Showing posts with label disaster. Show all posts
Showing posts with label disaster. Show all posts

19 November 2013

Jonestown in 1978

Thirty-five years ago yesterday, nearly a thousand people perished at Jonestown in Guyana; they committed mass suicide by taking cyanide. Just as shocking as the deaths themselves is the fact that they were persuaded to die by Jim Jones, their leader.

Jonestown from the air
Jonestown from the air
Thirty-five years ago, nearly a thousand people died after drinking cyanide-laced soft drinks.

As we remember this dreadful event that shocked the world in 1978, let's ask again how it could have happened and what we need to learn from it.

The problem, at its simplest. was that too many people believed the leader of the group, Jim Jones. He told them to drink the poisoned mixture. And they did, men, women and children. The only survivors were those who had escaped beforehand.

How could it happen? - Why did so many people drink the poison? This is less easy to fathom. And how can we guard against something like this happening again?

Jim Jones was very persuasive, and he used the murders of investigators and escaping residents as a lever, telling people that the authorities would arrest them and torture them. A strong mix of anxiety, a sense of impending doom with no plausible escape, prior 'practice' sessions and calm persuasion convinced people to take the poison. And there's also the herd effect, nobody dares to be the odd one out, even when the consequences involve certain death.

Some people avoided the poisoning, a number by leaving before the fatal act took place, and a few who were away from Jonestown on the day of the deaths.

Avoiding danger - The fact that leaders can have such a major impact on their followers should cause us to consider very carefully who we choose to follow. In the church, we should be careful to follow only Jesus. Not only is that what he calls his followers to do (I am the Way, the Truth and the Life). He also loves us and never, ever calls us to harm ourselves or others.

We should be very suspicious of any church leader who issues commands, domineers, or insists on actions [Tweet it!]. Especially when those actions go against the consciences of group members. And we should be alarmed when any leader resorts to coercion or emotional manipulation.

In the case of Jim Jones' followers, it seems they were entirely well-meaning and devoted to him and his unusual mix of communist fervour and confused religious thinking. Some had the wisdom and courage to leave Jonestown, but it was far from an easy option for them.

Questions:

  • Can you think of other cases in which a leadership figure with charisma has misled people? Hint: think beyond religious leaders, include figures from the worlds of politics, business and more.
  • How would you have dealt with the Jim Jones scenario? If you had joined the movement as a young person, at what point would you have decided to leave? Read the Wikipedia article and be honest with yourself. Where do you draw the line when the line is ill-defined?
  • Is there anything we can do, individually or together, to prevent situations like Jonestown developing?

See also:

13 November 2012

The end of the world?

How long can we go on treating the Earth as an endless provider? There are limits to our resources and we're in the middle of an explosive increase in their rate of use. Are there too many people on this planet? What will happen if we go on like this?

Too many people using too many resources?
Well, maybe not the end of the world, but perhaps the end of the world as we know it.

Hurricane Sandy and other natural disasters around the globe make us ask the question, 'Why?' We want to know why things like this happen. It's a natural enough question. It's tempting to think it's not our fault, that disasters happen randomly.

Storms like Sandy do indeed happen randomly, but their frequency and severity are increasing because of human-induced global warming. But where will it all lead? That depends, and it depends on you and on me.

The size of the problem - To get to grips with this we're going to need a broader and more thorough view of the damage we are currently wreaking on poor old planet Earth. Indeed, we've already gone beyond the planet by making a good start at messing up low Earth orbit, now so littered with everything from flakes of paint to spent rocket stages that it could easily become unusable.

We need to grasp that we have not only messed up but that we are continuing to mess up faster and faster. And the almost inevitable result will be an enormous population crash from disease, lack of food, ecological collapse, war, severe climate change or some other catastrophe, or more likely a perfect storm of several major issues in synergy. And the longer we go on doing little to make things better, the more serious the disruption will be.

