This excerpt from Lednorf’s Dilemma goes more deeply into Jim Jones’ mental derangement than most other writers’ analyses. Nine years of observing the man and his mania underlay my assessment. The excerpt warrants further consideration because it is based in psychological and theological observations:
Jim Jones was a flaw in the psychological ointment. He had many of the classic childhood deprivations: a drunken father, who was an even sadder case because he was disabled, having been hit with mustard gas in … [the] First World War. His mother, a hardworking, wildly loose talking woman was the only source of family income for most of Jimmy Jones’s school years.
But, then, many children had worse backgrounds and went on to become productive and mature adults. Somehow, Jimmy, during his grammar school years, became fixated on death. He often conducted “play funerals” with the neighborhood kids. A leader from the start, he continued on through the years, running people’s lives, moving compulsively into the staging of strange and darkly bizarre acts in his own church. ??But when and how did little Jimmy become the focus of evil? What set him apart from many other youngsters who had similar family misfortunes, yet who grew into adulthood with reasonably healthy egos? … there was one point in childhood at which he made a fatal error. He came to think that he himself was the only reason for life, that he was the focus of all event… people have a term that comes close to explaining it: solipsism. Given that lack of understanding, it follows, then, that he was the only real authority over his life. But … he was clever and darkly imaginative, and it led ultimately to a warped kind of pragmatism. Manipulating people, fooling them, charming them, cheating them, and lying to them – all of this – was logical in order to survive. You see, what was out there, all around him, was not real – in the sense that it had no meaning for him, other than to serve his rapidly changing plans for the rising of the only messiah, himself. I would remind you that darkness is self-catalytic. He actually believed half the craziness he espoused. He had an enormous ego. But it was inverted. It was upside down. It directed him. His intellect was in total service to his ego. He was devoid of the quality that allows one to perform intellectual surveillance on one’s pride, on one’s emotions, on one’s motives – in short, on one’s ego. He was completely impotent as a human being, in the sense that he could not be intimately comfortable with the genuine authority that confronts us all, that humbles us and allows us to grow in character and wisdom. Jones’s inverted ego, as in all such cases, eventually did him in.
(David Conn described himself as an “investigator of the Jim Jones Peoples Temple cult for nine years prior to the Guyana mass murder.” He died on December 31, 2021, of Parkinson’s disease. His complete collection of articles for this site is here.)