mutilated, and eaten for the longevity of a king or to win a war, etc.

Another very crucial fact is, people depend on the teacher to inform them and have become lethargic in studying and investigating anything for themselves, thus ignorance and pseudo-idealism abound. Very fundamental to this dependence on “the one,” an adherent to these belief systems must demonstrate the principles/tenets of, blind faith and blind trust. These principles are the hallmarks in trusting in the book or the religious leader without question. Take for example Abraham in the Judeo-Christian scriptures. Abraham is esteemed by many believers to be “the Father of Faith.” The scriptures state – and I am paraphrasing – he was told by Yahweh to sacrifice his son Isaac as a blood offering to Yahweh in order to show Yahweh he was “faithful.” For me, this is insanity. My Creator is omniscient and already knows where I am, how I feel, etc. But I ask you also to consider this: if two officers where patrolling an area and they saw Abraham brandishing a knife in the air, getting ready to sacrifice Isaac as a blood offering, do you think they would drive on by if Abraham reassured them, it’s okay, Yahweh told him to do it!

The bottom line, any religion that advocates murder to other humans, is not a religion I want to embrace or adhere to. What the Jonestown incident did for me was make me study, listen, and be careful in what I believe and follow. The overall lesson is, if we forget our past we are doomed to repeat it. The irony in this lesson is how quickly society forgets. As for me, I will always remember Jonestown just as the Jews remember Hitler!