O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith


More Religious? Or Less?

posted by Jason Boyett

As a whole, I am less religious now than I was when I was a teenager. You wouldn’t know it, probably, by looking at me. I still go to church on a regular basis. My family prays before meals and we always pray with our kids before they go to bed. I write religious-themed books and write for religious magazines and every once in awhile I speak/preach at a church.

But that’s external stuff.

In terms of my interior life and outlook, however, an honest assessment would require admitting I’m less religiously inclined than I used to be. As I have become more educated, as my reading has expanded, as my doubts have increased, my internal religiosity has declined.

And whether you think that’s a good thing or a bad thing, the whole construct make sense to me. It works numerically: the numbers of young adults eventually dropping out of church or abandoning their faith have been widely documented. And it works anecdotally, too: As a kid, I didn’t know to ask a lot of the questions I ask now. As I’ve aged, and as those questions have come up — and not always with satisfactory answers — I’ve seen myself becoming less faithful, less spiritual, less religious.

So it seems to make sense, especially in an increasingly scientific and secular society, that people would become less religious as they age.

But then I keep seeing reports that conflict with that common sense, about how people tend to become more religious as they age. I read an article to that effect in a recent issue of my parents’ AARP magazine (I’m not a regular reader of AARP, but it was a Friday night at my parents and I found myself paging through it). I can’t find the specific article online, but it reported that a certain percentage of senior adults responded that their religious faith increased with age. A variety of polls, including this 2006 Gallup poll, have found that older Americans are more likely than younger Americans to say religion is “very important in their lives.”

Of course, there are lots of factors to consider. Older Americans tend to come from more religious generations to begin with. And could the elderly become more religious in response to life’s difficulties or impending mortality (of themselves or of their friends)? I totally think so. I’ve seen it with my own grandparents, who seem to go to funerals on a weekly basis. When you are outliving your friends and siblings, religion can be a great comfort.

But that’s them. What about us? What will it look like when our generation grows old? Will we follow the baby boomers in becoming more religious as we age? Or will we follow the newer trend of losing our religion?

What about you? As you’ve grown older, has your faith increased or diminished? If you have a story, this is the place to tell it.



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shueytexas

posted March 22, 2010 at 4:00 pm


Much less. I no longer buy the idea that there's only one way to happiness, either here or eternally. So much more to say, but that's the gist.



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kate

posted March 22, 2010 at 4:12 pm


I am more spirit filled and less religious than most of my past years.



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Everett Bracken

posted March 22, 2010 at 4:12 pm


If I were writing this post, I would have said almost exactly the same thing (except the part about reading AARP, because that is lame).I really am looking forward to reading your book, because I struggle with the same questions. I just haven't been able to be as public about it because of my job.I think you might also appreciate the year-long project I am going to do which will culminate with a book. http://www.satisfyinglifeblog.com//2010/03/18/the-craziest-idea-ive-ever-had/



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David

posted March 22, 2010 at 4:12 pm


Much less as well, and it depresses the hell out of me. I'm not sure why I want to be religious, but I do, and then deeply regret that I'm unable to be.



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swimsutra

posted March 22, 2010 at 4:15 pm


I say more because I am much more interested now than I ever was as a child. I'm not more sure or any more religious as far as one single tradition. I am definitely more interested though, and I can say that my relationship with God is a lot stronger now than before. I argue that there is more need for a God/faith/what have you as you get older and face more challenges, just as people's relationships mature (hopefully, haha) as they age!



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Danny Bixby

posted March 22, 2010 at 4:21 pm


I'm more religious now than when I was growing up, but I didn't start going to church until I was in college.My theology has changed greatly in the past 10 years as well. I'm not as conservative theologically as I used to be. And I'd find myself agreeing with Kate's statement of being "more spirit filled and less religious."So I guess it just depends on the connotation of religious ;)



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Kat

posted March 22, 2010 at 4:21 pm


I'm not sure I know what the word means anymore…



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the J in PJs Til Noon

posted March 22, 2010 at 4:21 pm


I'm much less religious than I was even 3 years ago. I grew up in a very strict religious home and never understood the reason behind many of the dumb rules. God has taught me that it's ok to ask why, and to work out your own salvation. (Yes, with the fear & trembling part.) I've learned so much about grace & mercy since I let go of the religious garbage & that's where I want to be.



