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006 Letter 4

From Renent to Beklan:
 
I was glad to hear from Termon that you are well. Our life in Kireca remains much the same. This is welcome since change has rarely been for the good.
 
I thank you for your inquiry into the matter in Kefenan and Voli villages and hope that we can find a definitive answer eventually. We are convinced that something negative is afoot there from what we have heard in general terms.
 
Regarding that about which Termon asked me to write, I find it an interesting case.[1] Kireca has never addressed these specific circumstances before, but our best answer is as follows: certainly we both know that old Umanites who join our communities will be very used to prayer. For me, I once addressed Qualiae in my own mind multiple times a day, and for a long while after I stopped, the urge to do so continued. I would presume that your new brothers are experiencing something comparable. This, I anticipate, will pass in time.
 
However, upon consulting with the others in Kireca, I would encourage you not to allow them any sort of organized prayer. Indeed, I am not entirely clear what their intention with such a prayer is. If they have truly ceased affirming Qualiae, then they should not and, I hope, would not pray to him.
 
However, if these brothers wish to pray to an unspecified god, you should determine exactly what their motivations are. There are surely gradations of delusion, and milder forms lead to darker forms. Should we say, “we do not know which gods are true, so we shall pray generally without addressing any deity”? That seems fraught with error.
 
If a man walks through the night and wonders if someone is within earshot, he should call out, “is anyone there?” It would be foolish for him to yell, “since someone must be there, I shall engage you in conversation.” He should first know that a person is listening before he converses. Likewise, we ought not to affirm that a god or gods hear us, for we would be affirming this arbitrarily. If we cannot believe in the gods individually, how can we believe in them generically?
 
Now some have said that while the people of this land are indeed shattered into numerous beliefs, they at least agree that supplication to the divine—whether through prayer or some other means—is of vital importance. To the best of my knowledge, that fact is true: Qualiaites and Jaipnites alike do pray. Should we join them simply because they are in consensus? If their prayers individually are acts of blindness, what makes all of their prayers together a wise practice? No, we should not pray simply because they already do.
 
I presume that these brothers’ belief in a general god comes from the notion that acts attributed to most gods—the creation of man and beast and the order of the earth, water, and heavens—must come from the divine even if the divine’s identity remains hidden. Be careful of such a view.
 
Among us there is a story of a boy who lived in a village bordering a great wood. A villager came to him and said, “the house of a beautiful fairy is in the wood,” and he then described it in detail. Then another villager came to him and said, “a beautiful fairy lives in the wood, and I have seen her house.” He then described it to the boy, but the description differed greatly from the first. Then a third villager did much the same. This continued until ten people had told the boy of a fairy’s house in the woods, each with a greatly different description. One day, another child in the village approached the boy and said, “do you want to go with me to see the fairy’s house?” “No,” said the boy, “for no one has ever seen it.”
 
Likewise, how would we find the divine if we have heard so many paths to it, each one sincerely pronouncing its truth? We are foolish to follow the practices of those who we already know to be in error. We must always remember that our grievance is not with that which is invisible, for as best as we know, no god has ever given us false testimony about itself. Rather, our grievance is with those who spread rumors about the invisible because, in error, they think that their power of sight is greater than ours.
 
By emulating them in prayer, we tempt ourselves to follow the rest of their error. Were we to pray, we would quickly wish to know the way in which we should pray. We would perhaps develop rituals and would surely envision how the god was responding. You and I personally know this to be true: one prays because doing so accomplishes something. Some will pray seeking a particular gift of wealth or health or good weather. Some simply open their hearts to the divine but even so still believe that such prayer is heard and in some way remembered, even reciprocated. Regardless, I have never seen prayer used as simply a notation that a deity might be listening. Prayer requires some level of belief about the divine, and since we do not have this, we should not pray.
 
