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German Catholics lose church rights for unpaid tax

28 09 2012

Germany’s Roman Catholics are to be denied the right to Holy Communion or religious burial if they stop paying a special church tax.

A German bishops’ decree which has just come into force says anyone failing to pay the tax – an extra 8% of their income tax bill – will no longer be considered a Catholic.

The bishops have been alarmed by the number of Catholics leaving the Church. They say such a step should be seen as a serious act against the community.

All Germans who are officially registered as Catholics, Protestants or Jews pay a religious tax of 8-9% on their annual income tax bill. The levy was introduced in the 19th Century in compensation for the nationalisation of religious property.

“If your tax bill is for 10,000 euros, then 800 euros will go on top of that and your total tax combined will be 10,800 euros,” Munich tax accountant Thomas Zitzelsberger told the BBC news website.

Catholics make up around 30% of Germany’s population but the number of congregants leaving the church swelled to 181,000 in 2010, with the increase blamed on revelations of sexual abuse by German priests.

Alarmed by their declining congregations, the bishops were also pushed into action by a case involving a retired professor of church law, Hartmut Zapp, who announced in 2007 that he would no longer pay the tax but intended to remain within the Catholic faith.

The Freiburg University academic said he wanted to continue praying and receiving Holy Communion and a lengthy legal case between Prof Zapp and the church will reach the Leipzig Federal Administrative Court on Wednesday.

“This decree makes clear that one cannot partly leave the Church,” Germany’s bishops’ conference said last week, in a decision endorsed by the Vatican. “It is not possible to separate the spiritual community of the Church from the institutional Church.”

Unless they pay the religious tax, Catholics will no longer receive sacraments, except for a special blessing before death, the decree states. They cannot work in the church or its institutions, such as schools and hospitals, or be active in church-sponsored associations such as charity groups or choirs. They cannot be godparents for Catholic children and must get a bishop’s permission to marry a Catholic in a church ceremony.

Without a “sign of repentance before death, a religious burial can be refused,” the decree states. Opting out of the tax would also bar people from acting as godparents to Catholic children. The Vatican gave its approval for the decree before it was issued, the statement said.

“This decree at this moment of time is really the wrong signal by the German bishops who know that the Catholic church is in a deep crisis,” Christian Weisner from the grassroots Catholic campaign group We are Church told the BBC.

But a priest from Mannheim in south-western Germany, Father Lukas Glocker, said the tax was used to do essential good works. “With kindergarten, with homes for elderly or unemployed, we’ve got really good things so I know we need the tax to help the German country to do good things.”

While the decree severely limits active participation in the German Catholic Church, it does hold out some hope for anyone considering a return to the fold.

Until now, any German Catholic who stopped payment faced eventual excommunication. Although the measures laid out in the decree are similar to excommunication from the church, German observers say the word is carefully avoided in the decree.

PROTESTANT EXODUS

Germany’s Protestant churches have also seen a steady exodus in recent decades as members – who become registered at baptism – leave because they no longer believe, disagree with some policy or want to save several hundred euros in church tax.

A major departure wave from both Catholic and Protestant churches occurred in the early 1990s, when the government raised taxes to finance ex-communist eastern Germany.

Since the levy was almost the same as the church tax – whose origins date back to the 19th century – Germans could neutralise the tax boost by quitting their church.

Catholics and Protestants are almost equally distributed in Germany, with each at about 24 million, or 30 percent of the 82 million population. There are about 4 million Muslims and 120,000 Jews in Germany which has a total population of almost 82 million.

Tax on Germany’s Christians

  • 25 million Catholics
  • Tax worth 5bn euros (2010)
  • 24 million Protestants
  • Tax worth 4.3bn euros
  • German population 82 million

Sources: BBC News Europe, Reuters

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Hungarian Catholic priest gets on skateboard to attract young people to his church

26 09 2012

Our news are usually of serious nature but today we decided to offer you something completely different.   

A Hungarian Catholic priest who spreads God’s word from a skateboard has become an internet sensation.

A video of the Reverend Zoltan Lendvai, 45, in action has attracted almost 147,000 hits on YouTube. The video shows Father Lendvai, clad in full clerical garb, displaying his moves.

It is not clear whether he has mastered the nose-grind or the kick-flip, but his skills have helped attract young people to his church.

Father Lendvai, whose first board bore the papal coat of arms, believes skateboarding can pave the way to God for young people.

He says his distinctive method of spreading the word on wheels is inspired by Saint John Bosco. The 19th century Italian priest and teacher dedicated his life to improving the lot of poor young people, using games as part of their education.

“Many times I have felt that this is the way I can bring many people a bit closer to Jesus,” Father Lendvai, who learned to skateboard at the age of 14 at school, told Reuters news agency.

However, it was not until he started to serve as a priest that he realized fancy skateboard moves might be more effective than the sermon in turning young people towards the church.

Three teenage boys who had never attended church before started coming regularly after he showed off his skateboard tricks, said Father Lendvai, who lives and preaches in Redics, a small village on Hungary’s border with Slovenia.