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the J in PJs Til Noon

posted March 22, 2010 at 4:25 pm


And I agree with Kat. I respect the word when Catholics and other Liturgical faiths use it, but when used by fundamentals, it makes me leery & cringe inside. To me it just means rules & judgment then. But that's just me. When people use Religious meaning that they have a relationship with God, that's a good thing. My upbringing just left a bad taste in my mouth, I guess.



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Claygirlsings

posted March 22, 2010 at 4:34 pm


Less religious in the standardized sense, but more aware of God working in and through me on a daily basis.



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esther

posted March 22, 2010 at 4:38 pm


My husband always likes to remind me of the time when we were dating that I said to him "I will always be a Calvinist." Oh such ignorance. I am definitely a lot less religious now than when I was growing up. Just yesterday I was pondering why I never questioned some of the things I was taught as a child. Sure I questioned why I had to go to church so much but I never questioned bigger questions like, why does God seem so cruel in all these OT stories?I feel as though my faith is deeper today but religion is all but disappearing.



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Kristian

posted March 22, 2010 at 4:38 pm


On the external bits, I'm less religious now than I was years ago – I haven't been to a church now for years. And I haven't publicly participated in a prayer in a long time either.Internally, I'm just as nonreligious as I (and everyone else) was on the moment I was born.As I've gotten older, I've discovered a whole lot more reasons not to be religious. When I was younger, I didn't think I needed a reason.



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Andrea

posted March 22, 2010 at 4:38 pm


I am much less doctrine-focused (although I wasn't ever a hard-liner), but have better learned how to rely on God. I am comfortable having beliefs that are truly my own. I do not have a need to feel "right" about religion. Life events have taught me that I am too small to think that I know anything definitively. Maybe that doesn't sound faithful to some, but I have found that being a bit more flexible about these things has allowed me to continue to believe in a loving God despite life's tragedies.



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Lyra

posted March 22, 2010 at 4:40 pm


I'm working on being less religious (legalistic) and more on working on having a closer relationship with God and Jesus. I found the more tumultuous my life the more I depended on God. Now, I'm trying to make it like that all the time. I was raised in a charismatic speaking in tongues church and then somehow ended up in a bunch of different uber-conservative women should stay home and not even get higher education churches. This caused my personal views of God/Jesus to become skewed in an unhealthy way. I now am a Methodist and trying to find my way back the less skewed version of God.Um, sorry it's so long.



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Haley

posted March 22, 2010 at 4:40 pm


Much less as well. When I first came to know Christ in an intimate way when I was 18, I was very on fire for him. As I have gotten older the questions have begun to seep in and cause me to doubt severely. It breaks my heart, and the sad thing is no matter how much I pray for strong faith it never seems to come.



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Amy B.

posted March 22, 2010 at 4:48 pm


Setting aside the baggage and implications that the word "religious" has…Maybe it's more like an upside down bell-curve, with religiosity diminishing during "peak" years (late teens – late middle-age), and then returning with advancing maturity? Of course not everyone fits this pattern, but that pattern makes the most sense to me, and would fit with both your AND AARP's observations.



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Tyler

posted March 22, 2010 at 4:58 pm


Less. I try to shine it on, but less.There are a lot of things that I really love about Jesus Christ and the Christian faith, but there are a lot of things that I rationally can't reconcile about it.I've always been filled with doubt, but in recent years the sound has grown too loud to ignore. I wish this weren't the case, and I'm trying to figure out what to do about it.



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Matt @ The Church of No People

posted March 22, 2010 at 5:31 pm


I was really religious as a kid, and I'm pretty religious now, hopefully in the true sense. Honestly, the darkest time for me spiritually, was at Christian college. No one wanted to ask the hard questions, and I felt like I was leading a double life when I went back home with my group of more secular friends.



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Todd

posted March 22, 2010 at 7:30 pm


I think it's a given that as we get older and wiser we question things from a more intellectual perspective. But at the core of religion is faith. The bible is clear that faith is something we must exert. Two things come to mind: "without faith it's impossible to please God" which indicates that God doesn't just give us faith, we have to exert it. Second, and sort of a tag along to the first is that "faith comes by hearing and hearing from the word of God." I know I have found for myself that in trying seasons that have made me doubt, I truly get my faith built up when I read and study the word and I find that He really comforts me and builds my faith. But it had to start with me. For those who are questioning religion and faith then I have a simple question: how much time do you spend in the word? If we expect to have more faith than we did when we were young then we will have to spend more time reading the word than we did then.



