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My favorite atheist is out of town for the rest of the holidays, and in her absence, Diotima my muse, let me know if I am losing it, this day after Christmas, due to family stress, separations, partings, deaths, fiscal cliffs and failed prophecies, or am I instead on to something, and should pursue this line of inquiry a little longer. Yes? I would have loved to try this out on her, but perhaps some of you would care to join in then. Not too free ranging though, but please react to the concept I present you.

Consider the following: Everyone here I am sure is familiar with the old Chinese curse “may you live in interesting times.”  A modern day corollary of that might be “be careful what you wish for.”  I suggest that this maxim actually reveals the nature of G_d, G_d as the force of irony in history. Our G_d is indeed an ironic G_d. For starters, 1,878 years after the fall of the second temple, and a scant three years after the holocaust resulted in the deaths of over 6 million jews ( as well as millions of other gypsies, homosexuals, and mentally impaired children and adults), a new Israel was created for resettlement of European jews and other jews of the diaspora.

Maybe when we praise G_d we are praising irony. If G_d is not a He or She, and most people would surely be uncomfortable with calling G_d an It, then what if G_d is the Sum of the Law? Not the sum of human ethical law, but of all Natural Law? To be feared in the sense that Natural Law could blink us out of existence in a moment? Not capricious-  that would be anthropomorphic. Just in the sense that we don’t know enough about quantum thermodynamics to understand what would be the mechanism of said blinking out.

Would such a concept of G_d be acceptable to an atheist? Disclaimer: the only thing I’ve read by Dawkins is The Selfish Gene, so I’m fairly unfamiliar with current atheist literature. I personally find an ironic G_d of history appealing. I note in the Old Testament or Jewish Tanakh one book of prayers and worship, the Psalms ( actually two: I’ll give you the Song of Solomon, but that’s another story ), while most of the rest are stories of G_d interacting in history. Now replace G_d with the word Irony. Irony interacting with history.

Discuss.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (4+ / 0-)

    Tell me a story of deep delight. - Robert Penn Warren

    by bisleybum on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 10:00:35 AM PST

  •  best not to think too hard about it (4+ / 0-)

    I mean, religion or lack thereof in general.  G_d may seem ironic, or maybe He's love, or some such thing.  There is no one way to be an atheist, and no canon of atheist 'religion'.  Most of this religion or non-religion talk amounts to circling around and around with no real conclusion.  Better, IMHO, to take a walk and see what interesting birds are showing up in the woods this time of year.  

    “If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin.” Charles Darwin

    by ivorybill on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 10:19:26 AM PST

  •  There are many sorts of atheist (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    a gilas girl, txcatlin, gsenski

    But in my experience, the answer is No.

    There are many sorts of theist, also, professing belief in and various sorts of attachment to quite variously described supernatural agencies and other supposed entities. Atheists are quite right to reject them very generally on basic grounds of the silliness and gross immorality of those who propose these entities as the highest sources of meaning and virtue. As a nice Jewish boy once said, "By their fruits ye shall know them."

    We could discuss the virtues of Jewish development from genocidal barbarism to some of the highest expressions of human aspiration over a thousand years, as recounted in the legends in Tanakh, but that is a different question. (We could talk about the myth that humanity got so bad that G-d decided to wipe us all out, leaving only that stinking drunk Noah as the supposedly most virtuous man in the world.) We could discuss the V'ahavta prayer, Thou shalt love the Lord, as a counter to the mindless insistence on belief only. In that case, I would argue that many atheists love G-d better without believing in Her than most theists, in the same way that the Christian's Paul said that among the Gentiles are some who are a Torah to themselves. And as Karen Armstrong has been at pains to explain, it is quite orthodox Christian theology to say that G-d does not exist because of being better than that. But it doesn't matter what you call it. As Zen Buddhists explain,

    Separated do the sects become
    By setting up of doctrines, practices
    And these become the standards that we know
    Of all religious conduct.
    Calling natural law G-d is just silly. Accepting the rule of cause and effect as the starting point for taking responsibility and defining one's moral stance is essential, but attempting to rename somebody else's ontology (the two-dollar word for "What is real?") to no purpose is simply insulting.

