Want to Join a Cult?

What does it take to start a cult? What does it take to join a cult? Both of these questions are extremely interesting because they try to get at the heart of human behavior. We are social creatures who crave acceptance – sometimes this acceptance leads people to believe in bizarre things. For example, take the Mormon cult leader Warren Jeff who controls a group of fundamentalists from prison – even after being charged with sexually assaulting children and having 70 wives.

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How about one of the most famous cult leaders of all time – Jim Jones. Jones led a group of over 900 people to Guayana, South America to start their own socialist colony. This socialist experiment in Jonestown quickly turned into a horror movie after Jones convinced everyone to commit mass suicide. I am amazed at the ability of cult leaders to have total power over their followers; I barely can keep my chihuahua from peeing on the carpet. To better understand the birth, growth, and death of Jim Jones, I read The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple by Jeff Guinn. This book is exceptional and really helps the reader understand the evil of Jim Jones. Jones was a charismatic leader who never backed down and desired complete control. Unfortunately, these traits were mixed with just enough moral ambiguity that followers thought they were being led to the promised land rather than their gravesite.

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Jim Jones was born on May 31, 1931, in a small Indiana town. He was raised by an eccentric mother who defied conservative social norms with her independent attitude, beliefs in reincarnation, and prickly personality. Jones’ father was a WWI vet who could not work because of his disabilities and who had no energy to raise an energetic boy. Jones was a loner and soon began to stand out from the other boys with his religiousness. On any given Sunday, he would go to several services, not to praise God, but to understand what preaching style worked best to energize congregants. By the time he finished high school, Jones was working at a hospital where he would eventually meet his future wife, Marceline Baldwin (not pictured below).

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Jones and his wife would quickly move to Indianapolis where Jones attended some college and preached at evangelical-tent events. Jones would eventually establish the Peoples Temple in the mid-1950s – a church that trumpeted racial integration, socialism, and community action. It was at the Peoples Temple that Jones discovered the power of deception by performing false healings and false prophecy; he would many times walk around the congregation with rotted chicken offal claiming it was cancer just removed from a member. Jones quickly gained followers from all walks of life who appreciated his message of social equality and marveled at his God-like abilities. Jones would eventually move this congregation to Northern California using the tool of fear – he claimed that there would be a nuclear holocaust in the Mid-West and that they were no longer safe.

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It was in Northern California that the Peoples Temple morphed from an eccentric Christian church to a full-blown cult. Jone’s began to have his members live communally and give large portions of their paychecks to the “socialist” cause. With greater wealth, Jone’s was able to expand his ministry and garner even more membership. Jone’s quickly began to stretch himself too thin and eventually, he began to take painkillers and amphetamines. His drug use made him more erratic and power-hungry – he would gradually start asking for sex from his female congregants. This sex was supposedly meant to lift up the women, and few members resisted; he would even have sex with several male members asking some if they wanted to be “fucked in the ass” after church meetings. This “uplifting” sex gave Jones greater control which eventually expanded to increased paranoia. Staged assassination attempts led his followers to believe that the FBI, CIA, and Fascists were after their happy community.

[Jim Jones, Peoples Temple Church Services]

The Peoples Temple morphed into a military compound with several members patrolling the grounds with firearms. This paranoia and the fear of nuclear holocaust led Jones to found Jonestown in Guayana. Jonestown was meant to be a sanctuary, but it actually represented the apex of Jone’s control over his members. In 1978, Congressman Leo Ryan went to investigate Jonestown which led to him being attacked by a Temple member – Ryan escaped with 15 of Jone’s followers. Jones, in all his paranoia, told his members that the government would soon come to torture them and convert the children to fascism – to prevent this from happening everyone had to commit suicide. 909 people, including Jones and his wife, died from cyanide in the mass suicide – 304 were children.

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So how did Jone’s get 909 people to commit suicide? It began with his ability to twist the truth so that the majority of his followers believed he had special powers – all while an elite inner circle assisted with these deceptions. Why did the inner circle help him? Because they often believed in his message of social change and felt powerful being in the graces of such an influential leader. Most of the congregation was made up of poor-uneducated members who were entirely dependent on Jones for their jobs, housing, and food.

