Christians—Our Loyalty Is to Truth, Not Political Party or Brand

Main points:

  1. Only Scripture is infallible.
  2. Truth is more powerful than human leadership.
  3. “Our” sources aren’t always right.
  4. “Their” sources aren’t always wrong.
  5. We should seek genuine understanding, even of what we reject.

In the midst of controversy, it’s often hard to tell what problems have been created and what problems have merely been revealed. Whatever we might say about problems the election and impeachment of Donald Trump has created, it has certainly revealed some!

One of the most serious Trump-revealed problems is that many Christians who claim to revere the Bible lack truly biblical habits for evaluating truth claims. As a result, they also aren’t very good at judging the ethics of situations that aren’t directly addressed in Scripture. This is important, not only from the perspective of citizenship and voting, but for Christian living in general: we face conflicting truth claims about all sorts of things every day.

Those of us who are involved in preaching and teaching ministries have an opportunity to help with this problem. We should teach a genuinely Christian (biblical) view of truth and how to evaluate truth claims. That view includes five principles.

Principle 1: Only Scripture is infallible.

Christians understand that God is completely reliable on the subject of reality, which is what I mean here by “truth”—what actually is.

  • let God be true though every one were a liar… (ESV, Romans 3:4)
  • in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:3)
  • “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)
  • God, who cannot lie (Titus 1:2).

It follows that God’s word is completely reliable in all that it represents as truth.

  • Therefore I consider all your precepts to be right; I hate every false way. (Psalm 119:128)
  • Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:17)
  • And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place (2 Peter 1:19)
  • All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction (2 Timothy 3:16)

By contrast, human beings are extremely unreliable as sources of truth, not only because we’re deceitful creatures (Jer. 17:9, John 8:44) but because we’re so often wrong even in what we genuinely believe to be true.

How should this shape our habits? It should lead us to view all truth claims as suspect, regardless of how much we want them to be true or are afraid that they’re true—or how much we like the source.

Principle 2: Truth is more powerful than human leaders.

Leaders come and go. Some lead well for years and do a lot of good, only to catastrophically fail and make us question everything they ever taught or supported. Movements and institutions come and go much the same way.

Truth, on the other hand, continues along, unaffected by what we think or claim. And its inherent power is undiminished.

  • How much better to get wisdom than gold! To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver. (Proverbs 16:16)
  • and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8:32)
  • Forever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens. (Psalm 119:89)

In the end, truth wins. Given enough time, it tends to win in human history, but even when truth loses the battle for minds in human history, it is, itself, unaltered and will eventually be known to all.

  • Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. (Luke12:2)
  • So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden. (1 Timothy 5:25)
  • if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. (Philippians 3:15)
  • For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

Principle 3: Our sources aren’t always right.

We’re all easily misled into prizing a person or group more than we prize the truth. It’s not hard to see why. We’re wired to adore and bow before a Person who makes no mistakes. But since Jesus Christ is not physically present to respond to current events, we tend to look to other human authorities to tell us what to think—and we take their word as gospel. It’s understandable, but it’s still idolatrous.

Relying on trusted sources is unavoidable, to some extent. Where it goes off the rails is when we forget that “our team” is capable of error, and we fail to examine and test truth claims before accepting them as certain or echoing them as facts.

But even the best of “our guys” are wrong sometimes.

  • Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. (John 11:13)
  • [Apollos] began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. (Acts 18:26)
  • But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” (Acts 10:14)
  • I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:14)

Principle 4: “Their” sources aren’t always wrong.

When “us vs. them” thinking takes over, we not only tend to value group loyalty above truth, but we also tend to value defeating the other team above truth. Both of these are species of idolatry, because pursuing truth is part of our loyalty to Christ. Anything we allow to interfere with that is a displacement of Christ’s agenda for someone else’s agenda.

  • We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, (2 Corinthians 10:5)
  • test everything; hold fast what is good. (1 Thessalonians 5:21)
  • But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:14)
  • The spiritual person judges all things, (1 Corinthians 2:15)

The Scriptures remind us that sometimes truth comes from unexpected places—sometimes from sources that, from our point of view, aren’t reliable.

  • Children: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children” (Matthew 11:25)
  • The Pharisee, Gamaliel: So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” (Acts 5:38–39)
  • Pagan poets: as even some of your own poets have said (Acts 17:28)
  • Rhoda: They said to her, “You are out of your mind.” (Acts 12:15)
  • Women who reported the resurrection: … but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. (Luke 24:10-11)

Principle 5: We should seek genuine understanding, even of what we reject.

