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“The Religious Fundamentalists Are Losing”: Overall, The World’s Faithful Are Becoming More Open-Minded And Liberal, Not Less

This past weekend, over 2,500 Mormons showed up en masse outside the Latter-day Saints headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, to submit their resignations to the church. They were protesting a new decree excluding wedded same-sex couples from the church and granting baptism to the children of gay couples only if the children disavow their parents. As one devout Mormon put it in expressing her disappointment with the policy: “I feel like we are going backward when I thought we were moving forward slowly.”

Her statement encapsulates the current paradox of religious extremism: How is it that as humanity as a whole seems to be evolving to be more inclusive and less dogmatic in general, certain religious strains are doubling in their extremism? It’s possible to conceive of kernels of extremism as intrinsic within particular faith traditions. But it’s also possible to understand the current rise of extremism as a reactionary backlash against the overall liberalization of faith.

“We live in a world where every single person is challenging everything, where every single person has a voice” Amanullah De Sondy told me. De Sondy is a senior lecturer in Contemporary Islam at University College Cork (Ireland) and author of The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities.

“The extremists want conformity and detest plurality and differences. Being different, being an individual who states that it is their individual relationship with the divine is a huge challenge to those who want the strict order of organizing society.”

Put another way, strict religious ideology requires strict conformity, and people aren’t confirming anymore.

Between 2007 and 2014 in the United States alone, the portion of the population that identified itself as Christian declined by 7.8 percent. During the same period, the percent who consider themselves Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or some other non-Christian faith increased by 1.2 percent—still not enough to keep pace with the overall population growth of 7.9 percent during the same period.

The most significant shift came from the increase in those who consider themselves atheist, agnostic, or otherwise unaffiliated (an overall increase of 6.7 percent). Within this shifting landscape, the United States reached its lowest level of religiosity since 1952.

The phenomenon is similar in Europe. According to data culled by the Islam in Europe blog:

The number of church-goers has dropped steadily for decades, but now there [is] also a lot of space in mosques around Europe. Recent data from the extensive European Social Survey (ESS) show that the number of Muslim immigrants who regularly go to the mosque drops significantly after they’ve lived in their new homeland for some time.

So how is it that in the face of declining religiosity, we nonetheless find ourselves swept up in almost unprecedented magnitudes of religious struggle—from the brutality of Daesh (as ISIS hates being called) in Paris and throughout the Middle East, or the far less extreme yet still perpetual hostility of Christian fundamentalists toward the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community?

“The three major Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—all have groups that espouse some type of eschatology, or belief about the end of time,” says Valerie C. Cooper, associate professor of Black Church Studies at the Duke Divinity School. “Among these groups, eschatological fears that the end times are near may be stoked by perceptions that the group is being persecuted.”

That sense of persecution can come from the fact of declining religiosity. Or, say, a war being launched against an entire religion—whether it’s the supposed “War on Christmas” or a kind of “War on Islam” that some on the far right call for.

In this context, it’s reasonable to interpret any surge in fundamentalism within a given denomination as a reactionary backlash to the overall trend of liberalization. In Islam, for instance, “Many believers continue to believe in God but not in the place of worship,” says De Sondy. “Even if they don’t go and tender a resignation letter, they attend the Mosque and listen but at some level have checked out and do something different outside.”

De Sondy cites as an example the increasing acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Muslims outside formal religious structures—akin to the demonstration made by rank and file Mormons. These shifting beliefs seriously challenge the orthodox structures and ideas of the faiths, says De Sondy.

And so, unable to propagate their narrow view through ideological cohesion alone, dogma resorts to force—in mild forms like pro-discrimination laws against LGBT people pushed by Christian extremists in the United States, or murderous forms like the brutality of Daesh, which is disproportionately used to punish other “unfaithful” Muslims.

In fact, like other fundamentalist religious groups in this era, Daesh is overreacting to a shifting global climate in which its ideas are increasingly marginalized. The trick to defeating Deash is to see for what it is—a desperate backlash by a declining ideology.