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It was hard to leave the cult because Jone’s would actively prevent dissenters and it was easy to rationalize that he was telling the truth – “If there are lawyers, teachers, and businessmen following him, then he must be the real deal.” Finally, Jones was an expert at fear which he used as a tool to further separate followers from leaving the Temple. All these things mixed to create a twisted peer pressure that propagated infidelity, drug use, bullying, harassment, corrupt morals, and eventually death. We need to study these things because there are cults today and leaders who use the same principles. Be wary of half-truths and always seek knowledge so that this particular past will never be repeated.

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Mike Rowe-Not Everyone Should Vote

The election is less than a month away and we are all soaked from the political cloud that has been looming over our heads. This election year has been unique because it seems like facts don’t matter and conspiracy theories reign supreme. I am not a conspiracy theorist and believe that they are very dangerous for our society (The Sexiness of Conspiracy). Believing that there is always some hidden agenda makes people avoid facts (abstaining from vaccines for instance) and react negatively to certain groups (the persecution of Jews in the 20th century). I honestly don’t believe that everyone should vote in the election and Mike Rowe, the guy from Dirty Jobs, made this point perfectly clear when asked a question by a fan.

“Hey Mike, I have nothing but respect for you. Your no-nonsense outlook and incredible eloquence have really had a profound impact in my life. Can you please encourage your huge following to go out and vote this election? I would never impose on you by asking you to advocate one politician over another, but I do feel this election could really use your help. I know that there are many people out there who feel like there is nothing they can do. Please try to use your gifts to make them see that they can do something – that their vote counts.” -Jeremy

Hi Jeremy,
Thanks for the kind words. I appreciate it. I also share your concern for our country, and agree wholeheartedly that every vote counts. However, I’m afraid I can’t encourage millions of people whom I’ve never met to just run out and cast a ballot, simply because they have the right to vote. That would be like encouraging everyone to buy an AR-15, simply because they have the right to bear arms. I would need to know a few things about them before offering that kind of encouragement. For instance, do they know how to care for a weapon? Can they afford the cost of the weapon? Do they have a history of violence? Are they mentally stable? In short, are they responsible citizens?

Casting a ballot is not so different. It’s an important right that we all share, and one that impacts our society in dramatic fashion. But it’s one thing to respect and acknowledge our collective rights, and quite another thing to affirmatively encourage people I’ve never met to exercise them. And yet, my friends in Hollywood do that very thing, and they’re at it again.

Every four years, celebrities and movie stars look earnestly into the camera and tell the country to ‘get out and vote.’ They tell us it’s our ‘most important civic duty,’ and they speak as if the very act of casting a ballot is more important than the outcome of the election. This strikes me as somewhat hysterical. Does anyone actually believe that Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen DeGeneres, and Ed Norton would encourage the ‘masses’ to vote, if they believed the ‘masses’ would elect Donald Trump?

Regardless of their political agenda, my celebrity pals are fundamentally mistaken about our ‘civic duty’ to vote. There is simply no such thing. Voting is a right, not a duty, and not a moral obligation. Like all rights, the right to vote comes with some responsibilities, but let’s face it – the bar is not set very high. If you believe aliens from another planet walk among us, you are welcome at the polls. If you believe the world is flat, and the moon landing was completely staged, you are invited to cast a ballot. Astrologists, racists, ghost-hunters, sexists, and people who rely upon a Magic 8 Ball to determine their daily wardrobe are all allowed to participate. In fact, and to your point, they’re encouraged.

The undeniable reality is this: our right to vote does not require any understanding of current events, or any awareness of how our government works. So, when a celebrity reminds the country that ‘everybody’s vote counts,’ they are absolutely correct. But when they tell us that ‘everybody in the country should get out there and vote,’ regardless of what they think or believe, I gotta wonder what they’re smoking.

Look at our current candidates. No one appears to like either one of them. Their approval ratings are at record lows. It’s not about who you like more, it’s about who you hate less. Sure, we can blame the media, the system, and the candidates themselves, but let’s be honest – Donald and Hillary are there because we put them there. The electorate has tolerated the intolerable. We’ve treated this entire process like the final episode of American Idol. What did we expect?

So no, Jeremy – I can’t personally encourage everyone in the country to run out and vote. I wouldn’t do it, even if I thought it would benefit my personal choice. Because the truth is, the country doesn’t need voters who have to be cajoled, enticed, or persuaded to cast a ballot. We need voters who wish to participate in the process. So if you really want me to say something political, how about this – read more.

