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JenniferP's avatar

Would a merciful God burn people forever?

Asked by JenniferP (2113points) November 10th, 2012

I know some people are bad and will not be reached no matter what. But doesn’t it seem more fair and loving to just take away the reward of eternal life than to burn them forever? I know all of the scriptures about fire (and people interpret those to mean different things) but what about common sense? Hellfire would be torture. Imperfect people (most) think it is wrong to torture someone even if they are wrongdoers. So why would God? Please avoid saying “God doesn’t send them there, they send themselves” if at all possible. God would be the one meting out the punishment for the crime and we all know that.

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70 Answers

ragingloli's avatar

A “merciful god” would not have done a lot of things in the Bible.

gailcalled's avatar

Can you possibly equate Biblical scripture and its endless contradictions with common sense?

plethora's avatar

I’m not sure you will be able to find that answer in Bible, but I can be pretty sure you will not find it on Fluther.

DominicX's avatar

No, I don’t think so. It’s one of the major reasons I stopped believing. It seemed like “avoidance of hell” was the backbone of Christianity.

ETpro's avatar

No and if you carefully read the entire Bible, you will find that is not really biblical. It’s a development of Christian elders from about 300 AD. You will find no hint of Hell in the Torah, and Jewish scholars do not believe in it.

wundayatta's avatar

You can make up Gods that have any style of retribution at all. And they can make up the rules however you want.

However, it is fruitless to speculate about hypothetical entities for which there is no evidence. It makes far more sense, I think, to think about humans and the stories they are trying to tell when they tell stories about various Gods.

Why would someone create the idea of a deity that burns people forever? Basically, it’s psychological. It has to do with the idea that people won’t behave well unless they are properly punished for bad behavior. This is a fairly primitive notion of human psychology. It is a notion based on the idea that people cannot be intrinsically motivated to behave well. Therefore, the motivation must be extrinsic. It has to come from outside.

It is the same notion that many parents operate by. They think their kids won’t behave well unless they are spanked every day. They must be punished when they do wrong. If you don’t punish them, they will take advantage and continue to misbehave.

Like I said, modern science has learned that intrinsic motivation is a much better way to get kids and adults to behave well. People must behave well because they want to, not because they are afraid of punishment if they don’t.

In a world of intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivators, like the idea of hell or an afterlife don’t work. No one needs them. It soon become clear to anyone with intrinsic motivation that these ideas are fantasies made up by a fairly unimaginative person.

Would a merciful God burn people forever? Would a merciful person put someone to death for adultery? Of course not. These are not acts of mercy. However, they are acts of a kind of human that does not believe people can think for themselves. Once you grow up and become responsible for yourself without needing parents and teachers watching over you, you no longer need these ideas of merciless retribution to keep you doing the right thing. You can figure out the right thing to do on your own. You can give up your fantasies about being rewarded with eternal life. You can be good because being good is the right thing to do.

kess's avatar

Hell is a state of being…
That state is the status quo of any who have not understood God.

It is also called death.
The place of understanding is called Life, these do not die.

Buttonstc's avatar

The short answer is no.

And as strange as it may seem, there are significant numbers of Christians who do not believe in an eternal torturing hell.

The word eternal has been horribly mistranslated and the word hell was largely used metaphorically with several different words used for it. If you study the word in it’s original languages, that will be obvious.
If you’d like to research it further, I’ll include a link for a good starting place. You might also be interested in what’s known as the Concordant translation of the Bible which is a lot more internally consistent.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

If god is good, whatever god you believe in, he wouldn’t want people hurting.

Adagio's avatar

There is some mention of a barbecue in this video……

DrBill's avatar

My bible says it is not forever.

Paradox25's avatar

No, and even if this scenerio was the truth I would still refuse to worship or respect such a god. I’m a theist myself, but I don’t think whatever this creator or higher power is, that it’s the monster that some religions made him/her out to be.

Sunny2's avatar

The Old Testament God would. The New Testament God wouldn’t. I don’t know about all the other Gods currently worshiped. Some of the lesser specimens of Mankind, on the other hand, would cause as great a pain as possible, without a second thought.

