Category Archives: agnostic

Census 2013 – religious diversity

Statistics New Zealand has released preliminary figures for religious affiliation from the 2013 census.

The raw figures show for the major affiliations (Christian and No religion) the following:

Religious affiliation Number
No religion 1,635,348
Christian 1,879,671
Total Responses  4,343,781
Total People  4,242,048
Double Dipping?*  101,733

It is interesting to compare the last census figures with those for the previous four.

census-2013-1

As we can see, the godless trend has continued unabated.

One thing for sure – Christians can no longer claim to make up the majority of the country’s population.


*Double Dipping arises from people putting down more than one answer to the question. Eg – “Born again” and “Assembly of God.” It most probably occurs for the Christian, rather than No religious group. If this is the case we should adjust the Christian total to 1,879,671 -  101,733 = 1,777,938.

This would cut Christians as a proportion of the total population to 41.9%.

The No religion is accordingly 37.7%.

The other major religions have Hindu – 2.1%, Buddhist – 1.4% and Islam – 1.1%.

For more detail see 2013 Census where  tables of data can be downloaded.

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Interfaith delusions

I am not claiming that “interfaith” activity is bad – obviously it can do a lot to reduce inter-religious friction, hostility and violence. And that is certainly needed in parts of the world today. No – the bad arises when interfaith groups go outside their mandate and start thinking they represent everyone. Or they behave as if only religious “faiths” count and other, non-religious, beliefs should be ignored.

Boston Marathon

A blatant example occurred in the US in an “interfaith” service on April 18 after the bombing at the Boston Marathon. Despite repeated attempts  humanists and secular groups were denied a representative presence (see Healing Must Be For Everyone, Including the Nonreligious Affected By Boston Marathon Bombings). Effectively the organisers excluded non-religious from an important ceremony which should have been for every American.

Staks Rosch, in his examiner article Interfaith: The very name is exclusive – National atheism acknowledges that:

“Even people who don’t immediately hate atheists for our lack of belief in deities would be quick to point out that atheism isn’t a faith and therefore atheists don’t belong in an “interfaith” service.

The problem however is not with atheists for wanting to be included in interfaith services, but rather with interfaith services themselves for pretending that they are inclusive when their very name is exclusive. If they desire to be exclusive that is one thing, but doing so while pretending to be inclusive just doesn’t work. The fact is that atheism is on the rise in America and many atheists have built and are building humanist communities like the one at Harvard. We are here and we are not going away; we’re growing!”

We had similar issues in New Zealand in commemorations held for victims of the Christchurch earthquake. I understand that even the minor religions had to fight hard against dominance of the major Christian denominations for representation at the “interfaith” service. I guess humanists and other nonreligious groups just didn’t have a show.

“Interfaith” in local bodies

militant

This issue came up for me again when the local “interfaith” group achieved a small “victory” with the Hamilton City Council. Here’s how the Waikato interfaith council reported the City Council’s acceptance of their request:

The Waikato Interfaith Council (WIFCO) is pleased to announce that the Hamilton City Council has embraced the opening of each of its City Council meetings with an interfaith prayer. In 2013, these will be led by Waikato faith leaders from the Anglican, Baha’i, Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu, Jewish, Mormon, and Muslim communities. We would like to extend our vote of appreciation to Her Worship the Mayor Judy Hardaker, Hamilton City Councillor Daphne Bell, and all Hamilton City Council members for including both majority and minority religions in the opening of future Council meetings. This positive action sends an enthusiastic message of inclusion to all members of society and we sincerely hope that our prayers, led by a more representative selection of Waikato faith leaders, may help guide and encourage our Mayor and City Councillors in fulfilling the obligations for which they have been elected. WIFCO believes that this is a significant milestone in local governance that embraces all members of Waikato’s multicultural and multireligious communities. We hope that other Councils throughout New Zealand undertake such initiatives. [My bold]

So there’s the delusion – blatantly presented. The idea that holding religious prayers at City Council Meetings is somehow inclusive. Or that just by including prayers from minor religious groups as well as the major one is being inclusive.

