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017 Letter 15

To Gordiac, a man whom we hear enjoys a good reputation:
 
We at Kireca send our salutations. Sherliav told us that you had many good questions for him, and we send Termon to you with answers. He is a wise and thoughtful man, and you will enjoy his company. He speaks for us fully. We also supplement his insights with this letter so that you and all who inquire with you may always have it as reference.
 
You are by no means the first people to ask about our lifestyle, and we are glad to answer. As you know, we strive to be a humble people, affirming only what we as simple beings know and not claiming insight beyond our ability. Although many a god may live in the great expanse around us and even regularly act with secrecy in our affairs, we are too weak to discern this ourselves. Therefore, unlike those around us, we do not meddle in trying to decipher the acts of gods. Many claims circulate about gods, and on these disputes we make no comment other than this: if a god exists, then we respect that it has not chosen to reveal itself to us and dispel the other falsehoods; if no god exists, then we go about our lives nonetheless since we could never affirm the nonexistence of something invisible. It is a simple knowledge of non-knowledge. If one day, a god appears to us and says, “it is in such and such a city that belief in me is true,” then we would welcome the news, travel to that city, and learn there. Indeed, even if a city someday justifies its true belief to us, we will celebrate. However, until that day, we do not take it upon ourselves to guess which is the right city, for guesses tend to be wrong.
 
Therefore, it is true that we worship no god. Many wonder at this, for they believe that without devotion to a god, people become like the animals, living barbarously in violence and crudeness. However, we are living examples that this is untrue. Why, then, do people speak so falsely of us? The reason, we conclude, is this: morality exists in two forms, and those who assume our degeneracy confuse the two. Although we have not named either type, it is perhaps useful to refer to the one as “functional morality” and the other as “divine morality.”
 
Functional morality is what guides the stability and tranquility of life. It is what differentiates the drunkard from the respected town leader. The leader brings peace to his own life and to the lives of those around him, but the drunkard cannot benefit either himself or anyone else. Certain behaviors—love, dedication, temperance—increase happiness and joy while others—selfishness, treachery, excess—bring just the opposite. Morality is the differentiation of these things and is what guarantees our livelihoods. When we rise in the morning, what carries us through the day until night’s rest is our choice to pursue one set of behavior as opposed to the other. Although nothing in life is ensured and nature brings death all the time, both the length and quality of our lives are significantly in our own hands. The foolish eventually destroy themselves, for even the tyrant of great power will ultimately succumb to others’ resentment. If a foolish man loses friends, his security and sustenance soon will follow. Once these are lost, life itself will be lost. Because of this, wise people realize that certain conduct is prudent for both themselves and for others. That is functional morality.
 
Divine morality, meanwhile, pertains to our underlying reason for existence. If a deity caused us to exist, it likely did so for some reason. All other belie of which we know teach that we have a duty to live consistently with that purpose. In a given religion, certain worship, beliefs, or observances come as divine revelations and expectations. Following these instructions would be, if true, itself a good, and anyone who wholeheartedly affirms a divine command sees following it as of the highest importance. Thus divine morality is simply the carrying out of a deity's command.
 
In distinguishing between functional and divine morality, however, we also see substantial overlap, and it is in the overlap that confusion arises. As best as we know, all religions believe that part of the divine objective is tranquility in life. Thus the mechanisms that create tranquility—those that functional morality recognizes as good—are also deemed good in the divine morality. For instance, if a god instructs, “tend to the welfare of the orphan,” what is meant is that, given the circumstances of life, greater tranquility arises when the community guards the orphan's welfare. However, that is itself true regardless of the deity's instruction. Thus to say “be of good repute” and to say “follow the deity's will” are almost always the same command, for what they actually mean is “be of good repute, for it is the deity’s will.”
 
However, for us, these are severable concepts. We hold no view on divine morality, for to do so, we must affirm a god. Nevertheless, we just as strongly as anyone else (and, I think, more strongly than some) comport our behavior to the functional morality. While humanity’s dispute persists over which gods are true, the practicalities of life likewise persist. The sustenance, welfare, and happiness of all peoples must be pursued in the interim, and a certain set of behaviors facilitate this while others do not. We affirm the one set to be right and the other to be wrong, and by pursuing the right and shunning the wrong, we strive to live wisely.
 
We regret that some have said of us, “they do not believe in such and such a god and thus are debased.” This is robust error, for in all of the needs, hopes, and expectations of life, we are the same as them and live by the same principles. Perhaps a god has seen fit to tell them to help travelers needing shelter, but, since we were not fortunate enough to hear this too, we help travelers because it is facially apparent that they are in need. We hope that our rapport with them helps us someday, and, regardless, we are pleased to be of service since they too have needs just like us. No god need appear to us and teach these truths, and if one did, we would welcome the teaching but probably have more pressing questions to ask of it. We would have waited far too long to squander the opportunity discussing the obvious. Surely there is no man more foolish than he who, when a god appears to him and grants him the answer to one question, asks, “is the murder of my neighbor wrong?”
 
