Do you truly believe?

Posted by on April 16, 2011 in Thoughts | 22 comments

In the August Census, many Australians will tick the box labelled “Christian” in the section about religion. This blog piece is addressed to those people. (Related posts: “Census 2011, why mark No Religion?”)

Next weekend is Easter, the most holy of events on the Christian calendar. This is the 3 day celebration of the Crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. According to the bible, this is what happened:

1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
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But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
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“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
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Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.[a]

So the story goes that the people found an empty tomb where Jesus’ body should have been, and therefore assumed that he had literally risen from the dead, and had literally risen to heaven. Sounds like a reputable story, right?

I think anyone with a grain of rationality about them has to bring into question the trustworthiness of this story, and for several reasons. Things like resurrection seemed to only happen in the days before we could explain happenings properly, in days before written language was used by the general populous to record history, and in the days when woo, superstition and the metaphysical were considered as part and parcel with every day life. The only miracle stories we hear these days are of people praying to a particular saint or deity to be cured of an illness, again records of which are sketchy at best.

But I’m not here to deconvert or to disprove the Bible’s trustworthiness, I think it does a good job of doing that itself. What I am interested in here is asking you whether you truly believe. Do you literally believe the words of the bible, and if not, why do you call yourself Christian? The problem with this story in the bible, with any story in the bible, is that the text we now read has been heavily edited and editorialised over time, and it has been subject to repeated additions and omissions from various people along the way. This in itself should be enough to draw the whole New Testament into question. Anyone wanting to know more about what happened to the historically documented First Council at Nicea, should definitely have a read of this article by Australian ex-minister Tony Bushby called “The Forged Origins of The New Testament”. (Note: This article is contentious, and its legitimacy may be in question. I offer it only as an illustration of the questions that can be asked of the Bible, and to sew the seeds of doubt.) The words in the Bible have been carefully crafted to appeal to the part of you that wants to believe in an afterlife. Still call yourself Christian?

There might be those among you who don’t believe the resurrection to be true, but think the story offers some kind of message to us about death and rebirth, and the circle of life, and about hope for an afterlife. The teaching of death and rebirth is not just in the Christian faith, it spreads across all faiths. So what makes this story so important? Probably the fact that you were born into a Christian society has a lot to do with that. If you were born in the middle-east you would probably be a Muslim. Do you see the stories in Islam as being as important as the stories of the Bible? Of course you don’t. If the resurrection story is just a story, then why don’t you hold with the same reverence the resurrection story of Han Solo in the Star Wars series?

If you literally believe in the stories of the resurrection, then does that mean you literally believe in the story of Genesis? Do you follow the rules as set out in Leviticus, or 1 Timothy? I really doubt it. A true Christian should follow the Bible as the word of God, because, well, it says it is. To pick and choose between the bits of Bible you like, and to throw away the parts you don’t see as relevant is like skimming across the newspaper. If you take the contents of your holy book as seriously as you might a magazine in a dentist’s waiting room, should you still call yourself Christian?

If Christianity simply means living by a set of rules as set out by the Bible, then Christianity becomes a lifestyle choice, like veganism or riding your bike to work. If you don’t truly believe in the story of the resurrection, should you go to mass on Easter Sunday?

The resurrection story is the one single most important event in the bible in that it supposedly simultaneously proves all of the claims that Jesus is the son of God, that heaven is real, that god loves us, that we will all be reborn one day, that nobody ever really dies etc. It is the punchline of the most long-winded story ever told, and if you don’t truly believe that it is literally true, then you really should not call yourself Christian.

I’m not trying to shatter any beliefs, nor am I proselytising for atheism (if that’s possible). I am more interested in you actually questioning why you believe, or claim to believe, in the Bible. If you come to realise that you don’t truly believe, even if you don’t change the way you live, there is one thing I ask of you. If you do not truly believe in the resurrection as a literal fact, both historically and factually then I say you should not call yourself Christian. If this is the case then I urge you to  tick the box marked “No religion” in the August census.

It is after all, the truth, and isn’t it a sin to lie anyway?

Related posts: “Census 2011, why mark No Religion?”

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22 Comments

  1. As a confirmed atheist, I enthusiastically support your content, which, on the whole, you present most effectively. However, as a confirmed grammar Nazi, I do have to tell you that you will lose your credibility with some people if when you mean “populace,” you write “populous.” In god-free friendship —

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    • GOD DAMMIT! That was a spellcheck error… Thanks will fix up posthaste.

