March 31, 2009

At What Point is it Too Much?

I saw a special last night on PBS about Jim Jones and the People's Temple (watch it here). It really got me thinking; I wonder at what point his followers would have said it was too much. I wonder why so many of them waited until the last second to flee, and why even more (over 900) stayed with him to the very end and drank the punch that they knew would end their lives.

Certainly, these people had clues earlier that something was not right. Jones humiliated them publicly, guilted them into working for days without sleep, even coerced some of the men and women to have sex with him. Yet hundreds followed him to their deaths. What is it that keeps people blind to the obvious clues about a man's true character? They see in him only what they want to see. They overlook his obvious character flaws and horrible acts and deny their discomfort. At what point would Jones' followers all have said, "This is just too much. I cannot follow you any further"? The sad truth is that more than 900 never reached that point. Men and women murdered for him in cold blood and many killed their own children because he said to.
Long before the congressman came to visit, Jones asked his followers to drink some punch. After they had all drunk, he told them they had just drunk poison. After seeing their reactions, he told them that it was merely a test; they hadn't actually drunk poison, but he wanted to test their loyalty.

It was suggested on the special that it wasn't at all a test of loyalty; Jones knew they were loyal. They came every day, worked hard every day, turned in their paychecks every week, etc. Jones had no reason to question their loyalty. That test was not for them, but it was for Jones. He wanted to see if he had absolute power over these people. And he got his answer.

I couldn't help but be reminded of a few incidents in Joseph Smith's life. In order to "test" some of his followers (e.g., John Taylor and Heber C. Kimball), he informed them that he had been commanded to marry their wives. After some anguishing soul-searching, they gave him their submission. Only after they relented did Smith tell them it was only a test of their loyalty.
Or perhaps it was Smith's test to make sure he did have absolute power over these men.

And so, at what point would some no longer believe Smith was a prophet? How far is he allowed to go?

Kimball, S. J. (1986). Heber C. Kimball: Mormon patriarch and pioneer. Champaigne, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Prophet Wilford Woodruff, John Mills Whitaker Journal, Nov. 1 1890


jenny said...

Thanks for your posts! I've just discovered your blog and have read a few posts so far. I can't express how much I agree with you and have found all of these things out for myself recently as well. I have come to my true self and have never felt better. Of course there is some tension still with my husband and his family (mine is not LDS). My story is a little different from yours since I was not raised in the LDS church, but it's so interesting to hear it from another persons perspective. I am likewise, learning how to handle everything with family who is hurt by my decision. I'm glad to here other people out there are going through the same thing. :-)

I have attempted to share the full truths about J.S. to LDS believers, but the responses are often "well he wasn't a perfect person" or just assumptions that my sources are false or he was "commanded to do such things by God". Its amazing how one can defend their beliefs by covering it up with meaningless excuses in order to not disrupt their blindess!

Wel,I hope the best for you!

jenny said...

this woman has a great blog as well...

Anonymous said...

I am sincerely curious as to why you felt you need to start a blog about this? Your "voice" on this blog comes across as argumentative and standoffish. Does your wife read any of your posts here? How does she feel about the way you are portraying her religion?

Eli said...

Response to Anonymous: Great question. As stated on the blog itself, I began this blog to help the curious understand the reasons for my decision to leave. In this way, people who are offended by my decision may learn about it, respond to my reasons, or ignore it entirely. I am not pushing any agenda, but stating my feelings clearly and making them available and open for discussion. The other options were to not say a word to anyone about why I did what I did and let them come to their own incorrect conclusions, or to try and force all my loved ones to understand why. I feel that this was a good middle ground where those who wanted to know could come for answers and discussion. If you're offended by what I'm writing, I'm happy to discuss it with you. My wife has read what she has wanted to read on this blog. As far as how much she wants to understand me and my reasons or how much she'd rather not know, I will not answer for her.

The Mudras said...

"Anonymous" is a Mormon. Only a Mormon would label Eli's comments as "argumentative."

My experience has been that Mormons consider anything said about their religion that is not 100% praise and agreement, is "contentious," "argumentative," "angry," and, ultimately "Satan-inspired."

Blogs, by nature, are for the blogger to express his or her feelings, opinions, and wisdom. "Anonymous" should start his own blog. (That is my opinion.)

Smith's and Jones' "tests" are, of course, scripural: God tested Abraham by seeing if he would kill his son.

Eli said...

Response to The Mudras: That's an excellent point for those who believe the Old Testament is inspired writing. God tested Abraham. I think there is an important distinction to be made between God Himself testing us and a man claiming to be God's voice testing us. If a man wants to test us, how do we know if it is he or God who tests us?

Anonymous said...

Actually, I am not a Mormon. I am investigating the Mormon church and came across this blog. I was merely expressing a commonality I find with those who disagree with the teachings vs. those who are "believers". Your comment reiterates my point as the voice in your comment also connotes anger and intolerance. I sense their is animosity on both sides and little tolerance for open discussion (as I beleive is the author's goal in creating this blog), the intolerance on both sides is intriguing. I am genuinely interested in how Eli's choice has affected his relationship with his spouse and I value his response. By the way Eli, did I read that you do not believe the Bible to be true?

Eli said...

Response to Anonymous: I'm really not sure how you got any anger or intolerance from my response. You'll have to explain that to me. Or did you mean the response from The Mudras?
I do not believe that the Old Testament is a literal history, and I believe that whole lot of it was definitely not inspired by God.
As an addendum to my previous response, I find that there is nothing anyone can say that may shed a less-than-sacred light on the Church or its leaders without making believers feel very uncomfortable and offended. That is probably a very big reason anything I write on this blog comes accross to believers as argumentative- they don't want to hear anything that challenges their world view. This blog is a place where you are welcome to challenge mine, however, in a mature and respectful manner as I try to do.