It's comforting to think that somehow, sooner or later Papa will reach into our world and repair it. But it's more likely that he foresaw the mess and is waiting for us to fix it; he gave us the responsibility and he's warned us repeatedly. But we weren't listening. And we're still not listening.

I'm 65 next birthday and have begun to think of my life as something that will soon be winding down and ending. This is natural, of course. But I am also starting to think of human society as we know it in much the same way. And, not unreasonably, we can even see the universe itself like that if we choose to.

The way forward - We're in a far bigger pickle than most of us realise. And our biggest problem (because to a large degree it causes all the rest) is overpopulation. That's the dark picture painted in outline.

After the crash there may be an opportunity for something new and better. But that is not something to consider right now. Instead let's begin work right away. What is needed? Why, the fruit of the Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

It doesn't sound much of a solution to global warming, does it? But if we truly loved one another we would not be willing to leave such a mess for the next generation. And if we had a little more self-control we might walk and cycle instead of taking the car, demand fewer gadgets, waste less food. If we were really patient, kind, faithful and gentle how might that affect the way we behave?

What we can do - We do have a choice. If we start now we can make some major changes. It's far too late to prevent global warming but it will warm faster and to an even more dangerous level if we delay still further. I would identify population growth and industrial growth as our largest enemies. They are the root cause of pollution, carbon dioxide release, loss of habitat and natural diversity, species extinction and the rest.

The alternative is to carry on as we have done before, stopping our eyes and ears to the signs of looming disaster. Let's leave it for another generation...

Let's be clear. Advances in technology can help us but we will need to be careful about our choices. Where technology can reduce wastage and support more people for less impact that is a good thing. But we need to use this good thing as an opportunity to reduce our impact, not as an excuse to increase our numbers and consumption.

In the longer term there is only one route for further expansion - outwards. There is still room for growth in space - perhaps on the asteroids, Mars, or the Moon. But Earth is more than full already.

We're demanding far too much of our planet. Stop it! Now!

Questions:

  • What do you think will happen if our population and consumption continue to grow?
  • Many small changes make a big difference. Are there ways you could save a little energy, food or other scarce resource?
  • Are there ways you can apply pressure to your local or national government to be less concerned about growth and more focussed on reducing our impact?
  • If we don't act today, how long should we wait?

See also:

31 October 2012

Sandy storming in

Hurricane Sandy has caused devastation and continues to bring more trouble as it heads into Canada. Why do disasters like this happen? We consider some of the common views held by people of faith and by those who see no need to believe in any deity.

Hurricane Sandy in New York
The Caribbean islands and coasts and then the north-eastern coast of the USA took a major hit when Hurricane Sandy swept in. It has now weakened to post-tropical cyclone status but continues to drop large amounts of snow and rain as it heads north into Canada. Winds, although much reduced, remain dangerous and damaging.

Our hearts and thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by Sandy. Loss of life has been relatively low, things could have been far, far worse. But for families who have lost loved ones this is no real comfort. The losses in terms of property and flood damage and infrastructure are, of course, immense. Rebuilding will take a long time, countless homes and businesses are without power. There's no denying the scale and seriousness of this storm.

Global warming - We are living in changing times. Not only was this a powerful storm, it was also the largest Atlantic hurricane on record. Nothing this size has ever been seen before. The storm surge flooded considerable areas along parts of the US coastline.

What are we to make of all this?

Although no single event proves or disproves the reality of global warming and climate change, this record-breaking storm adds fresh evidence to that already accumulated. It makes it that bit harder to deny that the climate has altered, that bit harder to conclude we are doing no harm by pouring large volumes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Sandy should, at least, give us all pause to think and reconsider the evidence.

Considering faith - And what should people of faith make of Sandy's devastating effects? No doubt there will be voices from some supporters of Islam claiming that the storm is Allah's retribution upon  the 'Great Satan'. But most Muslims will not think of it in this way or say any such thing, instead feeling sorrow and sympathy towards fellow humans suffering pain and loss.