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  2. I would just like to add that, though this article is aimed at Christians, I would ask the same of anyone who is a self proclaimed theist, but maybe only for the sake of convenince, to question their beliefs and where they are stemming from. This campaign does not aim to rid the world of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism or even Scientology (if you can call that a religion). The aim is to show truthfully the numbers of people in whatever religion (or non religion), and therefore show to the Australian government that pandering to religion is not acceptible.

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  3. Hi Marty!
    I think many people choose ‘christian’ by default, without even giving it a thought, simply because they grew up in a christian community and nodding their heads is on automatic mode.
    People who gave it a thought and are still in doubt about it tend to say they’re christians. I had two catholic friends say that to me the other day. One said she had her wedding at the church because, she said, even though she never went to the church, didn’t agree with most things catholic church said, she was still unsure and insecure about what to believe or not, so “just in case” she went for the religious wedding. I think people like my friend tend to opt for “christian” in the census when oppenly asked about religion. But I really hope all our atheistic efforts eventually get to their heads! :)

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  4. You will find many tick a religious box in favour of the “No” box not so much because of their religious believes. They understand this is more than just a question of religious faith and they understand what would be the likely alternative.

    Our Judaeo-Christian heritage is much more than just the church or spirituality or personal faith. I for one am closer to an agnostic Budhhist than anything else. I could not believe any benign G-d whatsover overlooking the mass-slaughtering and piles of misery going on in “His” creation. So give me the natural law of moral gravity aka karma every day.

    But I find the system of government, civil society, separation of church(es), state, judiciary and executive we have achieved a very worthy inheritance from our mostly Judeao-Christian ancestors. If we look around, Australians actually have a very clever and civilised society and Constitution (based on Judaeo-Christian and classical European values) when compared to many other nations and states (trust you’re well aware of s116 in our Constitution). Many in a less fortunate and less civilised society envy us for this and risk their lifes to get here on any piece of wood they can find.

    So I think the critical question to ask is not so much whether one believes in Jesus’ (allegorical?) resurrection or the Jewish Passover or the Easter Bunny. The question we should ask ourself is what the alternative would be. Especially whether as a result of reduced statistical significance of the Christian voice, we will have more freedom – or less.

    When I don’t want to be bothered by any churchy palaver, I just put a sign on my front door for proselyters to move on — and they leave me alone. And if I don’t want my kids to be quizzed about the Ten Commandmends or Jesus loving everyone and such, I don’t go to church and send them to a secular school. Try doing the same in many of the non-christian countries around the world. They make sure you believe in Marx or Mao or Mohammed – whether you like it or not.
    And no, singing a Christmas Carol or painting a picture for Easter in school or having to endure the odd church cross on your retina is nothing compared to forced conversions, discrimination, mutilating and murdering of unbelievers or gays, putting objectors in gulags or simply shooting eveyone with a different view on life’s meaning. Mark Durie has written a book worth reading about this very question, The Third Choice.

    As I mentioned on your FB site, I fear your planned PR “crusade” against nominal Christians and Jews ticking the R-box is ill-advised and counter-productive in last consequence. It will strenghten the fundamentalists and radicalised elements, that despise our secular western civilisation. It will most likely bring less, not more freedoms. Hope this makes sense.

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    • @Raoul I have to tell you I am not convinced in the slightest that this is the case, so let me break this down bit by bit. (Note: spelling in the quoted sections are as they were posted originally.)

      You will find many tick a religious box in favour of the “No” box not so much because of their religious believes. They understand this is more than just a question of religious faith and they understand what would be the likely alternative.

      Firstly Raoul, the census is only going to collect information about what people are, what they do, where they live etc. By ticking the box “no religion” all you would be doing is adding your voice to the already growing number of people who think that religion in schools, politics and workplaces should be abolished. We are not ticking the “Let Islam Take Over” box. The likely alternative is not what you have described below.

      Our Judaeo-Christian heritage is much more than just the church or spirituality or personal faith. I for one am closer to an agnostic Budhhist than anything else. I could not believe any benign G-d whatsover overlooking the mass-slaughtering and piles of misery going on in “His” creation. So give me the natural law of moral gravity aka karma every day.

      Okay, so if you were to answer the census truthfully, you would also tick the “no religion” box.

