December 24, 1997

Pope John Paul II
Via del Pellegrino
00120 Citta del vaticano

Your Holiness:
     Now that we have once again entered into the bizarre ebullience of the Christmas Season, let me cast the first stone. I have some comments on Christianity to place out in the open. I was not born a Catholic but nonetheless understand your position relative to the larger Church that includes the divisions I have been associated with. Please consider my position and what it means to you and all Christians. I am a parishioner at St. Paul's Anglican Episcopal Church in São Paulo, Brazil. I was baptized and confirmed in a Community church with subdued Dutch Reform undercurrents in Ho-Ho-Kus, N.J, U.S.A. At that time I rather accepted the position of the church prima facie and sang sweetly as the leading boy soprano in the choir for six years, also writing a song I sang as a solo at the Easter service in 1962.

Jesus has risen on this day
From the tomb in which he lay
He has risen up to say
Rejoice and be thankful every day

On this glad moment we all say
Hallelujah let's be gay
He has risen up to say
Rejoice and be thankful every day

However, I am stern and inexorable by nature and my life has since led me down many roads of harsh confrontation as a result. After this odyssey, I am now finally getting back to stating a more deeply considered position on Christianity. I am writing to you as one of the key authorities in the Church in order, simply, to express a divergent perspective on Christ's teachings and the role of the church. Considering the fact that I am a leader of a mystic group and have the academic credentials associated with long study, I require consideration and response from you openly vested ecclesiastical authorities.
     I attend church and am thus fully aware of the strengths and weaknesses of being associated with a dwindling foreign congregation attempting to confront life in a confused social ambiance like Brazil. I guess we foreigners in Brazil all feel a bit like we stand out like sore thumbs with our scruples and emphasis on responsibility and honor. To some extent, the Church here in Brazil gives us solace by joining in our view that it is not the scofflaw majority that is right in the confusion that we face every day here, but rather, that the majority, quem leva vantagem em tudo [who take advantage in everything], is wrong. We are also consoled by being reminded of our responsibilities from the pulpit and by the occasional protests about the Brazilian situation that our clergy presents. In essence, we thank them for expressing many of our views about what is proper and right and also about the corruption and violence and the social morass that surrounds us.
     In any case, I would like to introduce myself to you. I am David Gordon Howe, an American with a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of North Carolina and am a fellow at Escola Paulista de Medicina here in São Paulo. I am also a pamong or guru in a Javanese kebatinan (mystic) group called Sumarah, that I researched and practiced in Java and on which I wrote my dissertation, Sumarah: A Study of the Art of Living (University Microfilms, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1980).  My position with Sumarah honestly involves a set of responsibilities that I take more seriously than my Ph.D. in many ways.
     In Sumarah, we practice gradual opening to Reality which is both the problem and the divine essence of existence itself. The opening process goes through many well-understood stages until we reach what we call sumarah or surrender, at which point we cease to describe the experiences involved very much in that they are a part of divine being and constitute no confusion to us in Java. However, I have been out of Java for sixteen years now and in the last five years I have been through many experiences that enter into the higher and undiscussed areas of our practice which have become something of a burden in this social environment. At this point, I have the responsibility of disseminating the experience and getting it viewed properly.
     When we enter full surrender to Tuhan Yang Maha Ésa or the Totality of Being in the jinem level following entry into sumarah, we begin to openly

Mamayu hayuning bawana
Mamayu hayuning jagad
Serve the harmony of the world
Serve the harmony of the universe

in that our experience is now defined openly, rather than selectively, and the whole mess is our inescapable personal affliction as well as the existential and philosophical angst it necessarily is for everyone. After this entry into sumarah, our experience gradually joins with the Divine Being and we essentially lose any distinguished sense relative to our experience, i.e., the ego disappears and we serve and work the being that arises out of our open reception of existence. The maturation process in going from jinem through junun to suhul depends on the accumulation of experience involving service and suffering. In the process we develop open links within our being in a kind of mutual presence involving "inner communication" in the Human (sahir), Natural (kabir) and Spiritual (gaib) realms. In Sumarah we do healing but the primary thrust of our practice is more a confrontation of existence itself and "serving the harmony of the universe" openly, though in suhul we enter into a relationship with existence which looks more like: "I didn't make this mess, but I sure as all Hell am going to clean it up," which is called the Divine Resolve (Tekading Ingsun).
     One of the problems we are having in stating our presence is that our message is obviously not "Good News" in the short term for a lot of "sinners" with large karmic loads, which, as the church no doubt knows, is a common situation in Brazil (How do you think this society got so happily corrupt in the first place?) and, indeed, in the West in general. In fact, for reasons I present more carefully elsewhere, there neither physically can nor ever will be forgiveness for sins and we all just have to get used to the prospect of being burned karmically clean by giving full satisfaction to one another so that we can stand to be together and not anticipate betrayal in every interaction as, for example, is the case here and elsewhere in the hedonistic and escapist Postmodern World.
    In Java the primary function of our kings is to punish betrayal in any and all forms in serving True Justice (Sejatining Keadilan). By way of expression of this relationship, our kings traditionally refer to themselves not as "I" but as Ingsun, one of our names for the Divine Totality they are responsible for referencing to and from every moment. The principle of our leadership contrasts sharply with the effective tyranny that is so obvious in a society like Brazil:

Nya gusti; nya kawula
  Where there is a lord, there is a servant

and service (not oppression or manipulation or panem, circenses et Saturnália [bread, circuses and carnival]) is the only true source of authority.
     Due essentially to the enduring agony of my experience in Brazil for the past fifteen years, I have progressed through our levels of attainment or awareness to the point of openly standing suhul, the divine being, which is common enough in Sumarah's pinisepuh or elder leaders. Evidently, I am in Brazil to serve but I have found the being here so corrupt and convoluted that service has mostly involved an open attempt to expose and punish its various levels of betrayal through personal definition and presence. In Sumarah we term this the mirror function as we openly reveal the character of others to them on various levels stretching from what is "unconscious" in them but openly expressed in us to direct personal contact involving subtle or not so subtle confrontation so that they can see themselves more clearly in this feedback and correspondence.

Believe it or not, one of the biggest problems I have had in Brazil is not with the ugliness of those around me but with their beauty (when they happen to have any). Apparently, seeing their glory and honor in the mirror awakens defensive reactions coming out of long-standing traumas and the tendency is to deny association with themselves; they can get quite hostile about being appreciated properly for fear of what they assume to be coming, i.e., enthrallment to a vision held and controlled by another. However, we know this mirror, this vision, to be independent of us and dependent only on Reality. Their beauty is theirs, not ours for seeing it, and such confusion eventually sorts out in that we stand accountable and in good faith (which I evidently argue that the Church often does not in working the same function).
    Like the Church, we hope that people will see their own situation more clearly and start making better and more responsible choices. But, in any case, we are sure that they will eventually suffer the pain they cause to others themselves this way (through the exposure process) and will thus be moved to change their behavior for reasons tied purely to self interest if nothing else. Obviously this is a long process and requires dedication in that we are not offering people a beautiful view of "salvation" or "forgiveness," but rather, a clear understanding of how ugly, evil and horrible they truly are and what they can do to improve their situation in personal terms by confronting existence more honestly themselves and seeking less escape from their responsibilities. Responsibility is the key to it all, really.
     I have been engaged in this duty (tugas) for fifteen years now, and thus, in as much as my claims concerning my status are serious and based on years of service, I would like to render a bit of a comment on Christianity in a general sense. In fact, I would not describe myself as a Christian. I find Christianity confused and often ill defined in pretending to the authority of a questionable character like Jesus Christ, who taught many things that we consider regrettable at the very least if not initially presented in bad faith. As you will see, we in suhul are more in line with the Old Testament God who does not give people the right to hand out "free lunches" and parlay promises of forgiveness for their sins through oblivious belief or some superficial association with "acting" good rather than being open, the essence of responsible behavior of any kind. We wish them to be properly, i.e., openly, defined in what they do such that the path they take eventually involve awareness of purposes and consequences.
     In addition, the idea of there being a Son of God or, as came out in our church Newsletter some time ago, Adopted Sons of God concerning other Church related individuals who aspire to divine authority without assuming divine responsibility, just strikes us as so strange that we are rendered momentarily speechless. Divinity is a being and a purpose, not a "paternalistic" relationship that seeks to impose short-sighted mercy on existence rather than asserting the propriety of Justice, truly the eternal essence of God. Who could truly love or trust anyone who does not work for Justice but rather tells us, like a populist politician, that we have to abrogate our responsibilities and let him sort out our problems for us without our being able to demand accountability from him as to his purposes and the interests he serves. The claim to being a Son of God does not bespeak Jesus Christ's acceptance of divine responsibility in that he is pretending authority that places him above answerability while acting in the stead of the Father he maligns and defies with his teachings.
    In his career of peddling fancified notions of indolent salvation, Jesus promoted behavior that God did not approve of according to the Jewish vision and attacked the system of authority present among the Jews in an openly subversive fashion, albeit without sufficient conviction or consistency as to have been easily apparent at the time. He "played" his audience in rather a callous manner, did he not? In fact, there are those in the suhul being that consider this just another expression of the tyrannical bent, the urge to pretend and promote yourself above others, that is so common among humans and openly purport that the Jews were right in their depiction of Christ as just a bigger demon than other demons:

