Book Reflection 750-1000wrds Due In 24 Hours write a review that 750 – 1000 word in length about one chapter in the Niebuhr textbook. Half will be summary

   write a review that 750 – 1000 word in length about one chapter in the Niebuhr textbook. Half will be summary and half will be the student’s personal reflection. The reflection should include points that the student agrees and disagrees with Niebuhr about and why.

CHRIST AND CULTURE

To Reinie

CHRIST AND CULTURE

Copyright, 1 95 1 , by Harper & Row, Publishers, Incorporate.ct,
Printed in the United States of America

All rights in this book are reserved.
No part of the book may be used or reproduced
in any manner whatsoever without written per­
mission except in the case of brief quotations
embodied in critical articles and reviews. For
information address:

Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. ,
10 East 53rd Street, New York, N. Y. 10022.

First HARPER TORCHBOOK edition published 1956

CONTENTS
FOREWORD
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

]. The Enduring Problem
I. THE PROBLEM

II. TOW ARD A DEFINITION OF CHRIST

III. TOWARD THE DEFINITION OF CULTURE

IV. THE TYPICAL ANSWERS

2. Cbrist Against Culture
I. THE NE’V PEOPLE AND


THE WORLD

II. TOLSTOY

S REJECTION OF CULTURE

III. A NECESSARY AND INADEQUATE POSITION

IV. THEOLOGICAL PROBLEMS

3. Tbe Cbrist of Culture

ix
xi

1
11
29
39

I. ACCOMMODATION TO CULTURE IN GNOSTICISM AND ABELARD 83
II.


CULTURE-PROTESTANTISM


AND A. RITSCHL 91

III. IN DEFENSE OF CULTURAL FAITH I 0 I
IV. THEOLOGICAL OBJECTIONS 108

4. Christ Above Culture
I. THE CHURCH OF THE CENTER

II. THE SYNTHESIS OF CHRIST AND CULTURE

III. SYNTHESIS IN QUESTION

5. Christ and Culture in Paradox
I. THE THEOLOGY OF THE DUALISTS

II. THE DUALISTIC MOTIF IN PAUL AND MARCION
n1. DUALISM IN LUTHER AND MODERN TIMES
lV. THE VIRTUES AND VICES OF DUAI.ISM

vii

116
120
141

viii CONTENTS

6. Christ the Transformer of Culture
I. THEOLOGICAL CONVICTIONS

II. THE CONVERSION MOTIF IN THE FOURTH GOSPEL

III. AUGUSTINE AND THE CONVERSION OF CULTURE

IV. THE VIEWS OF F. D. MAURICE

7. A “Concluding Unscientific Postscript”
I. CONCLUSION IN DECISION

II. THE RELATIVISM OF FAITH

III. SOCIAL EXISTENTIALISM

IV. FREEDOM IN DEPENDENCE

Index

230
234
24 1
249

257

FOREWORD

The present volume makes available in print and in expanded
form the series of lectures which Professor H. Richard Niebuhr
gave at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in January, 1 949,
on the Alumni Foundation. This lectureship was inaugurated in
1 945. Since that time the Seminary has had the privilege of present­
ing to its students and alumni at the time of the midwinter convoca­
tions the reflections of leading Christian thinkers on important
issues and, in part, of stimulating the publication of these refl.ec�
tions for the benefit of a wider audience.

The men and their subjects have been:

1945-Ernest Trice Thompson, Christian Bases of World Order
1946-Josef Lukl Hromadka, The Church at the Crossroads
1947-Paul Scherer, The Plight of Freedom
1948-D. Elton Trueblood, Alternative to Futility
194g-H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture
1950–Paul Minear, The Kingdom and the Power
1951 -G. Ernest Wright, God Who Acts

Dr. Niebuhr makes a distinguished contribution in this dear and
incisive study in Christian Ethics.

Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary,
Austin, Texas

DAVID L. Srrrr,
President.

ACKNOWLED GMENTS

The following essay on the double wrestle of the church with its
Lord and with the cultural society with which it lives in symbiosis
represents part of the result of many years of study, reflection and
teaching. The immediate occasion for the organization and written
composition of the material was offered by the invitation of Austin
Presbyterian Theological Seminary to deliver and to publish a
series of lectures on the subject. Back of the efforts to condense my
observations and reflections into five lectures and then again to
refine and elaborate them in the revision lie many other attempts
at comprehension and organization of the complex data. Directly
antecedent to the Austin lectures were courses in the history and
the types of Christian ethics which I offered to students of the
Divinity School of Yale University.

