JONESTOWN SURVIVOR Contacted by Swedish Students

Each week, I get at least one email with questions. One of the emails that I got this week was from Swedish students. This was their question: What are the basic forms of expressions, belief and ideas of The Peoples Temple? (How does a member of Peoples Temple express their faith, any special clothing, special behaviour, rituals? etc.)

Really, your question has to be answered in two parts – the USA, and Jonestown
The basic beliefs of Peoples Temple were that everyone is equal, and should be treated with dignity. No one should be hungry, or should be living in dangerous circumstances, or should be treated with disrespect. We also believed that by living in community (in many socialist communal living spaces) that people’s needs were best taken care of. We shared whatever we could so that we didn’t have to buy excessive amounts of food and clothing. We had our own store where we could get clothing and household goods contributed by other members, and we cared for each others’ family and children as relatives would. We didn’t drink or smoke, or go to activities outside of the Peoples Temple group – and had a lot of events, theater, singing, music, and demonstrations to keep us busy. Many of us were vegetarians. We had simple needs, and were kept extremely busy day and night. From the beginning, for me – March 1970 – I slept at the most 6 hours a night. There was always something to do. We were dedicated to making the world better. Jim inspired us, and then used that optimism and sacrifice as a way to have us stop careful analysis of what he was doing.

We were never a people of faith – that is one Bible that directed us. I came as an atheist. Others came from all faiths. My opinion always was that Jim wanted to turn us – from whichever theology or experience we came from – into activists. And, he did. We were extremely hard workers. WE were expected to always do our best. After I survived – I continued to use a lot of the skills I learned and practiced in Peoples Temple – to do good work, to finish what I started, to be kind, to think outside the box for new and creative solutions, to challenge myself to learn new things and improve my skills.

A few of our rituals: When we were driving, we would load up the car and then sit for 2 minutes to settle in and relax. Then we’d drive. We were running around so sped up that we needed that. We took cold showers in the US – to get ready for Guyana. (But, Guyana was so hot, cool showers always felt good.) We ate soy beans because they supposedly protected a person from nuclear fallout, and Jim was sure there would be a nuclear bomb at some point. That stopped about mid-1970s. We were heterosexual and monogamous except for Jim – who had many secretaries/mistresses/liaisons with men and women, which were mostly hidden. I learned of all of his escapades after the deaths in Jonestown.

In the US:
We had doctors, lawyers, social workers, and others who gave support to people who had legal, health, family, and financial crises. We lived simply and saved every penny. We were told and believed that our money was used to create a Utopian society and community in Guyana.

In Jonestown:
In many ways that was true. Although Jim did have more than the rest of us – more privacy, sodas for his staff, and things like that – we lived in a remote and primitive village in the middle of the rain forest and most of us loved it.

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