The Philosophy Of Belief Or, Law In Christian Theology


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Christianity's core beliefs are summarized in the gospel of Jesus Christ

It is natural simply to identify persons with minds—or, at the very least, to assume that the number of minds equals the number of persons. If we go with such very natural assumptions, however, the two minds view leads directly to the view that the incarnation gives us two persons, contrary to orthodoxy. Moreover, one might wonder whether taking the two minds model seriously leads us to the view that Christ suffers from something like multiple personality disorder. In response to both objections, however, one might note that contemporary psychology seems to provide resources which support the viability of the two minds model.

As Morris points out elsewhere, the human mind is sometimes characterized as a system of somewhat autonomous subsystems. The normal human mind, for example, includes on these characterizations both a conscious mind the seat of awareness and an unconscious mind. It does not really matter for present purposes whether this psychological story is correct ; the point is just that it seems coherent, and seems neither to involve multiple personality nor to imply that what seems to be a single subject is, in reality, two distinct persons. Morris proposes, then, that similar sorts of relations can be supposed to obtain between the divine and human mind of Christ.

First, a brief note about terminology. But it is not a neutral term. Rather, it already embodies a partial theory about what human salvation involves and about what the work of Christ accomplishes. In particular, it presupposes that saving human beings from death and separation from God primarily involves atoning for sin rather than say delivering human beings from some kind of bondage, repairing human nature, or something else. Obviously these terms are not all synonymous; so part of the task of an overall theology of salvation—a soteriology—is to sort out the relations among these various terms and phrases is salvation simply to be identified with eternal life, for example?

That said, however, we do not ourselves intend to advocate on behalf of any particular terminology. In what follows, we shall discuss only three of the most well-known and widely discussed theories or families of theories about what the work of Jesus accomplishes on behalf of human beings. All take the suffering and death of Jesus to be an integral part of his work on our behalf; but the first theory holds Jesus' resurrection and ascension also to be absolutely central to that work, and the second theory holds his sinless life to be of near-equal importance.

Discussing these theories under three separate headings as we do below may foster the illusion that what we have are three mutually exclusive views, each marking off a wholly distinct camp in the history of soteriological theorizing, and each aiming to provide a full accounting of what Jesus' work contributes to human salvation from death and separation from God.

As we have already indicated, however, a variety of terms and images are used in the Bible to characterize what Jesus accomplished and, in contrast with the doctrines of the trinity and incarnation, we do not have for the doctrine of salvation an ecumenical conciliar prononouncement i. Consequently, it is no surprise that many thinkers appropriate imagery from more than one of the theories described below or others besides to explain their understanding of the nature and efficacy of Jesus' work.

What do you learn in a theology degree?

The ransom theory, also known as the Christus Victor theory is generally regarded as the dominant theory of the Patristic period, and has been attributed to such early Church Fathers as Origen, Athanasius, and especially Gregory of Nyssa. One might question, however, whether any of these theologians ever intended to offer the ransom story about to be described as a theory of the atonement, rather than simply an extended metaphor.

What does seem clear, however, is that they at least intended to emphasize victory over sin, death, and so on as one of the principle salvific effects of the work of Christ. The ransom theory takes as its point of departure the idea that human beings are in a kind of bondage to sin, death, and the Devil. The basic view, familiar enough now from literature and film, is that God and the Devil are in a sort of competition for souls, and the rules of the competition state that anyone stained by sin must die and then forever exist as the Devil's prisoner in hell.

As the view is often developed, human sin gives the Devil a legitimate right to the possession of human souls. Thus, much as God loves us and would otherwise desire for us never to die and, furthermore, to enjoy life in heaven with him, the sad fact is that we, by our sins, have secured a much different destiny for ourselves. But here is where the work of Christ is supposed to come in.

According to the ransom view, it would be unfitting for God simply to violate the pre-ordained rules of the competition and snatch our souls out of the Devil's grasp. But it is not at all unfitting for God to pay the Devil a ransom in exchange for our freedom.