However, his four-wheeled ministry does not come cheap: he has given away at least six skateboards to his young parishioners.

Source: BBC News





Who Speaks for Christianity and Islam?

23 09 2012

We are bringing you an interesting article written by Pastor Joel Hunter and Imam Muhammad Musri. Article was originally published on Huffington Post


We can tell you who does NOT speak for Christianity or Islam: the radicals who are getting all the media attention.

In both Christianity and Islam, freedoms of speech and expression are cherished rights, however, a small fraction of extremists on both sides are abusing these rights and pretending to speak on behalf of billions of peaceful Christians and Muslims. The tendency to mischaracterize a religion other than your own is nothing new. The desire to defend one’s faith and respond to insults is certainly understandable. But let us all take a moment to put this in perspective: Who is launching the attacks?

Recently, a demeaning and degrading hate film, produced by a radical Christian in California and promoted by a fundamentalist Christian leader in Florida, resulted in radical Muslims rioting in several countries. The Christian extremists intended to outrage Muslims worldwide, and to get the Muslim extremists to respond violently. They blame each other, but they are two faces of the same coin.

We have both been in the office of Rev. Terry Jones, on different occasions, to try to dissuade him from actions that would place Americans, especially those serving in our Armed Forces, in danger. We have failed for a simple reason: He loves the attention and he believes he is fighting evil. His tiny congregation loves the idea that believers like them are the only ones true to Christ and courageous enough to defend the faith against enemies. Like other fundamentalists of any faith, he speaks with disdain when talking about other churches let alone Islam. When we visited him, instead of carrying a Bible around the office, Rev. Jones and his assistant pastor carried guns.

We do not know any respected Christian leader or denomination who would promote or even tolerate a despicable video denigrating the leader of another religion. Out of the billions of Christians on this earth, only a very few would approve of such slander. The question is, how many will speak out against it?

We both have talked to Muslims, encouraging them to peace and dialogue. Compared to the of the millions that demonstrated for more democratic reforms in the “Arab Spring” movement across the Middle East, how many have been involved in these violent reactions to the film? Only thousands, in some cases hundreds, demonstrated angrily and only a fraction of those were violent.

Everyone likes to blame the media for focusing on the loud voices of the radicals, but some of the responsibility must rest on the majority of religious leaders who are silent during these times, the ones who would speak up for peace and respect of others but they do not take the initiative. Maybe if more of us spoke up, we could drown out the radical provocations and the radical responses with voices of reason, civility and thoughtfulness.

As a Christian leader, I, Pastor Joel Hunter, rebuke the Coptic Christian who made such a disgusting video. I know many Coptic Christians in Egypt and other countries who would be sick about this kind of attack on the Prophet of Islam. I will be part of the voices that will drown out future attempts to incite the clash of religions and civilizations.

As a Muslim leader, I, Imam Muhammad Musri, strongly condemn the cowardly criminal attacks against the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and other U.S. Embassies around the world. My prayers and condolences go out to the families and loved ones of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and his colleagues, who were killed in these senseless criminal acts. I strongly condemn the radical mob that carried out the attacks, and I stand up with the vast majority of Muslims who are peaceful against the extremists who keep trying to hijack our faith. Islam is peace, and under no circumstances is any kind of violence ever justified in response to such provocations.

While many religious leaders find it difficult to reach out across the religious divide, we are proud to say we have been best friends for nearly 20 years. We have advocated for many issues of compassion and justice and health together. We have worked together to reduce nuclear arms, pollution, eliminate torture, minimize poverty and other important issues. How many will stand with us to speak out and outlast the voices of degradation when it comes to other religions? We are each strong advocates for our own scriptures and understandings of God, but we do not build our communities by tearing others down.





Ganesh Chaturthi – birthday of Hindu Lord Ganesha

20 09 2012

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One of the biggest religious holidays in Hinduism, the great Ganesha festival, also known as ‘Ganesh Chaturthi’ or ‘Vinayak Chaturthi’, is celebrated by Hindus as the birthday of Lord Ganesha. It is observed during the Hindu month of Bhadra (mid-August – mid-September). The grandest and most elaborate Ganesh Chaturthi festival is celebrated in the western India state of Maharashtra, lasts for 10 days.

Elephant-head deity called Ganesha, also known as Ganapaty, is one of the best known and most worshiped deities in Hinduism. He is son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, the Divine Mother. Although generally known as Lord of beginnings and Remover of Obstacles, he is also worshiped as the god of education, knowledge, wisdom and wealth. Ganesha is usually shown having only one tusk, as the legend said he used his tusk to write famous Indian epic Mahbaharata.

May the blessings of Sri Ganesha be upon you all! May He remove all the obstacles that stand in your spiritual path! May He bestow on you all material prosperity as well as liberation!

In the name of Central-European Religious Freedom Institute, I wish you very happy Ganesh Chaturthi.

Jura Nanuk, President & Founder

 





Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year

16 09 2012

In the name of the Central-European Religious Freedom Institute, I wish sweet and happy Rosh Hashanah to all Jewish communities around the world. 

