Myths About Atheism

I grew up being told some absolute lies about atheists. Now I am one. So I’m going to take a moment here to discuss some myths about atheism:

1. Atheists are just mad at God.

Um, no, I’m an atheist because I literally don’t think that there is a God. How could I be mad at something I don’t think exists?

Similarly, I have been told that I am an atheist because I am bitter at my parents and because I think their legalistic version of religion is all there is, and have never experienced the real freedom religion can bring. This is not true. First, my parents are wonderful people, and I’m not bitter at them. Second, I became Catholic upon leaving fundamentalism and found true beauty and wonder and freedom in religion. I’m not an atheist because I’m angry or don’t understand religion; I’m an atheist because I honestly don’t think there is a God out there to begin with.

2. Atheists just want to be able to have premarital sex, etc.

Um, no, I’m an atheist because I literally don’t think there is a God. I had no agenda for becoming an atheist. This is true of every atheist I’ve ever met, and I’ve met plenty.


A related argument is that atheists are just atheists because they don’t want to be held accountable to a higher power. Again, this is ridiculous. I became an atheist because I don’t believe that there is a higher power, not because I know there is a higher power and don’t want to be held accountable to it.

3. Atheists know in their hearts that there is a God.

Um, no, that’s simply not true. If I “knew in my heart” that there is actually a God, then I wouldn’t be an atheist. I’m an atheist because I literally don’t think there is any evidence for the existence of a God, and I think the world makes a lot more sense when you take the idea of “God” out of it. Everything fits a lot more nicely and everything suddenly makes sense.

I actually really hate this particular myth. It’s so arrogant – the person stating it infers that he or she can know my innermost thoughts, and that’s simply not true. I’m not pretending to be able to read your mind, so don’t pretend to be able to read mine.

4. Atheists are amoral people.

Again, not so. Atheists are not more likely to go to prison than Christians. They are not more likely to commit crimes or get divorced. In fact, atheists are actually less likely to divorce than Christians, and less likely to commit crime or go to prison. Countries that are more secular and have higher percentages of atheists have lower crime rates than those that are more religious. I am not trying to tie religion to divorce or crime. Given the large number of issues at play in things like crime or divorce, that would be really silly. What I am trying to do is point out the craziness of the claim that atheists are somehow less moral than Christians, or that they’re more likely to commit crimes or be hedonistic. This simply is not true. As far as my personal experience goes, I don’t really do things that differently from when I was a Christian. I don’t rape, murder, and steal. I just no longer go to church or pray.

One more thing to point out here. The people who make the claim that atheists are amoral people are essentially claiming that it is impossible to be good without having the threat of hell hanging over you. Do you realize how ludicrous that is? If there are really people out there who are good just because they’re afraid of facing eternal torture after death, I actually find that kind of scary. Atheists are good because they believe in their fellow man, not because they’re afraid of some sort of punishment. In many ways, being good because of the threat of hell is like never growing up – it’s just a continuation of the child who does what his parents tell him to because he is afraid of being spanked.

5. Atheists hate Christians.

No, again, not true. I don’t hate Christians, and I don’t hate Muslims, or Hindus, etc. I don’t hate religion. Rather, I hate injustice. I hate racism. I hate sexism. I hate ignorance. Sometimes religion contributes to these problems, and other times it works against them. I have yet to meet a single atheist who hates Christians. In fact, I have yet to meet a single atheist who hates anything outside of problems like injustice, racism, sexism, and ignorance.

6. Atheists want to take away Christians’ rights.

I completely support Christians’ right to practice their religion. What I am not okay with is a Christian trying to force his or her beliefs and practices on me. And I’ve never met a single atheist who disagrees with me on this. I am a big supporter of religious freedom – after all, if I lived in Puritan New England, I would be hung, burned, or run out of the colony. Religious freedom is naturally incredibly important to me, as it is to every atheist I have ever had contact with.