Jeruba's avatar

It seems, @JenniferP, as if you’re looking for a “no” answer because otherwise it doesn’t suit your notion of human logic, and besides, it’s just not fair. So, assuming that fairness has anything to do with it, which part of the equation do you think ought to change in order for it all to add up: no mercy, no burning, or just no God?

WyCnet's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe :If god is good, whatever god you believe in, he wouldn’t want people hurting.

Neither should the God want people continually hurting other people!

tosrica's avatar

Jehovah adressed what will be the reward of a disobedient soul from the first human “Adam and Eve“Its reads:Gen 2:16–17 Jehovah God also laid this command upon the man:From every tree of the garden you may eatto satisfaction but as for the trss of knowledge of good and badyou must not eat from it,for in the day you eat from eat you will positively die.God said that Adam will die.If Adam and Eve were in danger of being tormented forever,should not God have warned them?Would not that be the just and loving thing to do?.After they disobeyed God,one of the punishment stated in verse19,that they will returned where they come from,not in hell fire but
“dust”,which all of us awared where Adam was made from.

Lightlyseared's avatar

This cartoon will explain it for you.

Linda_Owl's avatar

A Loving & Merciful “God” would treat people better, especially since “He” created them. Unfortunately “God” does not exist – humans made him up.

bookish1's avatar

I guess not, but that’s kind of a leading question. You are beginning with the assumption that that which you call God is “merciful,” by your definition of mercy. I don’t expect God to be fair or merciful, but I’m not a monotheist.

Hell was the name of the Norse goddess of the underworld. The word was ‘borrowed’ into Christianity as was much de-fanged paganism.

Don’t worry, if you pray hard enough God won’t burn you.

poisonedantidote's avatar

When the atoms of a material jiggle about the material gets hot. When there is enough motion in the atoms you get fire. Fire then stimulates and jiggles the atoms in your body, this triggers your nerves to send pain signals.

Without a real world physical material to burn, and real world physical nerves and body, there can be no fire or pain. A god would know this. The entire notion of hell is ridiculous.

However, talking hypothetically, an infinite punishment for a finite crime is not moral, so any moral god would not use this as a punishment.

Blackberry's avatar

God isn’t real. Moving on…...Lol.

ucme's avatar

Well, he/she may feel the chill in winter, gotta make use of fossil fuels!

Mariah's avatar

Yeah this boggles my mind. You can’t disprove the existence of a god in general, but I think it’s fairly contradictory that there could be an all-powerful, all-benevolent god, and yet the shit that happens to people continues to happen, and people apparently deserve to burn forever for being skeptics.

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

WyCnet's avatar

@Mariah : It is called Free Will, therefore there is no interference from GOD. In freewill GOD is irrelevant. This territory called Earth possesses freewill…

Mariah's avatar

I am aware of that argument, however…

Does free will cause hurricanes?
Does free will cause cancer?

ragingloli's avatar

“It is called Free Will, therefore there is no interference from GOD.”
-Great Flood.
-Direct command from God to the Israelites to commit genocide.
-The 7 plagues of egypt

Yep, no interference at. all.

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. ” -
Romans 13:1

WyCnet's avatar

@Mariah : Ask native Americans about Hurricanes, They will say, the White man sees destruction, whereas the Native welcomes rebirth. Notice that Natives who evolved in the system only used those shorelines for gatherings at certain times during the year, while others who know better use it all year around and set themselves in the paths of rebirth.

Cancer: There is life and death, and when genetic abberations surface through marrying cousins, keeping it all in the family, and so on, genetic failure begins. The same can be said with improper Hygiene, an unhealtjy lifestyle, and being prone to wickedness and evil, because the body turns on you.

WyCnet's avatar

@ragingloli : I accept Jesus as a departure from the norm. You must admit if God were to be holding your hand incessantly, then it would hardly have been you acting! Do you agree? Subsequently Jesus must be understood as being a guide, that can be used, misused, or discarded.

Mariah's avatar

So all sickness is caused by human error? Ouch. Good luck with that viewpoint.

I have no desire to continue this conversation if it’s going to result in you telling me that I got sick at 14 for being a terrible person or having bad hygiene or some shit.

