This week I’ve contemplated bravery. Almost always the brave person is the one feeling most afraid. Have you heard or read about the 1977 Jonestown tragedy? I am almost finished reading survivor Debbie Layton’s account in her escape. She had to be secretive and clear headed. Like in Nazi Germany, those who reported on others were rewarded. “Regular” people joined this cult unwittingly. Intelligent people can be fooled by demagogues too often. Debbie, her mother, and brother Larry were looking to live lives of meaning when they joined the Peoples’ Temple, a socialistic-style society with promises that weren’t kept. Jonestown was a prison, punishments were severe, but now near the end of Debbie Layton’s account, she’s figuring out a way to escape and help others.
In 1977 when I’d heard about the sorrowful mass suicide (actually, at gun-point 900 people were forced to drink a kool-aid product laced with cyanide) I can remember how anyone could surrender their body and soul to a charismatic egomaniac, Jim Jones. But sometimes they do. Debbie Lawton did, and her life and lives of family and friends were either lost or shattered. Jonestown is a bygone tragedy, but it has relevance to terrible events we see unfolding today. Like Jim Jones, Osama bin Laden is a dangerous demagogue. Jonestown is a universal tale about an ideology gone awry.
|Deborah Layton, a survivor, wrote “Seductive Poison”|