Almost four decades after Jonestown, an author looks back to look forward

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  • skeptic Phoenix, AZ
    Nov. 23, 2017 10:12 a.m.

    To truly understand most of today’s churches one needs to recognize that they are non profit tax free corporate entities operated the same as regular corporations with a board of directors, president and officers, etc, (they may use different titles but their function is the same). Like all businesses they have a product or service to sell. In the case of churches it is their patented brand of religion. Generally, their board of directors consist of old white men waiting their turn to play god. The best antidote to religious abuse is for people to learn to question and think for themselves.

  • Tyler D Prescott, AZ
    Nov. 21, 2017 4:12 p.m.

    @Greenmountain – “The content of various "dogmatic ideologies" is of tremendous importance!!”

    But why do we need “dogmatic ideologies” at all?

    What society ever descended into evil because they were too reasonable, too respectful of basic human rights, too demanding of evidence, etc.?

    You’ll get no defense from me of Marxism or any other “ism”. What led to the murder of millions throughout history is dogmatism, period.

    And don’t be too quick to let religion off the hook. Europeans spent over 500 years burning heretics and “witches.”

    People have to be under a pretty powerful spell to keep that kind of horror show going generation after generation. And had they had modern weaponry and populations as big, they may have surpassed the wars of the 20th century by a long shot (imagine the Spanish Inquisition – or ISIS - with a nuclear bomb).

  • Greenmountain Payson, UT
    Nov. 21, 2017 2:46 p.m.

    The content of various "dogmatic ideologies" is of tremendous importance!!

    The core value of "all there is in the universe is matter in motion" can lead to bad actions.

    The core value of "human beings are created in the image of God and are of limitless value" should lead to good actions.

    "Both men (and Pol Pot) subscribed to dogmatic ideologies and used all the tools of religion (e.g., faith over reason, belief over evidence, an anointed dear leader, unquestioning followers, cult of personality, etc.) to gain power."

    The core value you are referring to is called "Democratic Centralism".

    "PS – in terms of killings sprees both as a % of populations throughout history and for how long they lasted, religious persecutions have an unparalleled record of horror."

    The Marxism/Leninism brand of atheism has only been in power for 100 years. Religious persecutions have been on this planet for many more years. Stalin, Mao and friends outperformed all others in the last 100 years. Larger populations and technology are a factor.

    Other forces have led to great tragedies. Extreme nationalism and racism are mixed up in many tragedies.

    Over population and weather-Mongols killed many.

  • Greenmountain Payson, UT
    Nov. 21, 2017 1:58 p.m.

    "None of them did the evil deeds in 'the name of atheism'." per Mr. Thomas Jefferson.

    Atheism was a core value of Stalin and Mao. Atheism is a core value of Marxist/Leninism.
    Stalin and Mao did not violate their core values by causing the deaths of millions. People are only "matter in motion". Atheism can be poison to the human mind.

  • Tyler D Prescott, AZ
    Nov. 21, 2017 1:42 p.m.

    @Greenmountain – “Joseph Stalin and Mao directed others also to do heinous deeds.”

    I completely agree – this is what happens when we elevate dogmatism above reason.

    Both men (and Pol Pot) subscribed to dogmatic ideologies and used all the tools of religion (e.g., faith over reason, belief over evidence, an anointed dear leader, unquestioning followers, cult of personality, etc.) to gain power.

    The real problem is dogmatism. Religion just happens to be the pinnacle of the dogmatic mindset.

    PS – in terms of killings sprees both as a % of populations throughout history and for how long they lasted, religious persecutions have an unparalleled record of horror.

  • Thomas Jefferson Cottonwood Heights, UT
    Nov. 21, 2017 10:39 a.m.

    "The destructive religions are the exception, not the rule."
    I disagree. All religions destroy the human ability to think clearly. All religions require people to claim they 'know' things which they clearly do not (and cannot) know.

    "The world, Americans included, is better off because of religion."
    A bold statement. Now try to prove it.

    "The earth itself exists for a religious purpose, a purpose which won't go away simply because some choose not to believe in it."
    No, the earth exists because of physics. Again you are making outrageous claims which you cannot even come close to proving.

    "Jim Jones and Charles Manson directed others to do heinous deeds. Joseph Stalin and Mao directed others also to do heinous deeds."
    The first two thought of themselves as a god. The second two knew they had to take power away from religion to give it to themselves. None of them did the evil deeds in 'the name of atheism'.

