tv Mosaic World News LINKTV October 18, 2012 7:30pm-8:00pm PDT
stories, parables. you can imagine the people sitting around the fire after the goats are milked, sharing these stories such as jesus weeping for jerusalem. so we have a period of oral history. next, it moves into a period of early written history and scholars posit that there was a proto matthew, a proto luke - early sources in which people, as a group, began to concretize around jesus's teachings and his events. then we begin to feel the need to write these down. and then finally the third stage is the actual writing of the gospels - matthew, mark, luke, and john - each with their own direction, each to a specific audience. mark, obviously, to an apocalyptic community that felt that the world was imminently coming to an end. matthew presents jesus as the greater teacher, the interpreter of the torah. luke to a more gentile audience, and jesus becomes the savior for all peoples and all nations. and finally john, later, much more gnostic,
much more holy spirit-oriented, so that the church becomes the vehicle in which the holy spirit will descend. so again, we have an interesting connection between myth in its earliest form, and how it concretizes into a full religious movement. >> you see how the doctrinal dimension moves in there in terms of the interpretation. i loved it - i figured this out - well, i didn't figure it out - as i studied the new testament, something people don't often realize is the different tone to the gospel, to each one of the gospels. and why? because they develop out of individual communities with a certain purpose and a certain audience. and so right there, you've got the myth happening, but then you've got that doctrinal dimension focusing in - now what was important? reverend williams, that we just saw, he's a luke guy - dare i say it - he's the gospel according to luke. get out there and help those - the samaritan did
the right thing, the prodigal son; these are parables unique to luke. he's a luke guy. reverend stowe, who we've met before and we'll meet in the next class, he's a mark guy - he's into, "hey, this world stinks. the apocalypse is coming; get yourself saved so the next life, you'll be in heaven." and i'm being a little crass here, but john's very gnostic; matthew was obviously to a jewish audience. and so even as we get the sacred text, which doesn't always have to happen because we talked to thomas drift, our native american, and he comes from traditions that were perfectly happy to find their world-view defined in a mythic and ritual dimension and didn't feel the need to concretize in the doctrinal dimension. but you know, there we have it- it's a wonderful look at how sacred texts also work in the doctrinal dimension as forms of interpretation. as you well know, different translations of the bible have different tones and can raise up
different issues, and we go round and round on that also, so interesting point. let me shift gears here because we have some rather long and perhaps the most unusual roll-ins of the entire class here on the jonestown incident, and i wanted to bring in first, the first part of the class here we've looked at some traditional christianity, we've talked about it, and i don't want to - i'm not even quite sure - it would be a wonderful argument to argue, once we finally get to jonestown and guyana, if what's going on with jim jones' teaching even is christianity. but one thing i can guarantee you is that when he started out, his christianity was very, very similar to that of cecil williams. in other words, he was a boy in trouble, because he invited blacks in indiana into his church; he said, "christianity is about inclusiveness; i'm going to start a church that includes everyone." well, he was kicked out of
a major denomination, and then starts the people's temple, and grows - and on that theme of inclusiveness and communalness. i mean, hey, folks, he was being apostolic - almost as much or perhaps more than a group that claims the apostolic thing. so what went wrong, you know? that's a very interesting question, one that people are still fighting over. how do you get from authentic, real christianity amongst the leader and the people, to 900-plus people killing themselves or being murdered in the jungles of guyana? a terrible story that includes the times, the oppression, tensions between the secular and the sacred world. but rather than have me spin the web, what we discovered, through the networking again, a wonderful woman, professor rebecca moore, who teaches religious studies quietly and nicely at the university of north dakota. and who would have guessed it? i got connected with her
because i was looking for someone who could speak to the jonestown incident who really knew something and wasn't going to be - sensationalize it, because it's easily done. well, it turns out that this professor of religious studies breaks every stereotype you might have about the jonestown incident. her older sister and her younger sister died there on that day in november 1978, and there was a terrible racist spin, as you probably picked up in the media, that jones was a megalomaniac, cultic, psychotic leader, and his followers were brainwashed african americans. it was very sad that that came out, because it was quite a diverse group there in the jungle. well, these are upper middle class, long tradition methodists. and as she'll tell you - also, we're standing on the grave, and during the first interview, we're actually out of the grave in oakland - the mass grave where there's more than 400 people buried - and her nephew, who was fathered by jim jones with one of the sisters, is in that mass grave.
