An Open Letter to Jim Jones

by Erin Clymer

(Author’s note: I know the feeling of being born out of due season. It is something I have felt in my own life. It is one of the many things about Jim Jones that I have found a kinship with, much to my chagrin and discomfort. 

(Jonestown was the first news story that I remember as a seven-year-old child. It captured my attention to the point that I would interrupt playing with my friends to find out what happened. Though I was not raised in a religious atmosphere, for several years afterwards, whenever people mentioned the Christian devil, I pictured Jim Jones.

(I am a person who researches my fears so they have no longer have power over me. A couple of years ago, I realized Jim Jones was a fear that I had never examined, much less conquered. This is what I found when I did.)

Jim Jones, 1972

Dear Jim:

You were perceptive enough to recognize the power of belief and the strength of the individual. You tried to awaken people to the idea of them being responsible for their own destiny, and you offered to be the savior for those who didn’t grasp that concept. You took all of the insightful things others said, mixed them with your own, and expressed them in a way which people would hear and internalize. You were quite possibly one of the most perceptive people to have graced this earth.

Unfortunately that perception also showed you the ultimate futility about life. That sense of your being “born out of your due season” followed you from your childhood on through your life, and even to your dying day. You underestimated the ultimate toxicity of this realization.

The only way you were able to feel a part of this world was to become superhuman. The most powerful man in the world, the knight in shining armor, the answer to anyone’s search for Truth personified, the apostle, the savior, God: anything that went beyond the man you really were. That was what you strived to be, that was how you presented yourself. No one ever stopped to tell you that Jim Jones the human being would have been enough.

You amassed great power. In the beginning, you understood the great responsibility that came with it. But when did you – or did you ever – understand the possibility for great tragedy? Eventually you forgot about the human in you, and the ego took over. You knew in your soul that no one person can truly save the world, but you were hell-bent on making sure everyone thought you could. Somewhere along the line, you chose your need for power, glory and infamy over any altruistic nature you once had. The human inside you weakened, then was eclipsed. You became the emperor tyrant who ignored the failings of your own ideas. You forgot that we all make mistakes, and instead of correcting them or navigating a different path, only pressed forward as far as you could possibly go. Your detractors knew of your weaknesses and folly, but did they ever glimpse what would happen if they increased that push? Your madness, your addictions, you ego, and all the push push push finally plunged you over the edge into the bottomless abyss, taking everyone around you with you.

The truth is, when you found yourself drained, when you knew that your time had come to an end, you chose murder – dressing it up as “revolutionary suicide” – rather than surrender. And that’s the real tragedy: There was that final choice, and you made it. You got what you wanted. You will always be remembered, but it will be for nothing else. Your name will live in infamy, while those around you died with you.

And the brilliant anomaly of the human born James Warren Jones never saw the light of day.

As I am sad for all of the people who suffer with the loss you created, I also grieve for you, the man that no one ever got to meet, the human who pays the Karmic price of the demon you set loose and embraced. Your story and the story of the innocent people of Peoples Temple became the saddest story I have ever known.

Originally posted on October 5th, 2019.

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