(Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Mr. Strandberg’s website, RaptureReady.com and is reprinted with permission.)
In November of 1978, the world was shocked by the suicide deaths of 914 members of the Peoples Temple cult. Jim Jones, the leader of the group, convinced his followers to move to Jonestown, Guyana, a remote community that Jones carved out of the South American jungle and named after himself. Jones constantly feared losing control of his followers. His paranoia was the main reason he moved the cult to Guyana.
The mass suicide occurred after U.S. Rep. Leo Ryan of California and a team of reporters visited the compound to investigate reports of abuse. After some members tried to leave with the congressman’s group, Jim Jones had Ryan and his entourage ambushed at the nearby airstrip. He then ordered his flock to commit suicide by drinking a grape-flavored fruit punch called Flavor-Aid – a British knockoff of its American counterpart Kool-Aid – laced with potassium cyanide.
The mass suicide wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision. During the weeks that preceded the dreadful event, Jones had conducted a series of suicide drills, according to survivors. An alarm call would sound and every person in the camp would line up to receive a fatal dosage. These exercises in insanity proved that all of the adults at the compound knew what would be the result of their actions.
Peoples Temple did not start off as your average mind-controlling cult. It initially gained much respect as an interracial mission for the sick, homeless and jobless. Jim Jones did not manifest his darker side until near the end.
One lasting legacy of the Jonestown tragedy is the saying, “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.” This has come to mean, “Don’t trust any group you find to be a little on the kooky side.” Of course, you would have to know of Kool-Aid’s dubious connection to Jim Jones to understand the proverb.
Good Advice From A Lost Soul
Several years ago, I was making arrangements to attend a prophecy conference in Florida. I casually told my fellow office workers about my plans. One of them jokingly advised me not to drink the Kool-Aid. He was obviously making a reference to the Jonestown incident.
His comment did not strike me as being offensive, but it did give a sad insight into this man’s perception of the Christian faith. In one way, his warning was very good advice. We should always know whom we are associating with, and we should not allow relationships to draw us into regrettable situations.
It is actually quite rare for religious groups to commit mass suicide. I can only recall three other major incidents of a similar nature that have occurred since Jonestown. Most cults are quite peaceful, and they typically try to maintain a low profile. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are one such example. They have never been known to carry out any violent acts.
The most dangerous feature of cults is the erroneous doctrine they propagate. The falsehood that causes a soul to be eternally lost is far more deadly than any earthly poison. One reason I never argue with cult members who come knocking on my door is that I know they didn’t come to hear what I have to say; their purpose for being at my door is to ensnare me.
In all cases of doctrinal error, the poison itself is not really what we should be worried about. False teachings always will contaminate the thinking of men. The root of the problem is what leads people to consuming this falsehood. The members of Peoples Temple knew that drinking poison is bad for you. Their better judgment was overcome by their blind trust in a mortal man.
Christians shouldn’t be suspicious of everything we hear from the pulpit. We just need to use Bible-based common sense. We should all be like the Bereans of Acts 17, never taking any new teaching at the word of the speaker, but rather using Scripture to verify anything that seems to conflict with sound biblical doctrine.
“These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11).
I’m certain that most of you folks already have a general understanding of the term “group mentality” and how dangerous it is to follow the crowd. We know that thinking as a group is bad because that is what the group in the form of society tells us. This explains just how easy it is for us to fall into this trap.
Every week I get mail from people who say I’m blindly following the crowd that adheres to the pre-trib rapture. Because of my experience with all of the most commonly repeated arguments, I can tell that my accusers are often guilty of having the same group mentality that they claim I’m propagating.
Because we are social creatures, we receive a lot of our understanding from observing the actions of our peers. If a building catches on fire, it is a good idea to follow the crowd to the nearest exit. But if everyone in that crowd decides to hide in a utility closet to escape the smoke and flames, an individual needs to rely on his better judgment.
Christians often fall into their own special brand of group mentality. One of the most common manifestations of this problem is the idea that Christianity has its own type of logic that defies the logic that rules the physical world. This is most evident in the various fields of science.
On the site, I have an article called “This Old Planet” that presents evidence for the “old earth” view. I’ve received a lot of positive feedback from this article. A large portion of the negative feedback is based on the idea that it’s simply a Christian’s duty to hold to this view. I’m not bothered that believers would disagree with me on what is really a minor issue. What troubles me is when Christians take the opposite view solely based on the group mentality.
The Christian community’s disdain for science is so strong that some believers tried for years to deny the fact that dinosaurs once walked the earth. They claimed that scientists were inventing these creatures out of bones from animals that exist today or that God planted the bones to make fools out of these know-it-all paleontologists.
Many believers reject the idea that our consumption of fossil fuels is the cause of global warming. This type of group mentality is based on the idea that God would not create a global climate that could be subject to man’s intervention. We know about the heat-insulating properties of carbon dioxide, and we have records showing the increase in average temperatures since the industrial age.
In judging the soundness of any guidance, it doesn’t require nearly as much intelligence to know that we are being misled as it does to know where we are being misled. There is safety in the herd, but if the herd is moving in the wrong direction, we each need to use our own best judgment.
