Indiana Jones's Temple of Doom | The Nation


Indiana Jones's Temple of Doom

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In addition to checking their thoughts, Jones also intruded upon his members' sex lives, preaching that sex impeded altruistic action and arranging and breaking up marriages as he saw fit, severing family ties to make his followers more dependent on him. "If one were to be truly devoted, one had to abstain.... If they were married, women had to declare that it was Father they had always thought of and fantasized about when they were with their husbands," Layton recalls. Indeed, the whole Jones outlook on sex was bizarre. He preached, to his congregation's bewilderment, that all men other than himself were homosexuals. Then, when Jones unexpectedly forced himself sexually upon Layton, telling her afterward that she needed it, Layton was confused and ashamed but had no acceptable means of lashing out at him. Instead, she became adept at keeping her inner reality to herself and projecting an image of loyalty.

About the Author

Bettina Drew
Bettina Drew's most recent book is Crossing the Expendable Landscape (Graywolf).

Leaving became harder to do when her mother joined the temple, so Layton sought to insulate herself in the inner circle, where she felt more in control. But members had little chance for reflection and the balancing of inner and outer worlds, since they worked long hours with little sleep, were obliged daily to write their thoughts to Jones and were subjected to sermons running late into the night and to humiliating public confrontations of disloyal members. Jones made followers sign confessions to crimes such as child-molesting and adultery that could be used against them should they ever defect. Also demanding substantial amounts of his followers' incomes and, in his "life care" program for the elderly, all their worldly possessions, Jones became the center of temple adherents' emotional and day-to-day reality.

"This penetration by the psychological forces of the environment into the inner emotions of the individual person is perhaps the outstanding psychiatric fact of thought reform," the Yale psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton wrote in his classic study Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, based on his examination and interviews with forty Westerners and Chinese who had been "brainwashed" under the Chinese Communists. Noting that it was "the combination of external force or coercion with an appeal to inner enthusiasm through evangelistic exhortation which gave thought reform its emotional scope and power," Lifton also observed that the process involved a regression he called personal closure, "a retreat into doctrinal and organizational exclusiveness, and into all-or-nothing emotional patterns more characteristic...of the child than of the individuated adult."

Deborah Layton took many of the psychological steps taken by Lifton's subjects. She established her own (liberal) guilt and channeled it into acceptable behavior; she betrayed herself in response to accusations of disloyalty. But more profoundly, she lived in a world that conformed uncannily to the characteristics of ideological totalism that Lifton saw underlying thought reform. These included strict control of communication between people and in the environment, a no-holds-barred manipulation of individual guilt, an insistence upon ideological purity and unassailable dogma, a cult of confession, the elevation of doctrine over person and the dispensing of existence according to whether one was a super-person like Jones; a human, socialist person; or an outsider, inevitably portrayed as evil and violent.

Ideological totalism, Lifton concluded, "evokes destructive emotions, produces intellectual and psychological constrictions, and deprives men of all that is most subtle and imaginative.... This combination of personal closure, self-destructiveness, and hostility towards outsiders leads to the dangerous group excesses so characteristic of ideological totalism in any form."

In Guyana, Jones further tightened his control. In Our Father Who Art in Hell James Reston Jr. cites the affidavit of temple member Yolanda Crawford, who had been preparing the agricultural project in Guyana. In early 1977 Jones came down to check the progress of the colony and, according to Crawford, told the staff there that the whole congregation would soon be arriving and that once there they would not be permitted to depart: He wanted to station guards around the camp to "off" anyone who tried to leave and let their bodies rot in the jungle. Jones also would keep his followers' passports to deny them access to law and flight.

Layton knew that the temple had millions in foreign banks, so she was surprised by the no-frills nature of Jonestown. More disturbing, arriving there was like entering a prison. "The committee removed my shoes, shirts, panties, socks, toothpaste, soap, and body lotion, and handed me just four T-shirts, four pairs of socks, a toothbrush, toothpaste, four pairs of undies and a bar of soap," Layton recalls. Letters from home and her mother's cancer-pain medications were confiscated. "We were systematically stripped of our previous identities," she continues, delineating what historian of slavery Orlando Patterson has described as one of the first rituals of enslavement.

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