CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY - THE DOCTRINE OF GOD - by the Rt. Rev. ARTHUR C. HEADLAM C.H., D.D. Bishop of Gloucester ; Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford ; formerly Professor of Dogmatic Theology in King's College, London, and Regius Professor of Divinity in the University of Oxford. First Published: Oxford University Press, 1934. Katapi edition by Paul Ingram, 2013.


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IN the preceding chapters an attempt has been made to expound the belief in God, as it has been and is taught in the Christian Church. It remains to look at the same teaching from the point of view of the thought of the present day. It is sometimes maintained that we have learnt and discovered so much of what is really true that beliefs such as I have put forward are out of date, and that enlightened modern thought has freed us from the restraints of religion and even of Christian morality. I propose, therefore, to ask how far modern thought can provide us with a substitute for the belief in God as an explanation of our experience. The opinions that prevail at the present day are so varied and the points of view so different that our survey must necessarily be very incomplete.

The inquiry is also difficult, for we very soon find ourselves involved in specialist studies among which it is difficult to find our way. Our scientific friends have been very kind in recent years in attempting to enlighten us. « I can only mention some of those books which I happen to have read. The unfortunate thing is that many of them appear to be out of date before they are written. First I would put Scientific Theory and Religion (1933), by E. W. Barnes, Bishop of Birmingham; The Universe Around Us (1929), The Mysterious Universe (1930), The Stars in their Courses (1931), The New Background of Science (1933), by Sir James Jeans; Science and the Modern World (1926) and Adventures of Ideas (1933), by Alfred North Whitehead; The Nature of the Physical World (1928), by Sir A. S. Eddington; Where is Science Going? (1933), by Max Planck. Science To-day (1934), planned and arranged by the late Sir J. Arthur Thomson, seems to show how difficult many scientific men find it to expound their subject lucidly, how uncertain our knowledge is, how great is the variety of outlook, and how science entirely fails to give us a unified idea of the universe. It is, however, difficult to understand a subject when we attempt to study results instead of beginning properly at the beginning and going through the whole discipline. At the same time we are frightened lest, if we did begin at the beginning, we also might become specialists and be unable to examine the results from outside. The Bishop of Birmingham, by printing in his Gifford Lectures many pages of mathematical formulae, reminds us that behind the wonderful revelations that have been made to us of the structure of the atom, or the movements of the stars, there are elaborate mathematical calculations which form the reason and the justification for the conclusions. We cannot understand these formulae. If we had learned to understand them we should ourselves be mathematicians, and would find it difficult to estimate the limitations of a mathematical interpretation of the universe. In the same way we desire to understand, to estimate, and to criticize the methods of the biologist or the physiologist.

When we turn in another direction we find the phraseology and the methods of argument of the modern metaphysician quite different from those of the scientist, and often equally difficult to understand. Each philosopher elaborates a new phraseology, or rather uses the old phraseology with a new meaning – an even more disconcerting process. I studied in the Oxford School of Litterae Humaniores from 1883 to 1885 with some moderate success, but I find that what I learnt then does not give me much assistance to understand many of the present-day problems. I am afraid that the deduction that I make is the transitoriness of most philosophical speculation.


However, we must make the attempt to understand these things, and I shall begin with the modern study of natural science. It is a commonplace on which we need not dwell that the discoveries made by natural science in the last hundred years have made that period one of the most remarkable in the history of human thought. Fifty years ago it was biology and the doctrine of evolution that arrested our attention, to-day it is the conception of the world presented by the physicist, the mathematician, and the astronomer. We need not dwell longer on this aspect. Whether it is the vision of theoretical science, or the power attained through its practical application, we are bewildered, amazed, overpowered.

But there are some questions which we must ask. The first is, how far are these things really true?
Now up to a certain point we find that what science teaches us is to all appearance certain. We are so certain of the correctness of our knowledge that we assert with absolute confidence what will happen. We can predict the future. The laws of nature are invariable and our knowledge of them is certain. Our conclusions are based on observation and experiment and have been continually verified. But a large part of scientific theory is based on quite different methods. It is built up on hypotheses, and many of these hypotheses are very precarious. Some fifty or sixty years ago I was taught somewhat imperfectly a great deal about the science of the day. Much that we were taught then is now obsolete. There is clearly no certainty. The deduction that I make is that a great deal of what I read now is also uncertain or incorrect.