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Jason Boyett

posted March 22, 2010 at 8:25 pm


@Todd: I think you make a good point that faith is something that we must exert rather than just hope magically appears or develops. As I point out in my upcoming book, faith involves action.But, respectfully, I find the "you need to get in the Word" argument to be a little too simplistic. Because, for me, the Bible is one of the leading doubt-generators in my life. From the Old Testament brutality to the evolution of afterlife theology to the discrepancies between Gospel narratives, I read the Bible and come away with more questions than answers. Yes, it's valuable to study and worthwhile for believers to know intimately. But it's no cure-all for doubt — at least not for me. And as the author of a book about the Bible, I've spent quite a bit of "time in the Word," as you suggest.What then?



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Matthew H. John

posted March 22, 2010 at 8:47 pm


Have I become more faithful? Yes. My faith has grown by leaps and bounds. I have internalized it, for one thing. And I've come to believe that so much of how the universe operates aligns with the biblical narrative.Am I more or less religious? I would say I'm equally religious.



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Andrew

posted March 22, 2010 at 9:31 pm


If you define religion as "the idea that following rules and being perfect will earn you favor with God", I am trying to become completely irreligious.That type of religion either leads to depression or arrogance.I have learned that my identity is found only in Christ and not in the opinions of others.The fact that I can't do anything to merit salvation on my own makes it possible for me to doubt any number of things… as long as I don't doubt the fact that my Father loves me and Christ's death was enough to atone my sins.I believe most doubts are part of our sanctification. John the Baptist doubted Jesus as the savior, yet Jesus still calls him the greatest man who ever lived.Christianity flies directly in the face of the prideful religion that we (and definitely older generations) were raised under.



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Jason Boyett

posted March 22, 2010 at 10:55 pm


Just to clarify, if it helps: please don't read anything into my use of the word RELIGIOUS in the question. I know evangelicals have a tendency to get into saying things like "I'm not religious, I'm just following Jesus."But if you follow Jesus, for the purposes of this question, then you're religious. I'm defining RELIGIOUS in a classical sense, as in: it describes a person who practices a religion. If you follow the teachings of the Christian religion, then you are religious. You can call yourself "faithful" or "spirit-filled" or whatever you want, but it all qualifies as religious.As Amy B said, let's get beyond the baggage of the word.



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Emily

posted March 23, 2010 at 2:05 am


Less. I grew up Roman Catholic, and I honestly believed. I had heaps of faith and I couldn't understand how some people didn't believe. Now, I'm an atheist.What I find interesting is that many of the commenters stated that thinking critically and asking questions is what strengthened their faith. This is what caused me to lose mine.



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vanilla

posted March 23, 2010 at 8:11 am


Oh, the insecurities of the young who have to rationalize the reading of AARP lest they be judged "lame" as one reader put it.Everyone is religious. The crux of the matter is what your religion is about.



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Sherrie Lord

posted March 23, 2010 at 8:39 am


I am more religious, but much less dogmatic. I think I might be a recovering fundamentalist, as I look back at the rules I used to think important, and cringe.Fewer rules in my life these days, but I don't need them. I don't need anything external to remind me of what I've committed to internally. Every moment of every day, I am aware of God being near me. But I'm also more aware of his majesty and how mighty he is.



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Harry-Rami Itie

posted March 23, 2010 at 8:44 am


OK… Jason, I guess our thoughts are in sync… my faith as diminished… Yes I do religious stuff but right now… I am not sure what I believe anymore



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Mentanna

posted March 23, 2010 at 9:08 am


i find this discussion intriguing. i guess all of us have been on a similar road, one filled with doubt and questions. ironically most of my doubting came when i was on the mission field. (shhh don't tell anyone.) i've spent the last 10 years doing church on my couch in my living room. there isn't anything to "do" or boxes to be checked to see if i am meeting all the right requirements to be a good religious person. what a relief. my soul hungered for way more than just going to church and reading my bible. if there wasn't more to it than all that then i was just going to give up. so yes, i have had my dark night of the soul. i'm sure there are many more in my future. what i do walk away with is an assurance that only comes from encounter. when i got to the bottom i saw two things–my foolish attempt to live life apart from him and his overwhelming mercy. brokenness i believe is a necessary condition to see him as he really is.



