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Suggestion on how to be an Atheist in the bible belt of Virginia

I live in Roanoke, Virginia. It is only hour north of Lynchburg,Virginia where Liberty University is located. So I can safetly say, I live in the buckle of the bible belt.

I knew when I posted this thread on how to be an Atheist in the Bible Belt, I would get a few responses that suggest that I move. At this time, I don't really want to do that because my family is located here. The main purpose of the thread is to get ideas and suggestion from thoses of you who may have more experience in dealing with a community where the religious dogma is a thick as fog in the morning.

A little history. I have been a skeptic all my life, but I was a Christian until about a six years ago. I have come out of the closet with my Atheism in the last couple years and become a little vocal about it.

The community that I live in, Atheism is not something that is brought out into the public. When I am asked my faith or what I believe, or I don't pray with others and asked why. I say that I am an Atheist. It appears that this statement is a shock factor at times and I get varied responses from anger to pity to attempts at conversion back to christianity. Never had anyone else say to me that they were an atheist or non-believer too. Sometimes it is a little overwhelming, especially when I have to work with or associate with those who are religious and know that I am an Atheist. I know that there are Atheists here in the area. I feel they stay in the closet due to the reactions I am recieving. I meet with a non-theist group every month, but it is held at a U and U church and it is run by the church. This is the only meeting in the area I can find.

I want to discuss others experiences like mine and how they got through it. Moved on and keep the activism that I think is necessary when I am confronted with my worldview.

Hi Robert:

Obviously you have to consider your situation more than anyone who would give you advice. The main thing is that you have to decide how much you want to share with others.

For myself, if someone at my office asked me what I believe, it would depend on the person. If I was comfortable talking to them, I'd just say, "I'm an atheist." If I wasn't comfortable enough to respond with that, I'd say, "I'm really not comfortable discussing my relgious beliefs in the office. I hope you understand."

I would think that would be the way to handle just about any encounter? You're not obligated to explain yourself to others. I don't go around asking other people what their religious affiliations are--do you? It's not really a common or, generally, polite question. However, if someone is reasonable and seems innocently interested, and you're OK having a dialogue, go for it. That's a judgement call, though.

You can go to http://atheism.about.com/ to meet more cyber friends that you can discuss and interact with. It's a very active forum. If you haven't already, post your query there. I'm sure there are many people who will be able to relate and share some stories of their own with you.

Good luck!

Robert, I understand how frustrating it is to be seemingly the only atheist on earth. I have been to many supposedly "freethinker" groups in Texas and felt that they offered nothing tangible. I also know that fundies won't accept "I just want to mind my own business" as an answer when they are dogging you about whether you're "saved" or not-if they left people alone it would be a nice world, wouldn't it? I think starting your own group is a good idea-you could start with a blog or free website and maybe advertise with leaflets in the library, coffee shops, etc. Talking to people on the internet does not give a person the feedback and sense of community that they need, and neither do groups that are pseudo- atheist. Good luck with your efforts.

Some of us are well aware of the pressure to turn individuals into "team players." Nothing is a bigger threat to the establishment than independence, or those who refuse to conform. Adaptation is more attractive, and the world would be so much better if everyone was just like them. It would be advantageous to get rid of those people who don't agree with them, and have the balls to speak out! Who needs them?

The course of action that started in the 50's of labeling Individuals "reds" who were believed to be too laissez-faire, avant-garde, or were just atheist. This procedure has continued though the labels do change. People lost their careers then, and they still do today. It is why you rarely hear dissent in the media today. Anyone who questions religion, or those in power are branded, which of course contributes significantly to the environment that has produced nothing but crude in the media. Things have been set up to silence-unwanted voices, and they work hard to stop those who try from succeeding. Woody Guthrie called his music the "people's music." He came out of the "Great Depression" and World War II. The 30's were a time when the progressives had considerable influence on a change in the perceptions of Americans. People should be able to be straightforward and sincere. Woody Guthrie sang songs about the Great Depression, we are losing our freedom, but nobody is singing. I read somewhere that they tried to keep Woody Guthrie's songs from being heard; they would do it now too. I also read that John Steinbeck had torn up the first draft of "The Grapes of Wrath," because he was told that it was too raw and graphic. Too much "reality" describing the condition of the American people, farmers, and work camps, during the Great Depression. I'm positive this is going on today.