I notice with interest that I am often told that it is so.

'It is a fact that no account of modern astronomy can protect itself from misinterpretation unless it insists in the clearest terms that it is mostly untrue. This is not criticism, but definition: it expresses the fact that the greater part of modern activity in astronomy is concerned with the construction of an ideal model of the universe and its contents out of insufficient knowledge. The chief danger of the popularisation of science at the present time is that the tentative character of scientific theory may be forgotten.'
'Astronomy and Scientific Ideas', by Herbert Dingle, D.Sc., in Science To-day, p. 265.

Still more interesting is what we are told about the quantum theory. It is held that this in its present form implies that the law of uniformity does not invariably prevail, and that there is an element of contingency in nature. I shall speak further about this later, but what interests me is to find that as this conclusion conflicts with the ordinary teaching of natural philosophy, we are warned that further investigation may prove that it is untrue. I am quite willing to accept that, but then it seems to me that it is extremely probable that many other things which we are at present taught are untrue. It is quite possible, in fact probable, that some new discovery or hypothesis may change our conception of the universe as much as did the substitution of relativity for gravitation. I do not believe that there is any certainty about the conception of the world taught us at the present day by science.
In particular I cannot but think that modern physical theory is getting into a mess over the structure of the atom. We have electrons, and positrons, and protons, and neutrons, and deutrons, and alpha particles; we have quantums and photons. All this feels very unreal.


A second point that I would make is the limitations of science rightly so called. The questions that a religious man asks and a theologian is concerned with are really quite beyond the scope of scientific investigation. What I am anxious to know is, how and why the world came into being? Was it created? What is the purpose of the world? Now to these questions science can give no answer. They cannot be the result of observation and experiment. It is quite true that many scientific men discuss theological and philosophical questions, and their reputation as scientific men gives a certain amount of authority to their opinions, but they are not speaking as scientific men, they are passing beyond the limits of scientific investigation, and are talking and writing as philosophers and theologians with a somewhat imperfect acquaintance with both philosophy and theology. In fact they cease to be good scientists and become indifferent philosophers.

One particular sign of these limitations is that science seems to find it increasingly difficult to present a unified theory of the material world. « I have found a good deal of help in studying scientific theory in God and the Astronomers, by W. R. Inge, Dean of St. Paul's (London, 1933), especially in the 11 i;iiiy first-hand quotations it gives. It seemed at one time rather easy. Herbert Spencer claimed to have fitted all things that are into one compendious theory. It was thought quite easy to develop life from matter, and mind from life, but now I find much less confidence. Evolution was a word which seemed to explain everything, but now it is being found very difficult to explain evolution. Different forms of study explain the world, no doubt satisfactorily to themselves from their own point of view. The physicist wishes to explain things mathematically, but so far as I can see no mathematics can explain why the combination of oxygen and hydrogen should produce anything so different from either as water. The chemist cannot explain how certain carbon compounds seem to produce life. The biologist is inclined to start his explanation from quite a different point of view, and suggests not that chemical molecules form life, but that life builds up organisms by using the materials that chemistry studies. The physiologist and the biochemist wish to explain psychology by the material composition of things, but the psychologist would consider that his point of view comes first. Science in fact at present entirely fails to unify our experience.


What light if any does science throw on the theistic hypothesis? Let me deal first with a difficulty which to some appears insuperable, the mechanical explanation of the universe. We are told that everything is controlled by a rigid law of cause and effect. Whatever happens is the direct and inevitable result of antecedent causes, and nothing can break this rigid uniformity. There is, therefore, no place anywhere for divine action in the world.
As I have just stated, an exception is thought to have been found in the new quantum theory. Now I never like to build upon gaps in scientific investigations, for such gaps may very likely soon be filled up. Physicists are generally agreed that they will ultimately understand the quantum hypothesis. 'I firmly believe,' says Planck, 'that the quantum hypothesis will eventually find its exact expression in certain equations which will be a more exact formulation of the law of causality.'
Max Planck, Where is Science Going? Translated and edited by James Murphy, p. 143.