    If that doesn't make sense to you, well, religion is hard. As the saying goes, as hard as possible, but no harder. As hard as loving everybody, even totally messed-up Republicans. Or, from their point of view, Democrats who are not merely messed up, but actively working for Shaitan. ^_^

    America—We built that!

    by Mokurai on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 10:32:08 AM PST

  •  What comes to my mind in all this talk about (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    raincrow

    god is that people separate themselves from the energy we all are a part of.  Life is one big energy force and putting a name, an identity - a physical identity (calling god he, for example), is not okay with me.

    We are all one, simple.  Most people have a difficult time with that concept, thus the separation.

    I believe Jesus was a fellow who was extraaordinary.  One of the things he said was that all he did, we could do too.  He was a highly evolved being, which is something we should aspire to.

    This all makes sense to me but not to those who are mired in organized religion.  My neice reads the bible cover to cover on a daily basis.  So be it.  As long as she's not trying to convert me to her beliefs, there's no problem.  I've already made clear to her that I'm not trying to convert her, so I expect the same consideration.

    being mindful and keepin' it real

    by Raggedy Ann on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 10:42:44 AM PST

  •  Good responses so far (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    raincrow

    I am not a church goer, am not a "member" of an organized religion, not have any beliefs in a heaven or a hell. But lately, as it has done before in the past, Judaism has been tugging at me, and it just seems like something else is going on there.  The moral side shines a spotlight on the tzaddik, the righteous man. But I still sense an irony to history beyond randomness. Or is that like the brain wiring that allows us to see patterns in the stars or the Virgin Mary in a grilled cheese?

    Tell me a story of deep delight. - Robert Penn Warren

    by bisleybum on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 10:55:29 AM PST

  •  Atheists accept NO concept of god (3+ / 0-)

    THAT is the definition of an atheist

    You are certainly welcome to quibble about agnosticism (what one knows) vs atheism (what one believes) - but god doesn't play a role in that

    as has been pointed out - there is no atheist ideology ... except, a lack of belief in a god(s)

    Also - IF You want to call god  "natural law" - whatever THAT is supposed to be - then, You already have words for that - why substitute the word god for it - again, atheists typically won't substitute cup or 'tea kettle' for the word god - except rhetorically ... so trying to come up with substitute words for god is a worthless endeavor in terms of discussing this with an atheist audience

    Irony is irony - and calling it god doesn't change anything

    same for 'natural law'

    "I want to keep them alive long enough that I can win them to Christ," - Rick Warren, Professional Greed Driven Scumbag

    by josephk on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 10:55:45 AM PST

  •  God as the sum of all natural law is what (3+ / 0-)

    Richard Dawkins called Einsteinian religion, since that is how Einstein sometimes referred to the total operation of the universe.

    Such a God is not satisfying to most spiritual seekers, since it is not conscious, and hence is indifferent to us as humans.  Most people want a God that helps them out, either in this life or the next.

    The meaning of life is a human invention, not a divine one.

    "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." Bertrand Russell

    by Thutmose V on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 11:20:02 AM PST

    •  How do you define "conscious," how do you (0+ / 0-)

      assess the goodness/utility of your definition, and how do you test for consciousness with any rigor or otherwise recognize its presence or absence?

      By what criteria do you judge the universe to be "indifferent to us as humans"? Do you believe the universe might be more, less, or equally indifferent to us if we were other than human? What signs would you accept as indicating the universe is not indifferent to us, as humans or in any other way? If we are part of the universe and the rest of the universe interacts with our matter/energy, is it acknowledging our presence or is it still indifferent to us?

      How do you know what most people want in "a God," and what would or would not be satisfying to most spiritual seekers?

      What is the basis for your claim that the meaning of life is a human invention, not a divine one?

      How do you define "divine," how do you assess the goodness/utility of your definition, and how do you test for divinity with any rigor or otherwise recognize its presence or absence?

      Extraordinary claims require at least a little backup.

