Year of the Fire Monkey

2016: Year of the Monkey

Happy Lunar New Year (新年快樂 xin nian kuai le)! For followers of the Chinese lunisolar calendar, today is the first day of yet another Year of the Monkey (猴年 hou nian). More specifically, it’s a Year of the Fire Monkey (火猴年 huo hou nian), which, like all element-animal pairs, occurs once every sixty years: twelve zodiac signs times five elements equals sixty variations.

Behold, the fearsome Fire Monkey! Actually, this is a realistic rendering of the Pokemon Infernape, by Heri-Shinato. Also, apes are technically distinct from monkeys. But hey, close enough!

Just think about it. The expansive, chaotic energy of flame coupled with the clever yet reckless attributes of the monkey? Sounds like we’re in for a wild ride! At the risk of seeming culturally insensitive, I suggest we follow the sage advice of Short Round from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: “Hold on to your potatoes!”

Incidentally, I was born in a previous Year of the Monkey: the Year of the Metal Monkey (金猴年 jin hou nian), which conjures up an entirely different image!

Metal Monkey
Metal Monkey holding a Wooden Rat, by Mike Rigby.

This is the third Year of the Monkey since my birth, hence I’ll be turning 12 * 3 = 36 years old later this year. Kind of fun to think of one’s life in terms of multiples of 12 rather than decades. Anyway, although I don’t actually believe in any form of astrology, here, for our mutual amusement, are some traits supposedly associated with Monkey Year births:

  • Positive traits: Intelligent, dignified, optimistic, romantic, sociable, quick-witted, confident, agile, curious, gregarious.
  • Negative traits: Egotistical, selfish, deceptive, reckless, suspicious, manipulative, restless.
  • Health risks: Circulatory and heart troubles, diabetes, arthritis, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, antisocial personality disorder, bipolar disorder, narcissistic personality disorder.

As is the case with Western astrology, it’s easy to find some words that ring true and others that don’t within these lengthy lists. But again, it’s all good clean fun. I’ve also found it interesting to investigate the attributes associated with both metal and fire in Taoist thought. For starters, metal (金 jin) is associated with yin (陰) of the yin-yang duality, the planet Venus, autumn, dry weather, the west, old age, decline, the color white, the White Tiger (西方白虎 xi fang bai hu), inward motion, contracting energy, and the following:

  • Traits: Firmness, rigidity, stability, ambition, forcefulness, self-reliance, wisdom, patience, willpower, organization, stability, etc.
  • Health: The lungs, large intestine, nose, skin, and emotions surrounding both courage and grief.

Metal also happens to be the element most strongly associated with the monkey in Chinese astrology, so perhaps I should be especially monkey-like? In any case, let’s contrast this with fire (火 huo), which is associated with yang (陽), the planet Mars, summer, hot weather, the south, daylight, prosperity, the color red (extremely lucky in Chinese culture), the Vermillion Bird (南方朱雀 nan fang zhu que), upward motion, expanding energy, and the following:

  • Traits: Dynamism, strength, persistence, restlessness, enthusiasm, creativity, aggression, impatience, impulsiveness, warmth, heat, and burning.
  • Health: The heart, small intestine, tongue, and emotions surrounding both joy and hatred.

I wish I had more time to elaborate on all this, but midnight approaches and I must conclude this post. As such, I’d like to close by simply wishing all of us a happy and prosperous Year of the Fire Monkey, full of as many of its associated positive traits, and as few of the negative, as possible. My thoughts go out especially to all those affected by the recent earthquake in southern Taiwan: may your sorrows and pains be replaced, in due time, with serenity and peace of mind.

Regarding the LDS Church’s Statement on “Race and the Priesthood”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly referred to as the LDS Church or Mormon Church, recently issued a statement entitled “Race and the Priesthood” that discusses and disavows the Church’s previous policy banning black people of African descent (yes, it really was that specific) from holding the priesthood and participating in certain temple ordinances. The ban was lifted in 1978, purportedly because of a new “revelation” on the matter, but this is the first time the Church has issued such a strong and detailed disavowal of that former practice and the racist beliefs that surrounded it. (Incidentally, black women are still banned from holding the priesthood. Of course, this is because all women are banned from holding the priesthood. Naturally, some Mormon women have been pushing for a new “revelation” in this area as well for quite some time, but with little to no success so far.) I find the Church’s statement both accurate and admirable in many respects, and I do not wish to belabor this tired topic, but I do take issue with some of the statement’s claims, particularly this one:

“Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse […].”

Oh? Truly? That is a radical statement indeed, for if it is to be believed then the LDS Church must now disavow several passages from what is arguably its most important scriptural text: the Book of Mormon. For example:

“And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them” (2 Nephi 5:21; emphasis mine).

“And the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression and their rebellion against their brethren” (Alma 3:6; emphasis mine).

An artist’s depiction of Lamanites “cursed” with dark skin from the Book of Mormon Reader.

Gee, I wonder where a devout Mormon might get the idea that “black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse”? Of course, the Book of Mormon also holds out hope of recovery:

“And their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites” (3 Nephi 2:15; emphasis mine).


And thus we see that, just as saying “I’m not a racist” doesn’t make it so (indeed, this phrase often coincides with the reverse), a religious institution stating “Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form” doesn’t make it so.

Sadly, it’s an inescapable fact that racism—not of the ugliest sort, perhaps, but a form of racism nonetheless—is integral to the storyline of the Book of Mormon. The Bible has its share of racism and other forms of unjustified prejudice, too. As such, condemnation of “all racism, past and present, in any form” requires condemnation of significant portions of the Bible and the Book of Mormon along with countless other books, many of which are otherwise praiseworthy. This isn’t a problem, unless of course you are committed to reverencing some of those books or the people who produced them.

This is why the reverencing of human beings or their words or works is a terribly dangerous business: it often forces you into the uncomfortable position of defending or desperately explaining away ideas or acts that are no longer defensible, if indeed they ever were, in order to maintain reverence for Moses, or Muhammad, or Jesus, or Joseph Smith, or Brigham Young, or whoever else is in question, as someone who was supposedly sometimes a conduit for the infallible word or will of a supreme deity or some other mystical source of knowledge. All human beings are worthy of respect, and some deserve an especially high level of respect as a consequence of extraordinary skill or contribution to society, but none deserve to be reverenced in that manner, and the same goes for anything said, done, or created by a human being. And let’s not kid ourselves: all religious concepts, doctrines, ordinances, practices, texts, buildings, and so forth are created by human beings, not by celestial beings or mystical forces. (If you believe you have convincing evidence to the contrary, the world awaits your profound discovery.) Thus, it shouldn’t surprise us when any religion exhibits or endorses racism, sexism, sexual phobias, and other potential foibles of human psychology. Religions are products of cultural evolution and thus bear, as Darwin once put it in reference to humans as products of biological evolution, “the indelible stamp of [their] lowly origin” (The Descent of Man, ch. 21).

In closing, I invite my readers—especially those of the LDS persuasion—to consider this crucial question: in a church that relies on the claim that its leaders have special access to divine revelation (often including claims of face-to-face dialogue with the likes of, say, Jesus…whose resurrected body is typically described as being remarkably white, by the way), how many times can current leaders say former leaders were wrong on matters of great importance before the claim of special access to divine revelation loses all credibility and starts to seem as meaningless and silly as a man sticking his face into a hat?