By no means have we accomplished the freedom that many Americans have always been striving for. Tackling less than significant problems will keep things going the way they have always been, many of us want vast change, but don't get much accomplished. There is nothing to be ashamed of because you have not been duped. The power that the people possess has been diluted into many conflicting directions, and has actually created a divisive atmosphere.

A practical plan is to organize people within your community who agree with you. Fundamentalists have disenchanted many people; even those people who attend a church. Many people of faith do not agree with them, and fear them. They don't want a theocracy. We can discuss a lot of things with intelligent people, but you can't discuss being an atheist with them because they don't have that experience. That is why I would start my own group, and find a way to meet in a place that is not associated with religion. The only option for those who are being ignored is to start anew, not only because of all that we have lost, but also because of all the things that will never be. One of the most important things we are losing is THE RIGHT TO THINK...AND THE FREEDOM TO SPEAK ABOUT WHAT WE THINK.

Howdy, Partner! I often say that I live in the Stud in the Buckle of the Bible-Belt. South Carolina leads in ignorance, religiosity, and racism. You asked for personal testimony, so please forgive my colloquial ramblings and side tracks, which are strongly influenced by my region. I am addressing this informally, so there may be several grammatical inconsistencies in the following;

I didn't know what a big deal being an Atheist was until it was too late. I was fired from two state jobs, being preached the 'glory of Jebus Christ' during dismissals, and job interviews that followed. I realize we have freedom of religion, but we lack protection from it. The *first time I was fired for my disbelief I recorded of my termination and persecution; but the A.C.L.U. was too busy, most lawyers refused to stand against Christianity, and secular lawyers were unwilling to sue in a state with a 10k cap on suits against the state.

*I worked in a prison that allowed Christian Fundamentalists to come in and play tapes of people burning in Hell, that they claimed were actual recordings of an expedition that lowered a recorder into a natural fissure. That was bad, but worse was the facility putting Muslims and Buddhists in lockup if they refused to attend.

The second time I was "let go" from a public school. I didn't tell children that I was an Atheist (because I didn't want parents freaking out), but I was open towards other teachers that attempted to proselytize to me, from their Desk-Bibles.

The nail in my coffin was when I reacted to a Christmas card in my school mail-box. I don't usually give a hoot about religious cards, but this one (obviously purchased from an Xian store) quoted scriptures about accepting Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior and the consequences of eternal torture if I refuse. I went through it with a red pen, and then tossed it back into her box. This was enough to get back to the school board, which decided to not to renew my contract.

I'm a History Teacher. My first year, I empowered over a dozen children to take charge of their education. Half of those went from special education to regular classes, and two went into advanced placement & honors. New teachers are treated like the slow drivers in NASCAR, both being given the worst positions while the best students are reserved for the salty-dogs.

My duty is historical education, but if a child comes into my class that can't read, I chuck my lesson plan and teach them how to read. One of my strengths is that I was in special education, because of extreme dyslexia, A.D.H.D., and color blindness.

Out of a group of over 200 induction teachers (first years), I was one of three that receive a perfect grading in all areas. The Master Teachers made copies of my long & short lesson plans, my breakdown of applying state & national standards, and my methods of classroom control, to use as keys for future generations of induction teachers. By the end of my first year, seasoned teachers were sitting through my classes to mimic my methodology.

One of the most compelling was a lesson created to stop my urban students (95% of the school being African-American) from using the word "nigga." I achieved a 97% measured success rate in my classroom (with only an occasional slip, which was always corrected by their peers) and significant decrease in the school when my students started spreading what they learned.

I not only met all of my state and nation standards, but I also met many of the standards in other curriculums (English, Science, Foreign Language, and etcetera).

The U.S. Marines successfully brainwashed me to become motivated about the ideals of Mission Accomplishment and Troop Welfare. Skepticism allows me to critically measure information, results, and applications. Philosophy taught me to treat each individual with dignity and respect, while maintaining the greatest good for the greatest number. I know that the most selfish thing I can do for myself is to smile, laugh, and perform kind acts within my community (awarded by a happier, healthier, and longer life). By the end of the year there's little clones of me running around, because I'm a "Jazzy-Dapper-Daddy" (a title awarded in defiance of my Caucasian complexion & demeanor). I'm like a Mr. Rogers with an indomitable spirit and muscles.