    Religion is poison to the human mind. The sooner humans dump these myths the better. You are all atheists for thousands of gods that you know humans created. You simply think the one your parents sold you as an impressionable child is the 'real' one. How 'lucky' for you.

  • Donwilliams sandy, UT
    Nov. 21, 2017 9:19 a.m.

    Religion makes good people do Horrible things
    Mountain Meadows Masacre

  • Greenmountain Payson, UT
    Nov. 21, 2017 9:10 a.m.

    "Religion" and "religious" people certainly do not have a monopoly on heinous deeds. For example Joseph Stalin and Mao were atheists who directed the tragic deaths of many millions of human beings.

    Jim Jones and Charles Manson directed others to do heinous deeds. Joseph Stalin and Mao directed others also to do heinous deeds. The quantity of victims of the latter exceeded the former by thousands of times.

  • Thid Barker Victor, ID
    Nov. 21, 2017 8:52 a.m.

    @ Tyler: Religion, like everything else, can be and sometimes has been corrupted! Making irreligion our state religion is the worst kind of religious corruption! For most of us religion is the vehicle and the source of what defines moral behavior! Take that away and what do we get? We get moral relativism-there is no right and wrong, only how each person perceives right and wrong! Was it William Penn who wrote; "Those who will not be governed by God will be ruled by tyrants?" We know this to be true and history has proven it time and again: Mao Tse Tung, Pol Pot, Joseph Stalin, et al! Blaming Jonestown on religion is like blaming pencils for misspelled words!

  • Tyler D Prescott, AZ
    Nov. 21, 2017 8:48 a.m.

    @Ialaw – “The world, Americans included, is better off because of religion.”

    Christopher Hitchens wrote a terrific book called – God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

    I wouldn’t go as far as Hitchens did – I agree with JRL that religion can be a positive for some people – but I certainly think on balance it has not been a force for good.

    Or let me be more clear – while I think the founders (Jesus included) of many religions have been exceptional people, what their followers have done in their name has often been… less than stellar (to say the least).

    Now religious people will off brush this critique with trite comments like “nobody’s perfect” but again, when religion can get otherwise good people to do horrible things (see European history of burning heretics and “witches” which went on for over 500 years, or the Muslim world today) that phenomenon goes far beyond our fallibility.

  • Onion Daze Payson, UT
    Nov. 21, 2017 8:32 a.m.

    "Religion" and "religious" people certainly do not have a monopoly on insane deeds. For example Joseph Stalin and Mao were atheists who directed the tragic deaths of many millions of human beings. Jones and Manson were 4th rate "punks" compared to Stalin and Mao.

  • IAlaw Council Bluffs, IA
    Nov. 21, 2017 7:28 a.m.

    Let's not paint with such a broad brush. The destructive religions are the exception, not the rule. The world, Americans included, is better off because of religion.

    The earth itself exists for a religious purpose, a purpose which won't go away simply because some choose not to believe in it.

  • samhill Salt Lake City, UT
    Nov. 20, 2017 9:15 p.m.

    What is really ironic about the idea of religion being the basis for some people to commit evil deeds is that the most destructive ideology, by a wide, yawning margin, is the assiduously atheistic religion of Communism.

    It may be with some of the same wild-eyed zealotry of Communism, that so famously entitles its "People's Army", or "People's Republic of China/N. Korea", or "People's factory of this or that", which prompted Jim Jones to label his "church" the "Peoples Temple". But, when comparing the number of casualties, his less than 1,000 pales in puny contrast to the many 10's of millions starved to death in the Communist inspired actions by Stalin, or Mao Zedong, or Pol Pot, or all of the dictators in the murderous dynasty of N. Korea up to and including the present.

    As horrific as the religious perversion from Jim Jones was, trying to use it to make the case that it demonstrates American vulnerability to demagoguery while completely ignoring the vastly more deadly demagoguery of an officially atheistic system of Communist tyranny that has been operating around the world for more than a hundred years, shows a suspiciously shortsighted and misplaced focus.

  • JRL in AZ Tucson, AZ
    Nov. 20, 2017 3:43 p.m.

    @Tyler D.: "religion is fairly unique in its ability to get otherwise good people to do bad things."
    True. It is also fairly unique in its ability to get otherwise indifferent people to do good things.

  • Tyler D Prescott, AZ
    Nov. 20, 2017 2:35 p.m.

    “The first thing we need to understand about Jim Jones is that Americans have always been vulnerable to demagogues.”

    How true… and none more so the religious Americans.

    It’s easy to get bad people to do bad things, but religion is fairly unique in its ability to get otherwise good people to do bad things.