But it’s not – as this figure from my recent post Fiddling with census figures for religion in New Zealand shows:


WICO’s agreement nice little arrangement with the Hamilton City Council is not inclusive because the largest New Zealand belief group is actually excluded!

Questions for consideration

  • Are ceremonies and prayers needed in local bodies and public events?
  • Should interfaith groups make sure there is representation of nonreligious beliefs in such “inclusive” ceremonies?
  • should nonreligious organisations be more proactive and request their recognition and offcial presence in “inclusive” ceremonies?
  • Why do “interfaith” groups and activities usually ignore the nonreligious?

See also:

Census 2013: That religion question

Ben Heather, at Stuff, made some comments on the religion question in the NZ Census (see Census 2013: Taking Stock Of New Zealand Society) which need slightly deeper analysis.

He said:

“Atheism is tipped to continue its rise in this year’s census results, while those identifying as Christian will fall below 50 per cent.

In the 2006 census, just over two million people, or 55.6 per cent of those answering the religious affiliation question, identified with a Christian religion. In the 2001 census, the figure was 60.6 per cent.

Those ticking “no religion” rose from 29 per cent in 2001 to 34.7 per cent.”

Firstly, using data only for “those answering the religious affiliation question” can give the wrong impression if you extrapolate to the whole population. It assumes those who didn’t, or refused, to answer the question have the same distribution of affiliations as those who did. That’s unlikely to be the case.

Safest to express these figures as a percentage of the total population. In my 2008 article, God’s not as popular as we thought, I used that approach and said:

“In the 2006 Census 51% of New Zealanders described themselves as Christian. A total of 3.8% described themselves as Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim (the next three largest religions) and 32% declared no religion.”

However, I went further. In Is New Zealand a Christian nation? I mentioned the problem of double dipping by Christians:

“Apparently some Christians are so enthusiastic that belong to several different churches. I can believe that as I have a relative who used to attend two different churches each Sunday because it gave him two different experiences.

In 2006 140,000 New Zealanders claimed to be adherents of more than one Christian religion. This caused an overestimation of the proportion of Christians. When corrected for double dipping the 2006 census showed that:

53.1% of those answering the religious affiliation question were Christian, or

49.5% of the total population described themselves as Christian.”

So, true, “those identifying as Christian will fall below 50 per cent” in this census. But when double dipping was removed those identifying as Christians had already fallen below 50% in 2006.

What do you mean by “Christian?”

The article also quoted research by Victoria University religious studies teaching fellow Will Hoverd who is involved in the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Survey, which began in 2009. It concludes:

“The research suggests half of those ticking “no religion” are not atheist, and three-quarters of them believe in a god or spiritual life force.

I am keen to see results from this survey and don’t question that observation (although reference to a “spiritual life force” is problematic and can – usually does – give the wrong impression). However, it does give a misleading message as it ignores the beliefs of those who do tick a religion box. Because religious affiliation does not necessarily say anything about beliefs, including belief in gods.

The results presented in the Ispos MORI survey Religious and Social Attitudes of UK Christians in 2011  show the problem. This survey questioned people who recorded their religion as “Christian” in the 2011 UK Census.

One question was “Which is the one statement that best describes what being a Christian means to you personally?” Nine choices (including “prefer not to say” were provided. The figure below shows the responses.

I discussed the survey in my article  Belief and morality.

One cannot quibble with the Dr Hoverd’s main conclusion though:

“What we’re finding is a demographic shift away from organised religion.”

But that indicates the problem with the census religion question. Many people will tick “Christian” (or a denomination) purely because they think it’s what’s expected. Not because they belong to any church or religious community. And not because they have a specific religious belief.

That distorts the results. I think religion still has a lot more influence in our society than it should because of the assumptions made in surveys like the census. After all the census results will be used to argue for Christian privileges (eg. taxation exemption, local body rates exemptions, state ceremonies and lobbying of parliament).

Tick the “no religion” box if applicable

Here’s an idea – what about being honest. If you have no religion, or have stopped belonging to the one you inherited from your family, tick the “no religion” box.

Why does this matter? Well a more accurate census of religious affiliation will encourage policy makers and planners to produce social policies more in line with the population. Maybe if the true figures for religion were available our government might be more willing to remove religious ceremony from parliament and state functions. Or not be so lenient with dishing out public money purely on the basis of religious claims.

