“Uh-oh,” I thought, looking at the cover of Do Monkeys Go to Heaven? It shows a monkey with a halo above its head, sitting and looking unimpressed with the reader, along with the title and the author’s name. I hadn’t read it yet, and I thought it was going to be a book on creationism versus evolution: aggressive, confrontational, religion and science bristling at each other again for the millionth time.
I was wrong: it’s the complete opposite. It’s also one of the books published by Novalis that I’ve most wanted to take home with me to keep.
What led me to my first assumption was reading Inherit the Wind back in high school—the famous play based on the 1925 Scopes “Monkey” trial. A high school teacher, Bertram Cates, is charged with teaching evolution in his classroom, and it becomes a courtroom drama between two fiery personalities and brilliant minds: Matthew Harrison Brady, arguing for the Bible, and Henry Drummond on the side of science. It’s a funny, witty and deeply moving play, but one moment that stands out is when Drummond is reassuring Bert’s distraught fiancée: “The man who has everything figured out is probably a fool. College examinations notwithstanding, it takes a very smart fella to say “I don’t know the answer!”
In his book, Fr. John McCarthy writes: “Push the scientific and humanistic endeavours as far as you can. Never stop questioning. Without questioning, our faith will wither and die. … The insatiable desire for understanding is the heartbeat of Catholicism.”
Do Monkeys Go to Heaven? is not about monkeys, or evolution or creationism. It is a book about beauty. The pages are full of beautiful images: an image of the cross found in the heart of a 200-year-old balsam fir tree, the scent of winterbloom, a city muffled in white snow, the sunrise over Lake Michigan. When he writes about a forest in springtime, he writes:
Every nook and cranny pulses life. Delicate herbs are brightly flowered, taking advantage of the leafless forest canopy, straining the gaining light as the sun moves higher in the spring sky. Shrub tips flicker with the tantalizing tenderness of new growth. Even the ancient cedar stumps, slumping into the forest floor, are dappled with brilliant ephemeral mushrooms poking through the spongy remains of the former forest denizens. Everything is green.
Fr. McCarthy writes with the same affection about black flies, swamp alligators, and hypothetical silicon-based life on distant planets. He reveals beauty in everything, from galaxies through a telescope to fossil records. For Fr. McCarthy, science is not cold, sterile and unapproachable: science is a form of wonder at God’s work, in its infinite depth and splendor.
Do Monkeys Go to Heaven? is structured around the months of the year; you can move from ice in January to mosquitoes in July. Each month brings a set of new meditations, on topics from tsunamis to sunlight through stained glass and Winnie the Pooh—words that will make you laugh, and words that will make you pause for a moment. Throughout it all is a profound intelligence and a robust sense of humour, and the realization that religion and science both, in their own ways, try to describe the glory of creation.
-Gillian Robinson, Marketing and Sales Assistant