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Reasons to sacrifice your life

How would an atheist rationalize sacrificing his life to save another person? I fully admit that many atheists would and have done it. And I can see the arguments of "survival as a group" or sacrificing one life to save many or saving a child or a woman. So, let me be more specific. How would an atheist rationalize sacrificing or risking his life to save a murderer or a wounded enemy on a battlefield?

Again, not to offend anyone or to claim that atheists would not do that or that christians do that on a daily basis, but I'm curious to hear the cold atheistic rationale for such action. Why would such sacrifice be considered "good" for the atheist or for society?

I can also see the arguments that "only idiotic christians would do such stupid thing", so only arguments in favor, please.

All humans are hard-wired for empathy and certain altruistic behaviors, especially when family is involved. Evolutionary biology explains these behaviors quite well. There is no real difference in the wiring of atheists vs. the wiring of theists. I don't feel there's a need to explain atheist behavior in this case. What you're seeing is human behavior.

Religions offer a broken model of the world and you will see religious people acting on those beliefs. You will see people go out of their way to spread Christianity, for example. In the Dark Ages, Christians tortured non-believers to get them to "repent" because they felt that was a far better fate than would otherwise await them. Christians might do more "charity" under the false belief that doing so will aid in their chances to get to heaven.

Religions are certainly excellent at getting marketing mileage out of martyrs, whether there was any real sacrifice or not. Consider how Mother Teresa was really just a sadist who got a perverse pleasure out of spinning the suffering of the dying around her religious fantasies and how so many people have been taken in thinking she was doing good in the world. I take most theistic marketing with a big grain of salt.

I think the atheist "position" would be to greet the world as it really is and make the best decisions that you can given what you know, and suffer the benefits or consequences of those decisions.

Don, thank you for your response.

Let me summarize my understanding of your position. Correct me if my understanding is inaccurate. 1) Atheists are capable of altruistic behavior as any other humans which is explained by biology. I agree as I stated above. A Christian would say, "We are all God's children". Both views explain the same reality - there is no disagreement. 2) Religions may cause perverse behavior or false motivations. (So can anything else, atheism included. --AG) I agree to that too. "We are all sinners." 3) has multiple explicit and implicit points I will discuss below 4) Behavior of atheists is based on best available knowledge of circumstances and rules of nature and society, not on "false beliefs" - understood.

I agree with 1), 2), and 4). Let's discuss 3).

DB: "Religions are certainly excellent at getting marketing mileage out of martyrs, ..."

True. Would an atheist die to prove there is no God? I can hear "What's the value of dying for something that does not exist?" True. Exactly my point. Does atheism have any value? What does it stand for which is worth defending and "marketing"? Then why this website?

DB: "...whether there was any real sacrifice or not."

If a sacrifice of life is not a "real sacrifice", then what is? Do all martyrs "fake their death"? But people die for their beliefs today as well as in Biblical times. There is plenty of "scientific evidence" for that. Assume, for the sake of argument, that Jesus is just someone's fantasy. OK. But the fantasy causes people to die for what they believe (among other things Christians do which is not unique to them). So, the "fantasy" has a very real effect on this world. Doesn't it make the *idea* of Jesus (if not the physical man) real? When a school boy builds a stool chair out of wood, he needs to have an *idea* of that stool chair in his head first. Then the idea becomes reality after a sequence of simple actions based on the available knowledge and experience. It works the same way with everything people created - cars, buildings, furniture, electronics, art. If you are indoors, 99% of what you see around are materialized "ideas" and someone's "fantasies" and "dreams", now very much real.

Or, perhaps, you mean that martyr's sacrifice is not "real", because they have another and better life up their sleeve, so giving up this shitty one is not a big deal? Doesn't this prove the point of religion?

DB: "Consider how Mother Teresa was really just a sadist who got a perverse pleasure out of spinning the suffering of the dying around her religious fantasies and how so many people have been taken in thinking she was doing good in the world."

Oh, that's what she was really up to? Wait. I thought, sadism is

"a sexual perversion in which gratification is obtained by the *infliction* of physical or mental pain on others (as on a love object)"

I'm glad I was wrong. In fact, sadists *relieve* pain and suffering that already exist in order to satisfy their perverse fantasies. Great! Where is the local sadist club? I want to join.