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Who is guilty of misusing science?

I know someone is going to accuse me of “scientism” for this. But I guess that goes with the science blogger’s job – and it’s a diversion anyway. It will hardly be the first time.

What I want to dispute here is the claim that “science cannot prove or disprove the existence of a god!”

Now, I have no problem with private belief. And many people no doubt retain this “limits of science” argument as part of their private belief. We all have beliefs or quirks which we don’t feel the need, or wish, to expose to critical investigation. That’s fine by me.

But I do object to those religious apologists who make this “limits of science” claim, but at the same time resort to arguments from scientific knowledge, or even just from reasoning, to claim their god belief is completely justifiable, and that my god disbelief is not. You, know – those who prattle on about “fine-tuning” of physical and cosmological constants, of evidence for an origin of the universe as “proof” of the existence of their god! Even those who claim the facts of “moral truths” prove their god! And then go on to rule “out of order” scientific arguments used by those who don’t believe.

Don’t these people realise they are claiming one rule for themselves (use of “scientific proof” argument) and denying the same to others by claiming “limits of science”? You would think the contradiction was obvious but there seem to be just as many (probably more) books, newspaper opinion pieces, etc., out there claiming science has proved the existence of a god as there are claims that such subjects are “outside the limits of science.”

I think both claims are unjustified – they are just emotionally motivated “logic” arguing for, and protecting, a preconceived belief.

The “Scientific proof” of the theologian

The scientific proof of the religious apologist amounts to nothing more than weak claims that “the evidence of an Intelligent Designer is all around us.” Or that scientific explanations of life and the universe have huge gaps. That somehow when a scientist says “I don’t know” this “proves” the religionist’s myth-based belief must be true – bugger the need for evidence or validation of ideas.

That’s not scientific proof! You need to do a lot more than just badmouth scientific theories. In science you actually need to advance a structured hypothesis. One based on evidence that makes predictions which can be tested against reality. Hypotheses and ideas that stand up to scrutiny, are open to modification, even outright abandonment, in the light of evidence.

You know, the sort of science which leads to publications and conference presentations.

wonka-physics-god

That sort of hypothesis would surely show a serious attempt to approach the questions scientifically – even if we were forced to acknowledge that we did not have the technology or mental capacity to provide a good answer. Whereas at the moment such talk of scientific proofs for gods is

The “limits of science”

As for the “limits of science” argument – this is never properly justified. If their god is part of objectively existing reality then surely the scientific approach is an acceptable way of investigating the claim. Of course science may not be up to that job. There are certainly areas which it finds difficult to investigate now – and there are potentially areas we may never be able to investigate because of limits in our technology and our intelligence. But at the moment the scientific approach is the best one we have to investigate difficult aspects of reality. And if science cannot sort things out then no-one has yet been able to produce an alternative, a specific “other way of knowing,” which could do the job – have they?

Yes, I know, these Sophisticated TheologiansTM have some clever arguments. Their god is outside space and time. Outside the universe. Therefore we have no way of investigating it. No way of detecting it even.

The obvious question that comes to my mind is “How do you know that? You seems to be so certain – what evidence do you have.” And isn’t this another one rule for me, another for you argument? After all -  you claim that god is answering your prayers, influencing events in the world, helping believers win races and overcome illness. Even causing a few hurricanes or earthquakes to discipline us for sinning! Going in for a bit of smiting! If that is the case your god is leaving an evidential trail which science can investigate.

But if you god is truly outside time and space, outside the universe, not only would we not be able to detect it, it would not have any influence here – would it? Haven’t you gone overboard in your attempt to protect your god from scientific investigation. You have ended up in defining your god out of any practical existence!

So before you start chanting “scientism” – ask yourself who is guilty of scientism? Of using science inappropriately?

Surely it is the religious apologist who claims “scientific proof” which is not at all scientific. Or who claims they know things about reality which they cannot possibly know. That they have an alternative “way of knowing” which can produce Truth with a capital T – but which they cannot even describe.

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Sex, Death And The Meaning Of Life. Episode 3: Meaning

This is the third and last video in the series Sex, Death And The Meaning Of Life. It’s about “meaning.”

