Gregorio Smith has announced the Atlanta premiere of his controversial documentary film about growing up a Jehovah’s Witness, TRUTH BE TOLD. Due to the recent publicity of several child sex abuse cases against the religion, this film exploring the oppressive hold the Watchtower Society has on its members is particularly timely. TRUTH BE TOLD will be screened exclusively on Tuesday October 29, 2013 at AMC Phipps Plaza 14. Get your tickets now!
TRUTH BE TOLD – a new feature-length documentary – lifts the veil on the seemingly benign Jehovah’s Witnesses religion to expose a profit-driven, isolationist culture characterized by fear, totalitarian corporate leadership, intellectual & spiritual intimidation, suspension of critical thinking, failed prophecies, doctrinal inconsistency and improper handling of physical and sexual abuse allegations within the church.
See former Jehovah’s Witnesses candidly discuss growing up inside the religion. They reveal experiences including the effects of proselytizing door-to-door, shunning non-observant family and friends, suffering the discouragement of pursuing dreams like gaining a higher education, missing other societal holidays and customs. Ultimately the film reveals why Jehovah’s Witnesses have the lowest retention rate of any religion with only 37% of those raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses continuing their affiliation with the religion.
This exposé – the title of which refers to the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ perception that their beliefs are ‘the truth’ – is the first feature-film directed by Gregorio Smith.
Trailers, excerpts, production stills and other content are available on the official TRUTH BE TOLD website: www.hereliesthetruth.com
Direct link to trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4nqYtzDaGE
TRUTH BE TOLD on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/hereliesthetruth
On Twitter: @TRUTHBETOLDDOC
About the Filmmaker
Gregorio Smith is an independent filmmaker and writer. His work has been featured in the Staten Island Film Festival, Anthology Film Archive, Dallas Video and Film Festival, Denver Underground Film Festival, Bowery Poetry Club and other forums. His work has also been covered by The New York Times, Boston Globe and other media outlets. He is a graduate of Baruch College and a member of the International Documentary Association.
Mr. Smith was born and raised a Jehovah’s Witness. He describes TRUTH BE TOLD as ‘immersive, informational, expository and controversial …an honest glimpse into the culture of growing up in the Jehovah’s Witness religion.” TRUTH BE TOLD is the director’s sixth film and first feature.
I remember the primal anguish that is born out of the belief that God is the source of both love and pain.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve observed that the feeling toward the universe it engendered is very similar to that of a hostage, a victim of abuse, a prisoner. Instead of creating a subjectivity of love in freedom, of caritas and kindness, and peace, it seemed to create an obsessive and paradoxical longing and fear that felt so meaningful that it was difficult to release.
The first stage of exit was pure rage, in my case perhaps only because of some hard-wired sense of self-preservation. If I hadn’t become angry enough, I never would have left. Yes, I also wouldn’t have spent years in college, or racked up student loans, or seen my career path veer off into something I never expected, but I also wouldn’t have had anywhere to stand, wouldn’t have slowly reconstructed a space in which I could live.
I’ve been thinking about the pathological aspects of religion for many years now. Talking with others who left the Jehovah’s Witnesses has been very healing, and I’m so very happy that such discussions have been made available. I was alone, it seemed, at first. As much as our conversations mutually heal, there are still times when the raw feelings burst through. Yes, even now when it seems that early experience shouldn’t matter anymore, I look around at our cultural landscape and see all the similarities to the dynamics that I felt way back then. The stated arguments, then the cruelties beneath them. It’s part of the reason that I follow politics so closely.
When you’ve lived in a space where justice is proclaimed, but unkindness rules, you feel things. I’ve always been too sensitive to that difference, to the unfairness, and it’s only expanded into more understanding of structural, institutionalized unfairness. For that reason, I was never able to reach that enlightenment space that some highly-evolved religious people sometimes reach, where you’re in tune with the love of the cosmos and shine out in peace and love because of that.
I am amazed at people who first question God because of logical arguments – it’s why I was first interested in philosophy and theology. I never expected answers, I was just fascinated that anyone could ever manage to think clearly about an embedded belief system. For me, the questions just keep getting better and better.
But first, I had to step away from the thing that felt so inherent to my soul. It helped and hurt that I was a woman, and one gifted with both imagination and intelligence. I was rewriting stories all the time.