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Claygirlsings

posted March 23, 2010 at 9:36 am


Revising my answer, based on your clarification:I am way more religious today. If I was Randy Jackson, I would say one hundred-billion-trillion percent yes. Less legalistic, but more religious.



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Rachel H. Evans

posted March 23, 2010 at 10:06 am


What a great conversation you've started, Jason.I really appreciate the honesty of David's response – "Much less as well, and it depresses the hell out of me. I'm not sure why I want to be religious, but I do, and then deeply regret that I'm unable to be." I often feel that way too. I find that I bring my doubts and questions to nearly every religious activity – church, prayer, Bible-study, etc. – so it's hard to feel close to God or deeply connected to my spirituality. Oddly enough, I've found a lot of comfort in the liturgical tradition – particularly the church calendar and fixed-hour prayer. It helps to use traditional, poetic prayers when I can't muster up the faith to pray on my own. So in that way, I guess I'm more "religious" than I used to be. Great question. Great responses. A lot to think about.



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Kevin Leggett

posted March 23, 2010 at 10:20 am


Ashamedly, I confessed to my wife the night before last that I have lost the desire to grow spiritually. I didn't like admitting it, but I noticed that we as a family seldom prayed together. I took on a very passive role in that my kids watched me write in my journal or watched me read my Bible, but that was the extent of it. Ironically, as a child, I was subjected to physical, sexual, & emotional abuse. And was closer to God as I sought Him as my constant shelter. Now that I am older, I let too much of life get in the way.



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Tess Mallory

posted March 23, 2010 at 1:20 pm


I think it depends on your definition of "religious". I am much less "religious" as I get older, but much closer to God and more spiritual. Moving away from the "box" of religion is one of the best things that ever happened to me. And by that I mean the constraints placed upon us not by God, but by man. And I'm not becoming closer to God because of any fear of death. It's because I have lived long enough now to know that in spite of my fears, in spite of my doubts, in spite of the crash and burn of life, God is still God and in this complex universe he has created, I am still loved. He knows when the sparrow falls from its nest, so he knows about me and my despair on any given day. Ultimately, that's what it comes down to for me. I also have to comment on what you said about the older generation having more of a "church" background. Don't forget that the Baby Boomers are the ones growing old and they grew up in the age of hippies, drugs, free-wheeling, free-loving, free-thinking, Timothy Leary, rebel against the system, Jesus Freaks and new-age wannabes. I'm on the lower end of the Baby Boomers, born in the fifties, but believe me, in the seventies was when the whole "religiosity" of church started being shaken to the core by the young people who began to question the tenets of Christianity and the traditions that man created to go with them. "Contemporary Worship" was born out of that revolution, along with some great music. :) So for those of us who grew up during that questioning, rebellious time, who still believe — you can bet we believe not out of fear, but because we have searched this whole Jesus thing down to the rafters and have settled on believing in spite of any remaining questions we might have. Because we have lived through pain and sorrow and loss and despair, and God has remained God, and grace has remained grace.Which is a great segue to telling everyone that I am one of the lucky ones getting to review Jason's new book O ME OF LITTLE FAITH and I can tell you it's amazing. Better go right now and pre-order!! :)



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bobfromchicago

posted March 23, 2010 at 3:00 pm


Not wanting to quibble about terminology, (Spiritual, vs. Religious, etc.) yeah, I'm way more religious than I used to be. I'm growing spiritually as I engage in spiritual disciplines. Bible Reading, prayer, community, talking about my faith with friends. My wife and I pray together every night. I'm 50+ and grew up in a small, fundamentlist church. Many of my beliefs are the same, but my faith is growing. Yes, I read broadly (even stuff I disagree with), I very politically and socially aware (I'm not isolated from the world). It's doable.ps: I keep throwing my AARP invitations away ;-)



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nathan

posted March 23, 2010 at 4:42 pm


Fascinating discussion. My answer: less religious. However, I, like Rachel, can relate to David's feelings of regret regarding this development. I wonder if there is any correlation between extreme religiosity as a youth (10-18) & irreligiousness as a young adult. As a youth I was passionately interested in Christianity/the Bible. As a kid, I honestly invested more thought in religion than any other topic. I used to get discouraged that other kids didn't care about religion–even those that claimed to be Christian. I just couldn't understand how something with such ramifications as religion could be routinely ignored by my peers, even those that were Christians. In some ways I'm still very religious. The Christian teachings regarding the imago dei, love, forgiveness, peace et al are what keep me from complete religious apathy. My current condition is one of great uncertainty. I'm not sure where this uncertainty will eventually lead. I know that I'll never be the typical conservative, American Evangelical, but I can imagine that my religious feelings may evolve into something that greatly impacts my life course. Or maybe not.