Preachers often speak of placing yourself back at the time of Christ. These rabbis were there and it was their job to evaluate the people around them and guide their understanding. Heavens, maybe they were right and Christ's confused "peace and love" teachings as the world's second flower child (after the similarly dubious and quintessentially irresponsible Ikhnaton) were somehow an expression of his evil. Another clear indication of this is that the Jews, who knew Christ best, did not become Christians in notably large numbers.
     Much like Islam, to us Christianity is what we call a mixed consequence "wish league," a kind of glorified chain letter of a social nature. Wish leagues do some good by protecting the Natural innocence and beauty of the group dominated in the presence of the defining being but are fundamentally flawed because the leagues do not teach their participants to accept responsibility for what they are, feel and do to those around them in proper terms or to confront existence for what it is (which would evidently expose the faulty foundation of the wish league). An obvious wish league is invariably present in any tyranny where the population is forced to believe in the lies of the head of the being and render their energies to his or her service. Saddam Hussein and Adolf Hitler with all their propaganda and prevarication are apt examples of demonic presences who have managed wish leagues. In a wish league, anyone who speaks out against the established mendacity is in danger of ostracism, torture, imprisonment or death.
    In that light, just look at the Holy Catholic Church in the Middle Ages and Renaissance (or Islam and S. Rushdie at the moment) and explain to Galileo Galilei and the other victims of the Inquisition how it is that Christianity is not just a relatively sophisticated and institutionalized multigenerational wish league where everybody has to agree with the dominant version of existence while they move through their lives enacting the will of the often openly corrupt and invariably callous tyrants at the top defining the direction of the "ship of state" or "body politic." These despots may or may not have an articulated understanding of what they are about in this larger sense in that they serve their power itself within the dominating union and float along in its unjust but highly defended and deeply felt presence as expressed in societal oppression. Wish leagues obviously do not do very well in periods of generalized acculturation like the present in that the lies that define them (always a variation on the theme of group superiority) become evident quite quickly.
     However, be that as it may, to us one of Christianity's most heinous teachings is to deny your real feelings and seek out "the Peace of God that passes all understanding" as if it were a drug. We see the need for calm appreciation in making good decisions but we also profess faith in feeling everything that comes to us in order to find out what is going on properly within and around us. We are all responsible for everything we are and everything we do. On the other hand, Christianity teaches us that if we just "believe" we are no longer responsible ourselves in that we have surrendered our lives to Jesus Christ.
    Christ does not teach us to confront our existence but rather to let someone else (him) confront it for us and just go along for a ride on a veritable "trem de alegria" ["happy train" associated in Brazil with political favoritism for a select group of supporters] with the incredible promise of eternal heaven coming to us for just obeying his will. Quite a deal. Doesn't anyone in the Church ever contemplate how impossible and, actually, ridiculous this promise is? What on earth could Christ and Company do with all those karmic lepers and reprobates, hiding from their sins in the mercy of another?
     A regrettable consequence of Christianity in these terms is that it turns the devout practitioner into a kind of emotional cripple who floats along with a beatific smile and hides from his feelings rather than accepting them, suffering them and maturing as a result. We recognize that feelings are a great part of the way we relate to one another and Reality, our essential comment on existence and its returning comment on us as we share experience with it in what we call rasa in Java. Existence is often ugly and it would seem appropriate that we should suffer ugly feelings about it when they arise in order to see it clearly. But Christ tells us to love and love alone and thus to deny what Reality is trying to tell us. My goodness what a strange teaching: we are told we should not responsibly respond to our own feelings and give the feedback we have to give to those around us. "Turn the other cheek": Well maybe, but not without reason. Giving people feedback about your reactions to them is one prime responsibility we all have and is absolutely necessary for their maturation.
     Our feelings are our connection with reality and we are all responsible for upholding, suffering and maturing by accepting them and learning from them. The principle involved in solving problems is confronting them; denying your feelings because you find them unseemly or whatever is obviously not a form of confrontation but of escapism, the world's biggest problem at the moment (with all the drugs and alcohol and violence and sexual and relational irresponsibility) but much of the tendency to escapism can be laid at the door of the church, in that it has always taught that we can escape from our sins if we just say we are sorry and believe in somebody else's mercy, in fact, even worse, this fount of forgiveness is someone who never even assumed divine association except as a proxy so dubious that the people around him, exposed to his presentation, insisted on his crucifixion, evidently due to the pain and confusion he was causing them.
    His general teaching is so deeply at odds with Divine Will as we in suhul know it that it is one of the reasons we honestly suspect Christ to have been in bad faith in his Gospel when he purports positions like the following thus advocating cutting people off from their deep and confused love and need for one another:

You must admit that this kind of teaching is more than strange: it is wantonly if not purposefully irresponsible. How are people to clarify the confused feelings that unite and divide them if they are not allowed to feel them and suffer them into something decent that reflects love and purity. Another among the many horrors of irresponsibility in Christ's teachings is:

What on earth?! We are not to give one another feedback? What else can we properly do? It is our sacred responsibility to give one another feedback that is as clean and clear as we can manage because it is in the mirror of others that we learn about ourselves. We are not to note the impurity of others because we are not pure ourselves? Impossible. We all must work together in seeing and feeling and condemning one another when appropriate so that we can free ourselves from the chains of our ignorance and arrogance and evil by working together in exposing ourselves, one and all, from the demonic all the way up to the divine being. In fact, the Truth does not properly "free" anyone, but reveals the horror of existence and real responsibilities. A daunting moment, to be sure.
     We in Java have been confronting this kind of fraud for ages. Some years ago, one of our holy men and heroes, Seh Siti Jenar, became one of the Wali Sanga, the nine disciples that spread Islam in Java. He eventually "Javanized" Islam for us by asserting our vision of the divine in saying that:

Evidently the Arabs were not amused and put him to death but his posture was then and still remains our faith. We found that the presence of "Allah" basically corresponded to a megalomaniac who was interested in having people call his name and supplicate inordinately and in having them go out and kill and conquer their neighbors to make them exhibit the same curious behavior. Strange God. We could only accept Islam when Allah became identified with the deity we worship, who we call by various names including Tuhan Yang Maha Ésa, Sang Hyang Tunggal and Ingsun, and is simply the Totality of Being. Gods of love and power and control obviously exist but we do not consider them even remotely interested in really solving anyone's problems: they are just two-bit crypto-tyrants arrogantly demonstrating their power to cause pain while claiming good intentions and get away with it for a time. In addition we know that anyone can participate in Divine Being if they are willing to suffer themselves clean and relate to and from the Totality that is the essence of true divinity.
     As for Christ's miracles: we honestly don't care if they happened or not. The world's charismatic leaders so often appear interested only in setting up a group of glad-eyed sycophants seeking escape in their mercy and such senseless, irrelevant stories are a part of this. We have seen plenty of miracles in our time but few that were so obviously useless or theatrical: what's the point of walking on water and if he could multiply fish and bread, why only once? What a waste of energy. As for raising people from the dead: contemplate the Divine position on melodramatically returning life to someone God had put down. Regarding the curing of illness and blindness: is God so incompetent that disease is outside His sphere or is it a part of the Divine comment on existence? A legitimate miracle would have involved getting people to confront their problems and feelings openly, rather than hiding from them, because then they would eventually have become more divine than Christ was pretending to be, in that they would be accepting their responsibilities.
     We are taught not to "believe" in Java but rather to open to Reality and seek experience, thus grounding, establishing and expressing our own position on existence in experience itself. Our faith is founded in our experience not on hearsay and in grounding our experience we obviously are obliged to be accepting of any and all claims concerning reality until we have them clarified and stated in their true context in Open Being. As we from Sumarah openly declare: Confrontation will forever be the key to solving any and all problems, as we accept them as our own, face them, suffer them and let a solution form out of Reality.
     Evidently, my feeling for Christianity is not notably complimentary to the Church but having been involved with Christians for much of my life, I feel it my open responsibility to express my accrued reaction to your curious religion and what is left of its attendant social order. I write to you both to set the record straight and to place myself properly with the Church I attend in a larger sense. I acknowledge my responsibilities in writing to you. I hope you will accept yours in considering these comments and replying in kind.
     Thank you for your attention.

Sincerely yours,

David Gordon Howe, Ph.D.