“Don’t drink the Kool-Aid!”

Forty years ago, this expression became known as a description of blind obedience. 

Source: Los Angeles Times

On November 18, 1978, members of Peoples Temple, a cult group in Guyana, drank Kool-Aid drink laced with cyanide to commit a mass suicide “at the behest of their charismatic but paranoid leader, Jim Jones”. [1] According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, “The death toll exceeded 900, including some 300 age 17 and under, making the incident one of the largest mass deaths in American history. [2] 

What made those people submit to such atrocity?

According to Stella Morabito, a senior contributor to The Federalist online magazine, Peoples Temple is “Exhibit A… [of]  the dangers of the cult mindset or how vulnerable all people are to cult tactics.” [3] She pointed out that,
Coercive persuasion has immense power to shape and twist the human mind. …[Jones’] utopian preaching of a humane world in which all lived happily in harmony resonated with the typical recruit, who tended to be idealistic and lonely. [4]
In short, brainwashing. Jones did not allow his members to think for themselves. Morabito wrote, 
Cult leaders are experts at isolating their recruits from any other source of influence. Jones strongly discouraged friendships or loyalties to anyone but him and the cause of socialism or communism. That’s a less difficult task when people are isolated, controlled, and prevented from ever hearing another point of view. Once isolated under Jones’ exclusive influence in Guyana, cult members were subject to all the tools of cultic mind control. They had a daunting work schedule in the daytime heat from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., followed by evening hours of communist indoctrination. The rigorous schedule zapped strength and their time. A restricted diet took its toll on the ability to think clearly. [5]
True Christianity does not teach blind obedience. In fact, true love for God includes the mind. According to Matthew 22:37, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.(ESV. Emphasis added) True change involves the mind. Romans 12:2 tells us, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Emphasis added) We are to know what and why we believe. We encourage you to think. In fact, the Bible lauded the Bereans as noble for their faith that seeks understanding. “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. (Emphasis added) The Message version goes like this, “The Jews received Paul’s message with enthusiasm and met with him daily, examining the Scriptures to see if they supported what he said.(Emphasis added) We welcome sincere questions (read: doubts) in our church. I encourage you to search the Bible to see if it supports what we are teaching here. 

Let the Jonestown massacre be a morbid reminder of why learning and teaching sound doctrine are very important. As I’ve taught you before, sound doctrine protects us from error. That’s why we are commanded, “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.” (2 Timothy 2:23) Ideas have consequences and, as that massacre has proven, false ideas have deadly consequences. 

Brothers and sisters, our faith is not blind but it is obeying God with our eyes wide open.

[1] “Jonestown massacre,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/event/Jonestown-massacre, accessed November 17, 2018.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Stella Morabito (16 November 2018), “The 40th Anniversary Of The Jonestown Massacre Is The Perfect Time To Brush Up On How Cults Operate,” The Federalist, retrieved from http://thefederalist.com/.

[4] Ibid. Emphasis added.

[5] Ibid. Emphasis added.


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