Perhaps I should say that Anthony has survived an apocalypse of faith as a former Jehova's Witness, and his new sci-fi book, Paradise Earth, is an allegorical re-imagining of his experiences as told through the eyes of someone who survives the apacalypse.
His book, an intriguing exploration of ruined society and enduring humanity, adds an interesting twist of faith on the subject.
In his own words, Anthony shares his inspiration for the book and what readers can expect to find between the pages of Paradise Earth.
What inspired you to write a post-apocalyptic story about faith?
I was raised as one of Jehovah's Witnesses and remained an active member until I was disfellowshipped for apostasy -- questioning their practices and doctrine. Because of my religious upbringing, faith has always been linked with the apocalypse. Like a lot of people, I believed my religion was absolute truth. And like a lot of people, I started asking difficult questions later in life that I was unable to get answers for. As part of this questioning process, I began to wonder what if everything a person hoped for was false, and if it was, what that would do to the individual. As I write in the novel, "The problem with expectations is that in the end we don’t always get what we hope for."
Also, the apocalyptic setting mirrors the themes. Paradise Earth is about personal death and rebirth. Just as the earth is "born again" through a cataclysm, so too the narrator is reborn through his own trial.
Was it painful to return emotionally to your experiences as a JW?
Definitely. Writing Paradise Earth was an act of personal catharsis. It was an attempt to encapsulate thirty years of life in a high control religion and put it into perspective. In many ways Day Zero is a distillation of Jehovah's Witness beliefs. It follows a lot of ugly tendencies to their logical conclusion. It's horrific at times. For example, it's one thing to believe that God is going to slaughter everyone on the planet, it's quite another to live through it. Within the story, the narrator begins to understand what is written in Amos, "Woe to those who are craving the day of Jehovah!"
How autobiographical is this book?
I think Paradise Earth: Day Zero is very true to the Jehovah's Witness mindset if not the exact experiences. Their homogeneity of beliefs it a matter of organization pride. One of the reasons I chose not to name the main character in this volume, was to allow him to exist as a proxy for any number of Witnesses, struggling with doubt and holding onto a fading hope for the future. I definitely see echoes of my own crisis of faith in him, but his experiences are unique.
Do you see this book more as an allegory of escape from cultic deception or as a metaphor for an individuals survival and escape from adversity in general?
Personally, I think it would be a mistake to characterize this as just a novel about getting out of a cult. As the first volume of a series, Day Zero contains an element of that, but it is simply the starting point of a much bigger journey.
In that way it mirrors what I found in my own life. At the same time I was put out of the Jehovah's Witness religion, I discovered that many others were also leaving other institutional churches. This movement among Christians was well documented in George Barna's book Revolution. However, I think it is bigger than that. I even see the rise in atheism among the young as a reflection of what is going on. We are going through a time period where people are willing to leave indoctrination and start asking questions. I'd like to hope that we all end up with some answers.
It will become more clear in the next two volumes, but ultimately Paradise Earth is a story about ditching all sorts of mental barriers to make a more pure connection with something bigger.
Was it challenging to sell a book about life as a JW after the end of the world?
Surprisingly, no. I shared the manuscript with Curiosity Quills Press and they were very enthusiastic about it. They recognized that it had much broader appeal, beyond former members of a niche religion. Once I was assured that they would give me the room to tell the the story I needed to tell, I was happy to sign with them.
What sort of responses have received from readers.
I knew that those with a Jehovah's Witness background would get this story. The welcome surprise is how this book has been embraced by those from other backgrounds. They have recognized that I'm actually telling a very human story. They have pointed out that even if the intricacies of the religion are unique, the actions and feelings and emotions of its adherents are very familiar. And even though this book has an undercurrent of spirituality, I have had great response from the non-religious. It is very accessible for thinking persons of all sorts. That is exciting!
Paradise Earth was originally conceptualized as one novel, but early on I made the distinction to break it up into three parts. The entire work acts as contemporary retelling of Genesis creation narrative. Day Zero is prehistory, or "in the beginning" as in the Bible. The next volume is Week One, just after the apocalypse, and it will follow the congregation as the new world reveals itself. They certainly have their own idea about their paradise earth, but they may find that it doesn't perfectly match up to the reality of a destroyed world. That volume aligns with creation days one through six. The final volume, Forever After, acts as the day of rest. I won't spoil it, but I'm hopeful for a happy ending. In short the next two volumes will offer more grim horror, but not without some optimism. As in many of my novels, the light always overcomes the darkness.
Anthony Mathenia is a novelist and freelance writer. He is the author of Happiness: How to Find It and Paradise Earth: Day Zero. His travel writings have appeared on vagobond.com and other places. His works deal with themes of the search of personal identity and the liberation of the human spirit from oppressive high control groups. He grew up in a religious cult and sincerely apologizes for waking you up on Saturday mornings in order to recruit you.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Inside, one cold and starving man struggles to hold onto his hope for the future. He’s sacrificed everything for his faith in the prophecy, including his family.
As the tortuous night drags on, he struggles to hold onto his hope for the future and grapples with a lifetime of beliefs, and expectations.
If he survives to see the paradise earth, will it be worth it?
Paradise Earth is a deconstruction of faith at the end of the world and beyond. The first volume of the trilogy, Day Zero, was published by Curiosity Quills Press on December 21, 2012. Week One and Forever After will follow.