Essence of Christianity: PART I, The True or Anthropological Essence of Religion

Chapter XVIII. The Christian Heaven, or Personal Immortality

THE unwedded and ascetic life is the direct way to the heavenly, immortal life, for heaven is nothing else than life liberated from the conditions of the species, supernatural, sexless, absolutely subjective life. The belief in personal immortality has at its foundation the belief that difference of sex is only an external adjunct of individuality, that in himself the individual is a sexless, independently complete, absolute being. But he who belongs to no sex belongs to no species; sex is the cord which connects the individuality with the species, and he who belongs to no species, belongs only to himself, is an altogether independent, divine, absolute being. Hence only when the species vanishes from the consciousness is the heavenly life a certainty. He who lives in the consciousness of the species, and consequently of its reality, lives also in the consciousness of the reality of sex. He does not regard it as a mechanically inserted, adventitious stone of stumbling but as an inherent quality, a chemical constituent of his being He indeed recognises himself as a man in the broader sense, but he is at the same time conscious of being rigorously determined by the sexual distinction, which penetrates not only bones and marrow, but also his inmost self, the essential mode of his thought, will, and sensation. He therefore who lives in the consciousness of the species, who limits and determines his feelings and imagination by the contemplation of real life, of real man, can conceive no life in which the life of the species, and therewith the distinction of sex, is abolished; he regards the sexless individual, the heavenly spirit, as an agreeable figment of the imagination.

But just as little as the real man can abstract himself from the distinction of sex, so little can he abstract himself from his moral or spiritual constitution, which indeed is profoundly connected with his natural constitution. Precisely because he lives in the contemplation of the whole, he also lives in the consciousness that he is himself no more than a part, and that he is what he is only by virtue of the conditions which constitute him a member of the whole, or a relative whole. Everyone, therefore, justifiably regards his occupation, his profession, his art or science, as the highest; for the mind of man is nothing but the essential mode of his activity. He who is skilful in his profession, in his art, he who fills his post well, and is entirely devoted to his calling, thinks that calling the highest and best. How can he deny in thought what he emphatically declares in act by the joyful devotion of all his powers? If I despise a thing how can I dedicate to it my time and faculties? If I am compelled to do so in spite of my aversion, my activity is an unhappy one, for I am at war with myself. Work is worship. But how can I worship or serve an object, how can I subject myself to it, if it does not hold a high place in my mind? In brief, the occupations of men determine their judgment, their mode of thought, their sentiments. And the higher the occupation, the more completely does a man identify himself with it. In general, whatever a man makes the essential aim of his life, he proclaims to be his soul; for it is the principle of motion in him. But through his aim, through the activity in which he realises this aim, man is not only something for himself, but also something, for others, for the general life, the species. He therefore who lives in the consciousness of the species as a reality, regards his existence for others, his relation to society, his utility to the public, as that existence which is one with the existence of his own essence – as his immortal existence. He lives with his whole soul, with his whole heart, for humanity. How can he hold in reserve a special existence for himself, how can he separate himself from mankind? How shall he deny in death what he has enforced in life? And in life his faith is thus: Nec sibi sed toti genitum se credere mundo.

The heavenly life, or what we do not here distinguish from it – personal immortality, is a characteristic doctrine of Christianity. It is certainly in part to be found among the heathen philosophers; but with them it had only the significance of a subjective conception, because it was not connected with their fundamental view of things. How contradictory, for example, are the expressions of the Stoics on this subject! It was among the Christians that personal immortality first found that principle, whence it follows as a necessary and obvious consequence. The contemplation of the world, of Nature, of the race, was always coming athwart the ancients; they distinguished between the principle of life and the living subject, between the soul, the mind, and self: whereas the Christian abolished the distinction between soul and person, species and individual, and therefore placed immediately in self what belongs only to the totality of the species. But the immediate unity of the species and individuality is the highest principle, the God of Christianity, – in it the individual has the significance of the absolute being – and the necessary, immanent consequence of this principle is personal immortality.