We must remember that if a person speaks long enough to anything—whether a person, animal, or even the shadow of a tree at twilight—that person eventually develops a rapport with that thing. This is why we speak to each other and not to rocks and plants, and we should follow the same principle here. We put ourselves morally in danger if we imagine that which is not there, for speaking to the wind is unbecoming. If we speak to an unspecified being, we violate our most sacred teaching, for if we do not believe in that which we do not know, we should not speak to it either.
 
Not only that, but by their vary request, your brothers have affirmed certain beliefs about the divine. Some Jaipnites believe that they can only pray in their holy rooms with incense burning. The Umanites of Ulnortem often only pray at night. Some Fricolics, I am told, seek to pray out loud and while hungry. Others believe that ritual prayer is vital, keeping the mind focused on the deity. Thus, even in the matter of prayer, we are lost within the many blindnesses of humanity. No one can pray without rejecting some existing belief about prayer.
 
I would think that if each convert retained his prayers, we would have very fractured communities. The old Umanites would pray as Umanites do, and likewise with the Jaipnites. Prayer, after all, is not an abstract concept but a manifestation of the specific beliefs surrounding it. By praying, we would thus let into our midst the very errors that we avoid. We should reject such problems at all cost. They would be our demise.
 
Therefore, we urge you to correct your brothers’ errors. Soon they too, like you and I and so many others, will see a glimpse of the light, and that glimpse will shine brightly enough to make the confusion retreat back into the darkness.
 
Still, urge them to retain their creative minds, for we should expand the limit of our knowledge when justified. If you do not know, we in recent years have taken up the practice of reflecting for a short span of time each morning about potential realities beyond our perception. We gather together and quiet our minds, hoping that new insights of truth will become manifest to us. We try not to visualize the wild stories created by others but to think of possibilities not yet explored. We always hope that a new ray of truth will pass through one of our minds. Thus, if, metaphorically speaking, we pray to anything, let us pray to truth, and let no one be dissuaded from seeking the truth. However, let no man fall short of such a great calling to settle for behavior mimicking blindness around us.
 
My final observation is this: we must maintain a certain distance from the religions of Naithan. I say this not out of arrogance but out of respect for them. Surely heresy is an egregious sin, but we are not heretics. We are only heretics if we purport ourselves to be of another group and betray its beliefs. A man once came to us and, wishing to join, said, “I believe that we do not know god,” but some days later, seeking to maintain rapport with his family and old villagers, also said, “I am a Umanite.” We said to him, “had you not said that you affirm no god?” He concurred but then insisted that the traditions of the Umanites were respectable and that out of honor for his family, he would retain the label Umanite. We asked him, “but Qualiae is god, and is not a Umanite a follower of god?” We even said, “Go, and tell your family, ‘although I am a Kirecan and you are Umanites, our devotion to each other is strong.’” However, when he would not listen, we expelled him from our midst, for his disposition was dangerous.
 
At that time, we had a measure of equilibrium with the true Umanites. They would say, “at Kireca, they teach profound error, but let them swim in it themselves.” However, had such people as this man lived among us, they would have said, “see, they promote error in our name. We must stop them for our own sake.” Thus we went to the local Umanites, and with fanfare told them of the episode, hoping that it would build peace between us and them.
 
Therefore, we should respect the uniqueness of all religions and not be construed as them. Despite what some say, heresy is not erroneous belief, for many groups have many beliefs. Rather, heresy is dishonest belief: it is purporting to be what one is not and slandering others in the process. We know what the Umanites believe, at least in essence, and likewise with the Jaipnites. We are neither, and they will respect us more if we are conscious of this. Likewise, with prayer be careful too: new converts must make a clean break and not be construed as participating in their old religion heretically. Our collective doom will come quickly if this happens.
 
I hope that these recommendations find favor with you, for you are a wise man and always a friend. We desire the best for all of you and would wish that everything benevolent stands with you.
 
Keplodorinan and our elders send their salutations.


[1] Although Renent’s opening here is a bit cryptic, he appears to be responding to the following question: is it moral for a person who believes in no supernatural being nonetheless to pray in case a supernatural being both does exist and is listening?