Victim blaming at its finest.

WyCnet's avatar

@Mariah : Why do you think people get sick?

You sound like you believe GOD makes them sick – how Absurd!

Your generalization of my statement about cancer, the question you asked has no logical basis.

Mariah's avatar

No, I don’t, because I don’t believe in god. I believe bad luck and genes (and not just because of in-breeding) and pathogens and SOMETIMES lifestyle makes people sick.

My question about sickness is in response to your claim that all suffering in the world is caused by free will. I completely disagree that free will causes all sickness, so I do not view this as a world in which an all-powerful, all-benevolent god could possibly exist, because there is suffering that a god could easily prevent without infringing upon our free will. And if he chooses not to, then he is not all-benevolent by definition. If you don’t see that as a logical basis then I don’t know what to tell you.

Also, how were we supposed to avoid inbreeding (and therefore, as you proclaim, cancer) if the world started with just Adam and Eve?

WyCnet's avatar

@Mariah : The word “and” has two meanings. There is the conjunction, and the combinatorial. It was a rainy day. and most cars had their windows winded up, as opposed to, God made Man and Woman. God made Man and Woman is a combinatorial “and’, which means it happened at or around the same time. This leads me to believe that Adam and Eve were explainations taken from the human capacity to know and understand, that existed at that time. Perhaps even if GOD did enlighten some minds, their capacity to translate the intelligence and knowledge that GOD would posess, would be severly diminished. Therefore intelligently Adam and Eve would be a fable, a construct of a once feeble Human Mind.

ID (intelligent design) has more appeal to me in light of my current mental capacity.

If I were to believe in a GOD, and looked at the type of world in which we exist, I would certainly have to admit that Earth is some kind of proving ground, a place where the irrational can be reduced to rubble, and the rise of Personal Morality/Ethics being the means-ends of Human Existence.

kitszu's avatar

I was thirteen when I asked myself a very similiar question. The follow up question was whether or not I wanted to serve a god like that.

Harold's avatar

Absolutely not. This is not a Christian teaching.

kitszu's avatar

@Harold Your christian experience, or the general christian experience? My father’s wife was an evanelical christistian, that’s the experience I had with her and her church friends.

Harold's avatar

@kitszu – It is taught in many Christian churches, but it was not taught by Christ, so cannot by definition be a “Christian” teaching. It was introduced by Catholicism.

Harold's avatar

@SavoirFaire – what a load of rubbish. Historically, it is not a Christian teaching. It was not taught by Christ, so is not Christian. Isn’t that simple enough? I didn’t say that no Christians believe it.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Harold The No true Scotsman fallacy is rubbish? I’m afraid I don’t see how. Fallacies are fallacies whether they suit us or not. Moreover, you seem to be equivocating on “Christian” by insisting that it can only mean “of Christ” and not also “of Christianity.” There are Christians who believe it, and there are Christians who teach it. As such, it is a Christian teaching. It is not a universal Christian teaching, and it is not necessary to believe it to be a Christian, but it is inaccurate to say—without qualification—that it is not a Christian teaching.

If the subject of Christian eschatology is too close to you, let us consider something much less contentious: bagels. If I were to ask whether bagels are boiled or steamed, it simply would not do to reply that bagels are toroidal bread products that are between six and eight inches in diameter, made from yeasted wheat dough, boiled briefly, then baked and say that nothing else counts as a bagel because that’s not how the first bagel bakers made them. Such an answer would be committing the No true Scotsman fallacy by oversimplifying the matter.

Similarly, your own answer oversimplifies the matter and leaves out important qualifications. I won’t get into the subject of anti-Catholic bigotry, which is alarmingly common among the Protestants of Fluther. Instead I will point out that Catholicism and Christianity were coextensive when the teaching came about, and that plenty of Protestants adopted it. The belief that Hell is an eternal punishment is common enough to be part of two definitions found on and to be included in the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church.