Or rather: the belief in personal immortality is perfectly identical with the belief in a personal God that which expresses the belief in the heavenly, immortal life of the person, expresses God also, as he is an object to Christians, namely, as absolute, unlimited personality. Unlimited personality is God; but heavenly personality, or the perpetuation of human personality in heaven, is nothing else than personality released from all earthly encumbrances and limitations; the only distinction is, that God is heaven spiritualised, while heaven is God materialised, or reduced to the forms of the senses: that what in God is posited only in abstracto is in heaven more an object of the imagination. God is the implicit heaven; heaven is the explicit God. In, the present, God is the kingdom of heaven; in the future, heaven is God. God is the pledge, the as yet abstract presence and existence of heaven; the anticipation, the epitome of heaven. Our own future existence, which, while we are in this world, in this body, is a separate, objective existence, – is God: God is the idea of the species, which will be first realised, individualised in the other world. God is the heavenly, pure, free essence, which exists there as heavenly pure beings, the bliss which there unfolds itself in a plenitude of blissful individuals. Thus God is nothing else than the idea or the essence of the absolute, blessed, heavenly life, here comprised in an ideal personality. This is clearly enough expressed in the belief that the blessed life is unity with God. Here we are distinguished and separated from God, there the partition falls; here we are men, there gods; here the Godhead is a monopoly, there it is a common possession; here it is an abstract unity, there a concrete multiplicity.

The only difficulty in the recognition of this is created by the imagination, which, on the one hand by the conception of the personality of God, on the other by the conception of the many personalities which it places in a realm ordinarily depicted in the hues of the senses, hides the real unity of the idea. But in truth there is no distinction between the absolute life which is conceived as God and the absolute life which is conceived as heaven, save that in heaven we have stretched into length and breadth what in God is concentrated in one point. The belief in the immortality of man is the belief in the divinity of man, and the belief in God is the belief in pure personality, released from all limits, and consequently eo ipso immortal. The distinctions made between the immortal soul and God are either sophistical or imaginative; as when, for example, the bliss of the inhabitants of heaven is a man circumscribed by limits, and distributed into degrees, in order to establish a distinction between God and the dwellers in heaven.

The identity of the divine and heavenly personality is apparent even in the popular proofs of immortality. If there is not another and a better life, God is not just and good. The justice and goodness of God are thus made dependent on the perpetuity of individuals; but without justice and goodness God is not God; – the Godhead, the existence of God, is therefore made dependent on the existence of individuals. If I am not immortal, I believe in no God; he who denies immortality denies God. But that is impossible to me: as surely as there is a God, so surely is there an immortality. God is the certainty of my future felicity. The interest I have in knowing, that God is, is one with the interest I have in knowing that I am, that I am immortal. God is my hidden, my assured existence; he is the subjectivity of subjects, the personality of persons. How then should that not belong to persons which belongs to personality? In God I make my future into a present, or rather a verb into a substantive; how should I separate the one from the other? God is the existence corresponding to my wishes and feelings: he is the just one, the good, who fulfils my wishes. Nature, this world, is an existence which contradicts my wishes, my feelings. Here it is not as it ought to be; this world passes away; but God is existence as it ought to be. God fulfils my wishes; – this is only a popular personification of the position: God is the fulfiller, i.e., the reality, the fulfilment of my wishes. But heaven is the existence adequate to my wishes, my longing; thus there is no distinction between God and heaven. God is the power by which man realises his eternal happiness; God is the absolute personality in which all individual persons have the certainty of their blessedness and immortality; God is to subjectivity the highest, last certainty of its absolute truth and essentiality.

The doctrine of immortality is the final doctrine of religion; its testament, in which it declares its last wishes. Here therefore it speaks out undisguisedly what it has hitherto suppressed. If elsewhere the religious soul concerns itself with the existence of another being, here it openly considers only its own existence; if elsewhere in religion man makes his existence dependent on the existence of God, he here makes the reality of God dependent on his own reality; and thus what elsewhere is a primitive, immediate truth to him, is here a derivative, secondary truth: if I am not immortal, God is not God; if there is no immortality, there is no God; – a conclusion already drawn by the Apostle Paul. If we do not rise again, then Christ is not risen, and all is vain. Let us eat and drink. It is certainly possible to do away with what is apparently or really objectionable in the popular argumentation, by avoiding the inferential form; but this can only be done by making immortality an analytic instead of a synthetic truth, so as to show that the very idea of God as absolute personality or subjectivity is per se the idea of immortality. God is the guarantee of my future existence, because he is already the certainty and reality of my present existence, my salvation, my trust, my shield from the forces of the external world; hence I need not expressly deduce immortality, or prove it as a separate truth, for if I have God, I have immortality also. Thus it was with the more profound Christian mystics; to them the idea of immortality was involved in the idea of God; God was their immortal life, – God himself their subjective blessedness: he was for them, for their consciousness, what he is in himself, that is, in the essence of religion.