      YES WE DID -- AGAIN. FOUR MORE YEARS.

      by raincrow on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 06:53:14 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Like you say: (0+ / 0-)
        Extraordinary claims require at least a little backup.
        Claims about God or the divine are extraordinary claims.  There is very little evidence for such claims.  I would consider myself technically an agnostic, no one can prove or disprove the existence of an infinite power since no one has infinite knowledge.  But I do not see any reason to believe in God, in any meaningful definition of God.

        What I said about using God as a term for something that is not conscious is the clear meaning of what Dawkins was talking about when he discussed "Einsteinian religion", or thinking of the sum of all natural laws and existence as God.  All that is saying is that the universe has laws and is not chaotic, with nothing about the thoughts or feelings of a being.

        Conscious means some sort of mind with thoughts about the world.  A table does not have thoughts, it is not conscious.  There is no reason to think that the inanimate matter of stars, planets, galaxies, and black holes in the universe is any different.  Unless you think that a table does have some sort of consciousness, in which case consciousness becomes a meaningless term.

        I judge the universe as indifferent to the human race because that is the best explanation for the history of the human race as it exists in this universe.  Lots of things occur, both good and bad (from a human point of view), but there does not look like any discernible purpose in those events except those events that occur because of human purpose.  Do earthquakes or the Black Death happen because of some plan by some mind?  If so, then the mind is a malevolent mind.  A frequent answer to such statements is that God has some higher purpose that we do not understand.  But that answer just says we don't know anything about any purpose or attitude of the hypothetical deity.

        Can I prove this?  No, but there is no reason to think otherwise, and it is the simplest explanation.  Any claim of a deity or God is an extraordinary claim that does not have much backup.

        I have read much writing about what people believe about God, and talked to many people.  That is why I say most people believe in a God that offers help to them in this life or the next.  It is what I have observed.  I don't have a bunch of surveys about people's beliefs at my fingertips.  But when people pray, what do they pray for?  Some might pray for wealth, or victory in their football game, or even victory in war.  Many might pray for their own health, or the health of loved ones.  Some might pray for world peace, or an end to poverty, or that everyone would find God and go to heaven.  But I those are all prayers for God to do something for someone.  The human race has a lot of problems, many of them self inflicted.  It needs all the help it can get.  But just because we need it does not mean the help we need exists.

        The claim that meaning in life is a human invention comes from the simple observation that thought or activity that indicates meaning comes from humans.  You could claim that human ideas of meaning come from some divine source, that that just begs the question, adding an additional layer without explaining anything.  Where did the divine being get its idea of meaning?  Is whatever God says good by definition?  Why would it be?  To say we can't understand why God is good is just to say you know nothing about the divine and that maybe the right viewpoint is agnosticism.

        You can't convince someone to believe something because you can't disprove it.  Can you prove that I won't win the lottery next week?  You can't, but you know what is the most likely case.

        "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." Bertrand Russell

        by Thutmose V on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 10:06:56 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  You cannot prove even your first claim about (0+ / 0-)

          consciousness, or about meaning being a human invention. And you made a sweeping generalization about the "divine" without any detailed understanding of what the concept means. The premises from which you're arguing are as faith- and belief-based than any of mine.

          There are ~7 billion people on the planet, 96% of whom perceive or, based on their experience of life, believe in some kind of universal spirit/creator/god(s) regardless of how they choose to respond to that perception or belief. Perhaps it is intellectually prudent not to make sweeping generalizations about what that spirit / creator / god means to us billions, what we pray for, what would or would not be "satisfying" to us, etc. If your characterizations were so out in the weeds with respect to my experience of God -- me being a white, middle-class, librul, American Protestant -- you may be much wider of the mark with respect to people of much different cultures.

          Perhaps another day we can work thru the logic/illogic of theism vs. atheism.

          Good night.

          YES WE DID -- AGAIN. FOUR MORE YEARS.

          by raincrow on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 11:46:38 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  You criticize my definitions, without (0+ / 0-)

            providing any of your own.  I am supposed to just accept without explanation that you have some definition of consciousness or of the divine that provides some knowledge of the truth.  In fact you do not know about the divine because you can't explain it to me, except as a feeling you and others have.  Well, the feelings we have tell us about us, not about the rest of the universe.