Throwback moments are still powerful because I still recognize them. If they ring true, they can almost call me back. Some versions of religion look nice, but they don’t address this hard-core total involvement of the person. The pathological edges of religion do – and this, I think is both their advantage and their biggest threat. They encourage power distortions – masochism and sadism, entwined, enthrallment and rebellion, entwined. Fanaticism has incredible payoffs. I understand.
When I saw the song below performed, I didn’t know the words. I didn’t have to know them, although they do fit (a bit strangely so).
What I saw was a priestess exorcising her demon. It was so powerful that I was shaken for the rest of the night.
Every time I hear it, like I accidentally did over my morning coffee, I feel it punch the solar plexus of my soul. I cry every time, and I always remember, I remember how it felt.
This was how I felt about God.
Although I haven’t been in that particular space for many years, it still has a power, and as much as I remind myself of the path of forgiveness and kindness and peace, as much as I am more lovingly attuned now, I still lack the total transformation that would make this song just a song like any other.
Music is a personal thing. Everyone projects onto music to some extent. This is not meant to be a song about God, but it resonates there for me.
For you. In remembrance, in grief. To sing, to exorcise your demons, and perhaps to be able to voice some aspect of the experience that conversation can’t really ever address. But, lovelies, sing something sweet afterward… If you can grok it, this one takes strength to hear.
Alanis Morissette, “Sympathetic Character”
I was afraid you’d hit me if I’d spoken up
I was afraid of your physical strength
I was afraid you’d hit below the belt
I was afraid of your sucker punch
I was afraid of your reducing me
I was afraid of your alcohol breath
I was afraid of your complete disregard for me
I was afraid of your temper
I was afraid of handles being flown off of
I was afraid of holes being punched into walls
I was afraid of your testosterone
I have as much rage as you have
I have as much pain as you do
I’ve lived as much hell as you have
and I’ve kept mine bubbling under for you
You were my best friend
You were my lover
You were my mentor
You were my brother
You were my partner
You were my teacher
You were my very own sympathetic character
I was afraid of verbal daggers
I was afraid of the calm before the storm
I was afraid for my own bones
I was afraid of your seduction
I was afraid of your coercion
I was afraid of your rejection
I was afraid of your intimidation
I was afraid of your punishment
I was afraid of your icy silences
I was afraid of your volume
I was afraid of your manipulation
I was afraid of your explosions
I have as much rage as you have
I have as much pain as you do
I’ve lived as much hell as you have
and I’ve kept mine bubbling under for you
(repeat 2 x)
You were my keeper
You were my anchor
You were my family
You were my saviour
and therein lay the issue
and therein lay the problem
Why call upon the anecdotes of men, living or dead, as appeals to authority on the status of God? Why continue arguing these dogmas?
There are sacred texts all around the world and across time and languages and cultures. To think that you can dictate to others what their relationship is to God is fairly arrogant. One might even call it hubris, the downfall of that most famous angel of light (Lucifer) in the biblical narrative.
Each person interprets their own experience, and one person’s interpretation of the unknown has no more weight than your own. Even if the majority disagree, there is no assurance that anyone is right or wrong. Direct apprehension of the divine is a mystical stance – one that I myself have felt – but each person’s path is their own, and the emotional feelings of dependence or awe or fascination or repulsion or indifference have absolutely nothing to do with truth value. Nor can you argue the extra-human with human logic. The fact is that all these are very mysterious, possibly mythological, possibly compensating for psychological desires.
You can’t, and I believe shouldn’t, push your interpretation on others. It is their own life task to ask their own questions and to find their own center of authenticity. No matter how good-hearted in intent, you can only move others astray from their own path when you argue about it. I prefer to plant a seed of compassion and kindness – the heart of all spiritual truths – and then really try to step aside.
The whole point of recovery is not hatred; it is the freedom to follow your own heart and mind (and your own calling) and not be so screwed up by the agendas of others in doing so.
No disguise can long conceal love where it is, nor feign it where it is not. ~ François de La Rochefoucauld
I’m passionate about certain topics. Some themes in politics and religion and life in general are not matters of disinterested observation but of deep commitment. In the last year, I’ve become very frustrated – angry even – about how malleable people can sometimes be, about how fearful, paranoid and even hateful the manipulated populations can become. Inchoate, thick with sadness, I feel claustrophobic – surrounded by ignorance and misunderstanding, perversions of thought, and the misinformation and disinformation campaigns that seem to function just fine for whoever pours enough money into the effort.