The list of my outstanding qualifications as an inspirational educator goes on for days…pride is not a sin & humility is not virtue; I take full credit for my successes & failures. I just tend not to brag about my mathematical retardation and other shortcomings.

I am a positive & inspirational influence on students without appeals to a supernatural, which made me a threat to Faith-Heads. Administrators and parents were unable to comprehend my secular motivations or reconcile their fundamentalist's world-view with my results, because they believe all morality and success is gifted by their god.

On a side note, I once saved a woman's life with C.P.R. followed by First Aid. I saw someone in need, I responded accordingly, and I waited with the weeping husband (with her vomit on my hands and chin) until the Ambulance arrived. When she discovered I was an Atheist, she wished I had never touched her, because nothing good could come from me, and that Satan used me to keep Jesus from acting through one of the many Christians that was standing around (which I might add, were only watching her die).

The problem is that most of my southern peers truly believe that Atheists are devoid of morality, and the product of our labor is 'godless,' and thus 'evil.'

To make a long story short (too late);

As proud as I am of ME, as much as I know Atheists/Agnostics to be intellectually superior to Faith-Heads (Percentages; standard deviation, as opposed to any absolute), I was forced to return to the closet. For self-preservation we must blend with the majority. I even started a rumor that I had been "saved." When asked, I now tell people I'm Non-Denominational, a Jeffersonian Christian (praise the message not the miracles), a Church-Hopper, and (when forced into a corner) a Christian. Being a former Fundamentalist Christian, I know how to use their bible as a shield and a sword.

If you're going to be a rebel, you have to wear a mask.

While swallowing my pride chokes me, the majority of my community is ignorant, bigoted, and violent. I will win teacher of the year and I intend to become politician in a dozen years. I will never accomplish either if I am honest with the masses of this state.

I've been told to leave, and I want to. But like you, my immediate family lives here. Also, I think it would be harmful to my state (that I love and hate) to further drain it of brains. Besides that, conflict makes me randy.

I am still very active in the community and the classroom, promoting skepticism and liberty. I've had success using 'respected secular sources' and the "shared" religion as a method of planting the seeds of thought and inquiry.

I envy those that are able to be 'out,' but I'm addicted to food and shelter. I also like being able to find employment in the area of my degree (education). There are no rules for Atheists. Just measure your gains and losses.

Sinisterly, Greenmagi

Green = not quite ripe Magi = wise man Green + Magi = not quite ripe wise man Greenmagi = realizing my ignorance, daily

In response to Greenmagi. "There are no rules for Atheists. Just measure your gains and losses."

Some people have suffered because they could not be hypocrites. I trust you have heard of the Scopes trial (he was a great teacher.) It's about the truth. It's about speaking truth to power. It's about a teacher who went to jail and was tried because he taught evolution instead of creationism in Tennessee.

After WWI several states passed anti-evolution laws, owing to pressure from groups called "fundamentalists" (because they adhered to Bible-affirming fundamental principles expounded at the 1895 Niagra Bible Conference). Tennessee enacted legislation that prohibited the teaching of evolution in public schools. A young biology teacher in the Dayton, Tennessee, High School, John T. Scopes, with support from the American Civil Liberties Union, allowed himself to be prosecuted under the anti-evolution law in 1925. Scopes was defended by the brilliant lawyer Clarence Darrow and prosecuted by three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, himself a fundamentalist and a great orator. The judge ruled that expert scientific witnesses for the defense would not be allowed, which left Darrow to fend for himself. Darrow cross-examined Bryan on the literal truth of Genesis, and Bryan eventually conceded that the world was far more than 6,000 years old.

Scopes was found guilty of teaching evolution in violation of Tennessee law (which, of course, he did do) and was assessed the minimum $100 fine. The verdict was overturned on appeal, due to a technicality, but in spite of that the evolutionists were perceived as having won a major moral victory. After the Scopes trial, creationists organized various creation research groups, and reemerged in their current guise as "scientific creationists" demanding equal time with evolution, rather than the omission of evolution from the curriculum of public schools. This tactic led ultimately to the Arkansas trial.