            Most people in the world do have some beliefs in some kind of spirit/creator/god(s).  But those beliefs contradict each other.  No matter what the truth is, most people have wrong beliefs about God, because for any specific religion most people do not believe in its assertions.  As the saying goes, the only difference between an atheist and religious believer is that the believer disbelieves one less religion.  What this suggests to me is that belief in God says more about people than it does about God.  I am an agnostic because I do not see any knowledge about God.

            The thing is, most religious people take the specific beliefs of their specific religion very seriously, and that implies that other religions (which means the majority of people in the world) are wrong.  The Christian fundamentalists in this country think that people who don't believe what they believe are going to hell.  In many places in the world, people are even willing to kill each other over religious conflict.  Yet we know that at best, the majority of these beliefs that people think are so important are wrong.  Where is there any real knowledge?

            Maybe a minority can seek for some sort of spiritual experience without claiming to have the specific knowledge about the divine that most religions claim.  But that is not how the majority act.

            I read The Case for God by Karen Armstrong, which is a very interesting book.  She admits that there is no real knowledge of God, sometimes even referring to God as the Void.  But she advocates religious practice as a way to spiritual experience that she identifies as God.  But to me, what she is really saying is religion is just an unusually intense role playing game.  Instead of trying to imagine yourself as a futuristic soldier or medieval magician, you imagine yourself communing with some sort of universal spirit.  Such an imagination might be an intense experience, but to me it looks like it is much more about the person doing the imagining, than about any real contact with any real spirit outside ourselves.  If we want to really communicate with a spirit outside of ourselves, we need to talk to another person.

            "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." Bertrand Russell

            by Thutmose V on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 10:20:27 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Re-read my comment and yours (0+ / 0-)
              You criticize my definitions, without providing any of your own.
              I criticized no definitions of yours because you provided none. You simply made an unfounded assertion and I asked you for the basis from which you made it.

              You had no response.

              I am supposed to just accept without explanation that you have some definition of consciousness or of the divine that provides some knowledge of the truth.
              You're supposed to accept what? and why? Please re-read your 1st comment. You are the one who asserted that you know what consciousness is and is not. You are the one who made sweeping statements about the nature of the divine. I am merely the one who asked you to provide evidence to support your assertions about consciousness and divinity.

              You had no response.

              Conscious means some sort of mind with thoughts about the world.  A table does not have thoughts, it is not conscious.
              Neither you nor I nor anyone else on this planet knows what "mind" is, and qualifying it as being of "some sort" does not excuse you from logical argument on sound premises. You made an unfounded assertion and I asked you for the basis from which you made such assertions.

              You had no response.

              No matter what the truth is, most people have wrong beliefs about God, because for any specific religion most people do not believe in its assertions.  
              On what basis can you possibly assert that "most people have wrong beliefs about God"? What on earth is a "wrong belief about God" and on what basis could an agnostic or atheist possibly identify such a wrong belief? If you do not have extensive religious research at hand, how can you possibly assert that "for any specific religion most people do not believe in its assertions"?

              You speak as if you have authority, yet you demonstrate none.

              How can you be tempted to think Karen Armstrong (whoever she is) or any other person can possibly speak for billions of people concerning their experience and knowledge of God(s) / spirit / the Creator / etc.? You speak as if you have no experience of relationship with God, yet you presume to imagine religious life as some kind of role-playing game, assume that experience of God is "contact with any real spirit outside ourselves."

              If you were male (I do not know your sex), would you insist you're capable of telling a woman how she physically and psychologically experiences menstrual cramps? If you were colorblind, would you insist you're capable of telling color-seeing people how they physically and psychologically experience color vision? My guess is no on both counts. If that is so, how -- if you do not experience God -- can you be capable of telling others how they experience and interact with God?

              ***
              I am challenging you to think rigorously about the beliefs and assumptions that undergird your world view.