  • A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion. (Proverbs 18:2)
  • If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame. (Proverbs 18:13)
  • The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, (Proverbs 15:28)

The current state of political discourse is only a recent expression of a long-standing human problem—also a long-standing Christian problem: in our fondness for strife and winning, we don’t go to the trouble to truly understand opposing views. In short, we don’t listen. Listening involves seeking to understand why people think what they think. We often assume their reasons. How do they explain their reasons?

Two things can happen when we gain understanding of opposing views. One: we find points of agreement we didn’t know existed. Two: we more effectively refute those views because we’re no longer distorting them or lobbing distraction fallacies at them (“Oh yeah, well what about…”?).

When we understand, we either argue less, or we argue more precisely, or both. And this should be—no, actually is—the desire of all who love truth.

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There are 15 Comments

RajeshG's picture

Psalm 75:6 For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. 7 But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.

Romans 13:1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

We can analyze all we want about what happened in the 2016 election, but these passages are the final word on who became President and why.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Yes. All rulers are part of God's sovereign plans for the world.

This in no way reduces the responsibility humans have for their actions.

And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! (Luke 17:1)

this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. (Acts 2:23)

Jim's picture

WallyMorris wrote:

Apparently Chick-Fil-A now has problems with the truth. Inevitable.

Re: "Apparently Chick-Fil-A now has problems with the truth."

Here from CNBC: Chick-fil-A no longer donates to controversial Christian charities after LGBTQ protests

Chick-Fil-A said on Monday that it has stopped funding two Christian charities after coming under fire in recent weeks from LGBTQ activists.

The fast-food chain’s foundation has donated millions of dollars to The Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Both organizations have a history of opposing same-sex marriage.

Chick-fil-A said it no longer funded the organizations.

“We made multi-year commitments to both organisations and we fulfilled those obligations in 2018,” a spokeswoman for Chick-fil-A told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding the company would focus its giving on “education, homelessness and hunger.”

My comments: 

  • The Salvation Army is hardly the bastion of truth
  • They fulfiilled their commitment to FCA
Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

 @Wally.....  I doubt it's about truth. There are probably thousands of truth telling organizations that they don't give money to... So adding these two to the list is about avoiding awkward public relations problems and removing obstacles to business. It's a fast food chain, so... personally, I don't expect much in the advocacy department. 

There's a thread on that in Filings now, here: https://sharperiron.org/filings/111819/36970

 

Mark_Smith's picture

that we are to evaluate all "truth claims" (whatever that is) with the same techniques and vigor that we uphold and defend Scripture. I do not think I agree. Political reality is not based on absolute truth claims, but is a blend of expediency, pragmatism, worldview, political will, and political power. I have never said, nor have I ever heard or read anyone say, that the Republican party is the bastion of truth. I am a Republican based on a series of compromises and considerations of the political reality in the United States in 2019, not because it is the source of truth. I support Republicans because to not do so means Democrats take over, if for no other reasons. I have seen the consequences of their beliefs, and seen and read what they would do if they held power.

Of course all of this is parallel from my core beliefs in Jesus Christ and the power of the church and His word on the Earth. Holding to the truth of Scripture does not mean I am not a political animal operating in the political realm that God allowed me to live in, and has charged me with having an influence in. Insisting that the Republican party upholds my ideals lest I bolt is pure nonsense.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Maybe you can help me better understand what you're saying: which of the five principles I described and supported are you rejecting?

Did I misquote some passages? Do some of them not mean what I took them to mean?

Should we accept claims as true because of who says so rather than seeing if the reasoning is sound and the facts are accurate? If so, why?

Mark_Smith's picture

I merely state you do not evaluate who you vote for like it is a truth claim. You look at the people on the ballot and make a realistic vote that does the most good as you see it.

You seem to have repeatedly posted at SI across many threads that unless everything lines up like a completed jigsaw puzzle then you don't support a Republican, for example. I am saying that is great logic for developing theology, but not for deciding which political candidate, or party, to support.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Aaron, Your five principles are true. But they are also misleading and irrelevant in some cases, particularly #'s 2, 3, and 4.

On 2 (Truth is more powerful than human leadership). It should be manifestly obvious that this is not true. For generations, human leaders have lied, people have believed them, and actions have been taken. Why? Because human leaders are often more powerful than truth. Truth gets hidden in personality, agenda, and bias (And that is never more evident than now, perhaps, on both sides).

On 3 (“Our” sources aren’t always right) and 4 ("Their” sources aren’t always wrong), of course. But it's irrelevant to the issue. A great many things in this realm of public policy and politics are not black and white, right or wrong, types of answers.