Don, you opened my eyes on many things here. Thank you. One question remains unanswered: would an atheist die to "market" the idea of atheism and stop people from believing in those fake gods? If yes, then what would be the atheist's motivation and rationale? If no, is atheism worth marketing at all and what's the best way to do that? And if atheism is not worth marketing, then why is this website and all this activity? You, surely, have some motive to stop people from believing in "stupid fake things". What is it?


Thanks for your response.

"We are all sinners." Is pedophilia a sin? How about genocide? I'm just curious. If so, how do you justify it?

"Would an atheist die to prove there is no God?" How would the truth be improved by someone's death? We've discussed how death can be used for marketing, but the truth doesn't need such a thing.

I'm curious why you measure the a movement by one's willingness to die for it. I think that's a very odd measure, especially when you consider that Christians believe their bodies are little more than temporary soul traps, the purpose of which is to release the soul to eternal bliss. Please tell me how death is a sacrifice to a Christian? Don't atheist sacrifice much more with their deaths--even dying of old age?

Look, too, at Islam, that teaches that being a martyr for Islam will earn you 72 regenerating virgins to fuck eternally in heaven. There is no shortage of gullible, sexually repressed Muslim men who are willing to cash in on that deal.

I don't debate that Christianity has had an impact on the world. I see most of that impact as negative. Take, for example, the fact that Christians have persecuted and killed Jews for over 1400 years. Genocide is wrong, yet I have yet to meet any Christian that feels a sense of responsibility. I usually just get blank stares when I bring it up. Either the Christian has to admit it's wrong and his religion is systematically wrong, only to be fixed by secular morals, or murdering all those Jews was morally correct, in which case, why did Christianity stop? Jesus never came down to wag a finger. What caused it to stop was a bunch of news reels from defeated Nazi Germany that exposed the horrors of Christian beliefs. Europe got the message and is mostly secular. Christians in the US just switched to persecuting gays and working overtime to control every woman's uterus. They know their god can't make sycophantic followers. Only suppressed women can.

Having a fantasy about Jesus doesn't make him true.

On Mother Teresa, you might want to read Christopher Hitchen's "Missionary Position". She gathered up money under the auspices of charity, but made her patients beg for bread. She withheld any palliative care and dispensed no medicine. When she was sick, she traveled to Europe for real doctors. She thought that terrible pain was "kisses from Jesus". Yes, she was a sadist. Whether her pleasure was sexual, I don't know, but she did get enjoyment from others' suffering.

Atheism is the lack of belief in gods. There is no need to market the fact that Christians and other religious believers have failed to meet their burden of proof that there is such a thing as a god, let alone one that would sacrifice himself to himself to satisfy a law he made up. Dying for atheism makes about as much sense as dying for rejecting the false claim that the sky is chartreuse.


Let me get back on track with the topic. My original question was, if an atheist would see any value in sacrificing or even risking *his* life to save a total stranger - even a person who would kill him under different circumstances (a murderer or an wounded enemy on a battlefield).

Let me explain why I'm asking since I see the discussion going into irrelevant directions. I think, it is difficult to build your life on something negative, on the "absence" of something. Atheism is inherently negative, beginning with first letter of the word - "we do NOT believe there is god" or "we believe, there is NO god", depending on who you ask. There is a disagreement right there. Note that all the argument here, so far, is focused on the negative: "There's NO rational reason to place value on anyone's life", "I see most of that impact as NEGATIVE", "Having a fantasy about Jesus DOESN'T make him true", "Atheism is the LACK of belief in gods", "There is NO need to market...", "...the truth DOESN'T need such a thing", etc.

Leave alone life sacrifice. Does atheism give any "rational reason to place value" on ANYTHING? If "no", I rest my case. If "yes", what is it? Is there "need to market" ANYTHING? What DOES the truth need? Evidence? Wouldn't doubt and rejection be the first reaction of an atheist presented with evidence? I understand what atheism stands against. What does it stand FOR?

