Reverend Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple
Jonestown is remembered as the place of one of the worst tragedies associated with cults in American history. Although a number of other cults are associated with mass deaths, none have neared the death toll at Jonestown. Cults are associated with leaders capable of inspiring others to follow a doctrine out of the bounds of the accepted norm, and of followers who seek membership for a variety of reasons.
Cults have long captured the interest of psychologists and social scientists. The research cult is used to define certain social movements based on collective behavior. A religious cult is usually defined as a small group of people whose beliefs, practices and values are outside of the accepted norm . According toan author , a cult is “a deviant organized action, generally rather restricted and temporary, in which the individual zealously devotes himself to some leader or ideal".
A cult forms when a number of individuals “buy in” to the philosophy of a particular individual. Although a variety of reasons have been posed for exactly why individuals join cults, one of the most popular is that these individuals identify with the other members of the group and depend upon the whole for social support . There are several ways to identify a cult from other types of groups. In general, a cult is suspected when one individual maintains total control of the group; the leader teaches members they can be saved from destruction through hard work and loyalty; members must perform demeaning or demoralizing work; the leader promises followers everlasting salvation; members must separate themselves from their families, jobs, and friends; members must undergo a ritual to make them worthy of membership; members are made to feel dependent on the leader; and members are discouraged from creative and critical thinking.
There are certain types of people who are more susceptible to cults. These individuals are those who have a desire to connect to a higher being; those who are innocent and gullible; those who are inquisitive and have suffered from demoralizing childhoods; runaways; individuals who have difficulty believing in themselves; and insecure people looking for their own identity .
One of the most infamous cults was that of Jim Jones and his Peoples Temple that originated in the United States and later moved to Guyana. Jones had a long history of religious endeavors. In 1954, he started the Community Unity church in Indianapolis in a rented building. The church was later named the Wings of Deliverance Church . In 1955, Jones and his wife bought another building to serve as a permanent home for the church. In the same year, the name of the church was changed once again to the Peoples Temple Full Gospel Church .