Richard Dawkins sets out to answer the question he often gets asked - “How do you get up in the morning?”

Sex, Death And The Meaning Of Life Episode 3.

Another laid-back coverage by Dawkins. He gives plenty of space to the religious attempts to find meaning but is personally not convinced. I find his own description of meaning in understanding and observing reality, experiencing human art and culture, and appreciating the awe provided by our surroundings, far more attractive.

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Therapeutic ranting

Book review: The Atheist Camel Rants Again!: more arguments and observations from the atheist front by Bart Centre.

Price: US$10.71; NZ$20.60
Paperback: 326 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace (May 25, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1460933915
ISBN-13: 978-1460933916

Personal passion does wonders for one’s writing. Mind you, passion is also polarising. Not everyone is going to love what you say, even though you say it forcefully and colourfully.

I am sure this is the case with Dromedary Hump’s latest book The Atheist Camel Rants Again! But that is part of what makes the book so good – for some of us at least.

The book is well named – it is a rant. But a colourful, humorous and soul-enhancing rant which will appeal to atheists and other free-thinkers. It was not meant to appeal to those who Centre satirically calls the “theologically deluded.” Nevertheless, I am sure there are some more open-minded religious people who will appreciate the humour and colour. In fact these people will probably find a lot they can identify with as they must sometimes despair at the stupidity reached by their more militant and strident co-religionists.

Like his earlier book, this one is a collection of 105 lively blog posts. They are each only about 2 pages long – which makes the book easy to dip into. You can read what you want, when you want, depending simply on what strikes your mood at the time.

In my review of his previous book (see The Atheist Camel Chronicles) I said that when Centre “calls a spade a spade” he “cleverly implies it might actually be a bloody big shovel.” Well he has lost none of that eloquence. Or humour. The satire and cynicism is just as biting.

Theist stupidity

Just as well, because there is still a lot of stupidity out there.  In “Pity the Persecuted Christians,” for example, he describes how some religious leaders:

“make it sound as though Christianity is undergoing a veritable Inquisition. . . .They cannot differentiate between their right to practice their religion (which is never implied) and the rights of non-Christians NOT to have Christian religion forced upon them . .  which is precisely what they are protesting. By impeding their holy charge to proselytize, convert, harass, badger, and impose their beliefs on others, it is they who are being persecuted. That’s about as bizarre a reversal of logic as one could conceive.”

Right on! Someone has to say it. People are fed up with the arrogant attitude demonstrated by non-consensual imposition of religious “values”, traditions and ceremonies. Centre colourfully describes this in “The Invocation:”

“the sky pilot couldn’t care less if it irks some because he sees it as his divinely directed duty to shove his God down people’s throats, welcome or not.”

In “Religion is a ‘Beautiful Thing,’” he asks:

“is it because religious charity is a way to proselytise to those desperately in need of material aid in an effort to gain converts? Is that the ‘beauty of religion’?”

Again, who else has wondered that?

And on a topical issue of marriage equality (“Those Damn Homos are Changing Word Definitions! Stop Them NOW!”) he tells opponents that “you’ll get used to gay marriage:”

“in five to ten years, gay marriage will be legal in a majority of states. And in three hundred to five hundred years, the Christian churches will apologise for their homophobic hysteria. It just takes them that long to catch up to humanity.”

And what about this depiction of a “Beffudled God” who requires a professional army of interpreters and apologists (in “Beffudled God: Good Thing he has so Many Interpreters”):

“Their God, it seems, is an articulate and confused old fool who has to rely on his creations to figure out and explain exactly what his words mean and policies should be. Liken it to a ninety-eight-year-old senile company founder who is kept locked in his office by the board of directors, and who translate his babble into whatever the board wants it to mean to the shareholders.”

Some atheists disappoint

But Centre doesn’t waste all his satire on the religiously inclined – some atheists also get a tongue lashing. He laments:

“a few atheists who, through their own stupidity, feed theist misconceptions of atheism. Some of them call for an ‘atheist church’ or at least see no conflict with the oxymoronic term. These atheists are the Uncle Toms, the embarrassing mentally impaired relatives of the activist atheist movement who are best confined to an attic or their parents’ basement.”

