Ancient apocalyptic beliefs have continued to exert influence in modern times. This is evident in the continual evolution of new cults that center their indoctrination on apocalyptic literature. At the core of their conviction is the end of this worldly existence, which is at hand. In most cults, members firmly believe that they are living in a world that is brimming with evil and chaos, and that the only escape is death. Cult leaders often prey on adolescents who are in the midst of deep identity development. Cults often provide young people with a sense of community and acceptance that they are unable to find in other places.
Throughout history, religious movements such as cults and sects have been an impetus to social change and spiritual expression. Cults gained attention in the late 1960s with the appearance of the Moonies, Solar Temple, Heaven's Gate, Wicca, Branch Davidians, and others that called attention to a new form of spirituality that was infiltrating society. These and other cult religions brought about alternative forms of Christian expression grounded in new beliefs and modernized interpretations of the Bible and other doctrines modeled to complement current societal issues. New religious movements embody cultural integration and the transformation and globalization that have remodeled the essence of society. Religious cults focus on the individual's needs and present a new path to salvation led by a charismatic leader. The leaders impose new standards of service expected of the followers, and an element of sacrifice that ranges from breaking ties with friends and family outside the cult, to self-sacrifice and even suicide.
The leader's focus is typically directed toward apocalyptic beliefs, which demonstrate a rise of violence in the name of religion based on the belief that the followers are living in the last days. The followers live with serious expectations of an apocalypse, instilled by a level of enthusiasm that often blinds a person's judgment, and fosters often extreme behaviors resulting in death at the leader's command. The relevance of the apocalyptic lore is directly linked to a prophet or a second messiah figure that the charismatic leader takes on, presenting himself as someone who can lead the cult to salvation. The rhetoric that such leaders use is full of apocalyptic imagery; often the Book of Revelations is read and preached to followers whose obedience and commitment to the cause are repeatedly reinforced. The leaders are passionate in their beliefs and cause, and personify the role of mother or father figure; followers become the obedient children turning to the leader for direction and strength.
The 1960s, an era of revolution and freedom within much of the world, saw the advent of a religious organization that came to be known as the People's Temple, led by the Reverend Jim Jones. Jones generated a mass following as a result of his orations on the topic of a "new truth" and the utopian dream. This megalomaniac leader was the focal point of the source of their salvation. Born on May 13, 1931, to a family of white supremacists, members of the Ku Klux Klan, Jones developed a fascination for church work at an early age. In 1963, he established the People's Temple Full Gospel Church in Indianapolis, an interracial congregation fostering a notion of a socialist utopian society.
During Jones's rise to religious notoriety, his mental stability was questionable; he reportedly suffered from frequent mysterious fainting episodes, and communicated with and heeded advice from extraterrestrials. Jones also practiced faith healing by claiming to heal with touch and prayer. One of the most intriguing attributes that comprised Jones's character profile was his visions of nuclear holocaust. These premonitory images served to fuel his paranoid behavior, and eventually became the foundation of the cult's subsequent conviction that the Apocalypse was indeed approaching. Jones became increasingly convinced and paranoid that Armageddon was imminent, and more to the point, that his hometown of Indianapolis was the point of origin. To further distance himself from imminent danger, he moved his Temple base and congregation to San Francisco, where Jones felt that he would be safe.