As President Bartlett said on the West Wing, "Every now and then there is a day with an absolute right and an absolute wrong. And it usually involves a body count." A great many "truths" are nothing but opinion and conclusion based on argumentation and deduction. From tax policy to foreign policy to welfare to education, there are all kinds of views as to what the "truth" is. So IMO, it is extremely misleading to present it as it has been presented here. 

Sorting through that is a lot different than looking up a Bible verse or even determining the "good and necessary consequence." There are all kinds of good reasons why the US should give foreign aid and engage in military actions overseas. And there are all kinds of good reasons not to. There seems no "truth" to be had about that. They are judgement calls. Same with tax policy: There are all kinds of good reasons for a progressive tax. And good reasons for a flat tax. And good reasons for tax breaks and closing tax loopholes. There are good reasons for no income tax and a GST or VAT. There is no "truth." There are only views with various consequences.

And part of the determination in these things, as in elections, is balancing good with bad and make the best possible decision based on information available. 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

The point of the piece stated in the title. The principles are either true or they aren't.

Your post has a lot of assertions in it, many of which I don't disagree with and didn't in any question in my essay... because they aren't what it's about (for example, it's not about voting; it's about how to think about truth). What you're doing is what I see people do all the time with controversies these days: try to skip ahead to how the truth might be used, and not liking how it looks, avoid facing the truth. 

So I need a sixth principle: Dislike or fear of how truth might be used is not a reason for Christians to refuse to seek it and face it.

If we do, our loyalty is to men and movements before truth. I'll call that I what I call it in the essay: idolatry.

Larry's picture

Moderator

The principles are either true or they aren't.

Well, sort of. They are true in a sense and not true in another sense, as I pointed out. And that is true about many things. Context almost always matters. 

I know you object to "jumping ahead to how it might be used," but apart from application, can we really test the hypothesis? I don't see how. There are a lot of things that sound good until you actually try them out. 

So again, let's consider with actual examples that I think we will all agree to.

Let's start with #2: "Truth is more powerful than human leadership."

In an eternal sense, of course that's true. But let's return to an example you and I have discussed: President Trump who is accused (and rightly so) of habitual lying. Why do so many people believe Trump? Because #2 isn't actually true. Human leadership is often easily more powerful than truth. And that was true about Obama. People believe lies because somebody they like said it. 

Let's move on to #3 and #4: Why is it that so many people blindly repeat opinions as facts? Because #3 and #4 are misleading. Many of the things that "our sources" or "their sources" say isn't a matter of absolute truth at all. It is complex. I agree that too many people are too devoted to a particular source or a set of sources. It is called confirmation bias. It is true because it agrees with what I already believe. Some of the things the "right" says about Trump are true and some of the things the "left" says about Trump are false. And some of the things the "left" says about Trump are true and some of the things the "right" says about Trump are false. 

Because both sides are often right and often wrong. I agree that we have to think about truth differently. But we can't, in the name of truth, say things that aren't true or make categorical truth claims that aren't categorical. 

What you're doing is what I see people do all the time with controversies these days: try to skip ahead to how the truth might be used, and not liking how it looks, avoid facing the truth. 

I am curious as to what you think I don't like about the use of the truth here. What am I avoiding?

If we do, our loyalty is to men and movements before truth. I'll call that I what I call it in the essay: idolatry.

I agree. But that's not at issue. I was raising the issue of whether your principles are correct. But perhaps "dislike or fear of how it might be used [is causing you] to refuse to seek it and face it." (:)). 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I know you object to "jumping ahead to how it might be used," but apart from application, can we really test the hypothesis?

The only test the hypothesis needs is whether it's backed by Scripture. We don't decide what's true based on whether it works or not for some desired end. It's true if it's true, not "if it works." The "must be tested by practical application" approach is pretty much the definition of pragmatism.

Because #2 isn't actually true. Human leadership is often easily more powerful than truth.

I'll just quote from the article on this one... "In the end, truth wins. Given enough time, it tends to win in human history, but even when truth loses the battle for minds in human history, it is, itself, unaltered and will eventually be known to all."

Truth is more powerful than human leadership, as I explained, because reality isn't tomorrow or the next day, much less today. It's forever. As Christians, our loyalty should be to truth because it is forever. But I'd be thrilled to just see more people even thinking about five or ten years from now!

Many of the things that "our sources" or "their sources" say isn't a matter of absolute truth at all.