I see "theism vs. atheism" debate as "glass half-full" vs "glass half-empty" debate. Both views represent the same reality, yet one expresses joy and hope, the other - disappointment and bitterness. A theist would see the evidence of God in everything, an atheist - in nothing. Both views are true, because God IS "everything", but nothing in particular is God. Saying that "reality is this and nothing but this" will fail if "this" means anything specific, except the infinite and eternal God. Bible calls this "creating an idol". An "idol" can be "the physical universe", "science", "reason and evidence", "money", "health", "sex", "family", "significant other". The moment you worship any of that except God your foundation is doomed.

Worship: : "4. extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem"

Now, let's introduce God. Jesus reduced the whole Scripture, Old and New Testaments to the two core statements:

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." --Mark 12:30-31.

Dictionary gives multiple definitions of "love". For some reason, the most important one is the last:

"4. a : unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another: as (1) : the fatherly concern of God for humankind (2) : brotherly concern for others"

Note several things about Jesus's statement: 1. It's positive. 2. It calls for action ("do this" rather than "don't do that"). I can see how "Do to others as you would have them do to you" (Mark 6:31) follows from "Love your neighbor". 3. "Neighbor" is non-specific, but includes everyone including murderers, thieves, tax collectors, prostitutes, enemies without discrimination. See the Good Samaritan parable and "Love your enemy". (God is everything, but nothing specific is God).

"So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." (Matt 7:12)

That's Christianity in a nutshell, summarizing the Old and the New Testaments, which directly follows from "Love your God". By the way, notice the difference between Jesus and Confucius who said "DON'T do to others, what you don't want them to do to you".

Going back to risking life. The reason I put my question this way is that I consider risking life for another the highest expression of love. For what more can you give to another than your life? So, a Christian has a direct instruction from Jesus to risk his life for his enemy which directly follows from "Love your God" thingy. Does atheism provide any clarity for this or any other life situation?

I can accept the atheist point of view and agree with Antifides that "There's no rational reason to place value on anyone's life, mine or yours or a child's or the President's." If I'm a dead rock, this is very true. The moment there is conscious life, there is also death, there is also pain and suffering, there is "best interest" and "concern for the good", there is "love" and, all of a sudden, "there is a reason to place value on life". So, all depends from which side you look - from the side of death or from the side of life. So, if you are alive, you have no choice but accept God. Take God out of the picture, and there is nothing of the above, starting with the "benevolent concern" (love) and ending with life.

Arguing the rest of your comments is like mud-wrestling. Fun to watch, but even if you win, you are covered with mud (or worse). I'm not trying to accuse atheism of anything. I acknowledge its point of view and ask to show something good stemming out of it. So far, I'm getting a bunch of negative statements about Christians, Islam, their father and mother and all relations. You can't win if you focus on the negative.

Everything you mentioned is sin in the eyes of a Christian. So are looking at a woman with a lustful eye, coveting your neighbor's ass, and judging others. Even if what you say of Mother Teresa is true (which I doubt), I would agree that she was wrong and change my mind about joining a local sadist club. I do not justify. I confess, repent, and forgive.

May the lack of God bless you and make your life long and happy.


Atheism is a position on a single claim. It's not a life-philosophy or an answer to all questions. It's not something to give your life for. It's just a single position. Your question is analogous to asking whether one would sacrifice his life for antti-unicornism.

Atheists do have other things that are dear to them and there are atheistic life-philosophies such as secular humanism. Many atheists would ascribe to that. Since atheism is not some sort of belief system, there are atheists of all stripes. I can try to answer your questions for myself.

My morality is based on reason, responsibility, and compassion. I try to believe only things that are true. I value empiricism and the scientific method. Reason and science are our best tools for understanding the universe and improving our situation.

Would I give my life for some of these things? Maybe. Would atheists do so? Yes. There are atheists that serve in the military, who sacrifice for their families, and who care about their fellow man.

"God is everything": It seems that everyone has their own definition of god. Why try to define a perfectly good word, though? If you're just waxing poetic, please understand that I have no interest in unjustified claims.

