What happens when Jonestown blowback-hatred/fear and Guru meet in Oregon 1980’s?

Posted: May 20, 2018 by Ty in Spirituality

The aftermath of Jonestown put the Religious Right and Christianities on their heels. Jones was a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)-one of the most progressive wings of Christianity, and part of the triad that makes up the Restoration Movement. It was also during this time, that Eastern Mysticism/thought/spiritualism was entrenching deeply into a the disenfranchised by the institutions of government and western religiosity of society. Netflix’s Wild Wild Country (2018) brings one into the moment.

India was a lighthouse in the moment, but fundamentalists there were attempting to put the spiritual genie back in the lamp if you will, and the more openly progressive/fringey spiritualists were under persecution. Osho was one of these with a grand following in India, that attracted thousands the world over, and he needed out. Enter 17 year old Sheela off to the USA to study, and discover a place where Shangri-la could be built on earth.

Shangri-la was a 63,000 acre ranch outside of what Oregon termed a city (would barely be a hamlet in Canada) of Antelope (population 40). The purchase and building for a self-sustaining city began. And then the fear led hatred as well. I am half way through the series, but in the first three episodes, one can begin to understand how radicalization happens from one point of spirituality, into entrenchment of violence. I am not to the point of the worst mass poisoning in USA history, but from evidence following to the mid-way point one is left asking if it started in the commune or by those that fought against it. The Rajneeshis became a vortex of hatred. They did everything by the state law to establish and build.

Those that hated the new, did everything to stop them outside the state law. They faced harassment by town folks, shots fired over their heads, and lives threatened. They were accused of take over, when to balance out rights, they bought up what had been on sale in the City of Antelope for years, paying asking price, to be able to vote and have their voice in local politics. Following laws of the state they were able to establish their own state trained “Peace (police) force”.

We had no weapons until they bombed our hotel that had our children in it.

It wasn’t even a localized movement, as it is shown internationally as having communes of this nature throughout the world and thousands of members, and when adherents were taken in in the early 1983 was coming close to 500,000 members. Pretty good growth for a new religion. Even today, when Antelopers were being interviewed, they saw nothing wrong with their actions, they spoke of fear of the unknown, and wanting to stop the darkness that had changed their way of life (noting any dog whistles out there that are still used? Notice any speech patterns against inclusion/belonging).

But when they decided to really ramp up and send buses out to bring in those that were hungry, abandoned, homeless (y’know that whole Matthew 25 thing) the media heat really came as they started wondering why these “homeless were invading” the state. Even to the point where voting laws for these new citizens were suspended. Suspended to protect an established protocol of hatred against something new. Suspended so that those that found a place of welcome and belonging were not allowed to exercise their inalienable right.

As those living into their hatred ramped up attacks, stripping away rights, ignoring laws, and holding to an ideal of “they brought change” or “why would they do that” or “they ran for office how dare they.” As violence against intensified (starting with hate graffitti, threatened assaults, gun shots, then bombing)…the free love-spiritualist religion became militarized.

One has to wonder what we do in our communities to create spaces of hatred and fear where others choose radicalization, militarization, gang or drug life over living peacefully. A new world does begin by looking into our own hearts first and checking the motivation for our words and actions.

Half-way through, and it is a series that begins the discussion around belonging, outcast and my neighbour… and how it can all go terribly wrong when fear and hatred replace love.

  1. Does every religion get a Judas? Further Reflections on Wild, Wild Country | Ty Ragan, Psy.D says:

    […] What happens when Jonestown blowback-hatred/fear and Guru meet in Oregon 1980’s? […]

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