Who next for god, Jim?

I wrote this on the 26th of November 1978, eight days after the Jonestown Mass Suicide/Massacre, an event that I will freely admit I had to look up to refresh my memory about the whole thing.

Jonestown or the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project was a religious settlement located in Guyana and founded by one James Warren Jones, Jim to his friends. Jim Jones was a preacher and political activist who preached unconventional socialist and progressive ideas to his predominantly African American congregation.

The whole sorry story, and it is a sorry story, is well documented elsewhere and I won’t go into the minutiae here, save to say that over 900 people, women, men and children, died at the Jonestown settlement when their charismatic leader decided that they should all commit suicide. He had arranged armed guards to shoot any people trying to flee the settlement.

I was going to call this piece ‘When religion goes wrong’ but I’m not trying to say that religion per se is at fault here, the fault lies in those who would seek to subvert religion’s messages, although speaking as an atheist I can see where some religions might overstep the mark.

Anyway, the Jonestown story broke in the news and eight days later, I wrote this:

Who next for god, Jim?

Who for god now then, Jim?
Now that your bodies,
are left to the wind.
Who for god now?

Now their private dreams,
lie flat in the mud.
Now that the babies’ cries,
are choked off with blood.
Now that your guards have said,
‘He says you die.’
Now that the children,
are quite terrified.
Who next will say to a lost lonely crowd,
‘Here me, believe me, I think I’m god!’

Who for god next, Jim?
Who for god next?
To say to the people,
‘There’s no place to hide.’
To say to the people,
‘We’ve love on our side,
and are you quite willing,
to commit suicide?
Because it’s what I want,
and so dignified.
So run if you will,
but there’s no place to hide,
I’ve got guns and bullets on my side.’

Who next will say that,
who next will play god?

Who next for god?
Answer me that.
To deceive with false answers,
some other poor sod.
Who next to split up families,
but look after the old,
and play politicians,
For power and gold.
Then preach of the right way,
to live and to die,
while innocent children,
look up and say ‘Why?’
And are punished for seeing,
from another side.

Who next for god Jim?
Answer me that.
Well, you might if you weren’t,
at this moment quite flat,
on your back, being dead,
with a hole in your head.

Who next for god Jim?
Now that you’re dead,
and the temple of people,
lie rotting away.
Who next for god?
Who next to say,
‘I’m god, but I’m frightened,
they’re coming to take me away’?

Who next will feed,
the people with lies,
and mix orangeade,
with small children and cyanide?

I must admit that I’ve changed some of my original punctuation and altered some of the line breaks, but all the original words are there. I was never really happy with ‘some other poor sod’ as I recall, and in truth I’m still not but that’s what I wrote so that’s what you get.

It was reported that orangeade laced with cyanide was given to the children of the settlement. This event obviously made an impression on me, I don’t think it was the number of deaths but the circumstances in which they occurred, the complete usurpation of beliefs.

One thought on “Who next for god, Jim?

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