I get that truth claims are held and repeated with varying degrees of certainty. But this gets to much of the heart of what I'm targeting in the essay: people accept as "in fact, true" and repeat as though 100 % certain things that they have not bothered to investigate at all. There is inappropriate dogmatism all over the place. Your counterargument on his point actually strengthens what I'm saying: Christians must be loyal to truth because so much of what claims to be fact is highly questionable. We demonstrate loyalty to truth by expressing uncertainty about what is uncertain, rather than repeating it as fact out of loyalty to some movement or source. 

Because both sides are often right and often wrong. I agree that we have to think about truth differently. But we can't, in the name of truth, say things that aren't true or make categorical truth claims that aren't categorical. 

This is precisely my point.

"What you're doing is what I see people do all the time with controversies these days: try to skip ahead to how the truth might be used, and not liking how it looks, avoid facing the truth." 

I am curious as to what you think I don't like about the use of the truth here. What am I avoiding?

Whenever we skip to "does it work?" ahead of "is it true?" we are, by that very act, devaluing truth, because truth is not determined by pragmatic tests. Exception: if the truth claim is a results claim, then obviously it has a pragmatic test. E.g. "eating high cholesterol foods increases blood cholesterol" ... this is a result claim, that can be tested pragmatically to see if it's true. By contrast, "the sixth Amendment requires that Presidents have full access to their accusers during an impeachment investigation" doesn't have a practical test. The test is what does the Amendment say, and how does our legal system work, etc.

Similarly, claims about the ethics of an act don't have practical tests. The results of an act often have a part in weighing it as right or wrong, but the truth of the ethical evaluation itself doesn't depend on how well it works. We don't teach (or at least we shouldn't) that fornication is wrong because it doesn't increase happiness or because it increases divorce rates, etc. It's wrong because God has declared it to be wrong. But even if we claim "it's wrong because of result A," we don't determine the truth of that statement by measuring how well it works in discouraging fornication. It's either true or it isn't, regardless.

Whether we mean to be or not, if we accept and repeat truth claims as fact because of the source or because of loyalty to a man or movement, we are behaving idolatrously, because we're effectively putting our loyalty to people and groups ahead of our loyalty to Christ. We're saying "my tribe or my hero is the Author of Truth" but that distinction belongs only to God.

To recap... these are very simple, straightforward statements that are true (and supported by Scripture and sound reasoning) or false.

  1. Only Scripture is infallible.
  2. Truth is more powerful than human leadership.
  3. “Our” sources aren’t always right.
  4. “Their” sources aren’t always wrong.
  5. We should seek genuine understanding, even of what we reject.
Larry's picture

Moderator

The only test the hypothesis needs is whether it's backed by Scripture.

I think this assumes that all truth claims are settled in the same way. They aren't. There are some things that cannot be determined to be "backed from Scripture" in any meaningful sense. There is no verse that will determine whether a claim about inauguration attendance or Russian meddling or sex abuse claims are true or not. 

And while we might claim that truth is always more powerful than human leadership, that is often a claim for eternity which is rather meaningless now in a practical sense. We are called to make judgments on truth in the present based on what we know rather than based on what we might find out in eternity.

 Christians must be loyal to truth because so much of what claims to be fact is highly questionable. We demonstrate loyalty to truth by expressing uncertainty about what is uncertain, rather than repeating it as fact out of loyalty to some movement or source. 

Well of course, but isn't "certainty" itself a matter of judgment. I am quite certain that Trump is a better president than Clinton would have been. And I think there is no doubt at all about that. I think it is disloyalty to the truth to pretend otherwise. Yet there are an awful lot people who disagree with me with equal certainty, most likely due to loyalty to a movement or a source. (See how I easily dismiss all contrary claims? And how shall we adjudicate that?) 

The point is that even if we agree on your five principles (and as I said, they are correct in some sense), until we actually apply them, they are meaningless. It's like a proverb that isn't listened to and put into practice. It is useless.

So to refuse to get to application is, to me, a refusal to subject the claim to any verification or any testing. It is almost a claim of infallibility.

In some things we do decide what's true based on whether it works or achieves the desired end. Again, I can't imagine how that is dispute except in a non-real world, or a world in which truth claims refuse to be subjected to examination. It is not the definition of pragmatism at all. 

"What you're doing is what I see people do all the time with controversies these days: try to skip ahead to how the truth might be used, and not liking how it looks, avoid facing the truth." 

I am curious as to what you think I don't like about the use of the truth here. What am I avoiding?

Whenever we skip to "does it work?" ahead of "is it true?" we are, by that very act, devaluing truth, because truth is not determined by pragmatic tests.

But in some cases "does it work" is part of how we determine if something is true. Again, I think here you are confusing categories of truth and assuming that all truth claims are verified in the same way.

