An examination of the Temple cannot omit the question of why so many folks would commit suicide in the name of their new faith (or at the behest of a single man). Jones, apparently, saw the suicide as a revolutionary act, and in the last years of the Temple, an emphasis on religious ideas, particularly those of mainstream Christianity, was replaced by an emphasis on the political nature of the group. Weightman discusses the concept of revolutionary suicide in greater depth in her book than we can here. However it is important to recognize that revolutionary suicide is not a concept that can be found in the writings of Karl Marx. Suicide cannot be revolutionary for Marx because suicide, particularly en masse, by an oppressed people effectively eliminates the very people who would be revolting. The self inflicted deaths of the revolutionaries eliminates the need for revolution and the means of production remain in the hands of the oppressors. Of course, Marx, as a materialist, sees the goals of life as entirely tied to this world, this life. The Peoples Temple members, as religious people, believed in some notion of an after-life.
That stated, is there another explanation for the suicides? Emil Durkheim's concept of "altruistic suicide" is a good match. In this classification of suicide, those who kill themselves feel more closely tied to a sub-group than to mainstream society and their "basis for existence seems situated beyond life itself" (Durkheim,Lemert 90).
Again, Weightman probes deeply into the question of precisely why 913 people would terminate their own lives and her book includes a discussion of the resocialization of the Temple members. Also, Jonathan Smith, in Imagining Religion, sheds some light on this primary problem by placing the Peoples Temple into the larger framework of Religious Tradition. Smith compares the Peoples Temple to the Dionysic cults of Western antiquity as well as to the cargo cults in the New Hebrides Islands in this