Most of us remember Jim Jones and the events that occurred at Jonestown. I learned about it in my sociology class, and it is often a story re-told by true crime enthusiasts. I never thought we would see another similar situation to the mass suicide that occurred at Jones Town. And last month, it seems a modern-day Jonestown massacre occurred.
On July 17th, 12 bodies were exhumed in Kenya by authorities. Allegedly Kenya authorities have been finding mass burials for months now, making the total body count over 400. These deceased bodies are believed to be linked to a doomsday cult.
Pastor Paul Mckenize of the Good News International Church is currently in custody. Claims have been made that Mckenzie ordered his followers to starve and fast to death. The followers were allegedly told that starving themselves to death would enable them to meet Jesus. Fasting is used in many religious practices, but it’s never permanent, just for periods or certain times of the day.
Loved ones of those found in the mass graves have reported that Mckenzie told his followers that the world was ending on April 15th. He allegedly told his followers he would be the “last one standing” worldwide.
While in custody, Mckenzie has denied all allegations against him of being in a cult that leads people to their deaths. Ninety-five people have been rescued from the Church, with 613 still missing. Authorities are continuing to discover more and more mass graves.
Fasting: A Spiritual Practice, Not a Sacrifice of Wellbeing
Fasting has always been deeply intertwined with religious and spiritual practices, as old as the narratives etched in ancient scriptures and as varied as the world’s mosaic of cultures. From the golden dunes of the Sahara to the mist-covered Himalayan peaks, fasting has been embraced to purify the soul, focus the mind, and elevate the spirit. Yet, beneath the intricate tapestries of traditions and ceremonies lies a universal principle: the essence of fasting is to augment wellbeing, never to jeopardize it.
To comprehend this, one must delve deeper into the underpinnings of fasting in various faiths. In Islam, adherents abstain from food and drink from dawn until sunset during the holy month of Ramadan. But this practice comes with its caveats: the young, the elderly, the sick, pregnant women, and travelers are exempted. Such stipulations underline a pearl of profound wisdom – fasting should never be detrimental to one’s health.
Similarly, Christianity’s season of Lent, 40 days of reflection and penance leading up to Easter, encourages giving up certain luxuries or habits. Still, the emphasis remains on spiritual growth rather than physical austerity. The frail and the unwell are often counseled to find other forms of sacrifice or reflection that do not endanger their health.
With its myriad of fasts dedicated to various deities and celestial events, Hinduism allows considerable flexibility. While some might abstain from grains, others might only consume fruits, and others might reduce the number of meals. The choice is personal, ensuring the physical body isn’t strained beyond its capacity.
In Buddhism, fasting, particularly during Uposatha days, emphasizes mindful living and cultivating detachment from desires. Monks and laypersons might limit their food intake, but the primary objective remains spiritual clarity, not bodily deprivation.
This overarching principle – fasting should serve as a tool for spiritual elevation without inflicting harm – is rooted in the intrinsic understanding that the body is a vessel for the divine spirit. To harm it is counterintuitive to spiritual advancement. Thus, while the modalities, durations, and reasons for fasting might vary, the global chorus across religions harmonizes on one keynote: the sanctity and well-being of the individual are paramount.
Fasting, in its true essence, is about achieving a delicate balance, where physical abstention catalyzes spiritual abundance. It’s a dance between the mortal and the immortal aspects of our being, a journey that should invigorate, not debilitate. As with any religious practice, the heart of fasting lies in intention, compassion, and a profound respect for the divine spark within every individual.
Here are some more examples of some of the major religions that practice fasting and how they perform it:
- Baha’i Fast: Occurs from March 2 to March 20. Baha’is from 15 to 70 abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset.
- Uposatha: Observed by Theravada Buddhists on a full moon, new moon, and quarter moon days. It involves stricter observance of precepts, which may include fasting.
- Vassa: A three-month annual retreat observed by some Buddhist sects, where monks traditionally stay in their monasteries and might engage in various forms of fasting or intensified meditation.
- Lent: 40 days of fasting leading up to Easter. Certain foods like meats are traditionally abstained, although modern practices vary widely.
- Good Friday: Many Christians fast or abstain from meat on this day commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus.
- Advent Fast: Observed by some Orthodox Christians, it’s a period leading up to Christmas.
- Wednesday and Friday Fasts: Orthodox Christians often fast on these days in remembrance of events in the life of Christ.
- Ekadashi: Fasting on the eleventh day after the full moon and the eleventh day after the new moon.
- Maha Shivaratri: Fasting in honor of the god Shiva.
- Navaratri: Nine nights dedicated to the goddess Durga, where many observe fasting.
- Karva Chauth: Married women fast for the well-being and longevity of their husbands.
- Ramadan: A month-long fast from sunrise to sunset. Believers abstain from food, drink, smoking, and sexual relations during daylight hours.
- Ashura: Some Muslims fast on this day to commemorate various events. Shia and Sunni Muslims have different reasons for observing the fast.