      But I find the system of government, civil society, separation of church(es), state, judiciary and executive we have achieved a very worthy inheritance from our mostly Judeao-Christian ancestors. If we look around, Australians actually have a very clever and civilised society and Constitution (based on Judaeo-Christian and classical European values) when compared to many other nations and states (trust you’re well aware of s116 in our Constitution). Many in a less fortunate and less civilised society envy us for this and risk their lifes to get here on any piece of wood they can find.

      Granted, we do have it pretty good here, and yes our country is founded by people for whom the JCH was a big part. Yes we are the envy of many a theocracy, and yes many of them are Islamic. Of course people for whom life is difficult will look to a place like Australia where we have it relatively well in comparison and say “that is better than what we have”. S116 in the Australian Constitution states; “The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.” This was a great step forward in our country by the government to, not only prohibit people from the government actively pushing religion onto its citizenry, but to protect the rights of those who do actively participate in a religion. However this is only any good if it is upheld by the Government. As we can see, this very section of the constitution is being undermined by the Christian factions of this society, so who knows how powerful it actually is?

      So I think the critical question to ask is not so much whether one believes in Jesus’ (allegorical?) resurrection or the Jewish Passover or the Easter Bunny. The question we should ask ourself is what the alternative would be. Especially whether as a result of reduced statistical significance of the Christian voice, we will have more freedom – or less.

      The reduced Christian voice will cause us more freedom. I really don’t see how you equate Christianity with freedom in this day and age, especially when you’ve just mentioned above Section 116 of the constitution which is secular by its very nature. Secular ideals, including freedom of religion and freedom FROM religion are the things that make us the envy of other nations, not the fact that history was built upon JCH.

      When I don’t want to be bothered by any churchy palaver, I just put a sign on my front door for proselyters to move on — and they leave me alone. And if I don’t want my kids to be quizzed about the Ten Commandmends or Jesus loving everyone and such, I don’t go to church and send them to a secular school. Try doing the same in many of the non-christian countries around the world. They make sure you believe in Marx or Mao or Mohammed – whether you like it or not.

      Yes we’ve established that some countries live in a theocracy, and yes some countries have it worse off than we do. But good luck with the “secular school” when it seems that this very Section of the constitution (as I have just mentioned) is being undermined in our State School System. Is this change happening because of atheists? Is this push coming from secularists? No this push is coming from Christians, and it is gaining ground.

      And no, singing a Christmas Carol or painting a picture for Easter in school or having to endure the odd church cross on your retina is nothing compared to forced conversions, discrimination, mutilating and murdering of unbelievers or gays, putting objectors in gulags or simply shooting eveyone with a different view on life’s meaning. Mark Durie has written a book worth reading about this very question, The Third Choice.

      So what you are saying is, if we mark “no religion” on the census, then there will be a lower recorded percentage of Christians in Australia, and this will cause the Muslims to rise up against society and take over, then forces us all to become Muslims? Well that’s not what will happen. Yes it will lower the number of official Christians in Australia’s population, but if people are truthful it should lower the number of ALL religions, including Islam. Even if the Muslims of Australia saw this as an opportunity to rise up against the Christians, do you think the secularists and atheists would just sit back and let it happen? Look how passionate we are about Christianity, and that is the level of passion we have about ALL religions. Don’t equate the campaign with with opening the doors to Islam, because we are just as opposed to that belief system too. Your reference of Mark Durie is an odd one, considering he is an Anglican minister, and known for his dislike of Islam. Would it make sense to you if I were to say that Mark Durie fears more the fact that his flock is dwindling, and he uses the extremes of Islam as a weapon to scare his readers and followers into thinking that they will be taken over at the drop of a hat? It’s like Cold War propaganda, only this time the one hiding under the bed has a beard and speaks Arabic. Not only that, but your claim that because Mark Durie said it, it must be true, is a patent appeal to authority, which is a logical fallacy in itself.

      As I mentioned on your FB site, I fear your planned PR “crusade” against nominal Christians and Jews ticking the R-box is ill-advised and counter-productive in last consequence. It will strenghten the fundamentalists and radicalised elements, that despise our secular western civilisation. It will most likely bring less, not more freedoms. Hope this makes sense.

      This is not a crusade against nominal Christians or Jews, this is a campaign to truthfully answer the census, thereby taking money away from things like the Australian Christian Lobby’s schemes and putting it back where it rightfully should be; in health-care, education and public housing. I cannot see how it could possibly “strenghten the fundamentalists and radicalised elements, that despise our secular western civilisation” when there will be exactly the same amount of people in the society who are opposed to religion, opposed to church/state crossovers, and opposed to things such as the National School Chaplaincy scheme. Like I said in the comments to my previous piece, I would equally tell a cultural Muslim to answer “no religion” on their census, and hopefully the message gets through to them also.