I think that the problem comes when Christians think that it is their right to force their beliefs on everyone else. You see, I am against officially sanctioned school prayer and I would also like to see the words “under God” removed from the Pledge of Allegiance and the words “in God we trust” removed from our country’s currency. This is not about removing Christians’ rights. Christians have the right to practice their religion, and I’m not questioning that! This is about having a country that is genuinely neutral toward religion in the name of religious freedom. Because that is what allowing religious freedom means.

Incidentally, did you know that it is still against the law in a half a dozen states for atheists to run for public office? Sure, these laws are not enforced much these days, but they are still on the books and have not been removed. And there was a time when these laws were enforced.

7. Because they don’t have God, atheists are inwardly miserable.

This one is so untrue that it is laughable. I find that having finally found answers to questions that bothered me for years has given me great peace. I understand the world better and I like people better. Because I had been taught this myth, I was scared when I first realized I was edging toward atheism. Wouldn’t believing that there is no life after death make me miserable? Wouldn’t I no longer have any purpose in my life? None of these predictions turned out to be true in any way. I still have purpose, I still have meaning, and I still have joy and happiness and friendship and love. The world is a beautiful and wonderful and rich place. How could I not be happy?

Finally, like number three, this myth aggravates me because the person stating it infers that he or she can know my innermost thoughts. Once again, I’m not pretending to be able to read your mind, so don’t pretend to be able to read mine.

Conclusion

So if they’re wrong, why are myths like these so prevalent? I have a couple of theories. My first theory is that pastors demonize atheists in order to ensure that they keep their flocks on the straight and narrow. In other words, if the pastor can convince his flock that atheists are miserable and evil people, his flock won’t consider leaving the faith, because if they did they would be miserable and evil. If his flock saw that atheists could actually be awesome people, they might question the need for salvation, and thus question the church and the pastor. Hence the pastor demonizes the atheists. The idea of a happy, well adjusted atheist simply does not fit in well with a Christian theology that teaches that people are miserable and evil and need Christ and salvation in order to find joy and peace and goodness. Another theory, and one that is slightly simpler, is that these myths arise out of the fear of the other. Atheists are different from other people, they refuse to conform, and they are therefore threatening.


Regardless of the reasons behind these myths, they are just that – myths.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Lola

    It also should be noted that the "Under God" part of the Pledge wasn't even added until the 1950s, so it doesn't go against the "founding fathers" or the other variety of other arguments that get thrown around in that respect. I also want to know when "Under God" started to mean specifically "under the Christian God," which it would have to mean, if removing it took away Christian rights, because other religions have Gods too.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16232186225573312896 Incongruous Circumspection

    As someone who believes in God, this was very well written and to the point.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15654013636892916062 Erika Martin – Stampin’ Mama

    I'm a Christian and think this was very well written, as well. Also, even as a Christian, I agree with you that the Pledge of Allegiance and the currency should be changed. Like you said, if this country advocates freedom of religion and lack of it, then our national pledge and currency should reflect that freedom.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15654013636892916062 Erika Martin – Stampin’ Mama

    Oh, as for number 5, not sure if you're on Ravelry or not, but there is a atheist forum there and some of them come right out and say that they hate Christians. The good thing is, they're online and not in my life, so I can just walk away. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10374620768794536239 Sheena

    Erika, I'm on ravelry, and I think I know of at least one of those folks — they are why my religious discussions are kept to the liberal Christian and Episcopalian groups. I don't like arguing, so I don't argue :) If you'd like to track me down I'm agsine over there (at the very least, I like to look at other peoples' projects). :)

  • Final Anonymous

    I'm Christian and I agree with all your points, except that I have met and known atheists who hated Christians. But I think that was their own particular baggage, not a part of their atheism per se.I'm the type of Christian who wishes we could separate church and state once and for all… get rid of the "under God" and all that. Like the founding fathers, I believe it's dangerous for a country to show deference to a particular religion. Today it may be Christianity; what if tomorrow it's something else?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03242221594991245421 Bruce

    People hate others regardless of the labels they wear. I would say for every hateful atheist have met I have met 10 hateful Christians. Most every day I get email from a nasty, hateful Christian telling me what God (they confuse themselves with god)thinks of me. Your list is spot on..now I must go…off to a child sacrifice. :) Bruce

