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009 Letter 7

I, Renent of Kireca, write to you, Beklan, leader of our cherished partners in Andlon.
I must say that it was with a degree of amusement that I read your letter. I take it that if Jaipnites around you are making such statements, then they have forgotten the many conflicts to which they have been party. It is odd for them to say, “we respect the gods of others, for we believe in many ourselves.” Do they see how they have scattered the followers of Qualiae? Worship of him in the Valley is surely not what it was before the first war, and even up here the devotees to Qualiae with whom I speak—and surely they pose no threat to anyone—do not even attempt pilgrimage to the Golden Steps.[1] Thus this display of benevolence among your Jaipnite associates is just as you said: foolish.
Nonetheless, there is, I think, a deeper question here. I can hardly keep track anymore of Naithan’s many changes. However, with each new year, I increasingly believe that neither a god nor devotion to a god has caused this turmoil. As we nostalgically recall, the followers of Qualiae and the followers of the many gods once rarely came to blows. What caused the change? Was it belief? Not to my knowledge. Certainly, nothing changed among the believers in Qualiae, for we and our fathers envisioned Qualiae's essence in the same way, read from the same Umanon, and visited the same Golden Steps. Did a deity give a new command to either side? Again, I believe not. Certainly, the scriptures and practices did not change. Thus it was not belief that caused the war, for if belief called for war or peace, then either would be perpetual. The same beliefs could not have caused the war of our generation or the relative peace of our fathers' generation.
It was rather a change in disposition toward those beliefs. Someone in a belief may chose to live in peace while another person in the same belief may chose to live in war. Surely the purpose of religion is neither war nor peace but belief, and the expression of belief is neither war nor peace but both in intervals. That is the way of things: everyone goes through times of tranquility and times of struggle regardless of belief. This is true both for us collectively and individually. Whatever our belief, at different times we have occasion both to struggle for it and serenely to abide within it. If we abide only but never struggle, we lose respect for our belief. If we always struggle but never abide, we forget the purpose for which we fight. Therefore, we should not reject a religion based on its wars, for religion does not go to war but men do on its behalf. Let no man say, “mine is a religion of peace,” for he has merely, through luck, avoided the need to fight. His is not a religion of peace but merely a religion at peace. Someday, even if not in his generation, a dearly-held belief will require forceful assertion.
Besides, wars between religions seem rarely to be about religion. When I sat in the halls of power (and every day that I arise and walk through the meadows at dawn, I am grateful to be there no longer), people were not ultimately interested in evangelistic endeavors. Of course many courtiers wished for the Jaipnites to worship Qualiae, but their primary concerns were more mundane: they argued about money and trade and glory and power. Indeed, it is a strange man who, with neither the sustenance of his children nor the reach of his power nor the security of his home at stake, sacrifices his comrades so that others too may die merely so that still others may be compelled to covert. Few if any such men existed in the King’s court, and I doubt that this was different among the Southern confederates. Their lords wanted power, and they sought it. Their actions were simple and crass. No other motive need be assigned to them.
Now, as our side—and, I assume, theirs too—went into battle, we certainly prayed for our deity or deities’ protection, but both sides did that because we did it regularly for all things. It is not surprising that we believed our god to have blessed us. Would we have taken such significant action as war while thinking that Qualiae had not blessed us? Surely not. The war related to religion only in that people of religion fought it, but that is true of all war. I doubt that we would have fought at all had not land, power, and wealth been disputed. After all, there is a reason why kings and not priests fight wars: it is the kings who have reasons to fight.
As for this notion that you mentioned regarding war being the aggression of a war-seeking religion against a peace-seeking one defending itself, my view is as it was when last we spoke, and it sounds still to be yours too: we would flatter our families' memory too much in thinking that. Although clearly the Umanites were attacked—after all, it was the Southerners who crossed the Liantin and not us[2]—this did not make us peaceful in some inherent sense. We know this. As the saying goes, the fish sees all ugly tails but one. We, certainly, seek to be better than the fish, so you and I readily admit that back when we were Umanites, tranquility was not always our aim.
I remember when I was a boy, a household of Jaipnite immigrants was nearby my own[3], and one night some people of the city whose identities were never discovered took it upon themselves to throw the husband, wife, and children onto the street and then light the house on fire. We saw the smoke, and my father went with the fire patrol to put it out. The next day, I and my playmates went over to the house and observed its burned interior from the street. The family was cowering in the shadows, not knowing what to do. As we watched, I saw in the street a fragment of their Sendora icon—an arm, as I recall.[4] I picked it up and threw it at the family, for I thought doing so would be some sort of edifying lesson for them. Then we walked off without any more thought.
However, what does this say about my beliefs? Very little, I think. I recall on another occasion from my childhood that three Jaipnite men had somehow been injured on the road from Baldenac, and as they were brought into the city, several Umanites dressed their wounds and tended to them for days. My point is what I said before: religion does not beget violence; people beget violence for various purposes. When a person begets violence, they should be judged by their decision on its own grounds. In these cases of my youth, what caused violence in one case and peace in the other? I do not know, but it was not belief.
I take my point a step farther: even when the tenets of a religion call for war, I rarely see this as being the ultimate factor in its adherents’ decision to use violence. We know that much war is in the Umanon. In truth, it really is a chronicling of war, and no Qualiaite, whether of the Valley or the Coast, can be unaware of the central tool that war is in the Umanon’s teaching. If Railif[5] was a role model to them—and we were taught many a time that he was—then by that alone, Umanites had moral justification to invade the South and depopulate them substantially to ensure control over the remainder for conversion. Nevertheless, the Umanites never did this, and back in our time with them, we never even considered it.
I have often wondered why a community that taught its youth so many tales of war saw multiple generations grow up and never emulate those tales. Perhaps you have figured this out, for I never really did other than this: war is, ultimately, a practical enterprise. At night when fathers and mothers speak to their children, there is joy in imagining the epic stories of divine wars and cosmic acts. However, the next day in the sunlight, imaginations are checked, and adults go about their business pragmatically. Rarely are the utilities of the day and fantasies of the night intertwined to reenact the epics, for people know that these tales—whether real or not—are fundamentally foreign to our actual lives. Whether the Qualiaites express it or not, they presume that the men of the Umanon are for practical emulation but that their wars are not. Does this make sense? No, but justifying such things is no longer our responsibility.
Returning to your original point, I agree with you: pay little heed to Jaipnite claims of peace. Whether a community believes in one god or many has little to do with their inclination for war. Their particular life circumstances will have much greater bearing on those issues. Furthermore, although the Jaipnites have many gods, they cannot respect Qualiae as one of them: Qualiae is purported to be one, and that notion is offensive to the Jaipnites. It excludes all gods to whom they are devoted, whether it be Jaipni or Tekrata or Sendora or any other deity. Qualiae offends the very concept of each one. Therefore devotees of Qualiae and devotees of the many gods are of equal threat to each other’s beliefs. The Qualiaites know that Jaipnic deities undermine the very existence of Qualiae, and the Jaipnites know (or, at least, ought to know) that Qualiae excludes all of their deities. No Jaipnite should say that he is more inclined toward acceptance, for he cannot say this if he understands Qualiae.
Besides, the undisputable truth does not affirm their view. Do these people not remember the first war of our generation? Jaipnites attacked us in the most unjust of ways and did what ought never to have been done. So many died unnecessarily in those days, and that could have been avoided had they reasoned with us. When they did not, our families were shattered. They even took Philion, a good man, and hanged him for no reason.[6] He had never harmed them, but they wasted his life nonetheless. As you know better than I, they did this to too many others as well. Is it a consolation to us that they behaved like this in the name of a multiplicity of gods rather than one? I do not see how that could be.
Therefore, stand firm in your view, and do not yield. We should always encourage everyone to join us in our belief, and I know that your persuasiveness is superb. However, for those who will not listen, we should treat their errors with a measure of equity. No blind error, whether Jaipnic or Qualiaite, deserves to tell us that it is superior to the other in ways that are manifestly false. That is especially important here, for although we accept that one belief might be truer than another, their adherents are equality subject to war and equally answerable when they engage in it unjustly. Jaipnite and Qualiaite equally can kill, and Jaipnite and Qualiaite equally can kill unjustly.