The 1981 trial of Arkansas Act 590, the "Balanced Treatment Act," which required "creation science" to be taught in public schools along with evolution.

(The following summary is based on the report by Roger Lewin in Science, 1982, 215: 142-46.) A witness for the fundamentalists, Norman Geisler, of the Dallas Theological Seminary, testified that "it is possible to believe that God exists without necessarily believing in God." He also declared that UFO's were agents of Satan. The creationists withdrew another fundamentalist witness, Henry Voss, a California computer expert, after he expounded upon demons at a pretrial deposition.

Many of the "creation scientists" admitted in pretrial depositions that what they practice is not scientific. Harold Coffin, of Loma Linda University (a Seventh-Day Adventist college), stated, "No, creation science is not testable scientifically." Ariel Roth, also of Loma Linda, when asked if "creation science" was really science, said, "If you want to define 'science' as testable, predictable, I would say no." (That a proposition be testable or predictable is the definition of science.) Remember, these are people who support the fundamentalist position; the creationists to defend that position handpicked them; but they cannot bring themselves, in a court of law, to claim that "creation science" is really science. Their honesty is refreshing when they are testifying under oath.

Carl Sagan (also a great teacher) Quote "I have maybe ill-placed a foreboding of an America in my children's generation, or my grandchildren's generation, when all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when we're a service and information-processing economy; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest even grasps the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas, or even to knowledgeably question those who do set the agendas; when there is no practice in questioning those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and religiously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in steep decline, unable to distinguish between what's true and what feels good, we slide, almost without noticing, into superstition and darkness." - Carl Sagan 1994

It's very difficult for me to believe that people who are pretending to be something that they are not will ever do anything that is great because they are hypocrites.

Robert,

You wrote: "I want to discuss others experiences like mine and how they got through it. Moved on and keep the activism that I think is necessary when I am confronted with my worldview."

I believe that the solution to your problem is quite simple (regardless of what greenmaji has to say).

First, read two books: Baron d'Holbach's System of Nature and Luigi Cascioli's The Fable of Christ.

Next, when you declare your atheism to someone and they attack you, ask them "What do you know about atheism?" After they respond, no matter how, ask them if they have read these two books (one at a time). When they tell you "No" (which they undoubtedly will), suggest that they do (which they probably will not). If they say they have read one or both of them, ask them if they would like to discuss them. The subject of atheism need not be discussed defensively. These book lay out the atheist position; and I have never met anyone who knows anything about atheism who attacks it.

Don't waste your time with ignorant people. If they don't know about atheism wait until they do. By the way, I live in North Carolina.

Some people respect other people's rights and some bully other people. That doesn't make them leaders. People who have perfect understanding about what is wrong with everyone else needs to know that (the worst fault of all is to be conscience of none.)

Most atheists are not trying to impose their ideas on others. My campaign is about being allowed the same rights and privileges as any ignorant right wing nut case. And to those who think likewise time is not on our side.

Another suggested reading - 1935 Sinclair Lewis wrote 'It Can't Happen Here' - a quote from his book - "When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross." I think that it is crucial (if only for the sake of our conscience) to take this most important issue to the highest levels of power. If we don't say anything, who does this help? The other side.

You need to be honest with yourself. Are you an atheist because you enjoy the attention of being a rebel? Or do you really think that all of this (earth, life, love, music) has no meaning and that we're all dirt and will end up in it and there is nothing more? If an asteroid hits us tomorrow and we all die is that it? Come on now. Don't believe in the dirt, believe in God.

QUOTE: "You need to be honest with yourself. Are you an atheist because you enjoy the attention of being a rebel? Or do you really think that all of this (earth, life, love, music) has no meaning and that we're all dirt and will end up in it and there is nothing more? If an asteroid hits us tomorrow and we all die is that it? Come on now. Don't believe in the dirt, believe in God."