 

By: Sally Kohn, The Daily Beast, November 20, 2015

November 22, 2015 Posted by | Christianity, Mormons, Religious Extremists | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“To The Sinners In Congress”: Pope Francis isn’t A Liberal. He’s Something More Radical: A Christian Humanist

Pope Francis is causing quite the stir these days.

On Tuesday he will make his first trip to the United States, where he’ll preach the existential urgency of climate change and the moral imperative of economic inequality to a Republican Congress that would probably prefer he talk about abortion and marriage. Conservatives worldwide are upset that Francis is allowing priests to absolve women who repent for an abortion and has “vandalized” marriage by making it easier for Catholics to get their marriages annulled.

In July, Gallup reported that the pope’s favorability among American self-described conservative Catholics had dropped to 45 percent, from 72 percent a year earlier. “This decline may be attributable to the pope’s denouncing of ‘the idolatry of money’ and linking climate change partially to human activity, along with his passionate focus on income inequality,” Gallup said, noting that these are “all issues that are at odds with many conservatives’ beliefs.”

But just because some conservatives are upset with Pope Francis, that doesn’t mean that he’s a liberal. He isn’t, really, politically or religiously.

He is a reformer, and he is shaking things up in a church that had experienced theological and institutional continuity for 35 years under Pope John Paul II, elected in 1978, and Pope Benedict XVI, John Paul’s doctrinal right hand from 1982 until his own elevation to supreme pontiff in 2005.

Francis boldly promotes some policies that make conservatives uncomfortable. But the Pope Francis revolution is probably best described as humanist — and that makes it a much bigger challenge to Catholics in the West, both conservative and liberal.

Let me be clear: I’m not arguing that Francis is a secular humanist, or capital-h Humanist, by any means. Instead, let’s call him a Christian humanist, defining that as one who cares about human beings more than ecclesiastical considerations.

That might sound like secular balderdash, but it’s actually a phrase coined by Pope Benedict. “Christian humanism,” he wrote in the 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate (“Charity in Truth”), “enkindles charity and takes its lead from truth, accepting both as a lasting gift from God. Openness to God makes us open toward our brothers and sisters and toward an understanding of life as a joyful task to be accomplished in a spirit of solidarity.” Benedict explicitly borrowed the idea from Pope Paul VI.

Pope Francis has taken the idea of Christian humanism and put it into practice, with a big smile. He is concerned with the welfare of the Roman Catholic Church, certainly, but he is much more concerned with what the Catholic Church calls the “mystical body of Christ” — that is, the people who make up the Christian church.

There are plenty of examples.

His groundbreaking encyclical on climate change, Laudato Sí (“Praise Be to You”), for one, is a stern rebuke to humanity — that includes industrialist polluters, but also voracious consumers and even environmentalists — for turning the Earth into “an immense pile of filth.” But he intrinsically pairs ecology and social justice, arguing that efforts to save the planet “must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.”

Then there’s the pope’s modification of church law to make it easier to get broken marriages annulled, which, Vatican Radio says, is rooted in the core principle of “salus animarum — the salvation of souls.” Catholics whose marriages fail — especially in poorer countries, where annulments are expensive and hard to come by — should be shown mercy and love, encouraged and allowed to fully participate in the sacramental life of the church, whenever possible.

But probably the most illuminating example — the one that shows Francis putting the needs of humanity firmly above the parochial concerns of the church — has to do with the Christian character of Europe.

Pope Benedict, before he retired, fought tooth and nail to keep Europe anchored in Christianity. In 2007, after the European Parliament rejected including references to God and Christianity in the European Constitution, Benedict chastised European lawmakers. How can EU governments “exclude an element as essential to the identity of Europe as Christianity, in which the vast majority of its people continue to identify?” Benedict asked. “Does not this unique form of apostasy of itself, even before God, lead [Europe] to doubt its very identity?”

Pope Francis has not only ignored the issue, he has pleaded with Catholics — and, in fact, all Europeans — to personally house the masses of mostly Muslim migrants seeking refuge in the EU.