It seems to me, then, that what you should have said is that while the various denominations of Christianity are divided on the subject, you yourself reject the notion that a merciful God would burn people forever, and that furthermore you take such a belief to be non-Biblical and do not think it could be part of any true Christian teaching. No one could take issue with such an answer, though some might wish to further discuss with you the truth and/or Biblical legitimacy of believing unrepentant sinners are punished with eternity in Hell.

plethora's avatar

Only if burning in Hell is what a person chooses of his/her own free will

kitszu's avatar

No one who has been briefly burned would choose to burn in hell of “their own free will” for eternity. It’s excruciating pain. Again, I’m just saying…

JenniferP's avatar

@kitszu is right. No one would EVER choose to burn. I get annoyed whenever I hear people say “God doesn’t send you there, you send yourself.” I think clergymen tell their flocks to say this and it keeps getting repeated over and over and over. it is not a good answer at all. If I am an unrepentent sinner and I had a “choice” about Hell, then I would sin and also “choose” not to go to Hellfire. If I am an unrepentant sinner and “must” go to Hell for it, then I am not “choosing” it.

ragingloli's avatar

Yeah, it is like claiming that “you choose to die” by disobeying an armed robber.

DominicX's avatar

That’s a pretty common way of taking the fault away from God: God doesn’t send you to hell, you choose it. God doesn’t make you homosexual, you choose it. It’s a way of explaining how bad things happen without saying “God did it”; though “God did it” is usually the explanation when good things happen…but then again I guess the millions of people who are raised in the cultures of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and the numerous traditional religions “choose to burn in hell”...

If that’s supposed to be the way of “softening” it, it fails miserably…

JenniferP's avatar

Think about Hellfire once. Torturing someone for eternity. Does that sound like a loving God. We only live 70 or 80 years and we can’t commit enough sins to merit an eternity of suffering. The Mosaic Law (which we are no longer under but it shows God’s thinking on matters) had the eye for eye, tooth for tooth laws. If you did something wrong, than you had to pay equally. Even if Hellfire were true, wouldn’t God only punish us as long as our life was?

Harold's avatar

@SavoirFaire – no, your application of it is rubbish. The historical facts are that it is not a Christian teaching. It has been adopted by a large percentage of Christians, but it is clearly not a Christian teaching. That is very simple, I believe.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Harold Saying it is not a Christian teaching and then dismissing every counterexample of a Christian who believes it is a textbook example of the no true Scotsman fallacy. And again, your response relies on a fallacy of equivocation. Is it really so hard for you to say “many Christians believe it, but Christ did not” and leave it at that?

kitszu's avatar

@DominicX Very nice answer! LOL, I have been trying to nicer on here but yup, I completely agree.

kitszu's avatar

@JenniferP That’s a very interesting question. A large part of my exposure to christianity was with fundamentalist, pentacostals. They believe you must “be saved by accepting the lord jesus christ” before you die. You must repent for all your previous sins and maintain a pious life before you draw your last breath. Meaning, if you are a a rapist-torturer-serial killer, who inflicted every ounce of damage while your victims where alive and then had sex with the corpse and mutilated it further, if your last thought was to ask god to forgive you, then you would spend eternity in paradise. Does that put anything into perspective for anyone?

kitszu's avatar

Religion was birthed as a form of social control.

kitszu's avatar

@WyCnet Tickled pink. :) @Mariah No ‘Mother Earth’ has a free will of her own to kick us off of this planet anytime it suits Her. She isnt jealous, vengeful, she doesn’t care what we do to each other, to the animals or the plants. She starts caring when our interference effects the balance of the planet and threatens it’s existence. Our world exists because of one uniquely balanced ecosystem, thats it…When I say “Mother Earth”, I not talking “goddess” mother earth, just want to throw that out there before anyone thinks it’s a valid way of responding to what I’ve said, it’s a form of speech.

kitszu's avatar

@Harold And you know that christ didn’t teach it because you were there? A past life regression perhaps? Not trying to be shitty but it is in the bible.

kitszu's avatar

@Jeruba She’s asking a question, she’s clearly stated her own opinion, and then has asked for imput. I think she may be looking for something a little deeper than “It’s your own fault if you go to hell, since god has told you exactly what you have to do to not go too hell” (Which I feel compells the question of ‘free will’ to begin with). “God is an impartial judge of man.” “God is good and merciful.” I’m sure someone here knows where to find the books, chapters, and verses for these (if you insist I’ll find them for you). The bible says god is a ‘fair’, ‘good’, and ‘merciful’. Are we not basing the majority of our beliefs in the christian god on what the bible tells us?

