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The Monkey Bible: A Modern Allegory; includes The Line, a Companion Music CD by Eric Maring
by Mark Laxer

Published: 2010-08-25
Hardcover : 304 pages
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The Monkey Bible is the story of Emmanuel, a young college bound Christian man who suddenly has reason to suspect that his genetic make-up, and indeed the story of his creation, is not what he had thought it had been. Dismayed and seemingly alienated from his Church, Emmanuel journeys ...
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The Monkey Bible is the story of Emmanuel, a young college bound Christian man who suddenly has reason to suspect that his genetic make-up, and indeed the story of his creation, is not what he had thought it had been. Dismayed and seemingly alienated from his Church, Emmanuel journeys around the world in search of his genetic and spiritual origins, identity, and community.The science behind the story is accurate, up-to-date, and accessible, and the reader comes to understand the biological creation story as the adventure unfolds. While The Monkey Bible can be seen as the latest chapter in the larger-than-life debate between Darwinists and creationists, the novel is respectful of both sides, and strives to provide a gentle supportive bridge across which people who disagree can communicate. Ultimately, The Monkey Bible is a timely and necessary plea to alter the stories by which we define ourselves as a way to protect the countless creatures on the great tree of life, upon which all human life depends.The Monkey Bible is a compelling read and the potential audience extends well beyond those interested in biology, anthropology, wildlife conservation, mythology, and religion. Adults will enjoy this book and so will college students, whose fresh questions about their own origins will resonate with this novel.Using The Monkey Bible as inspiration, songwriter Eric Maring has written a companion music CD which uses the varied notion of lines to echo the novel's themes. The Line-at turns serious, light, joyous, exuberant, and brooding-praises our ability and need to explore our world and to ask questions, especially regarding our relationship to our planet, our religions, and ourselves.

Editorial Review

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“Do you think it’s fiction?” asked Lucy, hair flapping wildly in the wind.
Emmanuel shifted uneasily in the passenger seat. “What do you mean?”
“The story about your genes—do you think it’s fiction?”
“It is in Father’s handwriting; Father does not lie.”
“So,” said Lucy, “what’s it like to see the world through the eyes of an . . .”
“I am noticing your breasts,” he said. “Breasts hardly hidden, breasts pressed and shaped by your black spandex top. Your lower region appears in my mind like a spider in a moist, perfect garden.” ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

From the author:

1. “..she came to wonder if the attempt by the author to understand God’s creation was a form of cerebral worship.” p.12

What is cerebral worship and how is it different from other kinds of worship?

2. “Taxonomists, for example, might use brain size and posture as a criteria for classifying humans—thus creating a taxonomical branch on which humans alone reside—but the taxonomists might use criteria other than brain size and posture for classifying nonhumans.” p.11

Describe taxonomical classification methods which might be more consistent and accurate than the method that uses brain size and posture as the main criteria.

3. “They can’t worship God. They’re apes. They’re animals.” p.9

Is it possible that animals do worship in their own way? Explain.

4. What do you think of Lucy’s approach toward rude cell phone users? Is it effective? If you were a CPA—a cell phone activist—what approaches would you use? ch.27

5. EXERCISE: download Monkey Bible iRude (iPhone app) and test its effectiveness.

6. “Lucy—recalling from Adam’s encounter that the teeth of the martyrs can be first to drop in the morning coffee—assumed that self-preservation explains much about passive behavior.” p.17

Do you enter passive and dominant roles in your life consciously? What factors into this behavior?

7. “The age of kings is dead, she (Lucy) thought. She was grateful to Adam but would not go back. She would renounce the world of dominance and hierarchy

Is it possible for a human to renounce the world of dominance and hierarchy? What are the consequences?

8. What is spiritual capacity, is it measurable, and can it evolve? What will spirituality feel like in 1,000 years?

9. “The enclosures are closer to what animals experience in nature. But I should let you know I’m no bio person. Actually, I have a confession to make: I love spending time in zoos largely because they're such great places to go people-watching...you can learn a lot about people by watching them watch animals.” p.49

Imagine what would happen if you walked around a zoo dressed up as a hybrid human-ape. How do you think the humans (the general public? the zoo police?) would react? How do you think the other animals would react?

10. EXERCISE: View videos on www.monkeybible.com and on The Monkey Bible facebook page and youtube channel and see how the humans reacted to hybrid human-apes.

11. EXERCISE: Go to your local zoo and observe the humans watching the other animals, apes in particular. Journal about your experience.