  • http://www.greenegem.wordpress.com Claire in Tasmania

    Can I just point out that if you believe that the reason Christians do good is from fear of Hell, as you imply in point 4, then you're wrong in point 1: In spite of your positive experiences of Christianity, you have somehow missed one of the major cornerstones of the Gospel. Also, you *are* presuming to read my mind by implying that :) Otherwise, a thoughtful and honest post. Thank you.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Claire – I never said that I think that Christians are only good because they fear hell. I don't think that's true at all, and, in fact, I think the idea is ridiculous. I was not inferring this, but rather pointing out that someone who says that atheists are automatically amoral because they do not believe in God or heaven or hell is inferring that Christians are moral only because they fear hell. Sorry that was unclear!

  • http://www.greenegem.wordpress.com Claire in Tasmania

    Fair enough. Thanks for clarifying :)

  • Wendy

    Wow–I would have coffee with anyone in this comment thread!I'm not allowed to give testimony in court in my state. I keep wondering if I'll use this to get out of jury duty next time I'm called. (I'm a fan of civic duty, but also of exposing bad laws if I get the chance.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00499236427446909328 Ron Amundson

    Apparently you didn't get to study the part of Christianity which gives you telepathic powers as to the beliefs of others? :) I haven't either, but its common enough, its gotta be taught somewhere.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    "Apparently you didn't get to study the part of Christianity which gives you telepathic powers as to the beliefs of others? :) I haven't either, but its common enough, its gotta be taught somewhere."Oh my gosh Ron, you're so right! LOL. My mother seems to think that she can tell whether someone is a virgin or not by simply *looking* at him or her. Like, what?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00499236427446909328 Ron Amundson

    Another possibility for the myths is a common testimony in evangelical circles, ie "my life was a mess, alcohol, drugs, sex etc, and then I found Jesus". As such, leaving Jesus would then seemingly lead to a regression into ones pre-conversion lifestyle, and thus propagate the above myths.That being said, major crash and burns tend to be quite rare, ie full immersion into sex, drugs, and alcohol leading to living on the streets and nights in jail. Granted to the hardcore legalist, I guess even a beer or two might be considered something pretty hideous.I dont know if you are versed with Fowlers work or not, but the models he and Peck present suggest skepticism is just another part of growth. More importantly, it counters many of the above myths in a huge way.http://www.usefulcharts.com/psychology/james-fowler-stages-of-faith.html

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16719976089855203933 Tony

    I agree wholeheartedly with your point number 7.Once I realized there probably is no god, so many of the unanswerable questions went away. It's also a wonderful feeling to realize I'm not a sinner and that I haven't sinned in years and years and years. Life without god is better than good, it's great. I'm happier without god than I ever was in my 30+ years in Christianity.

  • http://equamv.tumblr.com/ Jonathan

    Hello! Love this blog and the perspective it gives on Fundamentalist Evangelicalism. Very interesting :) From my experience, all your points seem valid in so far as they refer to generalizations about atheism. I know of some who became atheists for some of the reasons you listed (not like you), and others who became atheists simply because they did not believe in the notion of a God (like you). So I agree with you that the myths you listed about atheists hold in the general case.The thing that has always confused me (and perhaps you can clarify for me) about atheists is the certainty to which they hold their belief. Atheism asserts that there is no God or god of sorts. To my mind, that seems like a very difficult assertion to demonstrate. For instance, if I wanted to validate the assertion that "There is no gold in Canada" (assuming I don't have access to reports and research suggesting otherwise), I would literally have to turn over every stone and dig through every inch of Canada. And only after that can I confidently say, "There is no gold in Canada." But if I wanted to validate the assertion, "There is gold in Canada", I simply have to find one single piece of gold to validate the assertion.And so the analogy goes that if I want to validate the assertion that "There is no god in this universe", I would need to search every nook and cranny of the universe (in some way, either deductively or inductively) to show that there is indeed no god. Now, I would think that an honest person would say that they have not thoroughly performed a search of this nature (open for debate :P ), thus making atheism impossible to assert with certainty. The next best thing the honest person would say is that, "To the best of the knowledge I have gather up until today, there is no god in the universe" or "It is not possible for me to know whether there is indeed a god in the universe." The first statement is a subjective atheism in the sense that your position on atheism could change IF by some chance you stumbled upon god in your search. The second statement is basically agnosticism. From this, I conclude that pure atheism is untenable and slightly arrogant, but honest logic would compel either a subjective atheism or agnosticism. And if by some chance you find God (Christian, Muslim or otherwise), then you would be compelled towards theism. I'm not arguing for Christianity or theism here (though I am a Christian myself), I'm curious how atheists are so certain that there is no god. Or is that certainty simply a belief they have about the reality of this world?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16232186225573312896 Incongruous Circumspection