And I muttered "f*ck you" under my breath to this one: You can't rebel against what you don't believe exists! Atheists and agnostics don't care what you believe and unless someone asks your permission (and nobody did) it's non-of your. Atheists don't have beliefs! What I do care about is you and your fellow cultists insist on forcing your snake oil on everyone else. And guess what? People have the right to their own opinions. I'm sure you have an agenda and it's not working. It's Short, Simple, and Sound-byte-able. I don't care what you believe nor do I share your beliefs. So, if you have a problem that's tough; it's called freedom of speech (which you do want for yourself and your churches.) This is not "1984" and Big Brother is not locking up atheists who are not brainwashed zombies.

Most people who are atheists/agnostics think that religion has nothing to do with reality - its myth and superstition. It is absolutely disgusting that anyone would be teaching it as fact. The word mythology refers to a body of folklore/myths/legends that a particular culture utilized to explain things they didn't understand. And there are scholars who actually teach about them.

Don't give up the candy and presents.

Wow, you guys have got it bad in some places. It would be unheard of to be fired or refused a job due to a disbelief in a god anywhere in the Commonwealth. Sure we have religious nut-jobs as well, but we are significantly more secular. I personally come from a country that has no constitutional separation of church and state, yet does not as a population accept religious dominance within the halls of parliament. Our national anthem asks for Gods protection, but the populous as a whole would rather not have theists in control at the top. Our democratic system is Mixed Member Proportional (MMP), which means that we select from more than 2 parties, and those who get enough of the vote have to negotiate with each other over who can get the numbers to form a government. This means that we can have coalitions of several parties. This works to provide a greater representation of minority voices within the halls of power. This also leaves theists the opportunity to form there own parties, but they traditionally do very poorly. I sincerely hope that your atheist movement gathers momentum and I applaud your efforts thus far. This world would undoubtedly be better if religion died out. Good luck.

Robert said, "I have come out of the closet with my Atheism in the last couple years and become a little vocal about it."

Linda: So, Robert's problem is not how to get back into the closet.

Robert said, "The community that I live in, Atheism is not something that is brought out into the public. When I am asked my faith or what I believe, or I don't pray with others and asked why. I say that I am an Atheist. It appears that this statement is a shock factor at times and I get varied responses from anger to pity to attempts at conversion back to christianity."

Linda: Atheism is not a topic for public discussion - and it's certainly not just where Robert lives in America - it never will be until people say, "deal with it I'm an Atheist." I wasn't saying that Robert should get out of the closet - he is out of the closet. Either some people missed that or they thought he was naive for telling it. I don't think he was unaware of the repercussions.

Linda: Robert can't undo telling people "I'm an Atheist" at this point because this kind of news spreads like wildfire in the South. No, a "come to Jesus meeting" is all that will save Robert at this point. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus - a whole lot of Jesus!

Baron's book suggestions were fine d'Holbach's System of Nature and Luigi Cascioli's The Fable of Christ.

d'Holbach's advocated atheism, determinism and materialism and rejected absolute monarchy, feudal privilege, the notion of predestination and organized religion. d'Holbach wrote widely on these topics but published anonymously and under a pseudonym in Holland from fear of retribution (1723 to 1789.) He was in the closet and if he lived in America he would still be in the closet.

Luigi Cascioli claims his book, The Fable of Christ, proves Jesus did not exist as a historic figure. When they started denouncing him he brought a law suit. There are web pages and a home page all about this. One problem - I can't find anywhere in America where you can get this book. Maybe they got it some other way - I wish he would tell us how he got it.

Hi Robert:

I've been in Roanoke, Virginia before... a few times. I am aware of what you are up against. It's pretty heavy-duty stuff there. I don't know how you can possibly emotionally survive being an Atheist in Roanoke, Virginia.

I live in western Michigan where religion is worn right out on everyone's sleeve and an Atheists' views are not welcome.

Don't worry about how to handle all of the believers around you. They will handle you, instead.

The important thing is, how will you handle you?

As for me, I have lost every single "friend" that I have and my family (and over 100 relatives) have cold-shouldered me. I am 45 years-old. That is a long time of conections with family and "friends." I have been an Atheist for well over 10 years.

I could have kept my mouth shut and never disclosed that I am Atheist, but that is not realistic, especially when others realize that I don't pray with them or attend church with them, etc... It is all bound to "come out" eventually.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, actually!), I find myself rejected, alone and basically abandoned. That is the most difficult and painful part of my journey as an Atheist. Yet, had I chosen to live a lie to suit my "friends" ...just fathom for a moment as to just how it can be that a person loses all of his "friends" just for not believing as they do? They all chose to reject me, so in hindsight, none of my "friends" would have been worth my expense to live a lie to suit them anyway.

