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010 Letter 8

Kireca sends this to its friends in Andlon. I, Renent, write in my own hand, on our behalf. Beklan: we ask that you express our greeting to all of those among you. To you personally, I say this: I am excited to write to you again. It is always with a good feeling that I send you our teachings, for I know that you will keenly review their quality. Truth and error are remarkably differentiable to you.
 
Our friends in Merni have asked us about the use of images in their midst, and I request that you consider what we intend to tell them. When some of us visited them, we learned that they display images: two of Jaipni and one of Sendora.[1] Our people warned them about this during the visit, and they were sympathetic to our concern but fell short of agreeing. We wish now to respond to them more formally with a full rationale, and I have been deputized to do this.
 
Obviously, the actual worship of these gods is error, and they understand this, I think. However, they profess some other purpose for using the statuary, for it appears that they display the images as markers of respect for the divine generally. Suffice to say, we find this odd, first, because the images are specifically of particular deities and, second, because they ought not to believe in the divine either specifically or generally. We intend to communicate our concerns to them on these points.
 
However, a broader issue arises, and we seek your counsel on how to respond: are we wise to disapprove of images in and of themselves? I can envision the people of Merni saying to us, “we understand now the foolishness of using Jaipni and Sendora’s images. However, you tell us to follow the truth. Therefore, we shall erect images representing the truth itself.” They might even say, “you say that the truth is like the light. Therefore, we shall erect images of the sun, for it personifies truth.” Would that be problematic?
 
We approach this question with extra caution because we know that one difference between our community and theirs is that while we are mostly former Umanites or the children of former Umanites, their conversion occurred as Jaipnites.[2] It would, therefore, be more than stupid if we reargued old beliefs that neither of us affirm. This issue should not divide us unless there is good reason.
 
Now we have long presumed—and we appreciate that presumption can be the root of blindness—that no image should exist, for imagery leads to focused attention; focused attention leads to elevation; and elevation leads to worship. We are reflecting now on whether to codify that teaching. I suspect that the fundamental question is this: which is more likely: is it that a person will see an image and, by seeing it, succumb to believing in it, or is it that a person will see nothing and then believe in the invisible, having seen nothing to disprove it? Surely the Umanites have invisible idols among themselves, and with nothing to take down or destroy physically, the error of these idols long persist.
 
I once saw four Umanite workmen mount scaffolding above a stone floor and a dirt pile. The scaffold was unstable and doomed to collapse, but the dirt was only large enough to brake one man’s fall, leaving the others to hit the hard ground. This was obvious in advance: three would be hurt more than the fourth. When the apparatus broke and the men fell, sure enough, three were injured. However, the final man arose, and he and those around him praised Qualiae for sparing him the pain. However, what did Qualiae do? The dirt had been there before the men climbed onto the scaffold, and one would be spared. That simply was going to happen. Qualiae was not involved. Four men climbed up, and one fell on dirt. Why should we consider the incident more complicated than that?
 
My point is this: for so long, we thought that it was the devotees of Jaipni and his legion of deities who committed error by erecting statues of untruth and then believing in them for being there. However, you and I believed in things that were neither visible nor invisible but totally nonexistent. How can we say that that is better than idolatry?
 
Opportunities for committing error seem more numerous than I had once thought, and surely neither the presence nor absence of statuary guarantees true belief. Nevertheless, Keplodorinan and, for what it is worth, I too cannot help but be concerned with images present among us or our partners. We have seen what unsophisticated conduct the falkars have wrought among some of Jaipni's devotees.[3] That emblem was, I presume, once a marker of dedication to their religion, distinguishing them from others and reinforcing in their own minds their belief. However, it is today mostly a silly ornament, kissed by those wearing it whenever they seek good fortune. Although once intended for a greater good, falkars took on lives of their own and became objects that were themselves worshiped as powerful.
 
I once watched an old Jaipnite craftsman carving and stringing some falkars, andbelieve meno divine event was occurring. His craftsmanship was perhaps good, but beyond a certain aesthetic quality, the whole process was not notable. He was carving them much like we used to polish beads or carpenters make ornate posts. It is incredible that people would fear a divine retribution for getting them dirty. I might understand if, out of respect, a person kept a falkar clean to honor his gods, but this is not what happens. The dirtying of the falkar is in and of itself an offense. Do the gods care? The stones came from the dirt originally, and the falkars are still stone. Would gods find it offensive if, amidst all of their leadership of the earth and sky, some stones get dirty? (Now, certainly, the potential thoughts of unsubstantiated gods are not mine to know, but still I wonder.)
 
It seems to me that what happened with the falkars is this: the Jaipnites made images to express their erroneous beliefs, but in the process the images generated an entirely new set of errors that neither made the underlying belief better nor made sense on its own. They believed in gods without cause, so they made falkars to worship them. Now they believe in falkars without cause. What is next? They could wear images honoring the falkars to ward against retribution for dirtying the falkars. This is a spiral of nonsense that does not end.
 
All of this is to say that we should take great pains to avoid similar error. I fear that images are dangerous: they can help to proliferate our blindness. In Kireca, we have intentionally avoided any identifying symbols. Now we certainly do not wear exotic clothes, and to some degree we are known for this. However, that is different. Propriety in physical appearance is an expression of decorum and ethics. It is not a symbol. Wearing an image, however, is entirely different. It is not a lifestyle but a sign—a sign that has no meaning other than that which it signifies. Out of fear that such a symbol would become another falkar to be pointlessly worshiped and kept clean, we never assigned one to ourselves. We do not wish our work itself to be a source of error.
 
Nevertheless, we hope to confirm our view with your community, for although we believe this view to be true, it has long been instilled among us. It is not right for us to preach, “we go from one city to another, and in each they foolishly agree among themselves but not with each other,” and then say, “we believe in such and such because we are accustomed to it.” You and I know all too well that the land is littered with groups of people who stare at each other and become blind to others, developing erroneous belief while fiercely decrying the equal error of those who live not a half day’s walk down the road.
 
Therefore, let us not say, “we reject images, for the Umanites were correct in this.” We are former Umanites, and if we claim now to be awake from that dream, we should not cling to anything in the dream unless we are sure that it exists in the waking world as well. We do so by seeking the advice of our wise friends, and you and yours are wise friends indeed. Especially among the former Jaipnites among you do we seek advice, for if they concur with us, we shall feel more at ease.
 
On a separate matter, troops from Baldenac traveled through here near the half moon. They caused no trouble, which encouraged us greatly. This peace is most welcome, but we hear that some near Cordiad plan to resist the upcoming tax. This is regrettable and is not worth the disruption. We must make clear that we are in no way party to these actions. Please discuss this with Plandordan. He is fully authorized to speak for us.
 
We would hope that anything benevolent would bless you. Your community is inseparable from us and invaluable to us.


[1] These are references to two of the main gods in the Jaipnic pantheon.

[2] This is significant because the Umanites rejected iconic worship, but the Jaipnites used it widely.

[3] Nothing is known about falkars except for this discussion and a comparable one in Renent’s Concerning Kireca. They appear to have been some sort of amulet worn on the body, perhaps on the wrist or around the neck.