and she has a lot of integrity to come and talk to , but long-tm methodt family - her two sisters really believed that they, too, in following jones, they were getting out of an ordinary christianity that's ashes that no one's fanning; they felt they were legitimately fanning those ashes that reverend williams talked about, and we know what happened from there. so let me start out with the first part of the interview. we'll have time for some questions; then i have actually a second part where she gets very, very open about how jones actually worked the group and what happened. so the first part of the jonestown interview. >> i haven't been here for a couple of years, but my nephew, jim-john, is buried here along with about 250 or 300 other children and unidentified people who died in jonestown, guyana. and every year, they have a ceremony - people who were relatives,
family members, friends, come to remember the people and the lives that they led before they died on november 18, 1978. the san francisco council of churches, under the auspices of the guyana emergency relief committee, actually got the money to bury the unclaimed and unidentified bodies here, at least about 300 of them. they tried to get them buried in various cemeteries in the bay area, but first they'd arranged with one, and then as soon as people found out that these were bodies from jonestown, the cemetery refused them. so they went to several different places before this cemetery - which is in a predominantly black neighborhood of oakland - was willing to accept them and open the doors to people, well, and their loved ones who really had no place else to go. i have both a personal and a professional interest
in people's temple. my older sister, caroline, my younger sister, annie, my sister, caroline's son, jim-john, my four-year-old nephew, all died in jonestown on november 18th. and so obviously, i'm very concerned and interested in why they chose to die on that particular day. but professionally, as a scholar of religion, i'm interested also in kind of the cosmic question - why did they do that? why do people join movements? what is the appeal? what is the - what is it that they're not finding in traditional mainstream religions? i think that people joined people's temple for a number of different reasons. there were a variety of races, classes, ages of people who joined, and my sisters joined actually
for two very different reasons. my older sister, caroline, was very politically active, very socially involved, and saw people's temple as a way to live out her commitment through social justice and social change in our society. i mean, remember, she is joining and the temple was active in the bay area in the 1970s - just kind of as all the social movements of the '60s are collapsing. my younger sister, however, joined because she saw this as a radical form of christianity in which people were actually living out their commitment to jesus - that they were living a life dedicated feeding the hungry, helping the poor, clothing the ned, and so on. and in fact, the motto that people's temple had on its letterhead was from matthew 25, the parable of the last judgment. so the temple attracted people who were very much part of traditional as well as those who had
a political interest in changing the world. >> now the second interview, that we'll get to after we have a chance to sort through this, we'll hear her articulate some of those reasons - she's asking those questions, why would someone do that - and i think she hit the nail on the head, that for our purposes in beliefs and believers - and we don't want to co-opt her story, and with the greatest respect, i'd say that we're back to looking at the fact that people have a need for meaning and purpose and authenticity. and organized traditional religions, as they become more institutionalized, that very process has less of an ability to keep that fire going. and so we go back to the first part of the semester and we see seeking begin to happen within the group. and as far as i know from my discussions with rebecca, this is a very entrenched methodist family. in fact, talk about
your odd coincidences, her father, apparently, was the previous minister or one of the previous ministers in glide memorial church in san francisco. so he was in that - isn't that weird? yeah. in that social gospel kind of a liberal protestant way of helping the poor. and so, the sisters, all three of them, were raised up in an atmosphere in which christianity was about helping the poor. but then where do you draw the line? and there's been more than one person that's wrestled with a capitalist, individualist, materialist society, and we all enjoy some of the good things, living in a society like this. but, if you are such - if you are a person that is - has that religious spark we've talked about, who's really on a religious quest, who really puts spirituality first, then where do you go with your christianity? where do you go with your doctrinal interpretation of the life and teaching of jesus? and to use our analogy here, where does your belief move you
ethically in terms of your behavior towards your fellow human beings out into society? and if society does not then measure up, what do you do? do you try to fix society? which jim jones certainly tried to do, and during the heyday of the mid seventies, or early seventies in san francisco, jones was even appointed to a position on the housing authority, i believe, by mayor george moscone - i think he was the one that was later assassinated by harvey milk, if i'm not mistaken. but in any event, jones had risen up to a position of respect in that very liberal community. but again, what goes wrong? well, rebecca will have some things to say about that, but just your thoughts or comments on it? sure. >> the headstone described them as victims. >> yes. >> is that accurate, when people choose their paths?