“When a work has been so long in preparation the debts accumu­
lated by the author are so many and so great that public acknowl­
edgment is embarrassing since it must reveal his lack of adequate
gratitude as well as of adequate ability to appropriate the gifts that
have been offered him. There are reflections in this book which I
regard as the fruits of my own effort to understand but which,
nevertheless, are in reality ideas which I have appropriated from
others. Some of my former students, should they read these pages,
will be able to say at this or that point, “This is a fact or an inter­
pretation to which I called my teacher’s attention,” but they will
look in vain for the footnote in which due credit is given. Fellow
students who have written on related subjects will be in the same
situation. Yet there is more pleasure than embarrassment in
acknowledging this unspecified indebtedness to members of that
wide community in which all know that none possesses anything
that he has not received and that as we have freely received so we
may freely give.

I am most conscious of my debt to that theologian and historiar;.
xi

xii ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

who was occupied throughout his life by the problem of church
and culture-Ernst Troeltsch. The present book in one sense un­
dertakes to do no more than to supplement and in part to correct
his work on The Social Teachings of the Christian Churches.
Troeltsch has taught me to respect the multiformity and individu­
ality of men and movements in Christian history, to be loath to
force this rich variety into prefashioned, conceptual molds, and yet
to seek logos in mythos, reason in history, essence in existence. He
has helped me to accept and to profit by the acceptance of the
relativity not only of historical objects but, more, of the historical
subject, the observer and interpreter. If I think of my essay as an
effort to correct Troeltsch’s analyses of the encounters of church
and world it is mostly because I try to understand this historical
relativism in the light of theological and theo-centric relativism. I
believe that it is an aberration of faith as well as of reason to
absolutize the finite but that all this relative history of finite men
and movements is under the governance of the absolute God. Isaiah
1 0, I Corinthians 1 2 and Augustine’s City of God indicate the con­
text in which the relativities of history make sense. In the analysis
of the five main types which I have substituted for Troeltsch’s three,
I have received the greatest help from Professor Etienne Gilson’s
Reason and Revelation in the Middle Ages, as well as fruitful sug­
gestions from C. J. Jung’s Psychological Types.

Many colleagues, relatives, and friends have helped me with coun­
sel, criticism, and encouragement in the course of the effort to give
my reflections the unity and precision which written communication
demands in the measure that the complexity of the data and the
ability of the worker permit. ! record niy special thanks to my col­
leagues, Professors Paul Schubert and Raymond Morris, to my sister
and brother, Professors Hulda and Reinhold Niebuhr, to Mr. Dud­
ley Zuver of Harper & Brothers, at whose suggestion the last chapter
was added, to my daughter and to Mrs. Dorothy Ansley who assisted
with the typescript, to Professor Edwin Penick, who gave most care­
ful attention to proof sheets and supplied the index, and to my wife.
I recollect with gratitude the kindly reception given me at Austin
by President Stitt and his colleagues and the part they played in
helping me to bring this work to its present, tentative conclusion.

New Haven, Connecticut H. RICHARD NIEBUHR

C H A P T E R I


The Enduring Problem

I. THE PROBLEM

A many-sided debate about the relations of Christianity and
civilization is being carried on in our time. H istorians and
theologians, statesmen and churchmen, Catholics and Protes­
tants, Christians and anti-Christians participat.e in it. It is
carried on publicly by opposing parties and privately in the con­
flicts of conscience. Sometimes it is concentrated on special
issues, such as those of the place of Christian faith in general
education or of Christian ethics in economic life. Sometimes it
deals with broad questions of the church’ s responsibility for
social order or of the need for a new separation of Christ’s fol­
lowers from the world.

The debate is as confused as it is many-sided. When it seems
that the issue has been clearly defined as lying between the
exponents of a Christian civilization and the non-Christian
defenders of a wholly secularized society, new perplexities arise
as devoted believers seem to make common cause with secular­
ists, calling, for instance, for the elimination of religion from
public education, or for the Christian support of apparently
anti-Christian political movements. So many voices are heard,
so many confident but diverse assertions about the Christian
answer to the social problem are being made, so many issues

2 CHRiST AND CULTURE

are raised, that bewilderment and uncertainty beset many
Christians.