The surge of humanity from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya will make Europe more Muslim and less Christian, as some European politicians have noted caustically. But the preeminent Christian leader in Europe is begging Europeans to open their doors, anyway. And in the case of Catholic religious orders, he is more than pleading: He is ordering them to utilize their unused convent and monastery rooms to house refugees, unless they want to start paying property taxes. The Holy See has already chosen two families of migrants to stay in the Vatican, the pope said, and they are welcome to remain “as long as the Lord wants.”

If you think that the church focusing on migrants isn’t novel, you wouldn’t be wrong. Pope Benedict said it was “impossible to remain silent” on the issue of refugee camps in 2008 (years before the refugee camps were in Europe). And, back in 1985, John Paul II said the fact that a migrant “is a citizen of a particular state does not deprive him of membership to the human family.” In the U.S., the Catholic Church has long advocated for the rights of immigrants — though the big waves of immigrants in the 20th century were largely Catholic.

But that’s the point of the Pope Francis revolution — it’s not really about new ideas, it’s about what the Catholic Church truly focuses on and where it leads by example. Francis isn’t just visiting the sinners in the U.S. Congress, he’s also visiting the sinners in prison, as well as children, hard laborers, refugees, and other demographics the Bible says that Jesus paid attention to.

Ostentatiously living a more humble papacy, determinedly mingling with the disenfranchised and downtrodden, radically (for the Catholic Church) putting the laity at the center of church solicitude: This is the change Francis is bringing to the Catholic Church. It is making lots of people uncomfortable. Honestly, any Catholic that doesn’t feel challenged by Francis’ subversive papacy probably isn’t paying enough attention.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, calls Francis “an equal opportunity disturber,” noting that “when we listen to some things he says, we smile; as we listen to other things he says, we bristle.” But, he added, “Jesus was like that, remember?”

It’s pretty clear Pope Francis does.

 

By: Peter Weber, The Week, September 22, 2015

September 23, 2015 Posted by | Catholic Church, Christianity, Pope Francis | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Born Of Same Bigotry As Segregation”: Kim Davis Is Not A Christian Martyr; The Kentucky Court Clerk Deserves To Be In The Clink

There are going to be some people who celebrate scofflaw County Clerk Kim Davis sitting behind bars. Most of them are her allies. Not even the American Civil Liberties Union lawyers wanted to send poor Kim to the pokey—likely because they wanted to deny her (and her allies) the exact image they’ve now been granted: the long-faced Davis in handcuffs, dourly professing that she loves Jesus more than she does the law.

“Civil disobedience” is fine—but they don’t call it being a “civil servant” because the county courthouse is run by Christian Grey. She’s supposed to do her job, not decide what it is. But Davis, temperamentally, is obviously more of a top, anyway, and probably should have sought a job in line with her personality. Maybe at the DMV.

The only thing louder than Davis’s protestations is the jingle of the coins being dropped in all the various collection boxes that lay claim to some similar cause. In our curious hate-donating economy, Davis will undoubtedly receive some monetary reward for showmanship—whether it comes via GoFundMe or a book contract—but it will be a fraction of what’s raised by the political ambulance-chasers dutifully filing in behind her.

Already many of the GOP presidential candidates have weighed in, creating the curious spectacle of lawmakers pre-emptively breaking their oaths of office: How can you promise to “uphold the Constitution” if you have already admitted that it has a loophole big enough for Davis to fit through?

The judge who ordered Davis to be held in contempt, and the deputy clerks who started issuing marriage licenses, may be the only Republican left who realizes that Davis’s stunt is something besides a fundraising appeal. Or, rather, he seems to understand that Davis offers only the literal fundraising appeal to end all fundraising appeals. Follow her logic to its fiery end—the Bible as the ultimate legal authority—and there would be no political offices left to run for, just law enforcement positions.

There are regimes like that in the world; we’re fighting wars with a few of them.

Others have pointed out that Davis’s brand of Christianity is itself not too far removed from the sort of blinkered false-purity doctrine that rules radical Islam: the prohibition on makeup or clothes that come in anything besides a hazmat-suit cut. But if you want to understand just how antithetical to democracy Davis’s ideas are, don’t think about what her church doesn’t allow. Instead, imagine what kind of world would make Kim Davis happy.