12. “The child’s world is lit up by the dove. You see, children aren’t born knowing which animals are pretty and which ones are not. They are taught that. They are naturally attracted to life.” p.50

Recall your early experiences with animals. Your favorite pet. Trips to the zoo. Experiences in nature. Journal or share your stories with the group.

13. “The website describes several experiments...a sentence from the Bible was translated into morse code, then into DNA base pairs. The artificial ‘Bible’ gene was inserted into bacteria as if it were a real gene...the Bible gene is subject to mutation.” p.54

If mutations affected the phrase “Let man have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” what new phrase might arise? What benefits would a different phrase provide to humans and to other living things? At what cost?

14. “What determines sexual compatibility and relatedness is quantitative and qualitative. In other words, it’s not so much how many genes are shared but which ones.” p.56

If you shared 99.8% of the same genes as person A, 99.9% with person B, and 100% with person C, whom do you think you would be attracted to? Where (what percentage difference) would you draw your line?

15. Lucy resents Paul Theroux’s warning from The Mosquito Coast: “Don’t go too far in pursuit of your dreams...don’t be too creative, too independent, too much a non-conformist, lest you lose it and go insane.” p.59

How does Evelyn’s approach compare with Lucy’s? Do you consider conformity to be based on nature, nurture, or both?

Ana Mayd says, “Stories evolve and if you take the story on a journey, on an adventure, then the light and the dust of cultures and continents might change your 16. perspective and it might change you.” p.71

If you were to heed Ana Mayd’s advice, what story would you take with you? What kind of journey would you embark on?

17. EXERCISE: Take a story on a journey and share it.

18. Emmanuel reflects that “The story of my creation...explains the rise of my animal instincts.” p.79

Emmanuel seems to discover his sexuality once he begins to accept his primal roots. What are your reactions to Emmanuel’s explorations into sexuality? Why? How do you think sexuality has evolved over time? How are people’s views of sexuality affected by their connection with nature?

19. “‘It doesn’t mean humans are superior,’ she (Lucy) said placing a hand on his shoulder. ‘Creatures evolve in ways which help them survive within given environments.’” p.82

Think about what you need to survive in your current environment. Imagine changing that environment and imagine what changes would need to come about regarding how you eat, drink, work, communicate, sleep.

20. What, for Emmanuel, are possible downsides of being fully human? How about for yourself.

21. Emmanuel dares to speak to an English professor about his thoughts on the power of language. Does the use of sophisticated language give humans an advantage over, say, bird and whale song? Why or why not? ch.28

22.What does the Tree of Life mean to you? Does considering that humans share ancestors with other species warrant controversy?

23.What would you do to celebrate Bacteria Appreciation Day? p.222

24. How would you respond to Evelyn’s question: “Could traces of spirituality, however small, be found in animals?”

25. If you were to “sign the forest” in the way Emmanuel imagines, what mark would you make? ch.41

26. What are some pros and cons of traditional ecotourism?

27. EXERCISE: sign up for and experience a live vEcotour at www.vecotourism.org28

28. Throughout The Monkey Bible there are many dream sequences. Can you recall a dream in which you were searching for answers? What do such dreams tell us?

29. ‘The power of belief is incredible,” remarks Gadget. “Once you overcome doubts and enter the flow of belief, you would be amazed what you can accomplish.” p.179

How might the religious leaders of the world encourage people of faith to help protect the diversity of life on the planet?

30. The character Gadget, who wears a green egg on his head ostensibly to help his memory, seeks dating advice from Lucy and Emmanuel. What are some unique traits that you have displayed or that you have hidden? Was your display a conscious one?

31. Toward the end of The Monkey Bible, during a discussion on Intelligent Design and the teaching of evolution, it is suggested that “Bridging universes can be tricky.” p.216

What are your thoughts on such a bridge? What would your bridge look like?

32. EXERCISE: Start a Travelers Circle, tell your story!

33. “Lessen the line, and the fear lessens too. Lessen the line and the pain and burden of self-awareness shall be healed and kissed by the mists of ten thousand gentle rains. Lessen the line and life shall rise like blue-black butterflies above green mountain cathedrals. Lessen the line and life shall live on.” p.221

How thick, porous, and flexible is the line? Is your view of the line changing?

34. What parallels do you see between The Monkey Bible and The Line? Do you recognize characters or ideas from the book in the music? Why do you think the music in this project is called “The Line”?

35. The character in “Wide as a Wave” feels an experience of total connectedness to everything around. Think of or discuss a situation where you had a similar sensation.

36. In the song “Sad, Tired, Beautiful World”, what do the words “I’m making a deal with you” and “Tell me the truth” mean for you?