Thus it is shown that God is heaven; that the two are identical. It would have been easier to prove the converse, namely, that heaven is the true God of men. As man conceives his heaven, so he conceives his God; the content of his idea of heaven is the content of his idea of God, only that what in God is a mere sketch, a concept, is in heaven depicted and developed in the colours and forms of the senses. Heaven is therefore the key to the deepest mysteries of religion. As heaven is objectively the displayed nature of God, so subjectively it is the most candid declaration of the inmost thoughts and dispositions of religion. For this reason, religions are as various as are the kingdoms of heaven, and there are as many different kingdoms of heaven is there are characteristic differences among men. The Christians themselves have very heterogeneous conceptions of heaven.

[And their conceptions of God are just as heterogeneous. The pious Germans have a German God, the pious Spaniards a Spanish God, the French a French God. The French actually have the proverb: “Le ban Dieu est Francais.” In fact, polytheism must exist so long as there are various nations. The real God of a people is the point d'honneur of its nationality.]

The more judicious among them, however, think and say nothing definite about heaven or the future world in general, on the ground that it is inconceivable, that it can only be thought of by us according, to the standard of this world, a standard not applicable to the other. All conceptions of heaven here below are, they allege, mere images, whereby man represents to himself that future, the nature of which is unknown to him, but the existence of which is certain. It is just so with God. The existence of God, it is said, is certain; but what he is, or how he exists, is inscrutable. But he who speaks thus has already driven the future world out of his head; he still holds it fast, either because he does not think at all about such matters, or because it is still a want of his heart; but, preoccupied with real things, he thrusts it as far as possible out of his sight; he denies with his head what he affirms with his heart; for it is to deny the future life, to deprive it of the qualities by which alone it is a real and effective object for man. Quality is not distinct from existence; quality is nothing but real existence. Existence without quality is a chimera, a spectre. Existence is first made known to me by quality; not existence first, and after that quality. The doctrines that God is not to be known or defined, and that the nature of the future life is inscrutable, are therefore not originally religious doctrines; on the contrary, they are the products of irreligion while still in bondage to religion, or rather hiding itself behind religion; and they are so for this reason, that originally the existence of God is posited only with a definite conception of God, the existence of a future life only with a definite conception of that life. Thus to the Christian, only his own paradise, the paradise which has Christian qualities, is a certainty, not the paradise of the Mahometan or the Elysium of the Greeks. The primary certainty is everywhere quality; existence follows of course when once quality is certain. In the New Testament we find no proofs or general propositions such as: there is a God, there is a heavenly life; we find only qualities of the heavenly life adduced; – “in heaven they marry not.” Naturally; – it may be answered, – because the existence of God and of heaven is presupposed. But here reflection introduces a distinction of which the religious sentiment knows nothing. Doubtless the existence is presupposed, but only because the quality is itself existence, because the inviolate religious feeling lives only in the quality, just as to the natural man the real existence, the thine, in itself, lies only in the quality which he perceives. Thus in the passage above cited from the New Testament, the virgin or rather sexless life is presupposed as the true life, which, however, necessarily becomes a future one, because the actual life contradicts the ideal of the true life. But the certainty of this future life lies only in the certainty of its qualities, as those of the true, highest life, adequate to the ideal.

