Howard Hunter’s rejoinder to the János Kubassek article
on Christianity and religions in Indonesia

Dear Editors,

I read with great pleasure the charming essay by János Kubassek about the School of St Stephen and Fr Tamás Krump on the Indonesian Island of Flores. My wife and I lived in Singapore for fourteen years and enjoyed many visits to Indonesia. The Kubassek essay reminded us of the fascinating diversity of people and cultures on that vast archipelago.

It is correct to say that Indonesia is the largest Muslim nation in the world, in that a substantial majority of its many inhabitants identify as Muslims, but that tells only part of the overall story. The island best known to European tourists—Bali—is overwhelmingly Hindu, although the Hinduism practised in Bali varies in numerous ways from the more traditional Hinduism of India. On a trip to Timor (the Indonesian portion on the western half of the island), we discovered that most of the inhabitants were Christians and that they were about evenly divided between the Dutch Reformed Church and the Roman Catholic Church. The division between Protestants and Catholics reflects the varying influences of Portuguese and Dutch colonists. Regardless of the denomination, every congregation includes elements of traditional animist beliefs and practices.

Far from Timor—and Flores—we also found flourishing Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches in the mountains of Sumatra. The countryside at 1,000 metres and higher is alpine, and with simple white frame churches surrounded by villages of coffee growers and vegetable farmers it looks as if they could easily be in Switzerland, Austria, or even parts of New England.

We were in Yogyakarta in central Java during the celebration of a major national holiday of independence. The then president of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudoyono, had come to Yogyakarta for ceremonies in honour of the holiday because that city is the cultural and artistic heart of Java. The ceremonies were held by the president, a devout Muslim, at two major ancient temples, one of which is Hindu and the other is Buddhist.

It is not surprising that a nation of 276 million people living on some 18,000 islands (although most live on a handful of the largest islands) would have numerous sub-cultures. What is especially appealing is that the nation, despite some radical groups and despite continuing struggles with poverty in many areas, is occupied mostly by tolerant, peaceful citizens who live happily and successfully together. That one village on Flores has been blessed by the presence of caring, devoted Hungarian priests is yet another example of why this nation is so fascinating and often such a good example of caring and cooperation, notwithstanding the political and economic struggles, sometimes violent, of the past half-century.

For the time we were in Singapore I was associated with one of the local universities, and, thanks in part to my own personal interests in Hungary, our students and faculty were able to meet with several Hungarians of note. President László Sólyom presented an important public lecture at the university. Professor Tibor Várady and your former editor-in-chief, Gyula Kodolányi, both spoke to our students and met a number of Singaporeans associated with the university. We had the additional pleasure of hearing Kodolányi read some of his own poetry. The Hungarian ambassadors to Singapore were regular visitors to campus and had numerous engagements with our students. Occasionally we had an exchange student from Hungary, and several of our students spent a semester studying in Budapest.

I always enjoy reading Hungarian Review. Even if I do not find myself in agreement with the occasional article of a political nature, I find that most are presented thoughtfully and are intellectually stimulating. The essays and articles on art, history, and other subjects are almost always a pleasure. The piece by István Orosz about surrealism and cannibalism is a good case in point. As a young law student many years ago my criminal law professor spent what seemed like an eternity on the Dudley-Stephens case, and there is that old case right in the middle of an article about Magritte and a somewhat eccentric English poet and arts patron who lived in a self-created paradise in Mexico.

With my best regards and appreciation for the Review,

Howard Hunter
Emeritus Professor of Law
Emory University, Atlanta
Georgia, USA

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