Jim Jones and Peoples Temple have interested me for years. Perhaps it started out because of the way the Jonestown massacre has become embedded into mainstream pop culture in the Western world. Every few decades, it seems, there is some sort of tragedy or event of such epic proportions that it permanently hammers its place into history. There’s no doubt that for the 1970’s, that event was the Jonestown massacre.
Another interesting aspect of Peoples Temple history for me is the ideology. Statements regarding any sort of Peoples Temple theology seem to be contradictory to say the least. Sometimes Peoples Temple is talked about as being entirely atheistic and other times it’s portrayed as being a legitimate – although very unorthodox – Christian church. The difference may have something to do with time period, with Jim Jones presenting Peoples Temple as a Christian church and then later dropping all the religious talk in favour of a purely socialist ideology. In reality, I think it was likely a very complex mixture of the two, with religious and atheistic people alike.
Similar topics arise in discussions about Jones’ “gift,” that is, his supposed healing powers. Even Jonestown survivors can’t seem to agree as to whether or not Jim Jones had the ability to heal, or whether he even really believed that he possessed such a power.
Whatever sparked my interest in Jim Jones and Peoples Temple, that interest is what produced the following poem.
Under jungle sun and Guyanese breeze
A man-god that you must appease
He puffed his chest and stood so tall
But then and now everyman knows, the pride precedes the fall
So then shouted the mighty king who lost his crown
No man takes my life from me, I lay my life down
(Brett Wettlaufer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)