Davis, after all, was not merely registering an objection to same-sex marriage, she is objecting to the notion of civil society, to “liberalism” not as a policy position but a modern ideal. In my understanding of liberal democracy, a Christian county clerk signing the marriage licenses of gay couples is to be celebrated—for the exact same reasons we celebrate the right of non-Muslims to draw Mohammed: The idea that any one person’s individual religious preference should end the instant it imposes on the rights of another. The true test of religious liberty isn’t whether or not you can practice your own, but if your society has room for yours and a few others.

To judge by her written statements, I am not not much over-worried that Davis’s turn in a jail cell will produce anything besides more vague boilerplate religious freedom stew. In response to questions from Think Progress, fellow members of her denomination couldn’t even identify the precise theological dogma they were sure she was trying to defend: Apostolic Christianity, a lay leader explained, “does not have lengthy, codified statements on marriage, divorce, or homosexuality. Instead, he said, members usually look to one document for answers…The King James Bible.”

The sect’s aversion to reasoned argument means we will probably not be treated to Davis’s own “Letter from an Ashland Jail,” which is just as well, since neither she nor her movement would benefit from a direct comparison to Martin Luther King’s pointed yet lyrical rejoinder to the clergymen who objected to his civil disobedience, both as a tactic and with its target.

King justified the Birmingham business boycott that led to his imprisonment (he and others defied a court injunction against the protest) with a list of humiliations suffered by black men and women in the South—and it does not include anything remotely like “being forced to sign a piece of paper.”

Rather, it includes the kind of bodily harms—and quotidian insults—that reverberate for both people of color and those in the LGBT community today. Indeed, King presciently articulates exactly why obtaining the same marriage license granted to opposite-sex couples matters, because without the complete protection of equality under the law, those discriminated against are “living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments.” They are, King writes, “forever fighting a degenerating sense of ‘nobodiness.’”

One of the members of the couple to whom Davis denied a marriage license put it in only slightly less poetic terms: “When you’re gay and you grow up in Kentucky, you kind of get used to hiding who you are, accommodating other people and making them feel comfortable. You don’t realize how much of your own dignity you’ve given away. It catches up to you.”

King pleaded with the other men of faith to come around to his cause: “Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.” Davis, it must be noted, is in jail precisely because she believes in monologue. Her belief that she should not be forced to interact with those she disagrees with is born of the same bigotry as segregation—even if on the surface it looks like the most banal interactions: paperwork.

That she could interpret the presence of her signature on a marriage certificate as evidence of her own sin isn’t a testament to the strength of her convictions, but to the height of her arrogance.

 

By: Ana Marie Cox, The Daily Beast, September 4, 2015

 

September 5, 2015 Posted by | Christianity, Discrimination, Kim Davis | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Unbearable Nuttiness Of Mike Huckabee”: A Hard-Shell Baptist Ordained Minister Dog-In-The-Manger-At-Bethlehem Christian

“Playing the Hitler card” is an infallible sign that a politician has run out of intelligent, substantive and plausible ways to criticize an opponent. This would be amusing (Mel Brooks made Hitler amusing), except “playing the Hitler card” is also an infallible sign that a politician has run out of amusing ways to criticize an opponent.

So goodbye to you, Mike Huckabee.

Claiming that the President of the United States “will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven” is not a cogent critique of the Iran nuclear deal, however bad the deal is. Nor is it an insightful thing to say about the administration that made the bad deal.

And, Mike, it is not a Christian thing to say about Barack Obama.

I’m a Christian too. Maybe I’m not a hard-shell Baptist ordained minister dog-in-the-manger-at-Bethlehem Christian like you are. But I think you could use a refresher course in Christianity.

“Whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council,” said our Lord. “Raca” and “council” are Aramaic for “playing the Hitler card” and “New Hampshire primary.”

And it’s not just your “march them to the oven” comment that makes me think you need a come-to-Jesus moment.