    Jonathan. A classic argument posed to me, an agnostic. But, it is simply flawed UNLESS you as a Christian ALSO states that you have no idea, but to the best of what you have before you, you believe in a god.Anything else is just as arrogant as you posit an atheist would be.I actually disagree with your argument on foundational grounds though. It is the same argument that Creationists attempt to "prove" Creationism with. They think that if they can portray an evolutionary biologist as a pompous ass, then they have won.The problem is, an atheist has done exactly the same as a Christian who is SURE that they are correct. They have viewed the facts, and have come to a conclusion and after coming to that conclusion, have moved on, refusing to budge.No problem with that. It works in mathematics, electronics, etc. You can argue that those disciplines are testable, and I would agree. But, that doesn't make an untestable discipline less worthy of solid and unwavering belief.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16232186225573312896 Incongruous Circumspection

    Really, the whole "definition of an atheist" argument to attempt to prove Christianity, no matter how you position yourself as NOT being an apologist for Christianity or theism, is a waste of time. People just talk past each other.

  • http://equamv.tumblr.com/ Jonathan

    Incongruous Circumspection: Thanks for your reply :) I don't think the argument is flawed in the way you describe. I just think I become intellectually dishonest if I don't examine closely what I believe in light of this argument. The argument itself seems to still stand regardless of what I think of it.In terms of the analogy, the Christian would argue that they have found God via personal experience (since as you rightly put, some things cannot be arrived at by sheer logic and reason alone) which then validates for them the "There is a God" argument. Obviously, finding a piece of gold and finding God personally is very different because with the gold, I can show it to you in a physical and tangible way, but with God, a bit more tricky to demonstrate to you that I have found God. But nevertheless, the Christian would be forced to say (if they are honest) that they believe in God because they have found God in some way. But the atheist does not have this luxury. For the atheist to say conclusively that there is no god, they would have to search every nook and cranny of the universe (either deductively or inductively) to validate their assertion. The point isn't to show that the atheist is a pompous ass, but to make sure they are internally consistent and honest about their views.I acknowledge that this argumentation does not address which God to believe in or being able to demonstrate to others that indeed I have found God. I also agree that this argument cannot and should not be used to prove Creationism or Christianity. But I do think this argument casts doubt on the confidence that an atheist would have that there is absolutely no possibility for the existence of God.And so my conclusion wasn't to prove Christianity (truly, it wasn't :P ), but to probe why atheists are not agnostics since being a pure atheist is a bit dishonest. I have no intent and don't think I can push someone from agnosticism to belief with a logical argument. But from atheism to agnosticism, I think so.And really, I'm not here to convert some to Christianity, just to converse with those of differing opinions so that my views are better informed.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16232186225573312896 Incongruous Circumspection