- Six Days of Shawwal: Optional fasting six days after Ramadan, believed to bring extra blessings.
- Monday and Thursday: The Prophet Muhammad was reported to have fasted on these days, making it a recommended practice for Muslims.
- Paryushana: The most important annual event for Jains spans 8 or 10 days. Many Jains fast during this time, with some taking only boiled water.
- Austerity Fasts: These can range from a day to a month, where Jains increase their spiritual intensity.
- Yom Kippur: The Day of Atonement; a 25-hour fast from sunset to nightfall the next day. It’s the most significant and widely observed fast in Judaism.
- Tisha B’Av: Commemorates various disasters in Jewish history, including the destruction of the First and Second Temples.
- Fast of Esther: Observed before the Jewish holiday of Purim.
- Minor Fasts: There are other minor fast days commemorating various events, like the Fast of Gedaliah.
- While there’s no mandatory fasting in Sikhism, some Sikhs observe fasting on special occasions as a personal choice.
This list is incomplete, as fasting practices can vary within religious denominations, regions, and personal beliefs. But most importantly, none of these practices are meant to cause a person permanent harm.
The Downfall of Jim Jones and the Jonestown Tragedy
The human psyche is a complex tapestry of desires, beliefs, and vulnerabilities. At the intersection of these intricacies lie the stories of charismatic figures who have, for better or worse, shaped the course of history. One such figure is Jim Jones, whose magnetic allure and twisted ideology culminated in the most chilling mass suicide in modern history.
Who Was Jim Jones
Born in 1931 in Crete, Indiana, James Warren Jones grew up in a broken household and an environment of economic hardship. From a young age, Jones was intrigued by religion, not just as a spiritual pursuit but as a medium to establish power and authority. By the time he was in his 20s, Jones had founded his own Church, the Wings of Deliverance, which would later be renamed the Peoples Temple.
The Peoples Temple
The Peoples Temple, under Jones’ leadership, started with a message of social equality, racial integration, and communal living. Such ideals were admirable and resonated with many, particularly during the height of the civil rights movement. However, beneath this façade of egalitarianism lay Jones’ sinister motives. He masterfully combined religious prophecy, socialist ideology, and his leadership brand to amass a loyal following. As the Church grew, so did reports of abuse, financial fraud, and human rights violations. Jones sought refuge to shield himself and the Temple from increasing scrutiny, a promised land where he could create his utopian society. This led to the establishment of Jonestown in the remote jungles of Guyana.
Jonestown, touted as the “Promised Land,” was a sprawling commune where over a thousand Peoples Temple members relocated, hoping for a life free from America’s racial prejudice and capitalist influences. But the reality of Jonestown was far from the dream. The commune quickly transformed into an authoritarian regime. Residents were subjected to grueling labor, limited food, forced drugging, public humiliation, and beatings. Any notion of leaving or dissent was met with threats or punishment.
By 1978, alarming reports from defectors and concerned relatives caught the attention of U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan. To investigate these claims, Ryan embarked on a fact-finding mission to Jonestown. While the initial reception was cordial, the tension escalated rapidly. As Ryan prepared to leave with a group of defectors, they were ambushed on the airstrip by gunmen sent by Jones. Ryan and four others were killed.
The Jonestown Massacre
Realizing that the walls were closing in and fearing retaliation from the U.S. government, Jones orchestrated a horrifying final act. On November 18, 1978, he ordered the mass suicide of over 900 Jonestown residents, including 300 children. This “revolutionary act” was executed by drinking cyanide-laced fruit punch. Those hesitant or unwilling were forced or injected with the poison. Within hours, Jonestown transformed from a bustling commune to a macabre scene of lifeless bodies.
The aftermath of the Jonestown massacre sent shockwaves around the world. It raised poignant questions about the human capacity for manipulation, the dangers of blind obedience, and the lengths people will go to in their quest for belonging and meaning.
Looking back, the story of Jim Jones serves as a stark reminder of the perils of unchecked power and the vulnerability of the human spirit. His potent combination of charisma, conviction, and control created an echo chamber, isolating his followers from reality and dissenting voices. The tragedy isn’t just in the gruesome end but in the systematic degradation of human agency and dignity.
The Modern Day Jim Jones
The lessons of Jonestown remain chillingly relevant in our current age, where echo chambers are even more easily crafted through digital algorithms, and charismatic figures can easily reach global audiences. As we navigate our interconnected world, let the tragedy of Jonestown remind us of the importance of critical thinking, the value of diverse perspectives, and the inherent dangers of unbridled loyalty to any single ideology or leader.
In the words of George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Let the harrowing tale of Jim Jones, Jonestown, and the events that occurred under Pastor Paul Mckenize of the Good News International Church serve not just as a historical footnote but as a vivid reminder of the fragility of the human psyche and the need for eternal vigilance in our pursuit of truth and meaning.