Where the future life is really believed in, where it is a certain life, there, precisely because it is certain, it is also definite. If I know not now what and how I shall be; if there is an essential, absolute difference between my future and my present; neither shall I then know what and how I was before, the unity of consciousness is at an end, personal identity is abolished, another being will appear in my place; and thus my future existence is not in fact distinguished from non-existence. If, on the other hand, there is no essential difference, the future is to me an object that may be defined and known. And so it is in reality. I am the abiding subject under changing conditions; I am the substance which connects the present and the future into a unity. How then can the future be obscure to me? On the contrary, the life of this world is the dark, incomprehensible life, which only becomes clear through the future life; here I am in disguise; there the mask will fall; there I shall be as I am in truth. Hence the position that there indeed is another, a heavenly life, but that what and how it is must here remain inscrutable, is only an invention of religious scepticism, which, being entirely alien to the religious sentiment, proceeds upon a total misconception of religion. That which irreligious-religious reflection converts into a known image of an unknown yet certain thing, is originary, in the primitive, true sense of religion, not an image, but the thing itself. Unbelief, in the garb of belief, doubts the existence of the thing, but it is too shallow or cowardly directly to call it in question; it only expresses doubt of the image or conception, i.e., declares the image to be only an image. But the untruth and hollowness of this scepticism has been already made evident historically. Where it is once doubted that the images of immortality are real, that it is possible to exist as faith conceives, for example, without a material, real body, and without difference of sex; there the future existence in general is soon a matter of doubt. With the image falls the thing, simply because the image is the thing itself.

The belief in heaven, or in a future life in general, rests on a mental judgment. It expresses praise and blame; it selects a wreath from the flora of this world, and this critical florilegium is heaven. That which man thinks beautiful, good, agreeable, is for him what alone ought to be; that which he thinks bad, odious, disagreeable, is what ought not to be; and hence, since it nevertheless exists, it is condemned to destruction, it is regarded as a negation. Where life is not in contradiction with a feeling, an imagination, an idea, and where this feeling, this idea, is not held authoritative and absolute, the belief in another and a heavenly life does not arise. The future life is nothing else than life in unison with the feeling, with the idea, which the present life contradicts. The whole import of the future life is the abolition of this discordance, and the realisation of a state which corresponds to the feelings, in which man is in unison with himself. An unknown, unimagined future is a ridiculous chimera: the other world is nothing more than the reality of a known idea, the satisfaction of a conscious desire, the fulfilment of a wish; it is only the removal of limits which here oppose themselves to the realisation of the idea. Where would be the consolation, where the significance of a future life, if it were midnight darkness to me? No! from yonder world there streams upon me with the splendour of virgin gold what here shines only with the dimness of unrefined ore. The future world has no other significance, no other basis of its existence, than the separation of the metal from the admixture of foreign elements, the separation of the good from the bad, of the pleasant from the unpleasant, of the praiseworthy from the blamable. The future world is the bridal in which man concludes his union with his beloved. Long has he loved his bride, long has he yearned after her; but external relations, hard reality, have stood in the way of his union to her. When the wedding takes place, his beloved one does not become a different being; else how could he so ardently long for her? She only becomes his own; from an object of yearning and affectionate desire she becomes an object of actual possession. It is true that here below, the other world is only an image, a conception; still it is not the image of a remote, unknown thing, but a portrait of that which man loves and prefers before all else. What man loves is his soul. The heathens enclosed the ashes of the beloved dead in an urn; with the Christian the heavenly future is the mausoleum in which he enshrines his soul.

In order to comprehend a particular faith, or religion in general, it is necessary to consider religion in its rudimentary stages, in its lowest, rudest condition. Religion must not only be traced in an ascending, line, but surveyed in the entire course of its existence. It is requisite to retard the various earlier religions as present in the absolute religion, and not as left behind it in the past, in order correctly to appreciate and comprehend the absolute religion as well as the others. The most frightful “aberrations,” the wildest excesses of the religious consciousness, often afford the profoundest insight into the mysteries of the absolute religion. Ideas, seemingly the rudest, are often only the most childlike, innocent, and true. This observation applies to the conceptions of a future life. The “savage,” whose consciousness does not extend beyond his own country, whose entire being is a growth of its soil, takes his country with him into the other world, either leaving Nature as it is, or improving it, and so overcoming in the idea of the other life the difficulties he experiences in this.

[According to old books of travel, however, there are many tribes which do not believe that the future is identical with the present, or that it is better, but that it is even worse. Parny (OEuv. Chois. t. i. Melang.) tells of a dying negro-slave who refused the inauguration to immortality by baptism in these words: “Je ne veux point d'une autre vie, car peut-Ítre y serais – je encore votre esclave.”]

