As part of a new periodic series of articles, JWsurvey.org will be taking a closer look at certain books that thinking Witnesses might find stimulating. Obviously, the Society strongly discourages brothers from reading books by external sources because they prefer to have complete control over the way information about Witness beliefs is disseminated. However, in my own awakening I have found reading such material to be beneficial and enlightening, since it can help one develop a more rounded and objective view of certain long-held beliefs.
The first book under consideration is the recently released fictional novel “Paradise Earth: Day Zero.” The book explores the Witness concept of Armageddon and its immediate aftermath as though experienced first hand, and gives a fascinating if rather chilling insight into what life would be like if Watchtower’s vision of the future were to actually come true.
Here to introduce his book is the author himself, Anthony Matenia…
As one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, speculating about the paradise was one of our most treasured activities. I recall field service days talking about where we planned to live (usually a dead rich person’s house) and what we planned to do: learn to play instrument, master chess, or maybe dive off a cliff and let the angels catch us.
Occasionally there would be dour circuit overseers that would reprimand us for speculating. However, most would encourage this kind of activity. “Make your hope real,” they urged with wide eyes.
There were of course limits to our daydreams. We couldn’t stray too far outside the lines laid down in our publications, especially those paradise pictures. If it was in a Watchtower painting, it was gospel.
I still recall the clamor that arose when a paradise painting showed a woman wearing trousers for the first time. “We get to wear trousers!” a sister gushed, displaying the magazine. My childhood friend and me joked about going to Bethel and painting pictures of hamburger trees and flying cars to really stir the pot.
Once I finally left the organization I had the liberty to look at that long-held hope objectively. The first thing I considered was the whole notion that we would be able to clean up the earth and turn it into a garden in one thousand years. Working for a demolition company I knew that even tearing down a simple residential home required heavy machinery and a decent sized hole to bury the waste. Was there a hole big enough to put the broken remains of New York City?
A large wake up came when I read a short story by Kurt Vonnegut concerning the fire bombing of Dresden, Germany. It was the true-life account that he would later mine when developing his novel Slaughterhouse Five. He describes in graphic detail the horror of having to clean up the corpses. Spoiler: it’s not a paradise.
If the Jehovah’s Witnesses grim eschatology is correct, the survivors of Armageddon would be faced with the dead bodies of nearly the entire population of earth. Within the religion there was some gruesome talk of birds and wild animals handling that cleanup. One Watchtower writer suggested anti-matter as a more pleasant alternative. Most of the time we didn’t consider it at all; pet lions were a much better topic of discussion.
My novel series Paradise Earth is the product of this speculative exercise. It’s a stark look at the hopes and dreams held by Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, it tackles more than just the mess of the end of the world, but drills deep into the mental mess embodied in the faith’s adherents. What does such a bleak outlook do to the person? What happens if the carrot at the end of the stick turns out to be rotten?
The first installment, Day Zero, picks up at the end of the world, just as the fireballs start falling down from the sky. In a single Kingdom Hall, the congregation members alternate between hope and despair. Long suppressed doubts ripple to the surface. Past sacrifices are reflected upon and weighed. And as the cry of the dying permeates their sanctuary, they are faced with the brutal reality of it for the first time.