In this situation it is helpful to remember that the question
of Christianity and civilization is by no means a new one; that
Christian perplexity in this area has been perennial, and that
the problem has been an enduring one through all the Chris­
tian centuries. It is helpful also to recall that the repeated
struggles of Christians with this problem have yielded no single
Christian answer, but only a series of typical answers which
together, for faith, represent phases of the strategy of the mili­
tant church in the world. That strategy, however, being in the
mind of the Captain rather than of any lieutenants, is not under
the control of the latter. Christ’s answer to the problem of
human culture is one thing, Christian answers are another; yet
his followers are assured that he uses their various works in ac­
complishing his own. It is the purpose of the following chapters
to set forth typical Christian answers to the problem of Christ
and culture and so to contribute to the mutual understanding of
variant and often conflicting Christian groups. The belief which
lies back of this effort, however, is the conviction that Christ as
living Lord is answering the question in the totality of history
and life in a fashion which transcends the wisdom of all his
interpreters yet employs their partial insights and their neces­
sary conflicts.

The enduring problem evidently arose in the days of Jesus
Christ’s humanity when he who “was a Jew and . . . remained
a Jew till his last breath” 1 confronted Jewish culture with a
hard challenge. Rabbi Klausner has described in modern terms
how the problem of Jesus and culture must have appeared to the
Pharisees and Sadducees, and has defended their repudiation of
the Nazarene on the ground that he imperiled Jewish civiliza-

1 Klausner, Joseph, Jesus of Nazareth, p. 368.

THE ENDURING PROBLEM 3
tion. Though Jesus was a product of that culture, so that there
is not a word of ethical or religious counsel in the gospels which
cannot be paralleled in ] ewish writings, says Klausner, yet he
endangered it by abstracting religion and ethics from the rest
of social life, and by looking for the establishment by divine
power only of a “kingdom not of this world.” “Judaism, how­
ever, is not only religion and it is not only ethics : it is the sum­
total of all the needs of the nation, placed on a religious basis .
. . . Judaism is a national life, a life which the national religion
and human ethical principles embrace without engulfing. Jesus
came and thrust aside all the requirements of the national life .
. . . In their stead he set up nothing but an ethico-religious
system bound up with hj.s conception of the Godhead.”2 Had he
undertaken to reform the religious and national culture, elim­
inating what was archaic in ceremonial and civil law, he might
haYe been a great boon to his society; but instead/of reforming
culture he ignored it. ” H e did not come to enlarge his nation’s
knowledge, art and culture, but to abolish even such culture as
it possessed, bound up with religion.” For civil j ustice he substi­
tuted the command to nonresistance, which must result in the
loss of all social order; the social regulation and protection of
family life he replaced with the prohibition of all divorce, and
with praise of those who “made themselves eunuchs for the
kingdom of heaven’s sake” ; instead of manifesting interest in
labor, in economic and political achievement, he recommended
the unanxious, toilless life exemplified by birds and lilies; he
ignored even the requirements of ordinary distributive j ustice
when he said, ” Man, who has made me a judge or divider over
you?” Hence, Klausner concludes, “Jesus ignored everything
concerned with material civilization : in this sense he does not
belong to civilization.”3 Therefore his people rejected him; and

2 Ibid., p. 390.
3 Ibid., PP· 373-375.

4 CHRIST AND CULTURE

‘”two thousand years of non-Jewish Christianity have proved
that the Jewish people did not err.”4

Not all the Jews of his day rejected Jesus in the name of their
culture, and two thousand years of non-Jewish Christianity and
non-Christian Judaism may be appealed to in validation of
many other propositions than that Jesus imperils culture; but
it is evident that those two millennia have been full of wres­
tlings with j ust this problem. Not only Jews but also Greeks and
Romans, medievalists and modems, Westerners and Orientals
have rejected Christ because they saw in him a threat to their
culture.

