ALTON — On Nov. 15, the foundation of a well-known religion will be challenged in Alton.
Beginning at 4 p.m., the Life After Watchtower organization will sponsor an event that includes a free screening of the documentary film “Truth Be Told” at the Riverbender Community Center, 200 W. Third St., Alton. The film will focus on the Jehovah’s Witness religion.
In the wake of multiple international human rights abuse investigations into this as well as other religions, the film promises to spark debate and discussion.
“We’re exploring the oppressive hold the Watchtower Society has on its members,” director Gregorio Smith said. “This is timely for anyone who is curious about this peculiar faith.”
The Jehovah’s Witness faith, founded in the late 1870s by Charles Taze Russell, is a nontrinitarian belief system with distinct differences from mainstream Christianity, although the members refer to themselves as Christians. The organization publishes both The Watchtower and Awake! Publications.
Among its belief structure, the Jehovah’s Witness faith does not observe holidays such as Christmas and Halloween, and encourages followers to refuse military service and blood transfusions.
The organization claims to have nearly 8 million adherents as well as more than 113,000 distinct congregations as of 2013.
The feature-length documentary explores growing up in the religion. Former believers candidly discuss the spiritual, emotional and psychological harm they claim to have suffered due to the affiliation, including the effects of proselytizing door-to-door, the alienation of family and friends, suspension of critical thinking, and discouragement of higher education.
The filmmakers go one step further, stating the film speaks to a larger truth regarding the exposure of what they see as the violation of basic human rights of the members and their families by creating a culture of “undue influence.”
Anthony Mathenia of Wood River will be speaking at the screening and will take part in a special question-and-answer session with director Gregorio Smith.
“I was raised as a third-generation Jehovah’s Witness,” Mathenia said. “I remained active in the religion until my late 20s, when I was excommunicated for questioning teachings.”
Mathenia says excommunication was the beginning of a journey of discovery, involving research and acclimation into a world he previously had been isolated from.
“During my exit, I learned the value of standing up for the truth, even when it meant forced separation from friends and family,” he said.
Mathenia is the author of “Paradise Earth: Day Zero” (Curiosity Quills), a work of fiction based on a Jehovah’s Witness believer wrestling with his faith during the apocalypse.
“I wrote it as an act of personal introspection and catharsis after I left the religion,” he said.
The event is sponsored by the group Life After Watchtower: Ex-JWs in Greater St. Louis and is free and open to the public. For more information on the screening, visit www.hereliesthetruth.com or call (618) 465-9850.
To order Mathenia’s book, visit www.anthonymathenia.com.