Christ's death is that ransom. By living a sinless life and then dying like a sinner, Christ pays a price that, in the eyes of all parties to the competition, earns back for God the right to our souls, and thus effects a great triumph over the Devil, sin, and death. The moral exemplar theory, pioneered by Peter Abelard, holds that the work of Christ is fundamentally aimed at bringing about moral and spiritual reform in the sinner—a kind of reform that is not fully possible apart from Christ's work. The Son of God became incarnate, on this view, in order to set this example and thus provide a necessary condition for the moral reform that is, in turn, necessary for the full restoration of the relationship between creature and Creator.

On this picture, Jesus' sinless life is as much a part of his soteriologically relevant work as his suffering and death on the cross. Thus far, it may sound as if the exemplar theory says that all there is to the efficacy of Jesus' life and death for salvation is the provision of a fine example for us to imitate.

According to Philip L. Quinn , however, to present the theory this way is simply to caricature it. According to Quinn, the dominant motif in Abelard's exemplar theory is one according to which human moral character is, in a very robust sense transformed by Christ's love. He writes:. In Quinn's hands, then, the exemplar theory is one according to which the life and death of Christ do indeed provide an example for us to imitate--and an example that plays an important role in effecting the transformation that will make us fit for fellowship with God. But, in contrast to the usual caricature of that theory, the exemplary nature of Christ's love does not exhaust its transformative power.

Satisfaction theories start from the idea that human sin constitutes a grave offense against God, the magnitude of which renders forgiveness and reconciliation morally impossible unless something is done either to satisfy the demands of justice or to compensate God for the wrong done to him. These theories go on to note that human beings are absolutely incapable on their own of compensating God for the wrong they have done to him, and that the only way for them to satisfy the demands of justice is to suffer death and eternal separation from God.

Thus, in order to avoid this fate, they are in dire need of help. Christ, through his death and, on some versions, through his sinless life as well has provided that help. The different versions of the satisfaction theory are differentiated by their claims about what sort of help the work of Christ has provided. Here we'll discuss three versions: St. Anselm's debt-cancellation theory, the penal substitution theory defended by John Calvin and many others in the reformed tradition, and the penitential substitution theory, attributed to Thomas Aquinas and defended most recently by Eleonore Stump and Richard Swinburne.

According to Anselm, our sin puts us in a kind of debt toward God. As our creator, God is entitled to our submission and obedience. By sinning, we therefore fail to give God something that we owe him. Thus, we deserve to be punished until we do give God what we owe him.

Indeed, on Anselm's view, not only is it just for God to punish us; it is, other things being equal, unfitting for him not to punish us. For as long as we are not giving God his due, we are dishonoring him; and the dishonoring of God is maximally intolerable. By allowing us to get away with dishonoring him, then, God would be tolerating what is maximally intolerable. Moreover, he would be behaving in a way that leaves sinners and the sinless in substantially the same position before him, which, Anselm thinks, is unseemly. But, of course, once we have sinned, it is impossible for us to give God the perfect life that we owe him.

So we are left in the position of a debtor who cannot, under any circumstances, repay his own debt and is therefore stuck in debtor's prison for the remainder of his existence. By living a sinless life, however, Christ was in a different position before God. He was the one human being who gave God what God was owed. Thus, he deserved no punishment; he did not even deserve death. And yet he submitted to death anyway for the sake of obeying God. In doing this, he gave God more than he owed God; and so, on Anselm's view, put God in the position of owing him something.

According to Anselm, just as it would be unfitting for God not to punish us, so too it would be unfitting for God not to reward Jesus. But Jesus, as God incarnate, has already at his disposal everything he could possibly need or desire.

Reclaiming The Natural Law for Theological Ethics

So what reward could possibly be given to him? None, of course. But, Anselm argues, the reward can be transferred; and, under the circumstances, it would be unfitting for God not to transfer it. Thus, the reward that Jesus claims is the cancellation of the collective debt of his friends. This allows God to pay what he owes, and it allows him to suffer no dishonor in failing to collect what is due him from us.

As should be clear, the notion of substitution isn't really a part of Anselm's theory of the atonement. Contrary to the more common view in the liteature, Richard Cross doesn't even take satisfaction to be part of Anselm's theory. Perhaps he is right—the question seems to turn on whether part of what God the Father receives in the overall transaction with Jesus is a kind of compensation for the harm done by human sin. Nevertheless, substitution is a central part of other satisfaction theories. Thus, consider the penal substitution theory.