The story of Graeco-Roman civilization’s attack on the gospel
forms one of the dramatic chapters in every history of Wes tern
culture and of the church, though it is told too often in terms
of politicai persecution only. Popular animosity based on social
piety, literary polemics, philosophical objection, priestly re­
sistance, and doubtless economic defensiveness all played a
part in the rejection of Christ, for the problem he raised was
broadly cultural and not merely political. Indeed, the state was
slower to take up arms against him and his disciples than were
other institutions and groups.5 In modern times open conflict J
has again arisen, not only as spokesmen of nationalistic and
communistic societies but also as ardent champions of human­
istic and democratic civilizations have discerned in Christ a
foe of cultural interests.

The historical and social situations in which such rejections
4 Ibid., p. 391.
5 “Christianity’s battle with the inner faith of the pagan masses, with the

convictions of the leading spirits, was incomparably more difficult than was its
wrestle with the power of the Roman state; the victory of the new faith was in
consequence a far greater achievement than earlier times with their depreciation
of paganism have assumed.” Geffcken, Johannes, Der A usgang des Griechisch­
Roemischen Heidentums, 1920, p. 1. For other accounts of the conflict see Cam­
bridge Ancient History, Vol. XII, 1 939, and Cochrane, C. N., Christianity and
Classical Culture, 1 940.

THE ENDURING PROBLEM 5

of Jesus Christ have taken place have been extremely various;
the personal and group motivations of opponents have been of
many sorts; the philosophical and scientific beliefs which have
been arrayed against Christian convictions have often been more
sharply opposed to each other than to the convictions them­
selves. Yet in so far as the relation of Jesus Christ to culture is
concerned considerable unanimity may be found among these.
disparate critics. Ancient spiritualists and modern materialists,
pious Romans who charge Christianity with atheism, and nine­
teenth century atheists who condemn its theistic faith, national­
ists and humanists, all seem to be offended by the same elements
in the gospel and employ similar arguments in defending their
culture against it.

Prominent among these recurrent arguments is the conten­
tion that, as Gibbon states the Roman case, Christians are

/

“animated by a contempt for present existence and by confi­
dence in immortality.”6 This two-edged faith has baffled and
angered glorifiers of modern civilization as well as defenders of
Rome, radical revolutionaries as well as conservers of the old
order, believers in continuing progress and desponding antici­
pators of the decline of culture. It is not an attitude which can
be ascribed to defective discipleship while the Master is excul­
pated, since his statements about anxiety for food and drink,
about the unimportance of treasures on earth, and about fear
of those who can take away life as well as his rejection in life
and death of temporal power, make him the evident source of
his followers’ convictions. N either is it an attitude that can be
dismissed as characteristic of some Christians only, such as those
who believe in an early end of the world, or ultraspiritualists.
It is connected with various views of history and with various

6 The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Modern Library ed., Vol. I,
P· 402.

6 CHRIST AND CULTURE

ideas about the relations of spirit and matter. It is a baffiing
attitude, because it–IDates what .seems like contempt for present
existence with great concern for existing men, because it is not
frightened by the prospect of doom on all man’s works, because
it is not despairing but confident. Christianity seems to threaten
culture at this point not because it prophesies that of all human
achievements not one stone will be left on another but because
Christ enables men to regard this disaster with a certain equa­
nimity, directs their hopes toward another world, and so seems
to deprive them of motivation to engage in the ceaseless labor
of conserving a massive but insecure social heritage. Therefore
a Celsus moves from attack on Christianity to an appeal to
believers to stop endangering a threatened empire by their
withdrawal from the public tasks of defense and reconstruction,
The same Christian attitude, however, arouses Marx and Lenin
to hostility because believers do not care enough about temporal
existence to engage in all-out struggle for the destruction of an
old order and the building of a new one. They can account for
it only by supposing that Christian faith is a religious opiate

used by the fortunate to stupefy the people, who should be well
aware that there is no life beyond culture.