      I see your comments, while you obviously are passionate about it, as a bit naive, and driven by a nervous paranioa about the religion of Islam. Sure Islam has a lot of growing up to do to move into the 21st century with the rest of us, but you seem to be equating the “absence of religion” to the “absence of democracy”, and therefore threatening to throw us back inot the bronze-age, complete with the stoning of apostates and public executions in the streets, brought on by opportunistic Muslim hordes which are hiding in society somewhere. I cannot  for the life of me draw a line linking these two points.

      I hope I have clarified my standpoint on this Raoul.

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  5. Thank you for taking the time to respond to my concerns. I think all is said and we can agree to disagree. Let’s hope it is indeed my concerns that turn out to be naiive. The other way would mean we’re bound for the same dilemma that now tears apart so many European communities.

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    • Which countries and what dilemma are you talking about?

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  6. Raoul,

    “I think all is said and we can agree to disagree.”

    No, let’s not. You utterly failed to provide a coherent response to Martin’s reply, thus you lose. You cannot pack up the game and declare it a draw when you’ve run out of moves. Either man up and respond with a logical and evidence backed argument, or admit defeat.

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    • Andrew, everything has been said in previous posts on the FB site. Time and again.
      There is no point in repeating it all from A to Z again and again just for those who may not have followed the discurs from the beginning. As far as I’m concerned this is not about winning or loosing, this is an exchange of arguments, thoughts and opinion. Nobody wins, nobody looses. Take all the laurels you can carry.

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  7. Hi Marty,

    Just curious what you meant when you said, “The reduced Christian voice will cause us more freedom.” Who is “us” in that statement–all Australians, or just Australians who happen to agree with you?

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    • I would say “us” equals everyone, since I think the doctrines and dogmas of religion hold humanity back, leading to limitation of choices (self imposed in many cases). Especially here in Australia, if section 116 of our constitution is upheld, then the freedom of choice throughout society, of and from religion is upheld.

      In any case, nobody is suggesting the end of religion, just that people be truthful on the census. If they are, then whatever the result, that is the true voice of the Australian people. That is the purpose of this campaign. I am merely trying (as I have said on many occasions) to get people to think.

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    • But if not “everyone” agrees with you that religion holds humanity back, wouldn’t that mean the freedom is only for people who are like-minded with you in that assumption?

      And by merely trying to get people to think, as you state your motive to be, isn’t there an underlying implication that you assume people aren’t currently thinking? Doesn’t that sort of seem like your aim is to educate the dumb or some such thing? And if so, how do you accomplish such a thing without inserting bias?

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      • But if not “everyone” agrees with you that religion holds humanity back, wouldn’t that mean the freedom is only for people who are like-minded with you in that assumption?

        No, it wouldn’t. By allowing people freedom of and from religion, and without any push from the government for or against any one given religion, we all gain freedom. In a theocracy where religion is given as an underlying tenet of governmental actions, there tends to be a bias toward rules and regulations which support the beliefs of that religion.

        And by merely trying to get people to think, as you state your motive to be, isn’t there an underlying implication that you assume people aren’t currently thinking? Doesn’t that sort of seem like your aim is to educate the dumb or some such thing? And if so, how do you accomplish such a thing without inserting bias?

        People do think, sure, but in something like te census, the only true way to know what the people are and what they believe, it is important that they think about what weight their decision to tick box a or box b might be. The only way to get people to think is to offer alternative viewpoints and facts to the ones they currently hold. There is no guarantee that they will actually use this information however.

        I fear that Australia will become like the USA, complacent and unwilling to think for themselves as individuals, much as is outlined in the book “Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free” by Charles P. Pierce in which he talks at length about this idea.

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      • But if it’s freedom “of and from” religion, doesn’t that mean it’s wholly possible that there won’t be a reduced Christian voice, which is what you implied limits freedom? I mean, you’re asking for there to be freedom of non-religion, but by calling out a theocracy aren’t you asking for not only freedom of non-religion but a government of non-religion? And wouldn’t that just slant it in the opposite direction, albeit more favorably to you?

        So by offering alternative viewpoints to the ones they currently hold, are you not injecting a bias, hoping to sway their opinion in your direction? How does that allow people to think for themselves? Aren’t they just thinking what you tell them to think in that sense?

