The tragedy of the Jonestown Massacre, on November 18, 1978 in which more than 900 people died involved a white minister, Reverend Jim Jones of the Peoples Temple.
Jones preached unconventional socialist and progressive ideas to a predominantly African-American congregation and led them to mass suicide by urging the followers to drink poison. The sheer enormity of the event has led to numerous studies on the making of a cult.
Jones told so many lies to people to create a state of siege psychologically and mentality to the community leading to their emotional engulfment in his ideas and ideals that ultimately led to their stand of revolutionary suicide. It is estimated that over 300 of the dead were below 17 years.
Psychology studies religious fanaticism and how a person or group of people can lead others into such uncritical zeal, devotion and obsessive enthusiasm even unto their demise.
People often wonder how one person or a group of people, majorly and seemingly a preacher can turn evil. On one hand, this is the work of a narcissistic psychopath who largely influences people into a paranoid personality disorder. This emerges largely from the urge and obsession to gain power and control over other people.
Most of these so-called domineering people are deceitful and angry towards people who appear to question their authority, betray or abandon them. This can be traced to childhood in which you will establish that they are often lonely and withdrawn, underachievers, some abused as children and others sometimes with violent tendencies.
On the other hand, narcissistic psychopaths could have a neurological disorder close to bipolar mania that leads to obsessive-compulsive disorders and a delusion of reality in which they are supreme human beings leading to paranoid ideation of their supremacy, rein and sovereignty over others and the world.
A cult is a religious sectoral group that is not part, of or separates itself apart from a larger and more accepted religion and that has systems, beliefs and convictions that are both extreme and dangerous. The religious leader has superior powers and is supreme, unquestionable and dominating; they have superior powers, supernatural powers and influence.
The sectoral group is not affiliated with any religion, temple or group of Churches because it emancipates from, and spearheaded by the leader. It is important to note that the so-called charismatic spiritual leader has no theological training.
At first glance, he or she appears highly progressive, social and advocating for the rights of people and will claim a humanitarian cause and that she or he is fighting for democratic ideals. However, he or she has dominion over others, his or her authority is unquestionable, non-questionable and there is blind following. This is because he or she has disillusionment with reality.
The sect leader has then to seek members to join the group, or community of worshippers who must be ‘holy,’ ‘chosen’ and ‘more superior’ than the ordinary people. They target ‘soft targets’ such as women and young people, the weak, poor and undernourished (they are promised and soon provided with food, clothing and shelter) other vulnerable groups such as the aged, widows and orphans.
These people quickly join the group as they are offered a new faith filled with hope and promise such as living more worthy lives, going to heaven and relinquishing their present troubles, needs, wants, pain, misery and all. The members are brainwashed into (total) submission to the new beliefs and convictions of a religion that offers them a ‘feature’ in the present, and ‘eternality’ in life after death.
This is essential because they must remain in the group and in turn, view anyone who threatens them and their pastor as an enemy. Thus they must crash and fight back any adversaries who want to return them to their former ‘slavery’ before they were set free by their charismatic spiritual messiah. This is the height of indoctrination.
Soon, anyone who does not adhere to the rules and regulations of the ‘new’ religious order and faith is beaten, blackmailed and humiliated. All members are coerced or forced to sign into their lives to the new religion.
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This includes family rights and to sign in, hand over or offer their possessions, property and other goods including homes into the Ministry of worship. Family members are kept apart to avoid sinning. Members who are now pure and sacred are not allowed to speak to non-members including the public and media because they are impure, dirty and callous as they will influence and contaminate you with mud and dirt; you must remain pure.
There is high suspicion among the members because each of them fears the other. At this point, some of the members will resist the indoctrination but they will be beaten, cursed and others killed. Consequently, most people will be held against their will.
There is physical, psychological, sexual and verbal abuse This is marked by additional religious indoctrination; there is no going to a hospital, no education (burning of books, magazines, newspapers) and no media (radio and television; the only source of information and authority is the pastor.
Prof Wango, OGW is the Assistant Professor, Counselling Psychology, University of Nairobi