As always, I hope that you and your community are strong and well. We are much as we were when you were last here, and for this we are grateful. Change seems rarely to be good now. I hope to visit you once the harvest is complete. Comradeship is valuable, and we always value yours. You know that we would always recommend you to everything that is benevolent.

[1] Pilgrimage to the Golden Steps was a major part of Umanite life, and it appears that at this point, there are still restrictions in place that the Jaipnites had initially imposed after the First Jaipnic War. Although Renent expressed criticism of the pilgrimage elsewhere, he still saw its ban as a hallmark of the Jaipnites’ initially repressive rule.

[2] The Liantin River was the traditional boundary between the Valley and the South. As described more in Letter 2, during the standoff leading to the First Jaipnic War, the Umanites considered a major incursion across the Liantin to be an act of war. Renent believed all of his life that the Jaipnites’ attack was fundamentally unjustified, and even though he removed himself from politics and accepted Jaipnic rule, he always passionately felt that the Jaipnites should have stayed on their side of the river and avoided the conflict entirely.

[3] Since he is referring to events prior to the First Jaipnic War, Jaipnites would have been a small minority in the Valley.

[4] Sendora was a goddess in the Jaipnic pantheon. She appears to have been the patron of land animals and was often depicted on or near a horse. Renent writes elsewhere that primary devotion to her was sometimes popular in his childhood city of Becopton within the Jaipnic minority.

[5] Railif was a major figure in the Umanon. Qualiae appointed him as a military leader during a major cosmic battle in Naithan. During the conflict Railif destroyed a good part of the enemy army.

[6] Prince Philion was Renent’s closest friend and Princess Raitrialla’s brother. His execution after the First Jaipnic War (described in more detail in Letter 2) was a deeply traumatizing event for Renent. Renent also reflects more on this in the Tribute to Philion.