And later adds:

“On the other hand, if by calling every atheist organisation a church, mosque, synagogue, or coven we all get a major tax break . . .  count me in and call me ‘Reverend.’”

But, seriously, he is concerned about the knee jerk reactions of some atheists to current events:

“Perhaps my disappointment is my own fault, as I tend to credit freethinkers with using the same reasoned approach to all issues and events as when they rejected supernaturalism. More credit than we apparently deserve.”

Well, I often think we are not a rational species – even if we sometimes get some things right.

No one will be surprised to learn that Bart Centre is the creator and co-owner of the Eternal Earth-Bound Pets post-Rapture Pet rescue website (http://www.eternal-earthbound-pets.com/).

I started reading this book when I was feeling down. Before long I was laughing my head off. I had forgotten my own problems – except I was wishing I had such satirical skills.

If you are that way inclined, or even just open-minded and unafraid of satire, you will find this a book which you read through quickly. And then will start looking for his last one The Atheist Camel Chronicles.

But if you are sensitive about your beliefs (theist or non-theist) and can’t take a joke, then I recommend you avoid the book.

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Is there room for religion in science?

Jerry Coyne at Why Evolution is True highly recommends this video (see Dawkins on Al Jazeera). I watched it over lunch and can second his recommendation.

It’s an Al Jazeera talk back show – The Stream – where Richard Dawkins is interviewed and other people from around the world are linked in for comments and questions. The basic question was “Is there room for religion in science?”

I think Dawkin does an excellent job of calmly and sensibly answering the questions (so much for the “strident” myth). But I was also fascinated by the way the programme was integrated with  Twitter and Google+ to get real-time feedback from viewers. Those comments themselves are intriguing.

Quite a unique experience – and fascinating to see such a well done programme presented on an international news media channel. Dawkins really seems to be getting his message across internationally.

New Atheism’s most polarising figure? – YouTube.

Must admit I wondered if I had the colour balance wrong – or does Richard have a touch of sunburn?

Update: Richard has confirmed that it was a colour balance problem. He added: “They could presumably have fixed it “in post” but perhaps they rather enjoyed the association of red face with strident anger!”

Australian census confirms healthy trend

The early results from the Australian 2011 census have appeared. There has been a lot of comment on the trends for religion. The No Religion group has now moved to second place (22.3%), behind Catholic (25.3%) and ahead of Anglican (17.1%). And, the No Religion group is the only one of the major religious groups that has increased since the previous Census (2006) – all the other major religious groups have declined. I have summarised the data (from 2011 Census QuickStats: Australia) in the figure below.

This trend is just a continuation of that clear since earlier census results (see Secular twins and Non religious in Australia and New Zealand). And Australia still has some catching up to do with New Zealand. (In 2006 the No Religion was about 34% in New Zealand and 19% in Australia).  Although this might be at least partly due to the fact that in New Zealand we put the “No religion” choice at the top of the box while the Australians put theirs at the bottom (see Non religious in Australia and New Zealand).

I’ll return to this when the Australian detailed census data is published. My interest is to see the breakdown with respect to age. Previous results in Australia and New Zealand show that the “No Religion” choice is much higher for younger people (see Religious belief and age). And the recent Pew data for the USA show there was a sharp jump in non-belief among younger people in the middle of the last decade (see Sharp increase in “nones”).

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Sharp increase in “nones”

The American Values Survey Question Database  from the Pew Research Centre suggests that with the new century we may be seeing a marked change in the beliefs of Americans.

On the statement “I never doubt the existence of God” the number of people who disagree jumped from 10% in 2000 to 18% in 212. That is after being constant for the previous 15 years (see figure below).


But the data is even more dramatic when broken down into age groups. The numbers disagreeing have increased in all age groups, but the increase is most marked for the younger ages. The increase for the 18-29 years group was about 100% (from 18% in 2000 to 31% in 2012). And most of this increase occurred since 2005.

Perhaps those horrible Gnus have been having an effect after all.