              That I have not told you how I define consciousness does not prove that you have a rigorous definition of it and can recognize its presence and absence.

              That I have not told you how I define or recognize divinity does not prove that you can define divinity or recognize its presence and absence.

              If you have actual objective, extrinsic EVIDENCE to support your belief system, it should in no way depend on what I do or don't know, what I have or have not asserted.

              Your agnosticism does not entitle you to claim that your belief system is correct "just because," or because it's based on what you call "simple observation." If you cannot definitively describe the nature of mind or consciousness, there is no basis for describing your observations as "simple." Moreover, even if your observations are simple, their simplicity does not necessarily imply that you've interpreted them correctly.

              I continue to seek the logical, rational basis -- and especially the objective, extrinsic evidence -- on which you base your extraordinary claims. Please note that your claims retain their extraordinary nature whether I do or don't make extraordinary claims of my own.

              There's a lot of good reading on philosophy of mind, metaphysics, atheology, etc., that may give you clarity on the basis of your beliefs. (The scribblings and yo-mama-so-fat ripostes of Dawkins, Hitchens, and Dennett are not among them.) I've found the book reviews on Amazon to be extremely useful.

              YES WE DID -- AGAIN. FOUR MORE YEARS.

              by raincrow on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 02:25:00 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  I'm not sure (0+ / 0-)

                that I would include Dennett in that group. His writings rise, I think, above just scribblings.

                Tell me a story of deep delight. - Robert Penn Warren

                by bisleybum on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 04:58:19 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

              •  Simple demographics. (0+ / 0-)
                On what basis can you possibly assert that "most people have wrong beliefs about God"? What on earth is a "wrong belief about God" and on what basis could an agnostic or atheist possibly identify such a wrong belief? If you do not have extensive religious research at hand, how can you possibly assert that "for any specific religion most people do not believe in its assertions"?
                You cannot possibly be that stupid.  It's very simple:

                FACT: No single religion contains the majority of all believers.  The religions of the world are numerous, and their populations distributed amongst them enough that no religion can claim to have more than 50% of the theists in the world.

                FACT: The religions make mutually exclusive claims about what God is.

                FACT: When there are a set of mutually exclusive claims, either none are correct or at the MOST only one of them can be correct.  But multiples of them cannot all be correct.  At most just one.

                CONCLUSION: Even if one of the religions in the world is correct, it will not contain the majority of theists in it, and it being correct precludes the others from being correct.  Therefore the majority of theists have to be wrong, and we can say this with certainty even if we don't know yet which of them are the wrong ones and which are the right ones.  We CAN logically work out that if any of them are right, the right ones must be a minority of all theists.

                You pretend to be rational.  Prove it by admitting this.

        •  recalculating recalculating (0+ / 0-)

          I should restate worshipping Irony, as opposed to worshipping an ironic G_d. Irony is not conscious, modern sun worshippers don't think the sun is conscious, and the greeks ( I don't think ) didn't think of the Fates as conscious, though they did give them names. Based on this discussion so far, I'm thinking atheists do indeed come in different flavors. I don't believe in a conscious deity, and my Irony still "appears" in history. I'm still working on this, as I have been my entire life since I was about eight, and I'm turning 64 next week. Thanks all for a most stimulating and enlightening discussion. Another diary I wrote touched on the meaning of the terms "tenuous hold on reality". That too was initiated by a conversation with my friend, who like any good Socratic teacher, gives me new questions to work on rather than provide answers to the old questions.

          Tell me a story of deep delight. - Robert Penn Warren

          by bisleybum on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 04:27:41 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  You're very close to pantheism (3+ / 0-)

    Albert Einstein, my favorite, claimed he was a pantheist, in the same sense as Spinoza. Spinoza was writing at a time when it was dangerous to be considered heretical, so he used the word 'god' quite frequently. But he made clear that what he meant by the word was the total universe, all that which is. He was not anthropomorphic, as traditional monotheistic religions clearly are. In fact, over the years, I have found that there is a very wide range of meaning in the use of the word 'god,' even among people who suspect that they all think alike. Many are not anthropomorphic, when they stop to think about it seriously.