JenniferP's avatar

@kitszu I believe in the Bible, but those Fundamentalist Pentecostals are wrong if they think what you described.

kitszu's avatar

@JenniferP I’m going to be perfectly honest here. I don’t have a problem with the Bible, with Jesus and what he reportedly taught (I agree whole heartedly with many of the scriptures that talk about how to treat people). I believe he was a real person, a sage who came at the time he was needed. Call me disillusioned, but I only believe in what I’ve known to be true at this point. I tried spiritual philosophies, the only one that made sense in the end was Taoism. The give and take that balances and governs the engery of the natural world. I’m interested in hearing more about what you do and don’t believe. Given your original question, it sounds like you have a pretty rational opinion. :)

Harold's avatar

@SavoirFaire – If Christ did not teach it, it is not a Christian Teaching. Is it really so hard for you to admit that this is really quite a simple idea? Anything he did not teach is not Christian, it is introduced.

Harold's avatar

@kitszu – It actually isn’t in the bible, other than a parable in Luke 17 which was using a commonly held fallacy to illustrate a point. On the other hand, the bible is quite clear that death is a state of unconsciousness (see Ecc 9:5, for example).

JenniferP's avatar

@Harold is correct. Ecc. 9:5 says the “dead are conscious of nothing at all.” @kitszu I will get back to you tomorrow on what you asked.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Harold It’s not a simple idea, it’s a simplistic one. And like all simplistic ideas, it is false. As I have said, you are equivocating: “Christian” can mean “of Christ” or “of Christianity,” but you are pretending it can only mean the former. That is mistaken, however, and thus you are mistaken as well. It’s quite basic logic.

Harold's avatar

@SavoirFaire – OK, let’s be blunt here. YOU are wrong, and obviously wrong. The basic definition of a Christian is one who follows the teachings of Christ. There is no other definition. To follow your “logic”, let’s say you started a religion. One of your teachings is that elephants are holy. You gain many followers. After a while, you are no longer around to guide your followers, and someone introduces the teaching that it is not elephants that are holy, it is aardvarks. They still profess to be your follower, as do all those who accept the new teaching. However, are the aardvark worshipers still following the teachings that you began? No, they are not. Just calling yourself by a name does not mean that you adhere to the tenets that go along with it.

Just so, there are many people who call themselves “Christian”, but do not follow the teachings of its founder. Are they considered Christians by most people? Yes. In most aspects they ARE Christian. However, some of the teachings that they follow are different from the teachings of Christianity. One of these is the teaching of an ever-burning hell. Do some “Christians” believe it? Yes, probably most. Is it a Christian teaching? No, clearly not.

Your definition is incorrect, and thus so is your logic. Following your ideas means that one can introduce anything they like into a church, and just because some people believe it, it is somehow suddenly a Christian teaching. Sorry, but that is just plain ridiculous.

kitszu's avatar

@Harold <= Fallacy of a Weak Analogy

1: One who professes belief in Jesus as Christ or follows the religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus.
2: One who lives according to the teachings of Jesus

Lets start with “YOU are wrong, and obviously wrong.”. That’s a ridiculous thing to say in a religious debate. Religion is based on beliefs, not facts. Which segways nicely into my next point.

“Following your ideas means that one can introduce anything they like into a church, and just because some people believe it, it is somehow suddenly a Christian teaching.”

Catholics, Protestents, Lutherans, Baptists, Evangelicals, Non-Denominationals, Pentecostals. They all call themselves ‘christians’, none of them interprete the message of christ the same way. Yet they all believe they are following the ‘teachings of christ’. So who’s got the “right” answer? Do you? Were you alive 2,000 odd years ago, were you one of his disciples?

Through out history, how many hands of man were involved in writting the books of the bible? How many were involved in picking and choosing which books accurately depicted christ and which should be discarded? And of these men, how many of them knew Jesus,
the man?