I believe the Bible is the word of God. And you believe in creationism. “God created man in his own image,” says Genesis.

Mike, look in the mirror. This is obviously God’s way of telling you to lay off the biblical literalism.

You’re a smart man. You graduated magna cum laude from Ouachia Baptist University. which has a “Department of Worship Arts.” So, Mike, you know about God. Do you think God is smarter than we are?

I’m a god to my dog. When I say to my dog, “It shall be an abomination unto you to run into the street chasing a squirrel,” what does my dog hear? “Squirrel!

Maybe you should consult I Samuel, verses 1 through 4. “…the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David… Then Jonathan and David made a covenant… And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him…” And here you are trying to get in between them.

Mike, you’re against gay marriage and gay adoption. Once people get married and have kids they don’t have the energy for any kind of sex. And then, pollsters tell us, they become Republicans.

Having you trying to convince people to vote for the GOP is like having Mahatma Gandhi on U. S. Marine Corps recruiting posters.

You call for “civil disobedience” to halt gay marriage. And you compare this to the actions of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Mahatma and MLK would walk down the street in assless chaps at the Gay Pride parade before they’d join you in a sit-in.

And you don’t like immigrants coming to America and making money. When people come to America and make money, what do they become? Again, Republicans.

You want 10 million illegal immigrants to return to their countries of origin within 120 days. Otherwise they’ll be banned from coming to America, where they already are.

Lights on in your head, Mike.

You say displaying the Confederate battle flag is “not an issue” for a presidential candidate. Not an issue, if you don’t want any black person to ever vote Republican in this dimension of the universe. You’ll have Clarence Thomas putting up Bernie Sanders yard signs if you don’t stop talking smack.

Mike, my Republican friends would rather hoist the Jolly Roger than fly the rebel flag like a bunch of cement-head biker trash with Nazi face tattoos.

To what political party do you think Abraham Lincoln belonged? We won the Civil War.

And my Republican friends aren’t worried about LGBT rights or undocumented aliens. Who do you think decorates Republicans’ houses? The guys from the Moose Lodge? And who mows Republicans’ lawns? Lincoln Chafee?

You’re nuts, Mike. You were on John McCain’s short list for running mates and he picked Sarah Palin for her comparative sanity.

Furthermore, Mike, as a hard-shell Baptist, you are accused of tea-totaling until proven innocent. I don’t want any damn sweet tea in my stemware when you invite me to a State Dinner at the White House. And you may have to. I’m the only inside-the-beltway type who’d come.

Because you wrote a book called, God, Guns, Grits and Gravy. It’s a great title and—between saying Grace, the Glock I’m cleaning, and the bacon, sausage and scrapple—that’s pretty much what was on my breakfast table this morning.

“Marriage as an institution is not so much threatened by same-sex couples as it is by heterosexuals’ increasing indifference to it.” That’s you in your book. Maybe you should re-read GGG&G as well as the Bible.

Mike, you think God is involved in politics. Observe politics in America. Observe politics around the world. Observe politics down through history. Does it look like God is involved? No. That would be the “Other Fellow” who’s the political activist.

I suppose your candidacy won’t disappear immediately—not until the Holy Rolly Pollys, amen snorters, snake handlers and flat-earthers have met at their Iowa caucus tent revivals and born witness to your divinely inspired campaign.

Then, however, as is foretold in Revelation, you will look around at the field of other candidates and realize that “without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters” and go back to Fox News and AM talk radio.

But even there you aren’t the “In-the-beginning-there-was-the-Word” that you once were. Mike, national opinion is flowing so fast against your brand of conservatism that you look—even to God-fearing Republicans—like a man trying to row up Class 5 rapids on a standing paddleboard.

Yes, you have your base. There are the no-account redneck gospel-grinding, pulpit-hugging evangel-hicks who think that the answer to every question including “What to wear to the prom?” is found in Leviticus, Chapters 17 to 26, in English like God spoke to Moses.