    Or, an atheist can have a personal experience that there is no god. Its all very relative.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Jonathan – "The next best thing the honest person would say is that, "To the best of the knowledge I have gather up until today, there is no god in the universe." … The first statement is a subjective atheism in the sense that your position on atheism could change IF by some chance you stumbled upon god in your search."Um, this IS what atheists say. In fact, this is what EVERYONE Should say: "To the best of my knowledge, I believe X to be true, but if I find new information or arguments, I'll reevaluate my position." All any of us can do is take the information we have and derive conclusions. If that information changes, we should reevaluate and reform our conclusions. This is what I do, and what every atheist I know does (including famous atheists like Richard Dawkins). And like I said, this is what EVERYONE should do, and to some extent what everyone DOES do, whether they realize it or not.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Jonathan – One more point. You say "For the atheist to say conclusively that there is no god, they would have to search every nook and cranny of the universe (either deductively or inductively) to validate their assertion." This is incorrect. Consider the following statements: "For an individual to say conclusively that there is no Santa, he or she would have to search every nook and cranny of the universe (either deductively or inductively) to validate their assertion.""For an individual to say conclusively that there are no fairies, he or she would have to search every nook and cranny of the universe (either deductively or inductively) to validate their assertion.""For an individual to say conclusively that there are no unicorns, he or she would have to search every nook and cranny of the universe (either deductively or inductively) to validate their assertion."These sorts of statements reveal the absurdity of your assertion. In order for me to conclude there is no God, I need only conclude that the information and experiences I have had indicate with some level of probability that there is no God. The burden of proof for proving the existence of Santa, or unicorns, or God rests with the believer, not with the denier. Further, I would imagine that you do not believe that Allah exists, or Visnu, or Thor, or Zeus. How do you know that none of these deities exist? Have you "searched every nook and cranny" for them? No! And yet, I would hazard a guess that you deny their existence. It's the same exact thing – I simply deny the existence of one more God than you do.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16232186225573312896 Incongruous Circumspection

    Brilliant, Libby Anne!

  • http://equamv.tumblr.com/ Jonathan

    @Libby Anne:Very good then. :) So atheists in general are open to re-evaluating their positions if new evidence should arise to invalidate their past assertions. I guess it has been my experience from the atheist and the believer that both (not just the believer, though more so the believer :P ) hold dogmatically to their views and are not open to an honest assessment of whether their view of the world could change in the future. Granted, our fundamental beliefs (axiomatic if you will) about the world actually skew any data that we analyse to be "evidence" for a particular argument. Thus, I try not to spend too much time arguing about evidence as much as I try to understand other people's fundamental assumptions about life. And altering a person's axiomatic beliefs (our own, even) is very difficult (nigh impossible) and if it happens, it usually extends beyond the realm of logic and reasoning (else, everyone of logic and reason would have the same fundamental beliefs).I like your statements because it was something that I ran into early on when I was thinking about this whole existence of God question. I think the way that I resolved the issue in my mind (while keeping my faith in the Biblical God) was to ask myself, "Have I found the God of the Bible?" Or more theologically accurate, "Has the God of the Bible found me?" (… a whole other debate :P ) Because if I haven't, then your argument follows absolutely true. If I haven't found the God of the Bible, then clearly, there is a possibility (however remote) that other gods or imaginary creatures exist. However, if I indeed (in some way) have found the God of the Bible, then by virtue of His existence, all other gods are naught (probability of existence = 0). In terms of the mythical creatures you bring up, I would assign them a very low probability because they have yet to actually documented by science nor have I seen them for myself. I would say that I have found the God of the Bible. So, I think my argument still holds and isn't absurd (please do correct me if I am wrong or if I missed your point). On the other hand, from an atheistic perspective (one still searching through multiple possibilities), you MUST assume a non-zero probability that all such gods and fabled creatures could exist if you are to be honest (probably something like p = 10^-100 :P ). Which is a rather curious result, however small the probability :) I think the problem that I see with my argument is that the argument is subjective to the individual as to whether or not they have indeed found God. Muslims claim it. Christians claim it. People from other beliefs claim that they have indeed found ______. Who is right (in the absolute sense, if we can talk about rightness like that)?But then again, as I mentioned in a prior post, the point of this particular "Finding gold in Canada" argument IS NOT to prove that Christianity is the one true religion and all else is falsehood. For me, it was to probe into the confidence with which we make certain assertions. And seeing how you take a "subjective atheist" perspective (and generalize that all atheists that you know are like that), then the argument has served it purpose for my understanding and is no longer relevant to our discussion about the existence of God.I guess like believers, there are many shades of atheists :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Jonathan – You say: "On the other hand, from an atheistic perspective (one still searching through multiple possibilities), you MUST assume a non-zero probability that all such gods and fabled creatures could exist if you are to be honest (probably something like p = 10^-100 :P )."I would point out once again that the assumption is that something is not true until proven true, not the other way around. So if I see no evidence for the existence of unicorns or Zeus, or the God of the Bible, I natural conclude that these things do not exist. I am not in the position of having to disprove them. You say: "In terms of the mythical creatures you bring up, I would assign them a very low probability because they have yet to actually documented by science nor have I seen them for myself."Well yes exactly. If there is no evidence, and no experience, then the assumption is that the being in question most likely does not exist. It's not about proving that it does not exist, because again, the burden of proof lies the other way. If I tell you that there's an invisible lion in your living room, you would expect me to prove that my statement is true, rather than assuming that it is true unless you can prove it false. Sure, you could try to disprove it just to prove a point (and some atheists do this as a thought experiment), but in absence of proof for its existence there is no burden on you to disprove it.