I do not wish to lay stress on what is at present a gap in our knowledge, because, as it seems to me, the whole of the mechanical theory of the universe arises from confusion of thought. The law of uniformity is confused with a law of causality. What scientifically I know about the universe is that the same antecedent has the same consequent. That forms the basis of all science, as it does of all the practical arts of life. But science knows nothing of the cause which makes anything happen. When I do anything myself, I know myself as the cause of what I do, and I know about other persons as causes. If an engineer builds a bridge, there is a long and interesting sequence of cause and effect which will explain historically why the bridge is built. The engineer is able to build it because he has learnt the properties of the material that he uses, and he can rely on the law of uniformity. His freedom of action is not curtailed by that law but is dependent upon it. I believe that here we have a correct analogy of what happens in the world. Nothing that we know about the world prevents us from believing that it is the creation of a mind which has so framed it that it may be what it is and who is able to express his will through it. A machine that I make and control acts as I will, not in spite of, but because of the uniformity of nature. The universe expresses the will of its maker because of the law of uniformity. The only cause is God, who so fashioned this world that it can express his will, and whose controlling power is the cause of everything that happens in it. Just as the perfection of a machine makes it a fit instrument of its maker's intentions, so the perfection of the universe makes it a fit expression of divine omnipotence.


Has the new scientific knowledge made any difference as to the grounds of our belief in God? I would speak first of an argument which is popular at the present time, drawn from the second law of thermodynamics and the theory of entropy. 'The second law of thermodynamics asserts that the entropy of a natural system always increases, until a final state is attained in which the entropy can increase no further.' « Jeans, The New Background of Science, p. 267. The Bishop of Birmingham states it as follows: 'In popular language we can express the second law of thermodynamics by the statement that the heat of the world is running down. The general tendency of any isolated system is towards a uniform temperature in which heat is not available for work.' « Barnes, Scientific Theory and Religion, p. 239. The sun is continually radiating out heat and this heat is being dispersed throughout the universe, which must ultimately attain a uniform temperature. The sun will continue to lose heat until it is the same temperature as the universe around it. This process is continually going on everywhere, and the ultimate result will be that the world will be dead. As far as we know this process is irreversible. Now if the world had existed from infinity, this process must be already completed, therefore the universe has a beginning in time. 'There must have been what we may describe as a "creation" at a time not infinitely remote.'
Jeans The Mysterious Universe, p. 144.

I agree with the Bishop of Birmingham in not caring to rest my case on this argument. We know so little of what is happening and has happened in the universe that I see no reason why this process should not be reversible, why under certain conditions the particles of radiation should not come together again, just as under certain chemical or electric conditions the particles of matter dispersed in a liquid will coagulate.

I would approach the problem in another way. If we think things out we shall find that the world must have arisen through chance or through purpose. It has been maintained that all the combinations which have produced, in the first place matter as we know it, and then life, have arisen from pure chance, and that it is chance that has created the world.

'Into such a universe we have stumbled if not exactly by mistake, at least as the result of what may properly be described as an accident. The use of such a word need not imply any surprise that our earth exists, for accidents will happen, and if the universe goes on for long enough, every conceivable accident is likely to happen in time. It was, I think, Huxley who said that six monkeys set to strum unintelligently on typewriters for millions of millions of years would be bound in time to write all the books in the British Museum.'
Ibid., p. 4.

Life arose because a wandering star got too near the sun, and thus caused the existence of the planetary system, and the temperature conditions under which life was possible. Somehow or other protons and electrons produced (by chance we must suppose) the carbon atom, and this somehow or other had the properties which in combination with oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen produced life. The mental power which enables the modern professor of science to form a theory of the universe is entirely the outcome of an accident.

But chance has to do much more than this. I do not quite know what science would tell us was the ultimate stuff of the world. But in any case, did this stuff, whether it be electrons or protons or that unknown substance called electricity, come into existence by chance? Or has it always existed? And was it chance that created the sun before it met with the unfortunate accident which produced the planetary system? I am afraid all this seems very improbable.

If it was not chance, there must have been purpose. Is the tendency of modern science to make the existence of purpose and reason in the universe more or less probable? It seems to me that the whole tendency of scientific discovery is to make the idea that the world as we know it came into existence by chance less and less probable. The world is a cosmos, an ordered whole, not a chaos. So much is this the case that the physicist thinks that he can reduce it to a series of mathematical formulae, and he tells us that the universe represents the thought of a God who is a mathematician. I do not think that we shall be content with such a description, because there is a great deal in all our experience that mathematics will not explain, but I hardly feel it likely that chance should have arranged the framework of the universe in accordance with such abstruse calculations.

