To examine a part of the book I feel was ignored in discussion on Monday, I wanted to explore my interest in the Handdara and their philosophy. The whole concept of Foretelling is fascinating, especially as it is practiced in a religious society that considers it to be a completely fruitless exercise. There is a point early on in the book when Genly is talking with Faxe about the process of Foretelling and how useful it is, but Faxe is trying to get Genly to understand him. Faxe says "â€¦we in the Handdara don't want answers. It's hard to avoid them, but we try to." (70) When I first considered this statement I thought that the goal of many religions is to find answers, and in this the Handdara are set apart. However, upon closer examination of prominent organized religions, definite answers are never the goal. If it could be answered whether or not Jesus Christ actually lived and the stories of the New Testament were true, would any Christian honestly want to know? The point is faith, the belief that something is so, even if proof is out of the question. Faxe expresses some degree of exasperation with Genly's questions about Foretelling and finally asks Genly "you don't see yetâ€¦why we perfected and practice Foretelling?" and Faxe goes on to answer his own question, "to exhibit the perfect uselessness of knowing the answer to the wrong question." (70) Taking the earlier example of the existence or non-existence in actual history of Jesus, one sees that the answer to that question is immaterial, as there are so many other questions which would be more useful if answered. For example, would Christ's alleged teachings, if truly followed by all mankind, be the answer to world peace and global unconditional human love and kindness?
The Handdara respect ignorance because it is the only thing that we can count on as constant, apart from death, which few people hurry towards. At the end of the chapter, Faxe lays the philosophy of the Handdara out in plain language for Genly.
"The unknownâ€¦the unforetold, the unproven, that is what life is based on. Ignorance is the ground of thought. Unproof is the ground of action. If it were proven that there is no God there would be no religionâ€¦but also if it were proven that there is a God, there would be no religion." (71)
Much later in the book, during one of Estraven's journal entries, he suggests "to be an atheist is to maintain God. His existence or his nonexistence, it amounts to much the same, on the plane of proof" (153). Here, Le Guin inserts her own beliefs, as she stated in the foreword that she is herself an atheist. It seems unusual for an author to openly question, or rather examine in a virtually unbiased fashion, her own beliefs through the characters she has created. She brings up such unusual and controversial issues, and manages to look at this society, without stable gender, through its own eyes. Questioning the human desire to know, especially creating a religious group that gives importance and prominence to ignorance, is an incredible exercise in stepping outside one's own beliefs and taking a very critical look at society.