Spend a few hours every week studying American history, human nature, and economic theory. Start with “Economics in One Lesson.” Then try Keynes. Then Hayek. Then Marx. Then Hegel. Develop a worldview that you can articulate as well as defend. Test your theory with people who disagree with you. Debate. Argue. Adjust your philosophy as necessary. Then, when the next election comes around, cast a vote for the candidate whose worldview seems most in line with your own.

Or, don’t. None of the freedoms spelled out in our Constitution were put there so people could cast uninformed ballots out of some misplaced sense of civic duty brought on by a celebrity guilt-trip. The right to assemble, to protest, to speak freely – these rights were included to help assure that the best ideas and the best candidates would emerge from the most transparent process possible.

Remember – there’s nothing virtuous or patriotic about voting just for the sake of voting, and the next time someone tells you otherwise, do me a favor – ask them who they’re voting for. Then tell them you’re voting for their opponent. Then, see if they’ll give you a ride to the polls.

In the meantime, dig into Economics in One Lesson, by Henry Hazlitt. It sounds like a snooze but it really is a page turner, and you can download it for free

-Mike Rowe

Don’t rely on Facebook or even news for your primary information. The least everyone should do before voting is to read each candidate’s policies. Start reading now and by the next election you may see the entire world differently.

The Christian Church and Jewish Hatred

Take this short history quiz.

  1. In what year did the first laws pass that required Jews to wear a special form of dress (making them identifiable in public), banned Jews from public office, forbade Jews from going out during Holy Week, and required Jews to pay a “Jew Tax?”

    A. 1933
    B. 1936
    C. 1215
    D. 1709

  2. Who was the first leader that actively forced Jews to live in a walled off “Ghetto?”

    A. Adolf Hitler
    B. Constantine
    C. Pope Paul IV
    D. Mussolini

  3. Who was the famous author of  The Jews and Their Lies

    A. Adolf Hitler
    B. Henry VIII
    C. Heinrich Himmler
    D. Martin Luther

  4. Name the famous person who said this quote: “By defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”

    A. Pope John
    B. Martin Luther
    C. Adolf Hitler
    D. Jesus

1. The answer is C. 1215. This was the year Innocent III, the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, convened the Fourth Lateran Council which wrote the aforementioned laws into Constitution 68 of the church.

2. The answer is C. Pope Paul IV. In addition to walling off all the Jews in Rome, only a mile from the Vatican, this Pope forcefully took Jewish babies for baptism, required Jews to kiss the ground where he had just stepped, and required Jewish men to wear yellow conical hats.

3. The answer is D. Martin Luther. The man who started the Protestant Reformation in 1517 wrote this 65,000 word book in 1543. He described the Jews as poisonous worms who should be put into forced labor, expelled for all time, and slain as a despicable group of people.

4. The answer is C. Adolf Hitler. Hitler wrote this in his autobiography Mein Kampf. This quote has roots in the biblical interpretation of Romans 11:25, “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in…” Medieval Christians used this verse as rationale to forcefully convert and persecute Jews throughout the 1st/2nd Millennium so that the end of times could begin and the Messiah could come again.

Did this quiz surprise you? I had no idea of the Catholic and Protestant Church’s history of antisemitism until I read Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews by James Carroll. This is a monster book that won the National Book Award and took me three weeks to read. The whole book details the church’s views on antisemitism and how it nurtured the environment which allowed Hitler to slaughter 11 million Jews. This atrocious act was done without any major protest from the vast Christian population in Germany. Essentially, the church turned on the gas and Hitler was the one who lit the match-Christians didn’t directly kill 11 million Jews but they were responsible for the antisemitic environment that inundated the church and shaped many of Hitler’s beliefs. Hitler was a baptized Roman Catholic that was obviously off his rocker and took antisemitic views to a whole new level. But Hitler was not raised in a vacuum. The quiz I listed above highlights only a few incidences of Jewish hatred by the Christian church that occurred before Hitler’s time. During the first crusade, thousands of Jews were killed by righteous Christians on their way to Israel. During the Spanish Inquisition, Jews were tortured and many times killed for not converting to Christianity. During the Black Plague, Jews were blamed for the 25 million deaths because people believed they were poisoning wells. During the 13th/14th centuries in Italy and France there were mass public bonfires of confiscated Talmuds-one of the Jewish holy books.