And if I turn to biology I find even a greater difficulty in being satisfied with chance as the cause of things. When the evolution of living things began to be taught, it seemed to extend the domain of law where it had not been before. It excluded or seemed to exclude any doctrine of special creation and gave a final blow to Deism. Fifty years ago the problem of the universe seemed to some people almost solved. But it always happens that after a new discovery has been before the world a little time its limitations become apparent, and this has happened with regard to evolution. It became apparent that an essential element in the whole scheme had been assumed. How did it come about that there were variations at all ? We are told that evolution depends upon mutations, but how mutations come to be we do not know, and if we were to discover that, there is the still further question how it came to be that a world existed in which mutations arose. Moreover, the problem of emergent evolution has been stated. How does it happen that new forms of existence come into existence, entirely different in character from that out of which it is claimed they have been evolved, the character of which is not predictable or calculable? Moreover, an infinite period ago, there began a process of evolution,which appears to have looked forward to the end which has been attained. Can we conceive this long process as the result of chance?

I have already maintained that we have no power of proving the existence of purpose in the world, but to an intelligent mind it must be apparent that if the alternatives of chance and purpose lie before us, purpose is the only explanation of the world which can be satisfying to our intelligence. Nor can I feel that the existence of reason and purpose in the universe can be explained except on the hypothesis of a personal creator.


There are many schemes which have been formulated in order to explain the world around us. We may divide such philosophies into two classes. The first is those that start with the study of the material world around us, begin by assuming its reality, and would attain truth by the study of it. The second class are those theories which claim more particularly the title of philosophies, which start with the analysis of our mental processes and the explanation of our moral and aesthetic characteristics.

Many philosophies of the former class appear to be in some sense theistic. They start with the study of the physical universe. They begin by assuming the reality of its material structure, but they are driven more and more to substitute mental for material conceptions. 'The essential fact', says Sir James Jeans, 'is simply that all the pictures that science now draws of nature, and which alone seem capable of according with observational fact, are mathematical pictures.' « The Mysterious Universe, p. 127. He then goes on to tell us that these are nothing more than pictures. They are fictions if we like. They can be understood by no one but a mathematician. 'From the intrinsic evidence of his creation, the Great Architect of the Universe now begins to appear as a pure mathematician.' « Ibid., p. 134. 'The universe can be best pictured ... as consisting of pure thought, the thought of what, for want of a wider word, we must describe as a mathematical thinker.' « Ibid., p. 136. The objectivity of the universe arises from its subsisting, as Bishop Berkeley had taught, 'in the mind of some Eternal Spirit.' « Ibid., p. 137. 'The uniformity of nature proclaims the self-consistency of this mind.' « Ibid., p. 140. 'The universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine.' « Ibid., p. 148.


A scheme of things less in harmony with theistic belief is that of Professor Alexander. « Space, Time, and Deity, by S. Alexander (London, 1930).He writes as a philosopher and begins by analysing our mental conceptions of material things. He finds that the ultimate reality is space-time.

It is interesting to notice the great variety of belief there is about space and time. While some philosophers appear to hold that they are the ultimate reality, the greater number deny that they exist at all. Bergson denies the reality of space, but looks upon time as ultimate reality. Dr. Inge « See especially 'The Problem of Time" in God and the Astronomers, p. 71. and the Platonists deny the reality of space and time.

From this ultimate reality of space-time there has been gradually evolved matter as we know it.

'First emerged "matter" with its primary, and, at a later stage, its secondary qualities. Here new relations, other than those which are spatio-temporal only, supervene. So far, thus supervenient on spatio-temporal events, we have also physical and chemical events in progressively ascending grades. Later in evolutionary sequence life emerges – a new "quality" of certain material or physico-chemical systems with supervenient vital relations hitherto not in being. Here again there are progressively ascending grades. Then within this organic matrix, or some highly differentiated part thereof, already "qualitied", as he says, by life, there emerges the higher quality of consciousness or mind. Here, once more, there are progressively ascending grades. As mental evolution runs its course, there emerge, at the reflective stage of mind, the "tertiary qualities" – ideals of truth, of beauty, and of the ethically right – having relations of "value". And beyond this, at or near the apex of the evolutionary pyramid of which space-time is the base, the quality of deity – the highest of all – emerges in us the latest products of evolution up to date.'
Emergent Evolution, by C. Lloyd Morgan, F.R.S. (London, 1937), pp. 9, 10.

