Comparisons with Other Communities

 

In any discussion of Shimber Beris and the Burden’s the question inevitably arises whether or not it was a true cult or only cult-like, if that is an important distinction. It is not the purpose of this website to answer that question definitively. The intention here is to provide information so that others can make a more informed assessment for themselves.

Wikipedia states that “The word cult pejoratively refers to a group whose beliefs or practices are considered abnormal or bizarre.” It goes on to state: “The popular, derogatory sense of the word has no currency in academic studies of religions, where "cults" are subsumed under the neutral label of the "new religious movement," while academic sociology has partly adopted the popular meaning of the word.

Of course the most famous cult in recent history was that created and led by Jim Jones, which ended in the mass suicide November 18, 1978. Jonestown is referred to in the newspaper article from the San Francisco Chronicle September 14, 1986, and Dr. Burden is quoted as saying:

“I was offended in being associated with Jonestown. They had millions. We had to grovel around to try to eat. We are not a cult. Call me a religious man, but not of a particular type. We want to be universal, not a cult. We tried to base our rules on the Beatitudes, the 10 Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount and the Golden Rule.”

There are numerous notable similarities and countless differences between Shimber Beris and The People’s Temple, and other cult-like communities can also be compared for the sake of discussion as well. Since so much is known about The People’s temple as result of documentation, some of the more obvious comparisons are listed below:

Jim Jones operated within known parameters of US culture and the Christian faith. Initially, Jones acted with demonstrable good will and altruistic ethics backed by a profound social conscience and creative, constructive energy to create services needed by those who otherwise fall through the cracks.

Dr. Burden operated outside the parameters of US culture from the outset and under his own self designed faith based in part on Theosophy and metaphysical ideas, which encompassed Buddhism and Eastern Mysticism together with Christianity. His good will was mostly demonstrated by his early efforts to provide free medical and dental care to the poor people in Baja California and to selectively shower some of his "erring students" with "unconditional love."

Jim Jones had striking self-confidence and easily won the loyalty of adults who furthered his goals. Eventually his narcissism and paranoia metamorphosed into megalomania that was fueled by drug abuse.

Dr. Burden was a timid man who felt uncomfortable in American society at large but won the confidence of children. Like Jones, he saw himself as misunderstood by the world.

Jim Jones became a sexual outlaw and controlled his followers.

Dr. Burden, a cross-dresser with gay tendencies advocated a genderless “Not Man and the Not Woman” model taken from a Joan grant novel and condoned bisexual sexuality for the purpose of procreation only.

Jim Jones' good intentions drew in the disenfranchised and poor of all races.

Dr. and Mrs. Burden’s good intentions drew in troubled parents with maladjusted children.

Jim Jones was economically disadvantaged and disappointed in social discrimination against minorities from an early age, and determined to do something about it.

Dr. Burden was disenchanted with his evangelical roots and the punitive British public school system, so he determined to establish his own society and religion. Having spent the first eight years of his life growing up in rural Africa, he felt ridiculed by his peers in English boarding school, and later looked down on Americans.

Jim Jones worked his followers into a state of exhaustion.

Dr. Burden worked his followers into a state of exhaustion.

Jim Jones kept his followers in the dark about his intentions and prohibited individuals within his community from communicating with one another.

The Burdens operated in a culture of almost total secrecy. Dr. Burden kept his key supporters in the dark concerning many of his attitudes targeted at Americans and children of the baby boomer generation—a generation he secretly termed “The Children of Violence.” He and his wife took their personal slogan from an archaic branch of mysticism “To Know, to Will, to Dare and to Keep Silent.” Dr. Burden imposed "silences" on individuals who displeased him, thus preventing them from communicating.

Jim Jones proclaimed himself infallible and the equal of, if not in fact, God.

Dr. Burden proclaimed himself the infallible mouthpiece of “Nature” and the Ascended Masters.

Jim Jones believed the world at large was corrupt and no longer safe. He proclaimed a belief in Armageddon as promoted by the potential for nuclear holocaust.

Dr. Burden believed the world at large was corrupt and no longer safe. He looked down on mainstream America which he deemed decadent and weak. He also proclaimed paranoia about an impending nuclear holocaust. To this end he directed his 15 year-old daughter to enlist the help of a ten-year-old student to begin digging bomb shelters on Cerralvo Island. Increasingly, he turned to paranoid conspiracy groups for his information.

Jim Jones believed it was better to die than continue to live in the world. His final solution is infamous.

Dr. Burden sacrificed the wellbeing of his students and staff in the course of his venture rather than submit to the world. This standpoint allowed for at least one death and facilitated another. To his daughter, Dr. Burden disdainfully proclaimed that his wife and society at large prohibited him from carrying out “commendable” punishments such as those practiced by radical Muslims.

Jim Jones used drugs to control those in his community who he saw as a “problem” and confined those who displeased him in locked boxes.

Dr. Burden used drugs to medicate a wide range of students and confined those who displeased him in cage-like huts.

Many groups fall under the heading of being cult-like, some moderate and some horrific. There are parallels to be drawn but at the same time some individuals may prefer to overlook certain aspects of these communities for personal reasons and see only the worst or see only the best.

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