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Todd

posted March 24, 2010 at 11:36 am


Jason, I admit to being simplistic. But, if your “time in the Word” has made you doubt its fallibility then I’m really not sure how to respond because to me that is the only place to find the answers to these questions. Maybe, the problem you’re highlighting is how to bridge the truths of the word into our real lives. I think that life is full of doubts, questions, and painfully unresolved realities. I must also say that I haven’t read any of your books, so you may address these issues in them. But, I believe we fight a spiritual battle and that we believers wage a spiritual war against a spirit of anti-Christ. I believe those spiritual forces work to erode our faith through any number of strategies, one of which is to make all things Christian seem ridiculous and irrelevant. That’s not a new strategy either as Paul said in 1 Cor 1:18 “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.” The minute I begin to question God's sovereign authority, then I’m on a slippery slope to doubt and ultimately atheism. And why? Because bad things happen and I can’t figure out why God would allow that? In Job 38 & 39 God pretty much addresses this mindset in His response to Job and He starts by saying “where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation … “ and He goes on the challenge the “wisdom” of man verses God. I think Job is one of the most challenging stories to wrap my head around, and some of Job’s woes played out in our real lives could really propel one to doubt God’s kindness. And now to come full circle, I admit to having a simplistic mindset. I can’t figure out God and I don’t know all the answers. But I believe in Him and have faith in Him. In a world of doubt, I think my faith is summarized by a story of a writing I heard of that was written on the wall of a German concentration camp: “I believe in God, even when He is silent.” I know, pretty simplistic.



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Kev

posted March 24, 2010 at 4:57 pm


What I mostly find is that I grasp the concepts of sin, redemption, judgment, mercy, service, grateful praise, etc. a lot better now that I am older and wiser — and ESPECIALLY now that I have children of my own. I understand how deeply dependent I am on God now, because I've had experiences where I've had to rely on Him alone, and wisdom tells me there's nothing I can do to help that situation. I understand now how everything I have can be from Him. And I have seen direct benefits from dedicating myself to seeking Him and doing His work on Earth, which makes me praise Him even more and want to give even more of myself.As for being religious… I love going to church now, because I love my church family and my pastor, and because I enjoy getting into the Word with them. (It's interesting how opposite my experience in the Bible is from Jason's and others…. I started reading expecting it to raise doubts, and instead it deepened my faith tremendously.) I also love serving and using my talents to teach or help out in whatever way I can. It's less of a "practice" and more of something I do out of love. I would never have said that when I was a teenager or young adult.



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Kyle

posted April 2, 2010 at 4:45 pm


More religious, and I like the term "recovering fundamentalist." I look back on my time growing up in a conservative, suburban, white, Republican Church, and see a lot of "hollow" religion–doing a lot of Christianiosity stuff and being told, "God doesn't like those questions." I think that my theology has become much more developed, and I am grateful for my own church body's recent teaching on having different beliefs in the same faith. I can empathize with you, Jason, in your intellectual questions regarding the Bible. Thanks to you, I am reading Jesus, Interrupted and am wresting with what to do with this information. I have long had questions about the Creation narrative as well. All of these things create doubt, not to mention watching good people dealing with horrible heartache, and even losing my mother 13 years ago this month. But I cannot escape one thing….I've. Met. God. I know that I know that the living God has spoken to me. With this I am comforted with the thought, that the answers to my questions may not be easy–they may not even be discernable–but God exists. I am a real sinner and Jesus is a real savior. I'm still working the rest out.



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Jessica

posted April 20, 2010 at 6:36 pm


I know this is an old post, but I feel like I have to weigh in. "Being Religious" is like being married. It looks different and has different seasons. I am much less enthusiastic about being married than I was at the beginning. In the beginning it was all I talked about and all I thought about… perfect wedding, perfect spouse, perfect life. Now 11 years later while I am not as "enthusiastic" as I was… my love my husband is much more realistic and healthy. And much more certain. We aren't lovey dovey like newlyweds, but we know each other so intimately we don't need to be. If that makes sense. I think being religious is the same way. Being a Christian isn't always going to be like your wedding day.



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