Another common argument raised against Christ by his cul�
tural antagonists of various times and persuasions is that he
indu�es men to rely on the grace of God instead of summoning
them to human achievement. What would have happened to
the Romans, asks Celsus in effect, if they had followed the com­
mand to trust in God alone? Would they not have been left like
the Jews, without a patch of ground to call their own, and
would they not have been hunted down as criminals, like the
Christians?7 Modem philosophers of culture, such as N ikolai

7 Origen, Contra Celsus, VIII, lxix (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV, p. 666) .

THE ENDURING PROBLEM 7

Hartmann, find in this God-reliance of faith an ultimate an­
tinomy to the ethics of culture with its necessary fOncentration
on human effort. 8 Marxists, believing that men make history,
regard trust in the grace of God a sleeping pill as potent as the
hope of heaven. Democratic and humanistic reformers of society
accuse Christians of “quietism,” while popular wisdom ex­
presses its tolerant unbelief in grace by saying that God helps
those who help themselves and that one must trust in H im but
keep one’s powder dry.

A third count in the recurring cultural indictments of Christ
and his church is that they are intolerant, though this charge
is not as general as are the former accusations. It does not occur
in the Communists’ complaint, for it is not the obj ection which
one intolerant belief raises against another but rather the dis­
approval with which unbelief meets conviction. Ancient Roman
civilization, says Gibbon, was bound to rej ect Christianity j ust
because Rome was tolerant. This culture, with its great diversity
of customs and religions, could exist only if reverence and assent
were granted to the many confused traditions and ceremonies of
its constituent nations. Hence it was to be “expected that they
would unite with indignation against any sect of people which
should separate itself from the communion of mankind and
claiming the exclusive possession of divine knowledge, should
disdain every form of worship except its own as impious and
idolatrous.”9 Toward Jews, who held the same convictions as
Christians about the gods and idols, Romans could be some­
what tolerant, because they were a separate nation with ancient
traditions, and because they were content for the most part to
live withdrawn from the social life. Christians, however, were
members of Roman society, and in the midst of that society

2 Hartmann, Nikolai, Ethics, 1932, Vol. III, pp. 266 ff.
9 Op. cit., Vol. I, p. 446.

8 CHRIST AND CULTURE

explicitly and implicitly expressed their scorn for the religions
of the people. Hei:ce they appeared to be traitors who dissolved
the sacred ties of custom and education, violated the religious
institutions of their country, and presumptuously despised what
their fathers had believed true and reverenced as sacred.10 We
need to add that Roman tolerance, like modern democratic
tolerance, had its limits just because it was carried out as a
social policy for the sake of maintaining unity. Whatever re­
ligion man followed, homage to Caesar was eventually re­
quired.11 But Christ and Christians threatened the unity of the
culture at both ‘points with their radical monotheism, a faith
in the one God that was very different from the pagan uni­
versalism which sought to unify many deities and many cults
under one earthly or heavenly monarch. The political problem
such monotheism presents to the exponents of a national or im­
perial culture has been largely obscured in modern times, but
became quite evident in the anti-Christian and especially anti­
J ewish attacks of German national socialism.12 Divinity, it
seems, must not only hedge kings but also other symbols of
political power, and monotheism deprives them of their sacred
aura. The Christ who will not worship Satan to gain the world’s
kingdoms is followed by Christians who will worship only Christ
in unity with the Lord whom he serves. And this is intolerable
to all defenders of society who are content that many gods
should be worshipped if only Democracy or America or Ger­
many or the Empire receives its due, religious homage. The
antagonism of modern, tolerant culture to Christ is of course
often disguised because it does not call its religious practices

10 Ibid., p. 448.
1 1 Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. XII, pp. 409 ff.; 356 ff.; Cochrane, C. N.,

op. cit., pp. 1 1 5 ff.
12 Cf. Barth, Karl, The Church and the Political Problem of Our Day, 1 939;

Hayes, Carlton J. H., Essays in Nationalism, 1933.

THE ENDURING PROBLEM 9

religious, reserving that term for certain specified rites con­
nected with officially recognized sacred institutions; and also
because it regards what it calls religion as one of many interests
which can be placed alongside economics, art, science, politics,
and techniques. Hence the objection it voices to Christian
monotheism appears in such injunctions only as that religion
should be kept out of politics and business, or that Christian
faith must learn to get along with other religions. What is often
meant is that not only the claims of religious groups but all
consideration of the claims of Christ and God should be ban­
ished from the spheres where other gods, called valu�s, reign.
The implied charge against Christian faith is like the ancient
one : it imperils society by its attack on its religious life ; it de­
prives social institutions of their cultic, sacred character; by its
refusal to condone the pious superstitions of to.lerant poly­
theism it threatens social unity. The charge lies not only against
Christian organizations which use coercive means against what
they define as false religions, but against the faith itself.