The extent of the hatred towards Judaism is somewhat staggering and the next question you probably have is why all the hatred in the first place? This requires a extremely long answer that is best understood by reading Constantine’s Sword. To briefly explain it we have to go all the way back to the time of Jesus. Jesus was a Jew but this was soon forgotten by early Christians who saw Jesus as an outsider who was then crucified by the Jews. Concurrently,  Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, framed many Christian’s views of Jews-betrayers, money obsessed, weak, sinister, etc. Added to this negative image was the fact that Jews rejected Christianity’s main belief-Jesus as the Messiah. Hence there was resentment from Christians towards “stubborn” Jews which eventually evolved into conspiracy theories, restrictive laws, and the mentality that Christians should not allow Jews to thrive because of their obstinate beliefs. Multiply all these views by 1900 years and you have Hitler officially being supported by the Catholic Church. In 1933, the Christians of Europe and America knew about Hitler’s antisemitism. Why didn’t they protest? Some did but the majority remained silent. This is because the antisemitism, by that point in time, was an established, almost commonplace belief system. I am not saying that the church supported the killings of 11 million Jews, but they did allow Hitler to continually worsen his antisemitic policies for almost 10 years.

I am a Christian. I know the Church does many amazing things. However, I know the Church is not perfect because it is made by man. I write about these things because we must recognize the sins of the past to prevent similar atrocities in the future. Today we have many Christians who view Muslims negatively. They view Muslims as backward unbelievers who are unloving and misguided-all the while questioning how a “peaceful” religion can motivate its followers to kill. Does any of this sound familiar?

 

The Sexiness of Conspiracy

Was 9/11 a conspiracy by the US government to gain more Big Brother control and garner immense profits for a select group of politicians? Do Jews have a secret mission to take over the world by orchestrating wars and social upheavals? Was Princess Diana murdered by the royal family, the communists, the mob? These are all mainstream conspiracy theories that I read about in my most recent book Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History by David Aaronovitch. Let me first preface that I was a guy who was dazzled by the 9/11 conspiracy popularized by the film Loose Change. The facts, expert opinions, and mesmerizing footage in the film all convinced me that 9/11 was a conspiracy. I did not become a 9/11 conspiracy evangelist but I did voice my opinion if it ever came up in conversations with friends or family. This was my attitude until I was introduced to Voodoo Histories and was able to read the history, psychology, and societal obsession with conspiracy theories.

There are conspiracies for each and every generation. Back in 1903, the famous Protocols of Elders of Zion was published and hugely circulated for the next 50 years; fostering antisemitism by famous people like Henry Ford and you guessed it-Adolf Hitler. Pearl Harbor was the conspiracy of the 1940’s which convinced a huge group of people that FDR was a very evil man. The JFK assassination, MLK assassination, and moon landing were all conspiracies associated with the 60’s. After that was Princess Diana, Da Vinci Code, and 9/11. I missed a lot but those are some of the big ones. As you can see, we as a society love the conspiracy theory. I did to, until I learned about how prevalent they are and how easy it is to pick apart each and everyone of them.

I learned that conspiracy theorists use a few convincing tools to give validity to their hypotheses. First they attempt to bring supposed experts to the table who agree with the conspiracy. These experts many times are not experts but rather only hold high degrees and have limited applicable experience. Second they cite a source, that cited a source, that cited a source, so there is very little truth left from the original fact (think of that game where you whisper a message down a line and it changes from person to person). Third, when authorities try to disprove a conspiracy, they are said to be naive or are in someway being controlled by the conspirators.

The other important reason why conspiracies are so common is our affinity to story telling. Conspiracies are sexy, different, out of the norm,and humans by nature like drama. Also, conspiracies come about whenever there is social or political change. These changes usually propagate conspiracies by the losing party: transfer of government control, transfer of societal morals, or transfer of group power. Losers go down kicking and screaming and many times use conspiracies as a poor-sport anthem. Also, conspiracies are very profitable for those who write about them-Google all the materials surrounding The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Lastly, conspiracies make us feel smarter, more researched, and more caring then the stupid sheep who believe in the status quo.

In the end, conspiracies are harmful because they shape a very inaccurate picture of history, create unneeded paranoia, and many times create resentment to certain groups of people. The Protocols of Elders of Zion framed Hitler’s thinking that Jews were inferior and needed to be exterminated. My advice is to critically access all information, look at the credential’s of the authors, and think of the unrealistic probability of the conspiracy hypothesis. Understanding accurate history will make you better informed to make political, social, and individual decisions that will make you wiser in the end.

Summed up Learning Sentence:

The sheer number of conspiracies out there shows that humans love a story and the arguments against each conspiracy are more convincing then those for the conspiracy.