37. What do the spoken voices in “Reprise” represent?

38. What does “Are we all here as a matter of design or a scattering of minds shattering the smattering of flattering reminders?” (from the song “A Matter of Design”) mean about people and our relationship to the planet?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Note from Author Mark Laxer:

The Monkey Bible tells the fictitious story of a religious college-bound man journeying across the world after learning his genetic make-up isn’t what he always thought. A close friend travels along, meanwhile rewriting Genesis from a biologically inclusive view to prove Emmanuel does still have a place in Heaven.

The science behind Laxer’s work of fiction is accurate and current. And his love for the environment and all living creatures is apparent, right down to the printing of The Monkey Bible; each copy is printed on recycled paper using soy ink.

“Fact is, I’m not a spiritual leader, nor am I a scientist. I’m someone who cares deeply about the health of our spiritual life, our physical environment, and the well-being of God’s creation,” Laxer says. “My intent is to provide a playful, gentle narrative of exploration of themes where too often people feel hurt and looked down upon.”

Q&A with author Mark Laxer (from the publisher):

Soon after the publication of your first book, Take Me For a Ride, you were sued $30 million. How do you think The Monkey Bible will compare in controversy?

Mark: The Monkey Bible touches controversial subjects—such as how humans actually came to be—in ways that gently attempt to bridge seemingly incompatible worldviews. Is it controversial to explore, and ask questions about, the story of our creation?

The Monkey Bible tells the story of a young man who isn’t fully human. Is something like that really possible?

Mark: Genetic transfer from one nonhuman species to another is hardly fiction and takes place each day in laboratories around the world. Genetic transfer from nonhumans to humans may not be legal or ethical but it’s possible.

Each character in the book is on their own fascinating journey. How did you shape Emmanuel, Evelyn and Lucy? Is any one of them particularly your favorite?

Mark: Evelyn, Lucy, and Emmanuel are a part of me and their journeys resonate with journeys of my own. These characters are like my own children: if I had a favorite, I wouldn’t admit it, not even to myself. I do have favorite moments, though, such as when Lucy jumps into the world of religion, and when Evelyn jumps into the world of science. I love when the characters move outside their respective zones of comfort.

You are bravely taking on the issue of evolution vs. creation and have received endorsements from many top religious leaders and scientists. How did you manage to get both sides on your team?

Mark: If people are supportive of the project, it may be that they support the core message, which is: we should work together to protect what some call the biosphere and others call God’s creation.

The book features interesting projects like vEcotourism, story-telling groups and a protest against loud cell phone users. Are these things you are working on outside the fictitious world?

Mark: In real life, I’m leading a team of wildlife conservationists and technologists to ramp up virtual ecotourism or vEcotourism around the world. In real life, I founded and run the Traveler’s Circle (tc), a monthly wildlife and travel storytelling gathering. In real life, I’m working to create a free iPhone app called iRude which may be used to educate rude cell phone users. While The Monkey Bible book is fiction, the line separating the fiction from the real world is thin in some places, porous in others.

So what does it mean to be human?

Mark: More importantly, what do you think it means to be human? The Monkey Bible raises mirrors, asks questions. I’d recommend looking to yourself, not me, for answers.

What do you hope people get out of reading The Monkey Bible?

Mark: That the line separating humans from all other creatures is not as thick, dark, and inflexible as some of us once believed.

As the Producer of THE MONKEY BIBLE Project, which includes a book, CD and stage production, as well as the cofounder and President of Chimp-n-Sea Wildlife Conservation Fund, what actions do you recommend people take after reading The Monkey Bible? Anything we can do to help save endangered species and protect our Earth?

Mark: The short answer: give money to Wildlife Conservation Society, the Jane Goodall Institute, The New Nature Foundation, or to a similar organization on an ongoing basis. The deeper answer: change attitudes, behaviors, and stories within society and within yourself. I once asked Jane Goodall a similar question and she encouraged me, in so many words, to look within and get creative about it. I pass along her words of wisdom.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "The Monkey Bible"by allisonsacres (see profile) 06/07/11

Poorly written, the writer didn't develop the characters well. We were trying very hard to figure out the "analogy" in the book. We figured it must be in the characters representing the church and secular,... (read more)

  "Unanimously disliked by everyone in my bookclub"by jenniferharding (see profile) 03/10/11

Very poorly written. The characters have no personalities and are incredibly underdeveloped. Everything that happens, every person they come in contact with, far too convenient and unbelievable. The author... (read more)

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