>> darn good question. that's the a-number one $64,000 question - is a person a victim in that setting, when it goes to thought? >> i can see the four-year-old - >> yes, okay. >> - definitely a victim. >> now, we understand here that it was a suicide-also murder, because as you'll hear her say - i didn't realize this; the media didn't catch, pick up on this - but they practiced this. they practiced this for months. and oddly enough, rebecca's parents were down there just in may, and rebecca may have been also. but they practiced this, and those who were not willing to drink the flavoraid - it actually was not kool-aid, apparently; it was flavoraid with the poison - there was other things they would be forced to - and of course, jones, i believe, was shot by his significant other at that point, and she shot herself, or something along those lines. there's some question -
i don't know if i should - bui did get somethingis, of a feeling from rebecca that one of her sisters may have been the one that, was the final person that had to shoot jones, but we should probably go back and i can put it in the study guide, but i think she remarked about something along those lines. but that's the victim thing. only about four people escaped - a couple of lawyers who were out in a far shed managed to kick it into the jungle - very lawyer-esque. no, just kidding, folks. and a couple of other folks managed to escape, but everybody else died. chris, you had a question? and then we'll go into that other, second part roll-in. >> yeah, i was going to touch on the four-year-old thing, that that clearly was a victim. but she brought up a very good question. we've seen other things like that - david koresh, the ufo people - >> heaven's gate, the ones who - >> - heaven's gate. yeah. and i think that - we were talking about this john, luke, matthew type thing.
revelations is an extremely weird book of the bible - >> and we'll get to it in this class. >> hey, neat! - and it seems like a lot of these people are basing their beliefs off of this book, and as we get further into the second millennium, it seems like we're going to see some uprisings and religious fervor and more of these incidents. >> that's so astute, chris, because actually, you read my mind. and believe me, i didn't meet him before class and tell him this, but in the next class on the more unusual kinds of doctrinal interpretation, i'm in fact going to look at the book of revelation, see how it impacts on what we would call religious apocalyptic theodicies, but also on secular ones. and i'll try to make the case that, though it's not religious, what's motivating someone like a timothy mcveigh, the unabomber, or the person that blew up the abortion clinic in atlanta
or maybe set off the bombs at the olympics may well be driven by that. but we have a wonderful - a little bit longer, about eight minute further interview with rebecca in which she comes out and answers some of the questions we're raising, in a way that i have never heard before. in particular, keep in mind as she talks about this, our "belief of believers equals behavior" - your $64,000 question: who's the victim? wow. let's take the words from rebecca on this. >> what exactly did the people's temple adherents believe in? >> well, people's temple was affiliated with the disciples of christ denomination, and certainly began as a christian group, or within traditional christian belief systems and structures. however, it had an interest and commitment to racial justice and equality, beginning in indianapolis in the 1950s,
continuing on into a move into california in the 1960s, and into expansion within the inner city ghettos of san francisco and los angeles. so, as the group moved and expanded its traditional christian commitment to social justice, equality, and so on, it changed, and some of the members tended to be more politically committed, with less of an emphasis on christianity. >> social justice, inclusiveness, caring about the poor - these are great ideals. how do we go from these beautiful ideals to tragic suicide in the jungles of guyana? >> i think it's really hard to understand why people who join a group with high intentions and noble ideals end up ultimately killing their children and themselves. and i don't think anyone who joined people's temple in the beginning ever thought or imagined that they would end up on the cover of
newsweek as a dead body. but what happens, i think, as you become part of an organization that requires total commitment, you begin to make compromises, which are justified by your faith and commitment - that your goal is worthy; racial equality is something that we want. however, if you begin to coerce people or threaten people, then your goal is compromised, and you're compromised by decisions that ultimately lead to the final decision to die together in the jungle of guyana. >> from the media coverage of the event, you didn't get any sense of the isolation those people were in, in guyana. can you help us out with the geographical and informational vacuum there? >> i think it is difficult for us to understand how completely isolated the people in jonestown were from the rest of the world.
it was literally in the middle of a jungle in the western part of guyana. there were only two ways you could get in - one was upriver, through the jungle in the kaituma river. the other way was to fly into a little airstrip, and ride a land rover 35 miles on a dirt, muddy road. and so people had - there was no television there. there was news that was broadcast - quote, unquote - broadcast by jim jones. and because he had total control of the media, for example, he told the community that african americans were being rounded up and put in concentration camps in america. and there was really no way that they could verify the truth or falsity of that. he suggested that world war iii was about to begin, and they had really no way of knowing that that was not the case. and so in a situation of that kind of isolation, you obviously look to your leader,
and you look to each other for support and understanding of the events that are going on around you. >> when you look over the basic teachings of the people's temple, they're very sound doctrines. what takes sound, humanitarian - based doctrines and turns them into such frightening belief? >> i think that people's temple and the people who were part of it felt under intense pressure and attack by the outside world, both from ex-members, which are called apostates now, the media, and government, which was investigating the organization. and one of the lessons that we might draw from the experience in jonestown is that people who are involved in new religious movements are very susceptible, and i don't want to go so far as to say paranoid, because sometimes their paranoia is justified. but i think as a society, we need to take seriously their beliefs and the critique
of society and religion that their membership in these alternative groups is making. >> you suffered enormous personal tragedy, losing your older sister and your younger sister, and even your nephew is buried in the grave site here. were you ever interested in joining the group, and did you ever have a chance to meet jim jones? >> well, i met jim jones several times. he spent time at my family's house in berkeley, california. and once when i was particularly vulnerably emotionally, having just separated from my first husband, i got the hard sell from my sisters. they thought people's temple was great. they wanted my parents to join, they wanted me to join, and to be honest, it was a very attractive situation. they had a number of programs for mentally retarded children, for elderly people, they had nursing homes. it was obvious that they were committed to offering programs to help people in need.