In this limitation of uncultivated tribes there is a striking trait. With them the future expresses nothing else than homesickness. Death separates man from his kindred, from his people, from his country. But the man who has not extended his consciousness, cannot endure this separation; he must come back again to his native land. The negroes in the West Indies killed themselves that they might come to life again in their fatherland. And, according, to Ossian's conception, “the spirits of those who die in a strange land float back towards their birthplace.” This limitation is the direct opposite of imaginative spiritualism, which makes man a vagabond, who, indifferent even to the earth, roams from star to star; and certainly there lies a real truth at its foundation. Man is what he is through Nature, however much may belong to his spontaneity; for even his spontaneity has its foundation in Nature, of which his particular character is only an expression. Be thankful to Nature! Man cannot be separated from it. The German, whose God is spontaneity, owes his character to Nature just as much as the Oriental. To find fault with Indian art, with Indian religion and philosophy, is to find fault with Indian Nature. You complain of the reviewer who tears a passage in your works from the context that he may hand it over to ridicule. Why are you yourself guilty of that which you blame in others? Why do you tear the Indian religion from its connection, in which it is just as reasonable as your absolute religion?

Faith in a future world, in a life after death, is therefore with “savage” tribes essentially nothing more than direct faith in the present life – immediate unbroken faith in this life. For them, their actual life, even with its local limitations, has all, has absolute value; they cannot abstract from it, they cannot conceive its being broken off; i.e., they believe directly in the infinitude, the perpetuity of this life. Only when the belief in immortality becomes a critical belief, when a distinction is made between what is to be left behind here, and what is in reserve there, between what here passes away, and what there is to abide, does the belief in life after death form itself into the belief in another life; but this criticism, this distinction, is applied to the present life also. Thus the Christians distinguish between the natural and the Christian life, the sensual or worldly and the spiritual or holy life. The heavenly life is no other than that which is, already here below, distinguished from the merely natural life, though still tainted with it. That which the Christian excludes from himself now – for example, the sexual life is excluded from the future: the only distinction is, that he is there free from that which he here wishes to be free from, and seeks to rid himself of by the will, by devotion, and by bodily mortification. Hence this life is, for the Christian, a life of torment and pagan, because he is here still beset by a hostile power, and has to struggle with the lusts of the flesh and the assaults of the devil.

The faith of cultured nations is therefore distinguished from that of the uncultured in the same way that culture in general is distinguished from inculture: namely, that the faith of culture is a discriminating critical, abstract faith. A distinction implies a judgment; but where there is a judgment there arises the distinction between positive and negative. The faith of savage tribes is a faith without a judgment. Culture, on the contrary, judges: to the cultured man only cultured life is the true life; to the Christian only the Christian life. The rude child of Nature steps into the other life just as he is, without ceremony: the other world is his natural nakedness. The cultivated man, on the contrary, objects to the idea of such an unbridled life after death, because even here he objects to the unrestricted life of Nature. Faith in a future life is therefore only faith in the true life of the present; the essential elements of this life are also the essential elements of the other: accordingly, faith in a future life is not faith in another unknown life; but in the truth and infinitude, and consequently in the perpetuity, of that life which already here below is regarded as the authentic life.

As God is nothing else than the nature of man purified from that which to the human individual appears, whether in feeling or thought, a limitation, an evil; so the future life is nothing else than the present life freed from that which appears a limitation or an evil. The more definitely and profoundly the individual is conscious of the limit as a limit, of the evil as an evil, the more definite and profound is his conviction of the future life, where these limits disappear. The future life is the feeling the conception of freedom from those limits which here circumscribe the feeling, of self, the existence of the individual. The only difference between the course of religion and that of the natural or rational man is, that the end which the latter arrives at by a straight line, the former only attains by describing, a curved line – a circle. The natural man remains at home because he finds it agreeable, because he is perfectly satisfied; religion which commences with a discontent, a disunion, forsakes its home and travels far, but only to feel the more vividly in the distance the happiness of home. In religion man separates himself from himself, but only to return always to the same point from which he set out. Man negatives himself, but only to posit himself again, and that in a glorified form: he negatives this life, but only, in the end, to posit it again in the future life.

[There everything will be restored. “Qui modo vivit, erit, nee me vel dente, vel ungue fraudatum revomet patefacti fossa sepulchri.” – Aurelius Prud. (Apotheos. de Resurr. Carnis Hum.). And this filth, which you consider rude and carnal, and which you therefore disavow, is the only consistent, honest, and true faith. To the identity of the person belongs the identity of the body.]