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        • But if it’s freedom “of and from” religion, doesn’t that mean it’s wholly possible that there won’t be a reduced Christian voice, which is what you implied limits freedom?
          Yes of courese this is possible, but at least the numbers won’t be skewed toward a familial sense of obligation toward a religion that one might not truly believe in.

          I mean, you’re asking for there to be freedom of non-religion, but by calling out a theocracy aren’t you asking for not only freedom of non-religion but a government of non-religion? And wouldn’t that just slant it in the opposite direction, albeit more favorably to you?
          A government of non-religion is favourable for all involved. Look at the Australian constitution Section 116:
          “The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.”
          This is pretty clear in its intentions. We have a so called “secular” government, but it is being hijacked by the special interest groups, namely the Australian Christian Lobby in education and in decisions that should remain secular. It’s pretty clear that, precisely because we are a multi-faith society here, that it is of paramount importance that one group not be overly represented in decision making. Take for instance the Christians. In Australia, in the 2006 census, just under 64% of Australians identified themselves as Christian of some description. In 1986 it was 73%. People who marked no religion in 1986 numbered 12.7% and in 2006 18.7%. There is an obvious trend that cannot be ignored, and the 2011 census should show the continuance of this. It is precisely because of this perceived christian presence that our self-proclaimed atheist prime minister is pandering to the Christian Lobby and injecting Christian chaplains into our schools and withholding rights to gay marriage in this country. It is because of this pandering that we have a prime-minister who is deliberately ignoring the Australian constitution to try and gain more votes from her constituency.

          So by offering alternative viewpoints to the ones they currently hold, are you not injecting a bias, hoping to sway their opinion in your direction? How does that allow people to think for themselves? Aren’t they just thinking what you tell them to think in that sense?
          Mate, sorry, you’ve lost me here. Education IS alternative viewpoints. Without alternative viewpoints we have no learning. When a teacher educates a child on mathematics or history or geography or science, is the teacher trying to persuade the child that these are facts, when the child was previously this ignorant of these facts? I don;t ask that people think what I think, only that they take these viewpoints onboard when making a decision. Your questions are deliberately misleading.

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        • But don’t you think it is on the individual to educate themselves? If you feel the need to educate them, are you not educating them solely on what you think is right? And how can that be a realistic education? Isn’t that equivalent to teaching only creation in the schools? Shouldn’t the goal be to present both sides and let them decide for themselves?

          If your whole goal is just to get people to think, then shouldn’t your blog be unbiased in its intents? Wouldn’t a blog slanted in any direction point toward the goal of having people think in a specific way?

          I think I’m getting lost because you say your goal is to get people to think about what they’re putting down as a “religious view,” but what it comes across as is trying to sway people into putting down what you would want them to put down. You seem to be asking for people to choose skepticism, not just think about it. Otherwise, you would be completely impartial to whatever the results had shown and will show on the census.

          Understand that I don’t have a problem with this position in the slightest, though I fall on the other side of the coin. I just want it to be called for what it is: a call to persuasion instead of a call to freedom.

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  8. A government of non-religion is precisely the point. Individual practise & the state imposition of religion are two very different things & you know it. The point of this campaign is to have people understand that the census isn’t just some random data gathering exercise; it helps determine what and where state funding is required. If people inaccurately represent how they live their lives then their taxes will be spent inappropriately too, by being allocated to non-government ‘services’ such a religions beyond the requirements of the community they actually ‘service’. In a society where religious institutions already enjoy inflated privilege & other important services a distinct disadvantage, it’s important that people think twice about answering such questions in a way that represents how they actually live their lives, not as if they didn’t want to break it to Granny that they’re actually a heathen. Church attendance figures in this country vs. Census data on religious questions show that there’s far too much of the latter going on to be considered representative.

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    • Just curious why you equate church attendance with religious affiliation to make your point. Are you suggesting that in order to be religious you have to attend church?

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  9. Nope, I’m saying that if people identifying with institutions that get special privilege funding based upon adherents participation, but they aren’t actually participating then that funding can go where it’s actually needed. Think about what the census is for.

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    • But what does that have to do religious affiliation? Just because they don’t attend church doesn’t mean they aren’t religious. They may be participating in different ways. It’s true that an institution might benefit from the census data, but the church attendance can’t be substituted for religious preference any more than the percentage of people in feminist groups be substituted for the number of women.

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  10. I know that in the United States that a lot of people think they are Christians . just because they were born here but that is not what the word Christian .

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