No one in his right mind would volunteer to join a terrorist group or a cult. It boggles the mind why people would allow themselves to suffer by joining a secretive organization that demands absolute obedience and self-less sacrifice. But then again, one has to see it form their point of view for the outside world may see a terror group or a personality cult but for the members they see different. They see themselves a part of a freedom fighting organization or a group that exists to save the world.
Irregardless of what is the correct view the question remains – why would anybody wants to be a terrorist or a member of a cult? This study will take a look at cults and terror groups based on the writings of The Jonestown Cult It has already been said, no one in his right mind would like to join a cult. And here is why, in a nutshell, a cult is secretive organization where members surrender their collective rights to follow the whims and desires of a leader or a small group of leaders. Who would like to be part of something like that?
Who would surrender personal freedoms on account of another human being? But there are at least three major reasons why an unsuspecting person is sucked into a powerful black hole such as a personality cult and these are enumerated as follows: 1. A deep emotional and psychological need that finds fulfillment within the cult; 2. Finding a sense of purpose in the vision of the leader(s); and 3. A series of events or signs that seems to confirm the sincerity, divine right, and authority of the particular leader. Emotional Need
There is no need to elaborate on Debbie Clayton’s emotional and psychological problem. But there is a need to reiterate that it is his need for his father’s attention and a great need for a deeper relationship with his mother that made it easy for her to join Jonestown. A cult will offer the same sense of camaraderie and a family for someone despairing for such emotional and psychological salve. Debbie adds that it is not only his utter sense of failure and desperate need to connect with real people, but is also her background that prepared her to accept Jim Jones.
She realized that she always had this deep felt need to please her father. And when her father was no longer there as the object of her childish affections, Jim Jones was ready to take his place. A Sense of Purpose Debbie Clayton needed help so she can set her priorities straight. She tells herself she’s lost and she has found the way when Jim Jones pointed to her the right way when he declared, “Come forward. Be a part of a fellowship that will work to rid our society of hatred, racism, and poverty. I am inviting you to join in a new beginning, a life you can feel challenged by.
Through my ministry you can help make history” (as cited in Clayton). And for Debbie it was hard to resist. The only problem here is that the cult leader was not there to fulfill Debbie’s dreams but instead used her to fulfill his vision. Jim Jones knowingly or unknowingly made Debbie accept a new reality, that the cult leader’s goals and aspirations are now her main priorities in life. A true leader will serve ad will make other people discover what they are meant to be and then support that person until he or she realizes their dreams. Confirmation
This is a very interesting aspect in the study of cults, in the case of Jim Jones and his interaction with Claytons and the subsequent joining of Larry – after three years Debbie Clayton joined the cult – into the Jonestown community. It must be understood that the confirmation can be likened to a sign or an event that is so unlikely that the person could not help but conclude that the cult leader is genuine and has the divine authority to lead. These signs can be witnessed by the members or heard it as part of the history of the organization.
Going back to the series of events that led the Claytons in accepting the leadership and authority of Jim Jones, the first sign was Larry’s seemingly miraculous exemption from being drafted in Vietnam, with the help of course from the charismatic leader. The second sign was the realization that Jim Jones was correct about his opposition against the war in Vietnam, the third sign was knowing about Jones’ exploits such as being appointed as a Director of a certain Human Rights commission when Jones was only 31 years old. The fourth sign was Jim Jones’ adopting three Korean orphans and having a Negro for an associate.
For Debbie Clayton her confirmation was in knowing all of the above and in seeing a letter to Jim Jones that was singed by then Governor Ronald Reagan. One could only surmise what is going on in the minds of Larry and Debbie Clayton but their thought process could be similar to the one below: ? Jim Jones is 100 percent genuine because he went to great lengths just so he can demonstrate his principles in action; ? The letter exempting Larry from being drafted in Vietnam and Ronald Reagan’s letter validates Jones’ as a great leader; and
? A vibrant mixed congregation is irrefutable proof of his compassion and deep love for the minorities who are usually treated as outcasts and second-class citizens in America. Inferences It is interesting to point out some of the ideas gleaned from Debbie Clayton’s narration of her experience inside Jonestown. Some of the more fascinating ideas that almost jumped out of the pages is the realization that cult members are not poor and that they are not uneducated, in fact many of them were really smart – the college or university type.
For instance one could easily tell that Larry, Carolyn, and Debbie are the sort that can afford to earn a college degree and that their families had the means to allow them to get what they want in life. Another interesting thing that needs mentioning here is the idea that cult members will normally not dig deep enough to paint a coherent understanding of their doctrines etc. For instance Jim Jones claims to be Christian and yet he also teaches a form of reincarnation.
