The Solar Temple

by | October 10, 2021

By James Haught

The Rev. Jim Jones led 900 fervent believers into mass murder-suicide at Jonestown in 1977. Many swallowed cyanide and gave it to their children.

Ohio cult leader Jeffrey Lundgren made a human sacrifice of a family of five in 1989. Then he and his followers wandered through West Virginia, Missouri and California before being caught and convicted of murder.

David Koresh led 85 adherents to fiery death at his Bible prophecy compound at Waco, Texas.

Yahweh ben Yahweh, founder of the black Temple of Love in Florida, ordered his aides to kill “white devils” and backsliders. Victims’ ears were brought to Yahweh. Seven sect leaders were convicted in 1992 of 14 murders.

At the Hare Krishna “golden temple” near Moundsville, murders were plotted, and two swamis were convicted.

Ervil LeBaron, leader of the Church of the First Born of the Lamb of God, ordered his 13 wives, 54 children and various lieutenants to kill “false prophets” and dissenters in the U.S. Southwest. Since LeBaron died in prison in 1982, more than a dozen of his disciples have been shot to death in sect rivalry.

Then the dilemma of deadly cults surfaced again. In western Switzerland, 48 members of a sect known as the Solar Temple, and also as the Cross and the Rose, died in a mass murder-suicide.

Many of the victims were found in a secret underground chapel lined with mirrors. Bodies in ceremonial robes were in a circle, feet together, heads outward, most with plastic bags tied over their heads, which bore bullet wounds. Other victims were in three ski chalets. Several dead children were lying together. The tragedy was found by officers rushing to fight fires which had been ignited by remote-control devices. Farewell letters said the believers were “leaving this earth” to escape “hypocrisies and oppression of this world.”

Simultaneously, in Quebec, fire ignited by a timer killed four people at a different branch of the Solar Temple. The Canadian group had been stockpiling weapons to prepare for the end of the world. The cult leader had pleaded guilty to weapons conspiracy in 1993 and had gone to Switzerland. One of his disciples was charged with trying to buy guns with silencers — instruments with no purpose except covert murder.

Good Lord! What possesses some people, to make them believe crackpot gurus so intensely that they’re willing to kill rivals, strangers, their own children and themselves? This recurring pattern defies comprehension.

There may be as many as 2,000 religious groups in North America that can be classified as cults, according to Connecticut analyst Kevin Garvey. (A cult differs from other churches in that it’s usually controlled by a single charismatic leader, and the members isolate themselves from the world.) If only 1 percent of those 2,000 resort to killing, that’s still a serious threat.

How can society be protected from potentially dangerous “fringies” — and what can be done to rescue the naive, vulnerable people who are drawn into such groups? The only method we can see is constant warnings.

America has watchdog groups such as the Cult Awareness Network which issue information about irrational cliques. These warnings should be disseminated as widely as possible. Maybe they’ll dissuade some trusting souls from joining secretive sects that end up as horror stories.

(Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail, and a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine. This article originally appeared in Free Inquiry, winter 1994.)

— 

*Associates and resources listing last updated May 31, 2020.*

Canadian Atheist Associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, Centre for Inquiry Canada, Kelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.

— 

Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du Québec, Atheist Freethinkers, Central Ontario Humanist Association, Comox Valley Humanists, Grey Bruce Humanists, Halton-Peel Humanist Community, Hamilton Humanists, Humanist Association of London, Humanist Association of Ottawa, Humanist Association of Toronto, Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics of Manitoba, Ontario Humanist Society, Secular Connextions Seculaire, Secular Humanists in Calgary, Society of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph), Thunder Bay Humanists, Toronto Oasis, Victoria Secular Humanist Association.

— 

Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an Agnostiker, American Atheists, American Humanist Association, Associação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian Association of Atheists and Agnostics, Atheist Alliance International, Atheist Alliance of America, Atheist Centre, Atheist Foundation of Australia, The Brights Movement, Center for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist Ireland, Camp Quest, Inc., Council for Secular Humanism, De Vrije Gedachte, European Humanist Federation, Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, Foundation Beyond Belief, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist International, Humanist Association of Germany, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist Society of Scotland, Humanists UK, Humanisterna/Humanists Sweden, Internet Infidels, International League of Non-Religious and Atheists, James Randi Educational Foundation, League of Militant Atheists, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, National Secular Society, Rationalist International, Recovering From Religion, Religion News Service, Secular Coalition for America, Secular Student Alliance, The Clergy Project, The Rational Response Squad, The Satanic Temple, The Sunday Assembly, United Coalition of Reason, Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.

— 

About Canadian Atheist

Canadian Atheist is an independent blog with multiple contributors providing articles of interest to Canadian atheists, secularists, humanists, and freethinkers.

Canadian Atheist is not an organization — there is no membership and nothing to join — and we offer no professional services or products. It is a privately-owned publishing platform shared with our contributors, with a focus on topics relevant to Canadian atheists.

Canadian Atheist is not affiliated with any other organization or group. While our contributors may be individually be members of other organizations or groups, and may even speak in an official capacity for them, CA itself is independent.

For more information about Canadian Atheist, or to contact us for any other reason, see our contact page.

— 

About Canadian Atheist Contributors

Canadian Atheist contributors are volunteers who provide content for CA. They receive no payment for their contributions from CA, though they may be sponsored by other means.

Our contributors are people who have both a passion for issues of interest to Canadian atheists, secularists, humanists, and freethinkers, and a demonstrated ability to communicate content and ideas of interest on those topics to our readers. Some are members of Canadian secularist, humanist, atheist, or freethought organizations, either at the national, provincial, regional, or local level. They come from all walks of life, and offer a diversity of perspectives and presentation styles.

CA merely provides our contributors with a platform with almost complete editorial freedom. Their opinions are their own, expressed as they see fit; they do not speak for Canadian Atheist, and Canadian Atheist does not speak for them.

For more information about Canadian Atheist’s contributors, or to get in contact with any of them, or if you are interested in becoming a contributor, see our contact page.

— 

Image Credit: James Haught.

Category: Education Tags: ,

About Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. Jacobsen works for science and human rights, especially women’s and children’s rights. He considers the modern scientific and technological world the foundation for the provision of the basics of human life throughout the world and advancement of human rights as the universal movement among peoples everywhere. You can contact Scott via email, his website, or Twitter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.