Now, if we only pursue functional morality but not divine morality, how do we determine what adds tranquility to life and, thus, is functionally moral? We simply affirm this: that which is good possesses two qualities. First, it is beneficial for all. Because we all have needs and these needs are often similar, none of our livelihoods is more important than another’s. Therefore, when we act, we strive to benefit everyone, for doing so creates the greatest amount of tranquility. Second, that which is good is sustainable. We must only seek good when it will not impede our ability to seek future good. We would be fools to say, “let us cut down our most prized trees, for holding a bonfire tonight will bring great joy to us all.” If we did so, great joy surely would come but only for one night. The next day, we would be without orchards for harvest. Instead, we should say, “let us all gather our fruits as we do each year and, from time to time, enjoy the orchard’s shade.” Good cannot be good if it destroys good later in time. These are our principles, and they serve us and all people well.
 
We also always stress that we are not those who reject all gods to engage in hedonistic practices. Over the years, some in the Valley have acted very unwisely[1], seeking to limit communal worship so that their personal bad conduct could go unhindered. While perhaps we incidentally share some of their interests by limiting erroneous belief, for them, this is merely a pretext for selfish practices. We will have nothing to do with such behavior. Those who say, “I shall stop believing in such and such a god so that I might no longer follow its moral teachings,” hold a truly repugnant view. They are worse than those who believe in the god and commit error by doing so, for at least those people act with good intent. Therefore, we teach, “do not believe in a god and, irrespectively, follow the highest of moral teaching.”
 
Thus we endeavor to live morally and respectably. We believe that the spouses among us should stay committed to each other, for when a family is in tranquility, the community benefits. Sexual expression should be channeled wisely, for when an individual has sex with many people in short periods of time, sex becomes an obsession, stripping people of proper regard for each other and the tranquility of the whole society.
 
We reject all mind-altering stimulants, for our greatest asset as human beings is our minds. If we do not use that asset, we have nothing. Since we are known for rejecting blindness that leads to theological error, it is right that we reject substances that cause all manner of error.
 
Our elderly we treat with kindness and return to them a measure of the care and attention they gave us all of their lives. Our young we raise to be wise, valuing moral virtue. We seek for them to excel, finding truth even where we could not while never straying into blindness. Both their direct parents and every adult share in the responsibility of edifying the youth, for they are the future of us all.
 
 In war, we take no part. The Umanites surrendered claim to the throne long ago, and we do not believe they have any cause for seeking to retake it. The Jaipnites have felt the need to battle out their own differences, and we say, “let them do so if they wish.” If parties feel that war is the best way to settle their differences, then let there be war. We only hope that the outcome brings resolution, and since we never had a stake in these conflicts, we never participated. All know that our involvement would have been pointless, and all respected that fact.
 
These are the values of Kireca, and all of us, our neighbors, and any Naithanite who interacts with us benefits from them. We submit this to you in all seriousness and ask you to consider it in the same spirit. Discussion with you is welcome to us, and we hope to communicate with you farther if you wish. Any of you are welcome to visit Kireca at any time. You would enjoy your visit, for many find the tranquility of our farms refreshing.
 
Let Kersak’s reign be long and fruitful.[2]
 
Jegov, our brother, sends greetings to his relatives, and Herlodo sends his best wishes to Shie and his family. Please forward these salutations when you can.
 
I who write this, Renent, send greetings to Bolodon and Raitri when you next see them. Raitri has long been known to me and is a very humble and wise woman.[3]


[1] While serving in the royal court, Renent believed that there was a large contingent of Valley dwellers who were only nominally Umanite and devoted to selfish pursuits. In the Chronicle and Letter 2, he refers to the Valley’s merchant class—led by Vizier Alcoren—has having been so focused on their own gain that they did not understand the threat that the South posed. Renent always believed that their conduct let the Jaipnites win, causing the death of his family and friends. He ultimately blamed hedonism for this.

[2] Renent’s willingness to salute Kersak here is pregnant with meaning. It displays how much had changed since Renent’s family and friends were killed by Jaipnites over thirty years before. Renent deeply hated Renliar, the Jaipnite leader during the First Jaipnic War. However, Kersak, who emerged as king out of the Second Jaipnic War and after Renliar’s assassination, was much more palatable.

[3] This is a rare reference to Princess Raitrialla, to whom Renent is referring by his affectionate nickname for her. The fact that he draws attention to her at all indicates that he thinks danger to her has largely passed. Renent had dropped his guardianship of her when she married Bolodon, a somewhat wealthy farmer.