and yet there was just something about jim jones that i didn't care for, and i can't really explain it other than i guess i smelled a rat. but i was never really coerced. i mean, it was much more soft sell. "we're doing great things. don't you want to be part of what we're doing?" that was really the pitch. >> the suicide that occurred on that tragic night is terribly apocalyptic. do we actually know what happened that night? >> the people in people's temple had been rehearsing suicide for several years as a loyalty test. jim jones would give out kool-aid or punch, everyone would drink it, they'd pretend to fall down dead, and then he'd say, "congratulations. you passed the test. i appreciate your loyalty." so the act of actually committing suicide was ritualized, so that on the final day,
or when there was a real emergency - that was created by the arrival of congressman ryan, leo ryan, and members of the media, hostile family members to jonestown - his visit precipitated something that had been practiced for a number of times in advance of the final event. >> why did they have to shoot him? i mean, if he's the one who thought the whole thing up, did he expect to survive his own planning? >> i think he thought about it. was it huey newton that talked about revolutionary suicide? i think he really felt that that's what was happening. i'll get to you here just in a second, helen, your wonderful victim question. as i'm listening to rebecca talk, i'm thinking, "why? why? who's the victim?" and you know what she said that was astounding? it was that what - "why do people join these groups? i think i actually said.
"well, why not, facing society? it's the cultural critique." when you look at a society with the problems, with the conflicts, with the lack of ability in a broadly christian society that does not live up to the kinds of things that - perhaps as cecil williams would have said - doesn't live up to these ideals, maybe in one small sense, all of us are victims, in that case, in that we do get religious expressions of this extreme. yeah, helen? >> so what went wrong? i think we have to look at the structure and at the political science of the structure in order to answer the question, and at the danger of the charismatic leader, who first of all, draws his followers by idealistic reasons and then ends up by the cult of personality and making a totalitarian state - in a sense, it's a model for the totalitarian state. and so it reminds me of the importance of congregational polity, which is just another word for democracy. where does authority derive?
well, in jamestown, obviously, it was all centered in jones. and when you have a congregational polity, that authority derives from the consent of the governed, as in any democratic institution or in other words, from the congregation. >> well said. and i think it's a key point in this program, because if you - the power of religious belief, if you allow it to be vesseled, for lack of a better word, in a single person, if the person - as she said it did - if the person becomes the focus, then how is that power dispersed? it's a bit frightening. yeah, susanna? >> yeah, but in that whole situation there, you would have needed a secret ballot, too, from what they say, and that's not very likely to happen. and you have to have people who are capable of voting - of making up their own minds. and you were making a little joke about the lawyers earlier - they would have been the last group to fall for thing in the absence of concrete - of solid evidence. but they, apparently, weren't even free to lead - they didn't feel like
they could lead a revolution because of the let's say learned helplessness of the people with them in this jungle with nothing, as far as they knew, that you could get to from there. and so learned helplessness and resignation to. i think it's hard to imagine, though, people going in with high ideals and being able to rationalize to themselves the okayness of a suicideness loyalty test, which anytime could have been the final thing - that's some kind of criteria. and he was talking christ-like, but that's not where it was. >> you're right. and to see that go downhill, we'll talk more about that when we get into our look at sects and cults and why people join extremist groups. but from the - what is it about the power of religious belief or spiritual in need that brings a person with high ideals, and then allows them to fall into this pattern that you're speaking of, allows them to lose the power of their own rationality, of their own sense
of self-government, and be taken over by a charismatic leader. it's a story that we have to continue to follow up in here. but since we're down to our last 30 seconds, let's think about it in terms of belief and believer - doctrine and ethics and behavior. well, in our next class, we'll be back with conservative christianity.
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