Keeping my mouth shut would have been dishonest not only to myself, but also to every one of my "friends." In the larger scheme of things, I was honest with myself and I was a worthy friend. Those who I thought were my friends are the delusional ones whos reality apparently includes rejecting and abandoning others for not believing, regardless of how decent others are toward them. It was a wonderful wakeup call for me... not about friends, but about the power of religious delusion.

However, it is my mission to continue to be true to myself and to recover from the trauma of such horrific losses of attachment. It is my intent to move to Austin, Texas where I know Atheism is alive and well (lucky for me). Being a friend to others is certainly not one of my shortcomings. Living in a heavily religious sector of the country certainly is a failing deficiency unless, though. Much like the situation you face, as well.

Well,

As one bumper sticker reads:

"I wasn't born in Austin, TX, but I tried to get here as fast as I could."

---How do you (can you) be an Atheist in the bible belt of Virginia?---

Your choice is likely that you will have to "live inside yourself" in a lonely, isolated existence while stifling yourself publicly and basically lying to everyone around you by using clever cover-ups and excuses (and that won't make you feel good)... or, you can "come out" and just be yourself and make no excuses for anyone and then stand the likely chance of being rejected and abandoned by people you thought were your friends, including your relatives, which is equally the same as "living inside yourself" (and that won't leave you feeling any better, either).

You don't have to deal with them. They will deal with you, for sure... eventually.

By the way, we can carpool to Austin, Texas together and split the gas!

I wish you the best in Roanoke, Virginia.

Robert, I can really identify with your problem! I am a senior citizen living in a retirement apartment complex in Roanoke. It's almost as if I'm living in a church! There are constant "Bible study" and "Devotional" events, and every other meeting begins with prayer and/or Bible readings! It is driving me CRAZY, but I cannot afford to move. These people are intolerant of anyone who's not a fundamentalist Christian. Why is it that "religious" people are so intolerant and even hateful? They are so insecure in their beliefs that the very presence of an atheist is threatening to them! I say, if you go to a couple of church services on Sunday and then have 5, 6, 7 other meetings during the week, you should be confident enough in your beliefs not to be shaken by one person's atheism! As for me, it is a very lonely life; but I know I don't dare disclose my atheism or I will be showered with prayers, whispered about and avoided. What a miserable way to spend my retirement!

Dude, I know exactly what you mean. I'm from Pulaski, you know where it is, an hour south of you. I actually thought of Roanoke as a more liberal place, but in the scope of things, it's all ridiculous. I ended up moving a couple years ago, down to Tennessee (not much better, but a little, especially here in the city). It's crazy up there, people get emotional when they find out you are an atheist. I hate to admit it, but I sold out and bought a cross necklace to wear in situations like job interviews or something where first impression is important. No one would ever ask me about religion then, no one felt the need to bring up Jesus or scripture, so I figured it was worth the sacrifice to my pride. As a life long atheist, or at least by 5 (I can't remember if I believed in a god earlier than that), I have had my fair share of arguments and down right screaming matches/near fights over, well, persecution. It's horrible, but I learned with the people up there, the best way to deal with being an atheist was to just not talk about it, too few people up there just say, "Oh, ok, that's cool." But, have your fun debating people that have no effect on your life, such as when the asshole eating pizza next to you at the Valley View Mall decides to preach to you over a pentagram tattoo on your arm (in my case) or whatever. If you decide to not act deaf and engage him, chances are he'll get literally angry when you say you don't believe in his god...and I say...have some fun with it. Get it out.

I too am an atheist living in Roanoke. I am in the closet and continue to live the life of a Christian. I am totally conflicted. Not in my beliefs but how to break out of this Christian guise I have going on. I have no friends that are non believers. I feel like I would be totally alienated from the life I currently have. It's either continue living like this or give it all up to live an honest life. I need to reach out and meet with others who think like me. Right now I feel so alienated. What is the name of your group that you meet with each month in Roanoke?

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