Atheists don't worship anything. I certainly don't. Why worship something that you can't demonstrate even exists? I can give you a reason why not to in just a bitů

I view Christianity and Islam (and to a lesser extent Judaism) to be inherently immoral. The core belief of these religions is to suck up to an all-powerful god because if you do, you'll get a perpetual orgasm or whatever reward and if you don't he'll screw you over. These three religions are called Abrahamic religions because they all worship the god of Abraham. The guy that wanted to suck up to his god that he was willing to kill his own child. Note that in the story, he didn't get his land because he fooled his god. He traded his own kin for god's favor. People of these religions make this sort of trade all the time, from flying planes into buildings, suicide bombings, sabotage of stem cell research, priest pedophilia, honor killings, screwing with others' families and reproduction, "Intelligent Design", etc. etc. I could list dozens more examples. All of this harm comes from belief in god and the conflict of interest that sets up.

You quoted Mark 6:31. Ask yourself, if you love your god with ALL your heart, what's left over. 1-1=0. Nothing. Love your neighbor as yourself--from a religion that teaches you you are a wretch deserving of eternal torture. Of the two statements, which is the most important? The first, infinitely more that the second because your god is infinitely more powerful than your neighbor. So even the NT doesn't fix Abraham. In fact it makes it much worse because the idea of eternal torture didn't exist in any of these religions before then.

"I consider risking life for another the highest expression of love." If your life is worth nothing because you're expecting to go to heaven, this is not much of an expression of love. Perhaps you could have gleaned that from the earlier discussions. Abrahamic religions devalue human life. I think the irony here is that atheists do value their lives because they know this one isn't just some place to wipe your feet before going on to the main event.

Also, I don't consider my life some sort of bargaining chip the way you do. A means to an end.

As for Mark 12:30-31, earlier authors wrote similar sentiments. It might be that this was ripped off from them. I don't think the Jesus version is better than the Confucian one.

Just curious: Do you think a majority of gays should have the right to vote on whether you can marry? Any answer other than "yes" means that you don't care about Jesus teachings. I'm also curious whether you save money or whether you give all of your belongings away.

How ironic that you think atheists don't value human life, when I brought up the genocide (real and fictional/Biblical) and your sucking up to a torturer and you couldn't even admit that it was wrong. I have yet to meet a Christian who feels any sense of responsibility for the harm that has been done in the name of their religion. I guess if you're too high on Jesus-heroin or only care about your perpetual orgasm, you can't be bothered with compassion. Why focus on the negative?

If you agree that religious harm is bad, why are you arguing for religion? I consider you to have little sense of love for your fellow man. You seem to be unwilling to take the first step: to realize that religious harm is a bad thing. Don't' worry, though. You're in good company.


First of all, thank you for your responses. This discussion was very useful to me. It showed me several things.

1) While considering your arguments, I figured for myself what exactly I believe and why. I felt it before, but it helps to articulate these things. Thank you for this.

2) This dialog confirmed to me that if you respect the opponent's point of view, refrain from offending attacks, and ignore provocations, you are less likely to receive back insults.

""Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." Matt 7:1.

I think, this command is too often violated by everyone, Christians in the first place. Too many of these discussions end up in less than intelligent and civilized manner. I can easily see such discussions ending with violence in real life. In person, it's better to shut up and stick to sports and women.

DB: "... [Atheism is] not a life-philosophy or an answer to all questions. It's not something to give your life for. It's just a single position. Your question is analogous to asking whether one would sacrifice his life for anti-unicornism."

3) I agree. To build a life philosophy, you need something else in addition to atheism - humanism, dialectic materialism, or whatever else. I view the Bible as a treasury of human wisdom. Even if you deny the "divine" source of it, it is still useful for everyone as a manual for human relations (especially, the New Testament and the Book of Proverbs). Most people don't figure a half of it on their own in their lifetime. I feel sorry for people who read the first two chapters, browse through Leviticus and Deuteronomy, scoff at the creation, instructions on sacrifices and atrocities, toss it, and never get to the practical wisdom of Solomon and Jesus.