When we ask how or why this process takes place, we gather that no explanation is possible. 'The world has been successively enriched through the advent of vital and of conscious relations.' This we must accept 'with natural piety', as Professor Alexander puts it. 'If it be found as somehow given, it is to be taken just as we find it.' However interesting this picture of the evolution of the universe may be, it does not make it easier to understand how or why it happened.


Professor Lloyd Morgan accepts this doctrine of emergent evolution. His philosophy is based not on metaphysical but on psychological analysis, and he explains evolution by a belief in God.

'In my belief in God, on whom all things depend, I am certainly not alone. I would fain not stand alone in combining with this belief, and all that it entails, that full and frank acceptance of the naturalistic interpretation of the world which is offered by emergent evolution.'
Ibid., p. 299.
'We acknowledge God as above and beyond. But unless we also intuitively enjoy his activity within us, feeling that we are in a measure one with Him in substance, we can have no immediate knowledge of causality or of God as the Source of our own existence and of emergent evolution.'
Ibid., p. 301.


In contrast with this exposition and explanation of reality, I would put that which we owe to the revived Neoplatonism of Dr. Inge. While Professor Alexander and Dr. Lloyd Morgan start from below (if we may so say) and work upwards, Dr. Inge and Plotinus start from above and work downwards. His clearest exposition is that in his most recent work, God and the Astronomers. 'Reality consists in a trinity in unity of Spirit, spiritual perception, and the spiritual world.' « God and the Astronomers, p. 260. 'Reality is neither thought nor thing, but the indissoluble unity of thought and thing, which reciprocally imply each other.' « Ibid., p. 261. 'Plotinus is able to preserve the complete unity in duality of Spirit and its objects, the "intelligible world", without subordinating either of them to the other, because they both derive their being directly from the One, the Absolute.' « Ibid., p. 261.

'What is the relation of the archetypal world which is spaceless, timeless, immaterial, and eternal, to the world of phenomena? ... The phenomenal world contains, Plotinus says, all that there is in the eternal world; but in the world of space and time the absolute values are split up and partly disintegrated by the conditions of existence here below. We have here externality instead of compenetration, becoming instead of being, a striving will instead of pure contemplation.'
Ibid., p. 262.

'The world is created by the universal soul, after the likeness of the spiritual world, which it ever contemplates.'
Ibid., p. 266.

Just as man consists of body, soul, and spirit, so objectively there is the world as perceived by the senses; the world interpreted by the mind as a spatial and temporal order; and the spiritual world.

Now the difficulty that I have is to understand what all these terms mean. Just as the physicist interprets the world by mathematical formulae, which do not really tell us about it, so the philosopher interprets it by intellectual abstractions, and I do not know whether when he has formulated these abstractions he has done much to solve our problems. What the philosopher fights shy of is the idea of personality, but religion always demands a person as the end of its contemplation and as the ultimate reality.

'Much', says Dr. Inge, 'has been written about the "personality" of God, a word for which I have no great affection. ... Personality, when attributed to God, is a symbol, and a very inadequate one. We do not know how far we ourselves can call ourselves "persons" ... It is in the life of devotion that the "personality" of God appeals to us most strongly. .. . We know that in prayer we are not merely soliloquising.'
God and the Astronomers, p. 255.

Now I would very respectfully ask whether much of the language which modern philosophers use has any meaning apart from the idea of personality. The modern idealist philosopher tells us that God represents, nay, rather is, the 'highest values'. He is perfect truth, and beauty, and goodness, and love. To me none of these things have any meaning except as attributes of a person. Love has no meaning except as the relation of one person to another. There is no such thing as an abstract love. A thing is beautiful to a person who sees it so. Its beauty cannot exist unless there be subject as well as object. Moral goodness cannot belong to inanimate things, and truth means true knowledge as I hold it. For religion the idea of personality is imperative, but even intellectually impersonal abstractions have no real meaning.


