Hearing the Voices of Jonestown restores the individual voices that have been erased so that we can better understand what was created - and destroyed - at Jonestown, and why. Piecing together information from interviews with former group members, archival research, and diaries and letters of those who died there, Mary McCormick Maaga describes the women leaders as educated political activists who were passionately committed to achieving social justice through communal life. Maaga's book analyzes the historical and sociological factors which, she states, contributed to the mass suicide, such as growing criticism from the larger community and the influx of an upper class, educated leadership that eventually became more concerned with the symbolic effects of the organization than with the daily lives of its members.
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Almost 20 years ago--November 18, 1978--news media across the U.S. brought into the nation's living rooms pictures of mass suicides committed by members of Jim Jones's People's Temple in Jonestown, Guyana. Maaga, a United Methodist pastor, became interested in the events at Jonestown when she learned that the daughters of her mentors, Reverend John and Barbara Moore, had been members of the Temple and had died in Guyana. While Maaga began her research wanting to know how two daughters from such a committed Christian family could have become involved in the People's Temple. Maaga discovered that the media perception of Jones group as a cult of "crazies" who foolishly gave up everything in exchange for a dangerous and irrational new religion was not justified. She found instead a community whose earliest activities were marked by a desire for social justice, racial harmony and sexual equality. Maaga traces the beginnings of the People's Temple to 1954 when, as a student pastor at a Methodist Church in Indianapolis, Jim Jones became disenchanted with the segregated Christianity he experienced and began a social ministry. By the time the group moved to California, it was providing food, housing, quality medical care and fellowship to low-income blacks and whites. Maaga chronicles the decline of the People's Temple and Jones's psychological disintegration, which was brought on by drug abuse, and the desires of the members to see themselves as courageous martyrs. In the end, Maaga writes, the People's Temple was a contradictory movement based on deception, fabricated healings and the tyranny of charismatic authority fueled by a sincere desire to emulate Jesus and care for society's neediest members. Maaga's penetrating portrait of the Jonestown event will leave readers asking "How different am I from those who died at Jonestown?"
Copyright 1998 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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