“If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (Mat. 15:14 NIV).
In God We Trust
After being associated with prophecy for many years now, I’ve met nearly every leading figure in the field. The more so-called “great men of God” I meet, the less respect I have for their reliability. The most virtuous men are usually the ones least known by the public.
I have found the more popular someone becomes, the more subject he or she is to the corrupting influences that come with notoriety. Knowing the shortcomings of man, it amazes me that so many people rely solely on the word of a preacher or a ministry as the foundation of their key beliefs. These same people would probably not trust anyone with their personal finances, and yet they will without hesitation trust the word of strangers regarding matters that relate to eternity.
Because we have no way of ensuring the promises of mankind, God’s Holy Bible is the only source we can trust. Even demons know the value of trusting only the real thing. When the seven sons of Sceva tried to duplicate Paul’s ability to cast out demonic spirits, they were violently repelled by the demon because they were attempting the feat without God’s authority.
“And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye? And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded” (Acts 19:15-16).
I’ve learned never to trust anyone who appears to be the person with all the answers. Because liars can manufacture an endless stream of answers to all questions, their ability to go beyond the mysteries of the Bible clearly indicates their deceitfulness. In the field prophecy, if anyone claims to know the identity of the Antichrist, the date of the rapture, or the location of the Ark of the Covenant, it’s a good bet that he or she is a charlatan.
“For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3 NIV).
For several years, I’ve frequently used a signature block statement that is both humorous and profound. It reads, “In God we trust; everyone else requires verification.” Because God truly is the only One we can trust, everyone else needs divine verification before we can take them at their word.
“Trust the Lord your God with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Prov. 3:5-6 NIV).
“The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust” (Ps. 18:2 KJV).
One of the key indicators of the end times is a rapid decline in morality. Because it is very likely that we are living in the final days of the Church Age, it is difficult for us to grasp how depraved our world has become. The moral standards of our society are basically judged by how other people react to them.
Just because something is legal or socially acceptable doesn’t make it right in God’s eyes. Some of the images we see on TV or at the movies today at one time would have been considered pornographic, but today these images invoke little concern.
I think we Christians should look at this world as being a filthy restroom at a roadside gas station. Fate has brought us here, we try to touch as little of it as possible while doing our business, we hope to leave quickly, and we don’t ever plan on coming here again until it’s under better management.
I’ve commented several times on the evil nature of the Harry Potter series, and every time I warn people about the dangers of J. K. Rowling’s occultic novels, I’ve received messages from people saying that nothing is wrong with Harry Potter. I’m told of other popular books that contain references to the occult, such as the Grimm Fairy Tales, The Lord of the Rings, or The Wizard of Oz.
Morality based on the comparison of one example to another always leads to a downward spiral. My concern about the Harry Potter books is that they encourage people to become involved in witchcraft by portraying it a very positive light. If another author were to come along and use a darker tone to entice youngsters into the occult, Harry Potter would then seem tame.
My advice is minor when measured against the Bible’s. I just warn people to stay away from the series, while the Book of Revelation declares that anyone promoting occultic practices will end up cast into the lake of fire.
“But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Rev. 21:8 NKJV).
As Christians living in this world, we should be revolted by the evil going on around us. If you’re someone who rarely has any problem with immorality presented in the mass media, you might be suffering from a chronic case of spiritual apathy. The only way to cure this condition is to study God’s Word. The standards in the pages of the Bible are the ones we need to apply to ourselves.
Learning From Their Mistakes
When authorities and reporters entered the compound after Jim Jones and his followers had killed themselves, they found a roofed pavilion with a sign that read, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The image of dozens of dead bodies surrounding this banner stands as one of history’s greatest ironies. The only other example that could match this level of contradiction would be the sign above the front gate of the Auschwitz death camp that read, “Work shall set you free.”
One has to wonder what lesson from history the Jonestown folks were trying to avoid repeating. It must have been something minor, like don’t go swimming right after a heavy meal or never run with scissors in your hands, because they obviously repeated every major error imaginable.
Because the Peoples Temple tragedy happened almost 37 years ago, many of you are probably learning of it for the first time. One reason this tragic event has faded from memory has to do with our natural tendency to try to forget incidents that have unhappy endings. I’m sure the people at General Foods, the makers of Kool-Aid, would love to see the stigma removed from their best-selling powdered drink mixes.
I think it’s wrong for us to wish away Jonestown. The Word of God never tries to hide or minimize Peoples blunders. The reason we don’t see a whitewashing of biblical characters is so that we can learn from their mistakes.
It is a horrendous calamity for more than 900 people to lose their lives to a madman, but their mistake provides us with a valuable case study of what not to do. The lessons of Jonestown certainly could have helped the 75 folks who followed David Koresh to their fiery deaths in Waco, Texas.
We need to always remember that we’re not home yet. The devil is constantly trying to think of new ways of ensnaring souls. Until we do get to Heaven, we should be on constant guard against people who seek to have us sample some types of spiritual poison.
“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).