The future life is this life once lost, but found again, and radiant with all the more brightness for the joy of recovery. The religious man renounces the joys of this world, but only that he may win in return the joys of heaven; or rather he renounces them because he is already in the ideal possession of heavenly joys; and the joys of heaven are the same as those of earth, only that they are freed from the limits and contrarieties of this life. Religion thus arrives, though by a circuit, at the very goal, the goal of joy, towards which the natural man hastens in a direct line. To live in images or symbols is the essence of religion. Religion sacrifices the thing itself to the image. The future life is the present in the mirror of the imagination: the enrapturing image is in the sense of religion the true type of earthly life, – real life only a glimmer of that ideal, imaginary life. The future life is the present embellished, contemplated through the imagination, purified from all gross matter; or, positively expressed, it is the beauteous present intensified.

Embellishment, emendation, presupposes blame, dissatisfaction, But the dissatisfaction is only superficial. I do not deny the thing to be of value; just as it is, however, it does not please me; I deny only the modification, not the substance, otherwise I should urge annihilation. A house which absolutely displeases me I cause to be pulled down, not to be embellished. To the believer in a future life joy is agreeable – who can fail to be conscious that joy is something positive? – but it is disagreeable to him that here joy is followed by opposite sensations, that it is transitory. Hence he places joy in the future life also, but as eternal, uninterrupted, divine joy (and the future life is therefore called the world of joy), such as he here conceives it in God; for God is nothing, but eternal, uninterrupted joy, posited as a subject. Individuality or personality is agreeable to him, but only as unencumbered by objective.forces; hence, he includes individuality also, but pure, absolutely subjective individuality. Light pleases him; but not gravitation, because this appears a limitation of the individual; not night, because in it man is subjected to Nature: in the other world, there is light, but no weight, no night, – pure, unobstructed light.

As man in his utmost remoteness from himself, in God, always returns upon himself, always revolves round himself; so in his utmost remoteness from the world, he always at last comes back to it. The more extra- and supra-human God appears at the commencement, the more human does he show himself to be in the subsequent course of things, or at the close: and just so, the more supernatural the heavenly life looks in the beginning or at a distance, the more clearly does it, in the end or when viewed closely, exhibit its identity with the natural life, – an identity which at last extends even to the flesh, even to the body. In the first instance the mind is occupied with the separation of the soul from the body, as in the conception of God the mind is first occupied with the separation of the essence from the individual; – the individual dies a spiritual death, the dead body which remains behind is the human individual; the soul which has departed from it is God. But the separation of the soul from the body, of the essence from the individual, of God from man, must be abolished again. Every separation of beings essentially allied is painful. The soul yearns after its lost half, after its body; as God, the departed soul yearns after the real man. As, therefore, God becomes a man again, so the soul returns to its body, and the perfect identity of this world and the other is now restored. It is true that this new body is a bright, glorified, miraculous body, but – and this is the main point – it is another and yet the same body, as God is another being than man, and yet the same. Here we come again to the idea of miracle, which unites contradictories. The supernatural body is a body constructed by the imagination, for which very reason it is adequate to the feelings of man: an unburdensome, purely subjective body. Faith in the future life is nothing else than faith in the truth of the imagination, as faith in God is faith in the truth and infinity of human feeling. Or: as faith in God is only faith in the abstract nature of man, so faith in the heavenly life is only faith in the abstract earthly life.

But the sum of the future life is happiness, the everlasting bliss of personality, which is here limited and circumscribed by Nature. Faith in the future life is therefore faith in the freedom of subjectivity from the limits of Nature; it is faith in the eternity and infinitude of personality, and not of personality viewed in relation to the idea of the species, in which it for ever unfolds itself in new individuals, but of personality as belonging to already existing individuals: consequently, it is the faith of man in himself. But faith in the kingdom of heaven is one with faith in God – the content of both ideas is the same; God is pure absolute subjectivity released from all natural limits; he is what individuals ought to be and will be: faith in God is therefore the faith of man in the infinitude and truth of his own nature; the Divine Being is the subjective human being in his absolute freedom and unlimitedness.

Our most essential task is now fulfilled. We have reduced the supermundane, supernatural, and superhuman nature of God to the elements of human nature as its fundamental elements. Our process of analysis has brought us again to the position with which we set out. The beginning, middle and end of religion is MAN.

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