The christian religion has been revamped a hundred fold to suite the purposes of men, how closely can it still accurately reflect the original message? Anything and Everthing has been introduced into ‘the church’ and within it’s own circle is considered a christain teaching.

So on principle, I’m going to have to say “Sorry, but that is just plain ridiculous.”

Harold's avatar

@kitszu – If I was referring to a religious idea as obviously wrong, then yes, that would be ridiculous. However, I am referring to the LOGIC as obviously wrong. There is a clear difference. You are correct that neither me nor anyone else was there. Therefore, to see what defines Christian teachings we must look at its source book, the bible. Whether it was written by many different people, whether it is inspired or not, and whether or not it is accurate, is for a different discussion. The inescapable facts are that Christians teach what is in the bible (or are supposed to), and the teaching of an ever burning hell is not in the bible, so it is not a Christian teaching. It is taught by Christians, for sure, but it is not a Christian teaching. I defy anybody to prove the teaching of hell from scripture. That is my point.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

Basically no, a benevolent deity would not burn people in hell forever. A hegemonic evil deity might, if they have such a large ego that they cannot cope with dissent, but no deity who actually had the interests of humans at heart would perpetrate such a violent mass torture.

@SavoirFaire and @kitszu, I must agree with @Harold on the point of hell being a Christian teaching. The most detailed account of hell that I have come across is found in the Book of Enoch, which describes several parts of hell, and who is there (for example one of the chief angels that dissented in the beginning is surrounded by pillars of fire). While some of the biblical authors took the Book of Enoch to be correct (i.e. Jude), the people that compiled the Bible did not. In fact they did not include any references to hell in the Bible, except for the parable @Harold has mentioned. Since Christians take the Bible to be the ultimate authority, I would say that is a significant point.

Any teachings associated with Christianity that are not expressly stated in the Bible are traditions. On points of tradition, beliefs vary widely. Because they vary so widely, traditions cannot be referred to as part of Christian dogma, since truth is not a statistical measure of how many people accept an idea. Christian teachings are those which are contained in the writings that are held to be true, consistent across all forms of Christianity – i.e. those in the Bible. Belief in hell is a tradition (FYI it was originally conceived of as a cold place, as it was defined as separation from the warmth of the glory of God – a concept that coexisted with the teaching of the fiery hell for some time. This indicates that it was only ever meant figuratively in the earliest days, and was only later promoted as fact for the purposes of public discipline by the Church). Since it is a tradition, it cannot be considered a Christian teaching, but more of a Christian myth.

JenniferP's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh The book of Enoch is part of the Apocrypha. A lot of people don’t accept the Apocrypha.

I have read the Bible many times and it does not support Hell.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@JenniferP I am aware of that. The Apocrypha is part of Catholic tradition, and cannot be called Christian since it is not accepted by any other form of Christianity. I am glad you recognise that the teaching of hell is not supported by the teachings of the Bible (Apocrypha excluded).

kitszu's avatar

@Harold You are merely dismissing what I’ve said, not creating a ‘LOGICAL’ argument against it.

I am looking at the source. I don’t think ‘the authors’ of the bible are part of a “different” discussion, given that your ‘proofs’ are being based on said book.

The “inescapable fact” is that unless your version of the bible doesn’t include ‘the book of revelations’, you are being willfully blind. Defy that.

These may not be your interpretations, they may not be what you (as an individual christian) would teach or believe but do not tell me tell me that christians do not teach this and back it up with scripture (interpretated or literal) quoted directly from some version of the bible.

kitszu's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh “since truth is not a statistical measure of how many people accept an idea. Christian teachings are those which are contained in the writings that are held to be true, consistent across all forms of Christianity

Enough said.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@kitszu I’m sorry, what exactly is your point?

Harold's avatar

@kitszu – Your argument makes no sense, sorry. I am not dismissing it, it is just illogical. I never said that Christians do not teach it. In fact, if you examine what I wrote with an open mind, you’ll see that I said just the opposite. However, the fact that people who claim to be Christians teach it does not make it a teaching of Christ, which is the true definition. Hell is most certainly not found in Revelation. Revelation talks of a lake of fire which goes out when its job of destruction is done, not one which burns eternally. Consider yourself defied…

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