Recently, I opened an innocuous-looking piece of email. It was really hate mail. The sender told me that I should never speak publicly and that I should just shut up. He must have seen one of my interviews in the documentaries that continue to air about Peoples Temple. He wrote that when I cry about anything related to Peoples Temple, I’m just stupid, ignorant, etc. The people deserved what they got.

I opened a folder for “Mean Mail” and stuck the letter there. My immediate response was to trash it and him. Why would anyone respond to such a hateful and vicious diatribe?

Unfortunately, possibly, I wanted to take issue with several ideas in his email. First, if you ever succumb to the embrace of cults, are you automatically a “throw away” person for the rest of your life? I think not. We recycle cans and bottles. Can’t we also recycle people? Is there no forgiveness? Charity?

The second point is really what motivated me to address this issue. I have been interviewed for many documentaries, theater projects, books, articles, research projects and other Peoples Temple-related projects. I do cry, and I do try to broaden the understanding of Peoples Temple, Jonestown, and the wider issue for me – practicing humanity. There is nothing I do that encourages cult-like behavior. If I cry, it is because of my memories of the wonderful, optimistic people who died because they had a dream for their families. These friends of mine were willing to move beyond talking to DOING. They wanted to build a model community based on equality and dignity for all. There were many secrets – carefully guarded secrets – within Peoples Temple. We were not experienced “cult followers” who jumped from one group to the next, learning as we went. We were naïve and so hopeful that it clouded our critical thinking. We worked hard on creating this Utopia. We were so determined, we rarely took a breath. We didn’t spend time discerning if there were dangers for us or others. We were busy. Yes, we blew it.

We live in a crazy world where you can be consumed by the daily tragedies and conflicts – local, national and international. You can also get distracted by minutia. Most of us prefer spending time with those who can transcend that mire for at least part of the time. Those are the people who gathered in Peoples Temple. We began to build a new society where we could live comfortably, and not feel compromised. It was a tough job. We’d roll one stone up a big hill to place it in the sun. Then, we’d massage the next stone. We were constructing our dream of a community. The mire couldn’t stop us. We were on the move.

We were not villains. Jim Jones could be considered a villain. I am purposely NOT talking about him in this response to the hate mail. The people who died in Guyana did not deserve to die. Moreover, we could really use them to help us in our efforts to clean up the world these days. They were visionaries and workers – not just “pie in the sky” folks. I miss being around those construction workers who believed in the dream and then built it – or started to.

And, I have seen more than enough hate in my life. How is resentment and cruelty making the world better? What right does one person – any person anywhere – have the right to decide if another person “deserved to die”? Enough already. We should get to work, together, to make a better world. Replacing one cult with another one – a “Cult of Hate” – makes everything even worse. Hate accomplishes nothing.

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