According to this theory, the just punishment for sin is death and separation from God. Moreover, on this view, though God strongly desires for us not to receive this punishment it would be unfitting for God simply to waive our punishment. But, as in the case of monetary fines, the punishment can be paid by a willing substitute. Thus, out of love for us, God the Father sent the willing Son to be our substitute and to satisfy the demands of justice on our behalf.

Richard Swinburne's , version of the satisfaction theory also includes a substitutionary element. See also Stump The views defended by Stump and Swinburne are quite similar, and both attribute the same basic view to Aquinas. Here we focus on Swinburne's development of the view. According to Swinburne, in human relationships, the process of making atonement for one's sin has four parts: apology, repentance, reparation where possible , and in case of serious wrongs penance.

Thus, suppose you angrily throw a brick through the window of a friend's house. Later, you come to seek forgiveness. In order to receive forgiveness, you will surely have to apologize and repent—i. You ought also to agree to fix the broken window. Depending on the circumstance, however, even this might not be enough. It might be that, in addition to apologizing, repenting, and making reparations, you ought to do something further to show that you are quite serious about your apology and repentance. Perhaps, for example, you will send flowers every day for a week; perhaps you will stand outside your friend's window with a portable stereo playing a meaningful song; perhaps you will offer some other sort of gift or sacrifice.

This something further is penance. Importantly, penance isn't punishment: it's not a bit of suffering that you deserve to have inflicted upon you by someone else for the purpose of retribution, rehabilitation, deterrence, or compensation. Rather, it's a bit of suffering that you voluntarily undergo or a sacrifice that you voluntarily make in order to repair your relationship with someone.


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According to Swinburne, the same four components are involved in our reconciliation with God. Apology and repentance we can do on our own, but reparation and penance we cannot. We owe God a life of perfect obedience. By sinning we have made it impossible for God to get that from us. If, upon apologizing to God and repenting of our sins we were thereafter to live a life of perfect obedience, we would only be giving God what we already owe him; we would not thereby be giving back to him anything that we have taken away.

Thus, our very best efforts would not suffice even to make reparations for what we have done. There is nothing we can give God to compsensate him for his loss, and there is no extra gift we can give or extra sacrifice we can make in order to do penance. According to Swinburne, it would be unfitting for God simply to overlook our sins, ignoring the need for reparation and penance.

It would also be unfitting for God to leave us in the helpless situation of being unable to reconcile ourselves to him. Thus, on his view, God sent Christ to earth so that Christ might willingly offer his own sinless life and death as restitution and penance for the sin of the world. In this way, then, God helps us to make restitution and penance.

We must apologize and repent on our own; we must also recognize our own helplessness to make up for what we have done. But then we can look to the life and death of Christ and offer that up to God on our own behalf as reparation and penance. Although the Christus Victor theory is of historical importance and has exerted a great deal of literary influence, it has been widely rejected since the middle ages, in no small part because it is hard to take seriously the idea that God might be in competition with or have obligations toward another being much less a being like the Devil in the ways described above.

Critics object to the idea, which is typically part of this view, that salvation involves a sort of transaction between God and the Devil; they object to the idea, present particularly in Gregory of Nyssa's version of the view, that Christ's victory over the Devil comes partly through divine deception with Christ's divinity being hidden from the Devil until after Christ's death, when he triumphantly rises from the grave ; and they sometimes also object to the reification and personification of the forces of sin, death, and evil.

For this reason, the Abelardian and Anselmian views have been far and away the more popular theories for the past millenium. But each of these remaining theories faces its share of difficulties as well. Penal substitutionary theories, for example, maintain that it is morally impossible for God simply to forgive our sins without exacting reparation or punishment. Some have argued that this entails that God does not forgive sin at all. Stump, 61—5 Forgiveness involves a refusal to demand full reparation and a willingness to let an offense go without punishment.