Only one philosophy more will claim our attention. Dr. F. H. Bradley we may hold to be the one real philosopher we have produced in this country in recent years. For his very incisive criticism of the scientific myths which used to be accepted even in philosophic circles our gratitude to him is great. He may be accepted as the exponent of a philosophy of the Absolute in its most complete form. Reality is the Absolute and the Absolute is the unification of all experience.

'Of the attitudes possible in experience I will try to show that none has supremacy. There is not one mode to which the others belong as its adjectives, or into which they can be resolved. And how these various modes can come together into a single unity must remain unintelligible.'
Appearance and Reality, by F. H. Bradley (8th impression, Oxford, 1930), p. 405.

There is much that is said of the Absolute which I would be glad to quote as leading up to the conclusion that I would make.

'Pure spirit is not realized except in the Absolute. It can never appear as such and with its full character in the scale of existence. Perfection and individuality belong only to that whole in which all degrees alike are at once present and absorbed. This one reality of existence can, as such, nowhere exist among phenomena. And it enters into, but is itself incapable of, evolution and progress.'
Ibid., p. 442.
'The Absolute has no history of its own, though it contains histories without number.. .. The Absolute has no seasons, but all at once bears its leaves, fruit, and blossoms.'

What then is the Absolute? According to Dr. Bradley the Absolute is not God.

'God for me has no meaning outside of the religious consciousness, and that essentially is practical. The Absolute for me cannot be God, because in the end the Absolute is related to nothing, and there cannot be a practical relation between it and the finite will. When you begin to worship the Absolute or the universe, and make it the object of religion, you in that moment have transformed it. It has become something forthwith which is less than the universe.'
Essays on Truth and Reality, by F. H. Bradley (Oxford, 1914), p. 428.

And again,

'A personal God is not the ultimate truth about the universe, and in that ultimate truth would be included and superseded by something higher than personality. A God that can say to himself "I" as against you and me, is not in my judgment defensible as the last and complete truth for metaphysics.'
Ibid., p. 432.

Now, I repeat, what is the Absolute? It is a philosophical conception, an abstraction, and to me indeed has no real meaning and gives no ultimate explanation of things. To me, as to every one who approaches these questions from the side of religion, a personal God must be the ultimate reality of the universe, nor can we think of anything which could possibly be higher or beyond it, nor do I find anything unsatisfactory or inferior in the idea of personality. If I am asked then where I find reality in the universe, I must answer in a personal God. And that conception has a meaning for me which the 'Absolute' has not. But as I read carefully through the exposition of the meaning of the Absolute which Dr. Bradley builds up with such acuteness, it more and more seems to me that what he is describing, or attempting to describe, is the universe as it is conceived in the mind of God, and when I have attained that conception I can feel the illuminating value of that analysis of experience which he has given us. The ultimate reality is God, and the Absolute is the totality of things as conceived in the mind of God.


The above cursory survey presents various efforts of the human intelligence in the quest of truth. They are strangely different. I think we may recognize that all of them are imperfect if not false; so much their diversity makes it necessary for us to say. But that would be a very inadequate way of describing them. If any of them, physical, psychological, or metaphysical, claims to be an adequate or a complete explanation, it clearly fails, but that need not prevent us from thinking that each of them, approaching the problem from a different side, makes some contribution to our knowledge. Any one who starts with the Christian belief in a personal God may be able to fit all these various schemes into their proper place.

I would like very shortly to sum up my argument as I have attempted to develop it.

In the first place no purely mechanical theory is capable of explaining the natural world, nor is it possible to eliminate the idea of purpose. The world owes its origin to chance or creation. Chance is excluded by all the evidence we have for the elaborate structure of the physical universe. The world exhibits reason and purpose, and reason and purpose imply a personal God.

Secondly, our knowledge of things implies a necessary relation between the world that we know and our minds that know. I do not feel that any explanation is so adequate as that which represents God as the source alike of the world which we know and our minds that know.

I believe that the Christian conception of God as Almighty, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, is not only essential for religion but the most rational explanation of the universe, and as we develop further in the chapters that follow this Christian conception of God, it will be more and more apparent that it satisfies as no other explanation the demands of the human mind, alike intellectual and moral and devotional.
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