    You seem to be very close to pantheism; all natural law would put one very close to all nature.

    I am also an atheist, like your friend, and am a neuroscientist. I have long maintained that atheists come in different flavors, ranging from pantheists, like Einstein, to anti-theists, like Karl Marx, and including more erasmian atheists, in which I include myself and Sigmund Freud.

    •  Thank you (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      raincrow

      As a neuroscientist, you will appreciate no doubt that I find the writings of Oliver Sacks among the most spiritual ( in my semantically twisted sense of the word ) writings I've ever encountered. Can't wait to invite my friend to this thread. I don't think she's on dkos.

      Tell me a story of deep delight. - Robert Penn Warren

      by bisleybum on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 01:46:30 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  A box of cheer-i-o (0+ / 0-)
    Would such a concept of G_d be acceptable to an atheist?
    When you used the phrase "concept of G_d", you hit the nail on the head.  There is no actual God.   But, there are many different concepts of God.   I would find any of them "acceptable" in the sense that I would understand that someone had that concept, although I did not, myself, have that concept.   In a funny way, I can truthfully say "yes" when people ask, "Do you believe in God?", if I really need to for some reason, because I do believe in "God" as a very powerful idea within our society.  I am sure they didn't mean "Do you believe that god is just an idea in someone's head?", but so what?  It's all in the interpretation, isn't it?  We can play God games all day long.  

    Humans struggle with abstracts.   When talking about abstracts, we often try to translate them into a concrete symbol in order to make it easier to think about and discuss.  And, that is what God is.  A concrete symbol for a set of abstract ideas.   The funny part is that different people package up a different set of abstract ideas and slap the God label on them.

    That's what God is to me.  A brand.  Like, Cheerios.  A box of ideas for how to live, with a popular brand name, and a secret prize inside (heaven), which, like all the prizes in our cereal box is a little bit disappointing, when you really take it out and examine it closely.  

    When you open your box labelled God, what's inside?

  •  Fascinating... (0+ / 0-)
    If G_d is not a He or She, and most people would surely be uncomfortable with calling G_d an It, then what if G_d is the Sum of the Law? Not the sum of human ethical law, but of all Natural Law? To be feared in the sense that Natural Law could blink us out of existence in a moment?
    The sum of Natural Law is the functioning of all existence because in every field science that we know structure and function are intimately tied. All Natural Law dictates what can and can not happen, but must also dictate what can and can not exist. Therefor, science is the study of all god.

    And you know what that means, right?

  •  We are not a hive mind. (0+ / 0-)
    Would such a concept of G_d be acceptable to an atheist?
    Which atheist?

    Personally, I'm ignostic. Assuming that a Natural Law exists I don't consider it to be more worthy of deification or worship than mathematical law. It's my suspicion that such personification is likely to be misleading.

  •  Why bother with deceptive misuse of language? (0+ / 0-)

    If you don't actually mean god, but instead meant irony, then just say irony.  Making reference to a word that everyone else uses to describe what they view as a thinking entity when that's not what you meant would be very deceptive.

    It's the same as with the meaningless deepity "God is love".  If that was true you wouldn't bother using the word "god" for it.  Of course what's actually going on when people do this is the classic bait-and-switch: Define the word one way when speaking to other believers, but then temporarily redefine it completely when having to defend it against criticism, just long enough to deflect the criticism, then go right back to meaning the same thing you always meant by it.

    •  Point actually taken. (0+ / 0-)

      You're right, although in my case not an intentional bait and switch. The concept I held for many years has only recently clarified in my own mind to mean irony. One of the reasons for this thread was to get some further input from the dkos community. Coming out of the closet on atheism is easy, what with all the help the rethugs give us. I've never never never encountered a religious satire that I didn't love. Especially Life of Brian. But quasi-philosophical discussion such as this one appeal to me, an aging philosophy major. But no, no thinking entities out there. We are the universe looking at itself.

      Tell me a story of deep delight. - Robert Penn Warren

      by bisleybum on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 12:14:59 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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