Our culture alienates us and turns us away from one another’s authenticity. It caricatures, scapegoats and demonizes its own. It allows bald-faced lies to parade as truth, and it appeals to the worst aspects of us – in the name of God or good. You can taste it sometimes. It’s acrid.
I’ve heard a lot of anger – often horribly misplaced – and far too much destructive and misinformed prattle. It erupts in unexpected places sometimes, and that’s very depressing. Not all arguments are equal in value. Knowledge is always partial and biased, but there are statements that are closer to the truths we can grasp than others will ever be. To me, it’s more about creating balance in fairness, in justice.
Some of the schemers have overplayed their hand. The values of this country at its best are being reflected back to us in new ways. Perhaps that mirroring can yet defamiliarize us and then catalyze recognition effects in that mythical “average American” that so flattens out our complexities into illusion and prejudice.
“Intellectual freedom is essential to human society. Freedom of thought is the only guarantee against an infection of people by mass myths, which, in the hands of treacherous hypocrites and demagogues, can be transformed into bloody dictatorships.” ~Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov
Engagement on topics that mean something to me is fruitless when there is no understanding of what counts as an argument. I don’t enjoy trying to create dialogue with unworthy adversaries. In this respect, I have become what many would call an elitist. It means something to me – so contribute something worthwhile! Why else would I care about what you say? Yes, it’s a free country. Think whatever you like in the sacred space of your mind. Say whatever you like, too. However, I’m under no obligation to take what you say seriously or to engage with you in dialogue unless there is some hope of real and serious communication. I’m willing to hear and judge for myself, just as you are. Here and there… discernment still flows. I no longer have the inclination to play in arenas where it is palpably absent.
If the only object of a discussion appears to be a simple lashing out at perceived or imaginary adversaries, especially combined with a lack of information or any reasonable picture of context or reality, it’s not really a conversation – it’s just an emotional beating. I’m no masochist. Anyone can look up the rules of argument, the necessary grounds of dialogue, the guidelines of debate. Why should I engage when the dialogue doesn’t observe the conventions of simple civility?
Sometimes I get the sinking feeling that I’m being played as I get drawn into these discussions that are more about abuse than enlightenment. Such predatory games are extremely infuriating. Claims attempted on me because of some historical association or commonality of interest just aren’t enough to move me anymore.
The other day a former Jehovah’s Witness asked me why I had defriended him on Facebook. He thought it was “very sad” that it appeared to be because of a discussion on his wall. My response:
I’ve found that the ex-JW connection isn’t always enough. There are many people who remain confused, broken, and with deep imprints of thought patterns and habits. Some of these I can embrace, even support and help. Others infuriate me because I can see the blocks and the slave mentality that survives, or I can see an unthinking flipside of meaningless rebellion. I tend to spend my time on the ones that have an ability for self-reflection, transformation, kindness and flexibility. I have little patience anymore for uninformed propaganda parroting, or false piety, or manipulations.
Outside of that consideration, I’ve developed a rule of thumb about FB friends in general. If I see more than a few posts that push my buttons and make me angry, it’s just better for my mental health to defriend. I give it my best shot a couple of times, but it’s not my responsibility to teach or guide or inform and when it becomes more of a negative than a positive experience, I just walk away. It’s too short of a life to embroil myself in impossible dialogues.
I am writing this explanation to you simply because you were kind enough to ask. Best wishes –
It is difficult for me to write such things. I feel that I should somehow be available to everyone and anyone – in concern, in caring. However, I’m also much more keenly aware of the relative merits and effects of my interactions as I’m spread so very thin. I re-read what I wrote. And again.
Why should, why would I engage in and even seek out such discussions? Why do I so often feel compelled to participate? I have a choice. I can choose the occasion, the level, the tenor, the style. Why haven’t I had the discipline and meta-flexibility to do that more often? I think it’s because I’ve not been caring enough for my own needs.
I need nourishment. I need sustenance. Time is running through my hands.
I’m drawn more and more to the projects and pursuits that I have delayed for far too long. How much of what I do is really worth my limited time? Deeper affinities and sympathies are necessary. They have become – Necessary.