A quick survey of Christian history and Jesus’ teachings will reveal that it cannot mix with reincarnation that should have been a warning for Debbie but once the three aforementioned factors are in effect, the person would only hear what he or she wants to believe at that point. Terrorists It can be argued that those who wanted to join a terror group do not see themselves as terrorists. At least they see themselves as soldiers and freedom fighters. Although Jessica Stern pointed out that, “…
developing a single profile of suicide bombers in nearly impossible” (as cited in Stern), one can easily conclude that economic difficulties, politics and religion are the major factors that made them to join. It is not uncommon to discover that families of suicide bombers are taken cared of after their martyred sons successfully carried out a mission. On the religious side there is no need to elaborate as to its impact on the recruitment process. But it is interesting to point out some of the important aspects of Islam.
First of all, Islam’s founder Mohammed was the first to use the ten virgins and promise of paradise as part of the perks and privileges of joining Islam. It is curious why Stern did not elaborate on this and instead went on trying to defend Islam as a non-violent religion when Stern herself quoted portions of the Koran justifying killing for the sake of achieving religious goals. The political aspect can be summarized in one word – Israel. Their hatred for this tiny nation is understandable but it is hard to believe that a person can kill himself simply on the basis of political ideologies.
This brings to the realization that religion and politics are seen as one, the intermingling is hard to separate. This means that religious beliefs help shape their politics. Intense hatred for Israel can be explained by the constant fighting. But knowing that the Arabs hated Israel even when the nation was still in its fledgling state after World War II plainly reveals that there anger is fueled by something more than the need for retribution and this is because the Arabs were the first to strike. Fanaticism
If terror groups and cults are compared and contrasted one fact becomes visible and it is their fanatical obsession with their respective organizations and blind obedience to their leaders. But here the similarities end. For cults there seems to be a pattern of first having found an answer to their deep emotional and psychological need. This is the point of entry for cult members. For the terror group on the other hand there may be also be a an emotional and psychological need but this is eclipsed by religion and politics.
A cult member may later on express love for the community but it can be argued that he or she is only doing so because the community is the source of love, affection, and the main reason why he or she can satisfy that aching emotional and psychological need. For the terror group on the other hand the reasons are less selfish. It is as if the recruitment process is being reversed. For the cult the self-help comes first that is why they will join the group.
For the terror group, the community comes first and then self-help such as money for their families comes in as part of the perks and privileges. Deadly Intent A cult may be characterized as a group that is fanatical about a certain set of beliefs. It can be religious or ideological and there is nothing wrong with that. The Greenpeace Movement, a group of environmental activists can be as fanatic as the best of them but the only difference is that cult groups are in business because they want to save the person or the community.
The terror group on the other hand is focused on killing others. It can be argued that cults are capable of killing but it is not the usual pattern. On the other hand terror groups used murder and suicide bombings as their main tools. Frustrations One is bewildered by the lack of diplomacy. If Islamic radicals believe that they are in the right path and that their religion is the only path then why would they encourage their members to go on dialogue with their Western counterparts?
It does not require a rocket scientist to realize that the more attacks on the U. S. mainland will only increase retribution. But this is just one of the major reasons why dialogue is needed. The more important reason why they must engage in dialogue is the simple fact that they are killing innocent civilians. Not only is their tactics not working to make the world aware of their plight – as of recent history Afghanistan and Iraq were reduced to rubble by incessant fighting – they are also killing those who have nothing to do with Middle East politics.
Conclusion It is fascinating to study the similarities of cults and terror groups. Both types of organizations or community require a charismatic leader and blind obedience to the same leader. But this is the point where their paths would diverge. The leader of the cult will help his members only because he wants them to make his dreams and aspirations their own. Thus the cult operates on a more personal level, each group characterized by the personality of the cult leader.
Terror groups on the other hand – specifically Islamic terror groups – are bent on killing for the sake of forcing the issue. Cults are fanatical but murder and suicide bombings are not their main tools of choice. Works Cited Layton, Deborah. Seductive Poison: A Jonestown Survivor’s Story of Life and Death in the People’s Temple. Doubleday, 1998. Smith, Paul. The Terrorism Ahead: Confronting Transnational Violence in the Twenty First Century. M. E. Sharpe Publishers, 2008. Stern, Jessica. Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill. Harper Collins, 2003.