Moreover, the penal substitution theory faces the challenge of explaining how it could possibly be just to allow a substitute to bear someone else's punishment. As David Lewis notes, we do allow for penal substitution in the case of serious fines. But the idea of allowing a substitute to bear someone else's death sentence or similarly serious punishment seems, on the face of it, to be morally repugnant. Indeed, the penal substitution model is seen by critics to be morally offensive on multiple counts. Objectors claim that at the heart of the model is the image of a wrathful deity who can be appeased by violent and bloody sacrifice, and who has made the violent death of his own incarnate Son the necessary condition for showing love and forgiveness to his human creatures.

Finlan , On this score, Swinburne's theory of penitential substitution is on somewhat surer footing; but one problem with Swinburne's view is that it is hard, ultimately, to see what it would even mean to offer up another person's life and death as one's own reparation or penance. The Anselmian version of the satisfaction theory does not quite encounter these difficulties.

But, together with the moral exemplar theory and various other versions of the satisfaction theory, it faces a different sort of problem. Both views seem unable to account for the Biblical emphasis on the necessity of Christ's passion to remedy the problems brought forth by sin. It is hard to see why Christ's death plays any essential role in establishing him as moral exemplar.

Christian Philosophical Theology

Further, it is hard to see why it would be needed in order for him to merit the sort of reward that Anselm thinks the Father owes him. Given that Christ is a man, he owes it to the Father to live a sinless life; but why isn't the incarnation itself sufficiently supererogatory to merit the debt-cancelling reward? Moreover, even if we can discover some reason why Christ's death would be necessary under these theories, it is hard to see why it would have to involve such horrible suffering.

For purposes of meriting a reward or for serving as an exemplar, why would it not suffice for Christ to dwell among us, live a perfect human life resisting all earthly temptation, and then die a quiet death at home? Indeed, these theories seem unable to account even for the value in Christ's passion, much less its necessity. There are, of course, responses to these objections in the literature; and each of the theories just discussed has had able and prominent defenders within the past century.

Moreover, insofar as there is no well-developed and formally recognized orthodoxy with respect to these matters, those who remain unsatisfied with the theories just described have populated the literature with a variety of alternative stories about the salvific efficacy of the work of Jesus.

Thus, even more than the other two theological loci we have discussed in this article, the doctrine of salvation seems ripe for substantial further research. Murray Michael Rea. Philosophy and Christian Theology 2. Trinity 2. Incarnation 3. The Kenotic View 3. Atonement 4. The Moral Exemplar Theory 4. Satisfaction Theories 4. Philosophy and Christian Theology In the history of Christian theology, philosophy has sometimes been seen as a natural complement to theological reflection, whereas at other times practitioners of the two disciplines have regarded each other as mortal enemies.

Trinity From the beginning, Christians have affirmed the claim that there is one God, and three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—each of whom is God. Incarnation The doctrine of the Incarnation holds that, at a time roughly two thousand years in the past, the second person of the trinity took on himself a distinct, fully human nature.

Phillipians —8, NRSV. Belief in progress is not false in every respect. But the myth of the liberated world of the future in which everything is different and everything will be good is false. We can only ever construct relative social orders which can only ever be relatively right and just. Yet this very same closest possible approach to true right and justice is what we must strive to attain. Everything else, every eschatological promise within history fails to liberate us, rather it disappoints and therefore enslaves us. This is only a brief introduction to the Christian tradition and its implications for politics.

There is of course much more to say and lots to discuss and debate. But at the core of the Christian vision of government is the human person created in the image of God. The purpose of politics is to serve man, not for man to serve the state. The Christian vision of government places politics in the context of our human freedom, the call to human flourishing, and in the light of our eternal destiny. You can connect with him at www. About the Author. Thanks for this.

I agree with these reservations. Hence it is for individuals in free communities to reach their view of goodness and the function of the state in this regard is to enable people to live out their vision of the good life subject to the principle that this is a reciprocal obligation — ie I may live out my vision only to the extent that others have same right the essence of liberalism. If the state is not sacred, then it is secular and neutral in matters of faith. This does not mean that people or ideas are neutral, it means that as we construct the state ie as we determine our own behaviour in relations that construct the state we do so on the basis that it is neutral in matters of faith ie the state does not enforce a specific faith orientation.