If this means that I become less accessible, less visible – what of it? Service is, after all, a valuable gift to oneself as well as to others. The best hope with some is just to plant a seed and trust to the winds anyway. My own best insights have often been a result of such actions by others.
There are so many avenues to explore, so many meandering paths, so many divine moments and details. Should all of this be discarded or postponed – deferred – simply for the sake of a paltry and very secondary urge to persuade others to my own point of view? It has to be an honest exchange. Where there is no scene of the between, why bother?
I’ve drowned myself in this superfluous uselessness for too long. There are too many other things to do, to think, to find.
I have real friends. I have a real home. I have a real job. I have a real book to write. I have real dreamtime to enjoy. I have real communion.
AND – I got my smile… I got life, brother.
Reorienting into Your Own Path: Belief Self-Torment
For a number of reasons, I haven’t posted anything about Jehovah’s Witnesses for a while. There have been some horrible events in the news, and all sorts of doctrinal and organizational changes, but I find myself more interested these days in some of the larger questions. I’ve been trying to write something about that, but nothing I wrote was satisfactory to me. It turns out that I needed a real question for my thoughts on this to spill out. In trying to help ease someone else’s suffering, the words ring true again. Thank you for being the messenger for this lesson! I preserve the questioner’s privacy, but you know who you are. Big hugs.
I seem to be struggling with my relationship with God. I find myself so confused about what to believe. I used to be absolutely convinced that the Bible was Truth. Is this normal for a person in my situation. Any input that you might have would be appreciated.
It is totally normal for you to feel as you do. I do have some thoughts on this in terms of biblical scholarship and the history of the religions of the book(s), but that’s not what will help you most right now because you need first to find your bearings, your balance, and the (for lack of a better phrase) direction of your attunement to God.
Start with what you solidly know and experience for yourself. Be observant and pay attention and even “hold fast to what is fine.” That place where your mind and spirit and soul all connect in gratitude and admiration is where you start. Think of the qualities of the spirit – where do you see caring and forgiveness and love and thoughtfulness and creativity and all those things that you can just feel are *good* things? Let yourself be drawn into that world. Learn from and enjoy the presence of that “energy” in any moment where it happens. Even just noticing it changes you.
Then – and I resisted this one for a long time – think about service. Not big, cosmic service – just little bits of service. Be a little kinder, think of someone else’s feelings, do something nice for someone else, be a listening ear to a friend. Anything that puts your own needs to the side – even for a moment – changes you.
Think of things that you *truly* admire about people you know or have known or have read about or seen. Everyone is complicated, a mix of darkness and light, so you have to think of specific things, how someone made a good decision, how someone manifested an incredible skill, how someone calmed a situation. Those are things that speak to your inner self, to your inner directionality, and they are worth hearing.
For a while, move away from the questions of belief in this or that. That question will always be there for you, but that doesn’t mean you have to address it and be tormented by it right now. Come back to it when you are in a place of spiritual groundedness.
Your body can help you too, and in ways that you might not expect. Sit quietly and relax, listen to yourself breathe. When you are upset, take a few breaths and consciously let it go. Imagine blowing the seeds of an old dandelion into the wind. Self-torment seems to be part of the deal – but you can choose not to do it. Look again at these things when it isn’t self-punishment. Torturing yourself does nothing for you right now except prevent you from insight and focus your energy on everything that would overwhelm you. Love doesn’t want that, and you need to focus on that central thing. Open your heart and listen. Listen.
Try different body positions. Bow your head, raise your arms up to the sky, imagine your feet taking root in the ground, pretend to be blessed by the stars. Your body-imagination is always trying to help you. If you feel comfortable, reach out to the God *above* the God that is caricatured by the witnesses and ask for guidance in love.
Be authentic, be truthful, see beauty, learn when to trust and admire. Start there. In time, the beliefs will sort themselves out. The list of “I believe in this” and “I don’t believe in that” is really not the primary aspect of spiritual understanding. Assume, for a little while, that all the cosmos needs of you is that you pay attention and appreciate whatever you really, truly can. Go a little on that footpath, and see if you get reoriented.
I feel very strongly that each person’s spiritual path is their own, and cannot be regulated or mandated. This is about your own spirit and soul and heart and mind, and nobody else’s. And in that spirit, take what you find useful for you here – and disregard the rest. These are things I’ve learned for myself and from the experiences of others, so they may be very very helpful for you right now. Or not. You are the only you.