Other points are frequently made in the attacks on Christ
and Christianity by those who see in them the foes of culture.
The forgiveness that Christ practices and teaches is said to be
irreconcilable with the demands of justice or the free man’s
sense of moral responsibility. The injunctions of the Sermon on
the Mount concerning anger and resistance to evil, oaths and
marriage, anxiety and property, are found incompatible with
the duties of life in society. Christian exaltation of the lowly
offends aristocrats and Nietzscheans in one way, champions of
the proletariat in another. The unavailability of Christ’s wis­
dom to the wise and prudent, its attainability by the simple and
by babes, bewilder the philosophical leaders of culture or excite
their scorn.

Though these attacks on Christ and Christian faith under-

10 CHRIST AND CULTURE

score and bring into the open-often in bizarre forms-the
nature of the issue, it is not defense against them that consti­
tutes the Christian problem. Not only pagans who have rejected
Christ but believers who have accepted him find it difficult to
combine his claims upon them with those of their societies.
Struggle and appeasement, victory and reconciliation appear
not only in the open where parties calling themselves Christian
and anti-Christian meet; more frequently the debate about
Christ and culture is carried on among Christians and in the
hidden depths of the individual conscience, not as the struggle
and accommodation of belief with unbelief, but as the wrestling
and the reconciliation of faith with faith. The Christ and cul­
ture issue was present in Paul’s struggle with the Judaizers and
the Hellenizers of the gospel, but also in his effort to translate
it into the forms of Greek language and thought. It appears in
the early struggles of the church with the empire, with the re­
ligions and philosophies of the Mediterranean world, in its
rejections and acceptances of prevailing mores, moral princi­
ples, metaphysical ideas, and forms of social organization. The
Constantinian settlement, the formulation of the great creeds,
the rise of the papacy, the monastic movement, Augustinian
Platonism, and Thomistic Aristotelianism, the Reformation and
the Renaissance, the Revival and the Enlightenment, liberalism
and the Social Gospel-these represent a few of the many chap­
ters in the history of the enduring problem. It appears in many
forms as well as in all ages; as the problem of reason and revela­
tion, of religion and science, of natural and divine law, of state
and church, of nonresistance and coercion. It has come to view
in such specific studies as those of the relations of Protestantism
and capitalism, of Pietism and nationalism, of Puritanism and
democracy, of Catholicism and Romanism or Anglicanism, of
Christianity and progress.

THE ENDURING PROBLEM 1 1

It is not essentially the problem of Christianity and civiliza­
tion; for Christianity, whether defined as church, creed, ethics,
or movement of thought, itself moves between the poles of
Christ and culture. The relation of these two authorities con­
stitutes its problem. When Christianity deals with the question
of reason and revelation, what is ultimately in question is the
relation of the revelation in Christ to the reason which prevails
in culture. When it makes the effort to distinguish, contrast, or
combine rational ethics with its knowledge of the will of God,
it deals with the understanding of right and wrong developed
in the culture and with good and evil as ill�minated by Christ.

When the problem of loyalty to church or state is raised,
Christ and cultural society stand in the background as the true
objects of devotion. Hence, before we undertake to outline and
to illustrate the main ways in which Christians have, dealt with
their enduring problem, it is desirable that we seek to state what
we mean by these two terms-Christ and culture. In doing this
we shall need to exercise care lest we prejudge the issue by so
defining one term or the other or both that only one of t:he
Christian answers to be described will appear legitimate.

II. TOWARD A DEFINITION OF CHRIST

A Christian is ordinarily defined as “one who believes in
Jesus Christ” or as “a follower of Jesus Christ.” He might more
adequately be described as one who counts himself as belonging
to that community of men for whom Jesus Christ-his life,
words, deeds, and destiny-is of supreme importance as the key
to the understanding of themselves and their world, the main
source of the knowledge of God and man, good and evil, the
constant companion of the conscience, and the expected de­
liverer from evil. So great, however, is the variety of personal
and communal “belief in Jesus Christ,” so manifold the inter-

1 2 CHRIST AND CULTURE

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