Whether we mean to be or not, if we accept and repeat truth claims as fact because of the source or because of loyalty to a man or movement, we are behaving idolatrously, because we're effectively putting our loyalty to people and groups ahead of our loyalty to Christ. We're saying "my tribe or my hero is the Author of Truth" but that distinction belongs only to God.

This is absolutely true. But if we refuse to pass judgment on things and to act in accord with our responsibilities in a broken world, we are also participating in a sort of idolatry.

 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

"The only test the hypothesis needs is whether it's backed by Scripture."

I think this assumes that all truth claims are settled in the same way. They aren't. There are some things that cannot be determined to be "backed from Scripture" in any meaningful sense.

I was referring to a particular hypothesis... well, five of them (the "five principles" listed at the beginning of the essay).

Here's more context:

Aaron: "The principles are either true or they aren't."

Larry: Well, sort of. They are true in a sense and not true in another sense, as I pointed out. And that is true about many things. Context almost always matters. 

I know you object to "jumping ahead to how it might be used," but apart from application, can we really test the hypothesis? I don't see how. There are a lot of things that sound good until you actually try them out. 

I acknowledged that truth-claims about results can be tested to see if they have the claimed results. But none of the principles I talked about in the essay are results claims. They're supported by Scripture and reasoning and can't be validly judged true or untrue based on whether they have certain outcomes.

Aaron: Christians must be loyal to truth because so much of what claims to be fact is highly questionable. We demonstrate loyalty to truth by expressing uncertainty about what is uncertain, rather than repeating it as fact out of loyalty to some movement or source. 

Well of course, but isn't "certainty" itself a matter of judgment. I am quite certain that Trump is a better president than Clinton would have been. And I think there is no doubt at all about that. I think it is disloyalty to the truth to pretend otherwise. 

I think somehow we've changed the subject here. The essay is about how we evaluate truth claims. I argued that we can't accept them as true or certain based on the source or whether they're the official claims of a party or other group. They have to be evaluated on their merits for trueness/certainty/etc.

The essay makes no claims about who is right or wrong about Trump, only how we ought to go about deciding who is right or wrong. It's aimed at the process of evaluating claims.

(Yes, it's a reaction to the fact that politicians and news outlets on both sides of the "truth about Trump" conflict have been making absurd and disingenuous claims at an astounding rate on an amazing scale lately. I'm trying to urge people to accept no claims as true or certain based only on which side the source seems to be on.)

But in some cases "does it work" is part of how we determine if something is true. Again, I think here you are confusing categories of truth and assuming that all truth claims are verified in the same way.

I'm going to quote myself here because I've already answered this in an earlier post... but I'll reformat a bit for emphasis:

Exception: if the truth claim is a results claim, then obviously it has a pragmatic test. 

  • E.g. "eating high cholesterol foods increases blood cholesterol" ... this is a result claim, that can be tested pragmatically to see if it's true.
  • By contrast, "the sixth Amendment requires that Presidents have full access to their accusers during an impeachment investigation" doesn't have a practical test. The test is what does the Amendment say, and how does our legal system work, etc.
  • Similarly, claims about the ethics of an act don't have practical tests. The results of an act often have a part in weighing it as right or wrong, but the truth of the ethical evaluation itself doesn't depend on how well it works.
  • We don't teach (or at least we shouldn't) that fornication is wrong because it doesn't increase happiness or because it increases divorce rates, etc. It's wrong because God has declared it to be wrong. But even if we claim "it's wrong because of result A," we don't determine the truth of that statement by measuring how well it works in discouraging fornication. It's either true or it isn't, regardless.

So, to summarize, some kinds of claims can be outcome tested for truthfulness. Quite a few can't. 

The principles I addressed in the essay are not result-testable claims.... Almost none of the claims in the controversies surrounding Trump are result-testable either: they're evaluations of the President's own undisputed words and actions, witness testimony, constitutional principle, historical precedent, etc.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Similarly, claims about the ethics of an act don't have practical tests. The results of an act often have a part in weighing it as right or wrong, but the truth of the ethical evaluation itself doesn't depend on how well it works.

So if I understand what you are saying here, you believe that something can be right, but unethical.  So for example, in your evaluation Esther disobeying the law would have been unethical on its face, but right in the context of saving the Jews.

Similarly then, voting for Trump could also be an "unethical right" action, since the results of voting for him were much better than the results would have been if everyone voting for Trump would have abstained or voted for Clinton.

If, in fact, something can be both unethical and right, it still sounds like "right" is the overriding principle, thus we can then in those cases discard (or at least override) the ethics.

Dave Barnhart

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