The data for New Zealand is not so detailed. However, the figure below shows data from the last 3 census results – 1996, 2001, 2006. Here we see what appears to be a steady increase in those choosing “no religion” on the census form in all age groups. Again the effect is larger for the younger groups. About 45% of people below 40 years old now have no religion.

Last year’s census was delayed because of the Christchurch earthquakes. But I suspect we are going to see some barriers broken in the results it produces.

See also: Belief In God Plummets Among Youth (CHART) for US data presented in terms of “generations.”

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Gnu bashing once again

The latest Gallup poll on American’s beliefs about creationism and evolution has predictably raised some comments among bloggers. As expected, there have not been any big changes – most still support either creationism (46%) or a god-guided form of evolution (32%). Although it is heartening that there is a long-term trend of increasing acceptance of normal evolutionary science (no god-guidance) – see below.

Among the commenting bloggers, one stands out – Robert Wright, writing for the Atlantic (see Creationists vs. Evolutionists). Because he is raising that old myth – Richard Dawkins is responsible for the strength of creationist belief in the US!! He even raise this old myth to a status of “theory”, but then retreats to a hypothesis.” Come on Robert – a bit more humility is in order – even hypothesis need some sort of supporting evidence, and the above graph is not providing any.

How the hell does he support the idea that “biologists such as Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers started violating the nonaggression pact” which has lead to the current situation. Where’s the sudden jump when Richard publishedThe God Delusion inb 2006 or PZ started blogging (2002).

Have a look a blog posts by Jerry Coyne (Robert Wright blames creationism on atheists) and PZ (My vast powers transcend space and time!) ridiculing this little “hypothesis of Wright’s. I will just take this issue a little further to cover a similar myth – that these horrible “new atheists” (gnus), and Richard Dawkins in particular, are responsible for the lack of support and respect for science in the US. I mentioned this myth in my review of Ecklund’s book  Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think  (see Are scientists hostile to religion?)

Ecklund had referred to statistics on public attitudes towards science to support her mythical thesis that prominent scientists were causing people to turn away from science because they criticised relgion! But again, the statistics just didn’t support her claim. The plot below shows there has been no effect of  “new atheists”  activity (starting in 2004/2006) on the attitude of the public toward scientists.

%age of US public considering professions of “very great prestige.”

In fact, the data shows that there had been a downturn in respect for religious professions after 2001. Was that due to the “new atheists?” Are PZ’s blog (2002) or Sam Harris’s first book (2004) responsible for the dip in 2002 – 2004?

Or is this just a sign that the public was turning away from religion because of its involvement in the New York terror attacks of 2001? Or maybe a comment made by many people may just be  relevant. We had just got fed up with the hypocritical morality (think of all the choir boys) and interference of religionists? Perhaps even reacting to the religious interference in the teaching of science – even the practice of science?

Oh well, you can make you own interpretation of the statistics to fit your own prejudices.

Robert Wright does raise an issue which corresponds to one blip in the first graph. He says:

” Over the past two years, the portion of respondents who don’t believe in evolution has grown by six percentage points. Where did those people come from? The graph suggests they’re people who had previously believed in an evolution guided by God–a group whose size dropped by a corresponding six percentage points. It’s as if people who had previously seen evolution and religion as compatible were told by the new militant Darwinians, “No, you must choose: Which is it, evolution or religion?”–and pretty much all of them chose religion. “

But perhaps ID is to blame?

Again, I say, Wright’s propensity for Dawkins’ bashing is confusing him. He can’t see the alternative explanations of that blip (if it is even real). What about the effect of propaganda by the intelligent design (ID) protagonists, who are very hostile to theistic evolution (usually mean god as the guider). You just have to watch bits of the videos of the ID  conference on theistic evolution held at Biola University in October 2010 (see Videos from an ID conference at Biola University,  Biola God and evolution conference now on YouTube and Seven videos from the Biola University conference on God and evolution).

They hate theistic evolution and really dug the knife into Francis Collins. They make it clear that they won’t tolerate any bit of this ideas that you can accept evolution and still believe in a god. They will just not compromise. (Although even then, dear old Casey Luskin manages to really transfer the blame to the gnus because he claims theistic evolution cannot stop the war of the gnus on god – he’s a funny guy.)

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