  • http://equamv.tumblr.com/ Jonathan

    Libby Anne – I agree that the burden of proof (in order to convince the denier) is on the one who makes the claim, but I don't think it follows that "something is not true until proven true". It may very well be true before one can demonstrate its trueness.If I may, perhaps what you meant to say is "something cannot be perceived to be true until demonstrated to be true." Whether or not one has the ability "prove" something's existence doesn't change what is out there (or does it?). Just because I cannot, with the tools available to me, prove Fermat's Last Theorem, doesn't mean it isn't true. Someone else proved it. And even if I cannot understand the proof, it doesn't mean it hasn't been proven or that it isn't true.I guess I'm just saying that in terms of the question of the existence of God, you cannot completely dismiss the question simply because there seems to be no compelling evidence to your knowledge. And because you think that, it doesn't make God's existence any less true or false. In the spirit of Aristotle, we must keep following the truth wherever it leads us. The burden to prove or disprove a statement doesn't seem to me to come from whether you believe the statement is true or false. The burden for both the atheist and the theist comes from a quest for the truth about the reality of this world we both live in.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Jonathan – "If I may, perhaps what you meant to say is "something cannot be perceived to be true until demonstrated to be true.""Yes, you're right, that's what I meant. I agree that whether or not something is true does not rest on whether or not we believe it to be true. "I guess I'm just saying that in terms of the question of the existence of God, you cannot completely dismiss the question simply because there seems to be no compelling evidence to your knowledge."Here I would disagree. If there is no compelling evidence for something, I will not believe in it. If the evidence I have changes, and there suddenly is compelling evidence for something that there wasn't before, then of course I'll change my mind. But there being no compelling evidence for an assertion absolutely is good reason to reject that assertion. When it comes to the existence of god or gods, every human should start at the same place: Do I see an evidence for the existence of any god or gods? I see no such evidence, so I do not believe that any god exists. You see evidence for the Christian God, so you believe he exists. The Muslim sees evidence for Allah, so he believes he exists. But the question is not "can I disprove this or that god" but rather "is there any evidence that leads me to believe in this or that god." That's what I meant by my discussion of the burden of proof.

  • http://equamv.tumblr.com/ Jonathan

    Libby Anne – Let me say that I have really enjoyed this discussion and am glad this didn't turn into a "let's-bash-the-opposing-side" time. Thanks for taking the time to respond :) In response to your disagreement, I initially wrote the statement without "completely". Then upon further reflection, realized that what I meant was that though you do not know today that God exists, it does not mean that tomorrow you will not find some new evidence of His existence. Hence, though today you may not believe in God's existence, don't write off the question about His existence COMPLETELY. Which, by your following comment, you seem to agree with.Yup. I agree that that is the appropriate question. I gave up trying to "prove" the existence of God during undergrad :P The question should be adequate evidence (internal and external) for the existence of God and the internal consistency of that worldview. But then comes the obvious question: "What constitutes adequate evidence?"

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Jonathan – "But then comes the obvious question: "What constitutes adequate evidence?""And THAT is probably where we would disagree. :-)


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