But, as I said, it’s the “Other Fellow” who’s involved in politics. And he’s helping you reap what you’ve sown, which is, in the case of your ridiculing Obama, a bunch of dried up old “corn” stalks.

For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven: and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble.

— Malachi 4:1

 

By: P. J. O’Rourke, The Daily Beast, August 1, 2015

August 2, 2015 Posted by | Christianity, Christians, Mike Huckabee | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Liberated By Grace”: No Shootings, No Bombings, No Fires Can Destroy This Faith

For those who see religion as primarily an opiate, African American Christianity offers a riposte. For those who see Christianity itself as a faith that encourages quiescence and conservatism, the tradition of the black church is a sign of contradiction.

Over the last few weeks, white Americans who never paid much attention to the religious convictions of their brothers and sisters of color have received an education. As has happened before in our history, much of this learning is prompted by tragedy, beginning with the murder of nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., and also a series of church burnings, not all of which have been explained.

The African American Christian tradition has been vital in our history for reasons of the spirit but also as a political seedbed of freedom and a reminder that the Bible is a subversive book. In the days of slavery, masters emphasized the parts of Scripture that called for obedience to legitimate authority. But the slaves took another lesson: that the authority they were under was not legitimate, that the Old Testament prophets and Exodus preached liberation from bondage, and that Jesus himself took up the cry to “set the oppressed free” with passion and conviction unto death.

The church was also a free space for African Americans, not unlike the Catholic Church in Poland under communism, that provided dissidents with room to maneuver. Even when segregationist Jim Crow laws were at their most oppressive, their churches provided places where African Americans could pray and ponder, organize and debate, free of the restrictions imposed outside their doors by the white power structure, to borrow a phrase first widely heard in the 1960s.

It was thus no accident that the black church was at the center of the civil rights movement. And it’s precisely because of their role as an oasis from repression that the churches became the object of burnings and bombings. The freedom enabled by sacred and inviolable space has always been dangerous to white supremacy.

But the church is about more than politics, and a liberating gospel is also a gospel of love. The family members of those slain at Emanuel AME Church astonished so many Americans by offering forgiveness to the racist alleged shooter, Dylann Roof.

There was nothing passive about this act of graciousness, for forgiveness is also subversive. By offering pardon to Roof, said the Rev. Cheryl Sanders, professor of Christian Ethics at Howard University’s Divinity School, the families of the victims demonstrated that there was “something radically different” about their worldview. The act itself “was a radical refusal to conform to what’s expected of you. It’s a way to avoid hating back.” They were, she said, following Jesus, who declared on the cross: “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

President Obama created an iconic moment when he sang “Amazing Grace” at the funeral of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney. Few hymns have greater reach, not only across denominational lines, but also to nonbelievers who can identify with its celebration of personal conversion and transformation — of being lost and then found.

But Sanders, who is also pastor of the Third Street Church of God in the District, points out that the hymn has particular meaning to African Americans. John Newton, who wrote it in the 1770s, was a slave-ship captain who converted to Christianity, turned his back on his past (“saved a wretch like me”) and became a pastor. Newton eventually joined William Wilberforce’s Christian-inspired movement to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire.

The African American church tradition teaches that Christianity’s message resonates far beyond the boundaries of any racial or ethnic community, yet also shows that particular groups of Christians give it their own meaning. The idea that all are divinely endowed with equal dignity is a near-universal concept among Christians. But as Sanders says, an insistence on “the dignity and humanity of people in the sight of God” has exceptional power to those who have suffered under slavery and segregation.

“The whole story to them is ‘I can be free,’” she says. “If I am poor, poverty doesn’t invalidate my humanity. If I am humbled, I can be lifted up by God.”

And scholar Jonathan Rieder noted in his book about Martin Luther King Jr.’s ministry, “The Word of the Lord Is Upon Me,” that the Resurrection and the Exodus stories were rich sources of hope, especially in the movement’s darkest moments. “God will make a way out of no way” was King’s answer to those whose spirits were flagging.

No shootings, no bombings, no fires can destroy this faith.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 5, 2015

July 7, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Black Churches, Christianity | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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