This is in fact a Christian finding — uniquely so. Your point is decidedly not so. Romans This is why it is wrong for a Christian to judge another Christian as the work of the Holy Spirit is uniquely tailored to each individual and what He may be working on me about may not be His focus on you at all.

Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Execute true judgment, and shew mercy and compassions every man to his brother: Zechariah KJV. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. Ephesians KJV.

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Titus KJV. This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith; Titus KJV. They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate. The primary goal of Christianity it to get people to heaven to spend eternal life with God.

At the same time, Christianity is deeply concerned with human flourishing during our lives and with the conditions that help promote human flourishing. This is not the end of course, but it is important. As a friend put it, God did not create the Garden of Eden like a prison camp. And Christ did not annihilate creation from the cross. Additionally, I do not think it is correct to say the human self is an empty pot. We are created in the image of God with a specific nature. This includes among others things, reason, free will, embodiment and an eternal destiny, and each one of us is unique and unrepeatable.

Commen Sense could easily have been inserted without effecting this essay at all. I think you are misunderstanding what the author is saying. The Church does teach that man, as a social being, does find his fulfillment—that is, his way to the Good, the True and the Beautiful, which is Beatitude or God— in community with others. Many people look outside this world for answers on how to live in this world. I consider myself an Aristotelian. Therefore, I try not look to the supernatural for answers on how to understand the natural.

The argument from ignorance for the existence of God is just that: an argument from ignorance. Ignorance is not evidence. A few years ago I read a little article that I found very helpful in not getting entangled in the contradictions inherent in the believe in the supernatural. I do not want Christianity to bring any insights into American politics. I want Christianity to stay OUT of politics. Christianity does NOT have a good record of helping nation states to govern well. In China during the Taipeng Rebellion in the 19th Century — it all began with a man who said he was the brother of Christ and his reincarnation — more people were killed than all the people killed by Hitler, Mao, and Stalin combined.

I loved this article. It was very nicely laid out and you covered a huge amount in very few words, as a comparison with any other article on the same topic will show.

What can you do with a theology degree? | Times Higher Education (THE)

Thanks for writing it. We believe that in addition to individual, families are also natural and beneficial social units and so we are committed to the preservation of the natural family. Many secular right wingers are entirely focused on individuals and forget about how important families are.

Sometimes they even lack a theory of children or families at all, as they are so focused on rational, autonomous individuals. Christianity has so much more to offer politics. The theologians associated with the University of Salamanca, Spain, in the 16th century distilled political principles from the Bible and natural law that gave us capitalism. Most important were the sanctity of property and the importance of limited government. Property requires that the owners be able to dispose of it as they wish and that requires free markets. It can collect taxes for those, but any taxes above that are theft.

Great article.. I […]. Kathryn J. Your email address will not be published. Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email. Swinburne utilizes an inductive method of argument to make his case for the existence of God. Historically, Swinburne points out, phenomena such as the existence of the universe and individual religious experience have served as starting points for philosophers to argue for the existence of God.

These philosophical arguments share a common structure. A phenomenon that can be observed by everyone is evaluated. The phenomenon is out of the ordinary and is not to be expected in the normal course of life unless God exists. This mode of argument is used in science, philosophy, and history. Scientists use an inductive pattern of argument to make the case for entities that cannot be observed to explain phenomena that they can observe.

The existence of the universe is a phenomenon that provides evidence for the existence of God. Swinburne finds the existence of the universe a striking fact that calls out to be explained. Science can explain the occurrence of one state of affairs by a previous state of affairs. Hence, it might explain why planets occupy their present position in the solar system by a previous state of the system, say, the sun and the planets being where they were last year.

However, science cannot explain why there are states of affairs. Science cannot explain why the universe exists. A second phenomenon is the operation of general laws of nature. The universe conforms to general laws of nature. Science identifies general laws of nature, but cannot account for why general laws of nature exist. The explanatory power of science is limited. He maintains that two types of explanation are available to human beings to explain phenomena: scientific explanation and personal explanation. Scientific explanation entails the operation of general laws of nature and reference to states of affairs; it does not account for the existence of an orderly universe.

Personal explanation accounts for phenomena with reference to persons and purposes. Thus a person may cause their hand to move for the purpose of writing a paper or a cup may be placed on a table for the purpose of drinking from it. Either there is a personal explanation for the universe or there is no explanation.