Atheists, on the other hand, will take the view that such things happen from time to time. It's regrettable and very sad, but it's how the world works. It's up to us to do what we can to avoid problems - don't build on flood plains, create structures that will withstand earthquakes and violent winds. Don't live at the bottom of steep slopes or close to volcanoes. Commendably, many will help to rescue and support those who are hurt or suffer loss.

But what about those of us who follow the teaching and example of Jesus? The majority may not give a second thought to wondering why such things happen. They too will feel sorrow and sympathy and many will pray for those affected by the storm. Others, however, will give serious thought to the question, 'Why?'

In particular, a common thought following any natural disaster is, 'If there is an Almighty Creator in charge of everything that happens, and if this mighty and powerful person is good, why are such things allowed to happen? Why was the world not created to be a safe place?

Some will see disasters as the consequence of sin coming into the world. Others may see it just as the atheists do - this is the way it is.

Another way - I believe we can do much better than this. I was drawn to express my views recently in a comment exchange on another blog. In the next few days I plan to take my comment and expand it as an article here. Watch this space. (Posted 2nd November, Why is life dangerous?)

Meanwhile, here's an earlier article that seems relevant. It records some thoughts we had during a meeting soon after the Haitian earthquake in 2010.

See also:

19 January 2010

Great Doddington - a broken world

We began by chatting about work, and how staff cuts have made life harder - even for those who have retained a job.

Haitian earthquake 2010Barbara read from Isaiah 40:31 about how those who hope in the Lord will be renewed like eagles, soaring on wings. It seemed all the more significant because she had read it and then heard it again as the basis of a sermon on TV. Humble yourself and I will raise you up and honour you.

Jody mentioned Nehemiah. Although circumstances can bring us low, she still searches out the Lord. We do need to be humble. She also mentioned Haiti and the recent earthquake and the subject of prophecy came up. Why would the Lord not warn us about a disaster like that? Why does he allow us to be brought low? Some people have said that the earthquake was because of the presence of occult practices in Haiti.

I suggested that we live in a broken world and we must expect disasters to happen sometimes. When the tower in Siloam fell and killed people, it wasn't because they were more guilty than others (Luke 13:4). We must be prepared to follow Yahshua regardless of disasters. Rachael thought that trouble, if we face it in the right way, helps us grow to know him and understand him. And Peter pointed out that Jesus suffered and died in fulfillment of a great promise. We need to learn to see things through - come what may.

Glenn reminded us about the manna in the desert which was provision but also brought an important lesson (man does not live by bread alone). He told us the story of an island that escaped damage in the Tsunami. Pentecostals living there had prayed for safety for the people, not knowing what was coming. Everyone was saved while neighbouring islands had big death tolls.

Jody spoke about William Wiberforce and his portrayal in the film 'Amazing Grace'. He had some humbling experiences and difficulties in his life, but he honoured God. Rachael referred to Joel 2:28-29 where we read that the Lord will pour out his Spirit on everyone. What an amazing prophecy, he will pour himself into us! And Glenn reminded us that Jesus said, 'When you see these things happen, don't let your hearts be troubled.' (Matthew 24:6) Rachael said we should focus on him, listen to him and his voice.

I spoke in a tongue which Glenn interpreted. He saw a lion released from a heavily barred cage. The lion came bounding out, it had a big mane. He realised that Jesus has been released and his roar goes out to the nations and also reaches the church. 'Are you there? Are you listening? Are you coming?'

At this point Barbara saw the words 'Maple Leaf', and Jody described a picture of the aftermath of a forest fire. She saw a huge tree with charred debris all around it. She realised that charcoal can be used as fuel; even in the aftermath of disaster there will be something left in our hearts that is useful for our development. He can turn any disaster into something of value. Jesus is the light and the energy, he tells us not to focus on the problems. Instead we should focus on Jesus himself.

Rachael saw a bolt of lightning hitting a tree. And the Lord told her, 'This is my power, this is who I am. The lightning can destroy a tree but it can also light up the sky all around.

We spent a few minutes learning more about Church of Two (CO2) and testing it for ourselves.

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