I’ve been profoundly disturbed by seeing certain kinds of beliefs and accusations that I’m observing – not only from under-informed folk at rallies, but even from so-called christian blogs and in emails from people who should really know better.
We have a deep need to feel better about ourselves as a nation, but lying to ourselves isn’t the way to do it, and neither is hate or fear or scapegoating or any of those other strategies that have been used here and elsewhere to such destructive effect. Smears, lies, hatred and incitement to violence do not reflect well on anyone. Can we agree on that?
My prayers today are for the ones who consider themselves christians, but are participating in this kind of thing. I sincerely hope that you will be able to receive the guidance that you seem to need, and can re-attune to the deepest message and source of your faith from where you are right now.
Regardless of who you decide deserves your vote, it’s time to get back on speaking terms with the best within you, not the worst.
The state of this country right now can be (at least partially) attributed to the successful demonization of anything and anyone remotely left-wing, liberal, progressive – even centrist Democrat – by the increasingly off-track right wing and its public propagandists. I have been resisting the idea that any significant number of Americans could be taken in by these machinations, but I’ve been thrown off by some of the stuff that I am seeing today. I’m sure you’ve seen some of it, too.
It is not only unseemly and depressing that some Americans can be so easily propelled by the worst that is within them, but it also brings an ethical responsibility for the results. Be careful of what you bring on, Palin and McCain (and all of the surrogate voices).
All of this talk about Barack Obama being an Arab or a Muslim or a terrorist (and don’t all those words start to kind of blend together?) really bothers me on a number of levels.
First, it reveals our national prejudices in a particularly nasty way. Does it not occur to you that there are American Arabs and Muslims? What’s wrong with you?
You can’t conflate these things. All Arabs aren’t bad. All Muslims aren’t bad. Just as all Christians aren’t bad. Think on that. Remember the Crusades, and the Inquisitions, and the way some contemporary Christians want to turn this nation into a kind of theocratic dictatorship that completely misses Jesus’ call and message. The militant and controlling delusions of the super-authoritarian fringes among ALL of the “people of the book” is very troubling.
And then, there’s just the plain facts that Obama is not an Arab. He’s not a Muslim. He’s not a terrorist.
He’s not anti-American.
He’s not a traitor.
He’s not a mole.
I cannot believe I’m seeing this kind of thing.
Barack Obama is not a socialist, either. He’s a capitalist – just not the kind of capitalist that will exploit and plunder our economy or our environment because of rampant corruption and greed. He’s not the kind of capitalist that will appoint former industry lobbyists as directors of the organizations meant to oversee those industries. He’s not going to put the interests of the top 5 percent over the interests of the 95 percent, but he’s not talking a revolution of the masses either. Obama is actually rather centrist, fair, practical and level-headed. His plans call for a strengthening of the middle-class, the backbone of our nation. If the middle-class falls, multinationals will simply take their business elsewhere.
Now, Barack Obama isn’t a messiah either, and those who either over-idealize him or criticize him (on the basis that some people are pretty desperate for such hope as he could represent) exaggerate his importance. However, I think he could do some real good for Americans, for America, and also for world stability. He does make me feel hopeful that we might be able to start to undo some of the terrible damage that has been done.
People have used the methods of terrorism for a long time. Wake up! If you want to fight terrorism, don’t be terrified and manipulated!
Do you really think it’s a coincidence that our friends and allies – after dealing with Bush for 8 years – would overwhelmingly prefer to see Obama elected than McCain? Are they all evil then? Have we become that insular and self-centered and frightened that we can’t take a good hard look at what has happened to our status among the rest of the world’s population? They think the populace here must be stupid and crazy, living in a dream world.
I think that Barack Obama and Joe Biden have a much better chance of helping us to navigate through the next few years than do John McCain and Sarah Palin. I am very disappointed in how McCain has changed, and I’ll be nice and not give you my list of Palin criticisms today.
We really are in a huge mess on a number of different fronts – both internally and externally – and we need the best we can get. My vote is for Barack Obama. As we find out more and more about what the Bush/Cheney administration has really cost us – and I fear we’ve not even seen the half of that yet – we need someone like him.