Theism is a hypothesis that proposes God exists, created the universe, and sustains it in its orderly operation. God is the simplest hypothesis or theory for the fact of the universe. God is conceived analogously as a person that acts with a purpose. He acts directly on the universe as we act directly on our brains. Evolutionary theory is compatible with theism. First, it cannot explain what gives rise to the operation of the principles that determine the development of human beings and animals.

The existence and creative action of God constitutes the best explanation for these phenomena. God has an obvious reason for creating human beings. He wants to make creatures that will share in His creative activity by making choices that affect the environment in which they live and the other creatures that also inhabit the world.

Deism (Natural vs. Revealed Religion in the Enlightenment)

The fact of a process to create human beings is evidence that there is a God behind the process. Human beings also have thoughts and feelings. They experience desires, formulate beliefs, and make choices. These mental events are different from physical events that can be observed. Physical objects act on our senses and cause electrical activity in the brain. These brain-events precipitate sensations color, pain, and smell , thoughts, desires, and beliefs.

Mental events are mainly caused by brain-events, but are distinct from them. Swinburne thinks it is highly unlikely that science will ever be capable of explaining why brain-events give rise to mental events. Theism, on the other hand, can adequately account for correlations between brain-events and mental-events. God is responsible for certain brain-events causing certain mental-events. A miracle is a temporary suspension or violation of a law of nature. Yet, some events really are violations of laws of nature.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the supreme example of a miracle.

Stephen T. Davis

God intervened in human history and raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Good historical evidence can be adduced to substantiate this claim. A scientific explanation cannot account for such a violation of the laws of nature. Theism can explain the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Theism also explains individual religious experience. History is replete with examples of human beings sensing the presence of God with them to guide them. In defense of his appeal to religious experience as evidence for the existence of God, Swinburne invokes a principle of credulity, namely, that we should trust appearances unless we have reason not to.

Someone that believes they are having an experience of God should regard it as so unless they have good reasons to doubt it. The arguments marshaled by Swinburne in the first phase of his philosophical project to justify theism are arguments for the existence of one divine being. The God he postulates is a person upon whom the universe depends for its existence. Such a view of God is consistent with the traditional beliefs of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Swinburne acknowledges that a conception of God as a single divine being is a simplification of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity Ibid.

In publications subsequent to his trilogy on justifying theism Swinburne turned his attention to justifying and explaining cardinal doctrines of Christian theology. Swinburne distinguishes between belief and faith in Faith and Reason Belief is cognitive assent that a proposition is true. Belief is relative to alternatives. The normal alternative to belief is its negation. Conversion to Christianity entailed people changing the beliefs they assented to cognitively and the object of their trust. The church never dogmatically defined what beliefs were involved in faith. Faith is personal trust in God that presupposes assent to certain propositions and issues in action based on these beliefs.

Swinburne rejects materialist explanations that reduce humans to being no more than sophisticated material objects in The Evolution of the Soul He advocates a form of substance dualism, a view that he finds in the philosophies of Plato and Descartes. Human beings consist of two substances, two entities: a soul thoughts and feelings and a body mass and shape.

His case for substance dualism is based upon his analysis of i human consciousness and ii the limitations of science to explain human consciousness. Human consciousness manifests physical and mental properties. Brain events, which are physical events, interact with mental events, although they are distinct. Science cannot account for the activity evident in human consciousness. The mental properties in human consciousness are best explained by the existence of a soul in addition to the physical body. Substance dualism describes human beings as they really are and is relevant to the Christian hope of life after death:.

The theory of the evolved human soul which I have been advocating in this book is, I believe, that of the Bible. Both Old and New Testament hold that a man is a thing of flesh and bone…. When in the last century BC many Jews came to believe in life after death, and when the Christian religion arose within Judaism affirming life after death, the life which they affirmed was not a natural immortality, but a resurrection — God intervening in history to give to Christ or to all men new bodies and thereby new life Swinburne, [Revised Edition , ].

The New Testament portrays a resurrection of the dead, body and soul, caused by divine action. God intends for a human soul to be embodied in this life and in life beyond death.

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