I, personally, think, atheism will not survive as an ideology in competition with religions. Not because "God will kill the ungodly". If you look at religions, they are "religiously" committed to "market" themselves all over the world. Atheism is not. It's your own "survival of the fittest" law. To survive, atheism needs a "Manifesto" or a "Gospel" or something, then it needs an organization to "spread the word". Religions have that. Atheism does not. Communists did have it and survived for 74 years. However, you cannot spread ideology at the points of bayonets. It always failed throughout history. Even Christians used swords and stakes to "spread the word" doing more harm than good (just read your posts). You cannot force people into haven. Some people cannot force their own wives into a temporal orgasm, leave alone a total stranger into "perpetual one". To get orgasm, you have to "come" - using your analogy.

You have a right to your opinion on Abrahamic religions. My position is that of Einstein: "God may be subtle, but he isn't plain mean." We don't understand all God's ways. They can only be revealed to us through the Holy Spirit (it's a spiritual thing. There is no material evidence of it. Don't bother with comments).

DB: "You quoted Mark 6:31. Ask yourself, if you love your god with ALL your heart, what's left over. 1-1=0. Nothing."

This is the fallacy of all atheistic arguments in this forum. All of them operate with limited concepts. God is unlimited. Infinity minus infinity is still infinity. All depends on the size of your heart.

DB: "Love your neighbor as yourself--from a religion that teaches you you are a wretch deserving of eternal torture. "

Not if you believe in God. As you may know, for these people sins are forgiven and paid for.

DB: "...Of the two statements, which is the most important? The first, infinitely more that the second because your god is infinitely more powerful than your neighbor."

The neighbor is irrelevant. The will of the Father is. And his will is to "love the neighbor". Arguably, this will is the key to survival of humanity. I think it comes from God, you think, it comes from natural law and logic. Fine. I use the wisdom of the Bible to build my life. You use science. I'm cool. As long as "I love you, you love me, we are a happy family..." and everyone is purple...

DB: "Just curious: Do you think a majority of gays should have the right to vote on whether you can marry?"

Sure. Why not? I've heard, they are less than 0.2% of population. The whole issue is over-rated. It was used by Bush in 2002 elections to divert attention from Iraq war going sour. I agree with one of the comedians I've heard. He compared gay marriage issue interracial marriages in the 1960s. Then opponents said "They can't marry 'us'. Let them only marry between themselves!" Opponents of gay marriages say the opposite: "They cannot marry between themselves! They should only marry us!"

My conservative biblical position on this issue is "I'm against gay marriage, so I don't marry same sex." Same with abortion. "I'm against abortion, so I will never have one." I consider both immoral, but I don't believe in forcing people into orgasm. Christian's job is to spread the word and let people make the choice based on their experience and consequences. I, personally, don't think gay marriages are worth the effort. Same-sex couples do not naturally reproduce. Natural selection is all in favor of heterosexual marriages. Why bother?

Especially Catholic church should first consider allowing their own priests to marry and then express opinions on gay marriage. John 8 is one of my favorite passages in the NT. "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." See also "Plank in your own eye" in several Gospels. Everyone should focus on his own sins first.

DB: "I'm also curious whether you save money or whether you give all of your belongings away."

I do what I can. I made my commitment to God and to myself and stick with it. I'm working on getting it up to 10%. All is not required. If you quote Acts, Ananias and Sapphira died not because they did not give all they had, but because they committed to giving a certain part and did not.

"Then Peter said, "Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have *lied to the Holy Spirit* and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God."" Acts 5

Nobody forced him. But once he made a decision, he had to follow through. It's important to make a commitment and follow through.

DB: "I have yet to meet a Christian who feels any sense of responsibility for the harm that has been done in the name of their religion."

OK. I am responsible for all the atrocities Christians did. Does it make sense? I've yet to meet a white who feels any responsibility for all the slavery. Everyone should focus on their own sins, as I said. Guilt is not a Christian value. Acknowledging sin and forgiveness are.

DB: "If you agree that religious harm is bad, why are you arguing for religion?"

I disagree that harm is caused by religion itself. It's human interpretation and practical applications. Celibacy requirement is nowhere in the Bible. Most apostles, staring with Peter, had wives. It's a rule made by Catholic church. Stalin was an atheist and communism looked like heaven on earth in theory. Yet he killed more of his own people (Jews included) than Hitler. Any attempt to force ideology on other people leads to violence.

The reason I posted on this forum was to confirm my own beliefs. I did. I fully understand the futility of attempts to convert anyone in this forum. Now let me go and have my orgasm.


AG said: Even if you deny the "divine" source of it, it is still useful for everyone as a manual for human relations (especially, the New Testament and the Book of Proverbs). So you're advocating treating the Bible as poetry and ignore the eternal damnation part of it? You recommend following Jesus' teachings, but I have yet to meet a Christian who follows Matt. 19:21 and others. If God wrote the Bible as the ultimate truth, why are you picking and choosing from it? Fundamentalists seem to be the only ones with the courage of their convictions. I personally consider the Bible a genocide manual. Not only does it catalog a vast number of atrocities, it has served well as a practical guide for those committing them. I call it a Rorschach test for the morally challenged. I can't think of an action it can't be used to justify, can you?

I find it amusing that you think Atheism will not survive in the marketplace of ideas because you don't think it's "fit". The irony is that of all the "religions", it's the only one not making false claims. (Remember, atheism is the lack of a belief in gods.) Most of Europe tried Christianity ( and after so many holy wars, they gave up on it. Atheism is fast growing. I do see it petering out one day, when all of the religious belief has gone and there is no longer a need for it. Although there will probably always be some people who will be enticed by a false promise of eternal bliss.

Please understand that when a theist, such as you, makes claims about god without providing evidence for the existence of such a god, those claims are no different than self-serving rationalizations. How can you claim "god is unlimited" if you can't demonstrate a god? I will treat them as: "That asserted without evidence may be dismissed without evidence."

Every believer seems to make up his own god in his own image as a way to justify his actions. See There is little consensus among what people claim about their god, except that all such claims are self-serving. This is perhaps why here are tens of thousands of Christian sects--all of them disagreeing on core tenets. When I ask Christians about God's absolute morality, I get wildly different answers or lots of hedging. It's too bad there's not some way that all those believers can actually talk with their supposedly same god and get the right answer, isn't it?

You took time to explain your position on same-sex marriage. I brought it up because it's a concrete example where there is a Christian movement to do a particular thing. Either that movement is back by God's absolute morality (in which case you're going against god by backing same-sex marriages), or the majority of Christians in this country don't have a clue. One or both of you is wrong, so why should anyone take either of you seriously? When the majority of Christians go out of their way to vote down the rights of gays one can only feel they're hypocrites when they also claim to be "doing unto others."

You didn't address the main point of my last post, which was the conflict of interest between serving god and benefiting one's fellow man. You do agree that one can't serve two masters. Now, either there is a god and those hard-core Abrahamic religion believers have just sold out their fellow man and are traitors to humanity, or there is no god and these religions are just a means to be thugs without responsibility. Which do you think it is?

"I am responsible for all the atrocities Christians did." My point was not to get you to shed a crocodile tear. It was to point out to you that your religion has gotten away (and is getting away) with a very large amount of harm. Responsibility involves making amends. I don't see it. I don't even see an admission of wrong-ness. Forgiveness is only warranted for people who understand the nature of their crimes, have made some sort of amends for it, and changed course so that they don't do it in the future.

For what it's worth, I do know a lot of white people who feel awfully about slavery. We have tried to make amends for it in this country through a number of social programs. It's imperfect, I admit.

If slavery is wrong, then what does that say about your Bible and Jesus in Ephesians 6:5. It's too bad he didn't think to just say it was wrong. Oops.

Enjoy your orgasm. With luck, you'll spend it looking down on me, watching me be tortured by your "all loving" god.

There's no rational reason to place value on anyone's life, mine or yours or a child's or the President's. If someone sacrifices their life it is for an emotional reason. If someone believes their life more valuable than anyone else's, that too is an emotional judgement. By the way, while there may be a disproportionately large number of rational people among atheists, it's not a group that inherently has "cold atheistic rationale" for everything, though particular members might.

"The good of the many outweighs the good of the few, or the one."

We're social creatures, thus the axiom above holds, as needed.

For instance, at this moment, I appreciate and respect the sacrifice of the 'Fukushima 50', who almost certainly will pay the ultimate price in their attempt to mitigate the ongoing disaster there (successful or not).

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