Shana Tova Umetukah, 

Jura Nanuk, Founder & President

The Meaning of Rosh HaShanah

Rosh HaShanah literally means “Head of the Year” in Hebrew. It falls in the month of Tishrei, which is the seventh month on the Hebrew calendar. The reason for this is because the Hebrew calendar begins with the month of Nissan (when it’s believed the Jews were freed from slavery in Egypt) but the month of Tishrei is believed to be the month in which God created the world. Hence, another way to think about Rosh HaShanah is as the birthday of the world.

Rosh HaShanah is observed on the first two days of Tishrei. This year Rosh Hashanah is celebrated on September 17-18. Jewish tradition teaches that during the High Holy Days God decides who will live and who will die during the coming year. As a result, during Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur (and in the days leading up to them) Jews embark upon the serious task of examining their lives and repenting for any wrongs they have committed during the previous year. This process of repentance is called teshuvah. Jews are encouraged to make amends with anyone they have wronged and to make plans for improving during the coming year. In this way, Rosh HaShanah is all about making peace in the community and striving to be a better person.

Even though the theme of Rosh HaShanah is life and death, it is a holiday filled with hope for the New Year. Jews believe that God is compassionate and just, and that God will accept their prayers for forgiveness.

Rosh HaShanah Liturgy

The Rosh HaShanah prayer service is one of the longest of the year. Only the Yom Kippurservice is longer. Rosh HaShanah service usually runs from early morning until the afternoon and is so unique that it has its own prayer book called the Makhzor. Two of the most well known prayers from Rosh HaShanah liturgy are:

  • Unetaneh Tohkef – This prayer is about life and death. Part of it reads: “On Rosh HaShanah it is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed, how many will leave this world and how many will be born into it, who will live and who will die… But penitence, prayer and good deeds can annul the severity of the decree.”
  • Avienu Malkeinu – Another famous prayer is Avienu Malkeinu, which means “Our Father Our King” in Hebrew. Usually the entire congregation will sing the last verse of this prayer in unison, which says: “Our Father, our King, answer us as though we have no deed to plead our cause, save us with mercy and loving-kindness.”

Customs and Symbols

On Rosh HaShanah it is customary to greet people with “L’Shanah Tovah,” which is Hebrew that is usually translated as “For a Good Year” or “May you have a good year.” Some people also say “L’shana tovah tikatev v’etahetem,” which means “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.” (If said to a woman the greeting would be: “L’shanah tovah tikatevi v’tahetemi”). This greeting refers to the belief that a person’s fate for the coming year is decided during the High Holy Days.

The shofar is an important symbol of Rosh HaShanah. It is an instrument often made of a ram’s horn and is blown one hundred times during each of the two days of Rosh HaShanah. The sound of the shofar blast reminds people of the importance of reflection during this important holiday. 

Tashlich is a ceremony that usually takes place during the first day of Rosh HaShanah. “Tashlich” literally means “casting off” and involves symbolically casting off the sins of the previous year by tossing pieces of bread or another food into a body of flowing water. 

Other significant symbols of Rosh HaShanah include apples, honey and round loaves of challah. Apple slices dipped in honey represent our hope for a sweet new year and are traditionally accompanied by a short prayer before eating that goes: “May it by Thy will, O Lord, Our God, to grant us a year that is good and sweet.” Challah, which is usually baked into braids, is shaped into round loaves of bread on Rosh HaShanah. The circular shape symbolizes the continuation of life.

On the second night of Rosh HaShanah it is customary to eat a fruit that is new to us for the season, saying the shehechiyanu blessing as we eat it to thank God for bringing us to this season. Pomegranates are a popular choice because Israel is often praised for its pomegranates and because, according to legend, pomegranates contain 613 seeds – one for each of the 613 mitzvot. Another reason for eating pomegranates on Rosh HaShanah has to do with the symbolic hope that our good deeds in the coming year will be as many as the seeds of the fruit.

Some people choose to send New Year’s greeting cards on Rosh HaShanah. Before the advent of modern computers these were handwritten cards that were snail mailed weeks in advance, but nowadays it is equally as common to send Rosh HaShanah e-cards a few days before the holiday.

Source: About.com





BEYOND RELIGION: Dalai Lama’s new book on secular ethics

14 09 2012

Editor’s note: The following is excerpted from “Beyond Religion” by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

I am an old man now. I was born in 1935 in a small village in northeastern Tibet. For reasons beyond my control, I have lived most of my adult life as a stateless refugee in India, which has been my second home for over 50 years. I often joke that I am India’s longest-staying guest. In common with other people of my age, I have witnessed many of the dramatic events that have shaped the world we live in. Since the late 1960s, I have also traveled a great deal, and have had the honor to meet people from many different backgrounds: not just presidents and prime ministers, kings and queens, and leaders from all the world’s great religious traditions, but also a great number of ordinary people from all walks of life.

Looking back over the past decades, I find many reasons to rejoice. Through advances in medical science, deadly diseases have been eradicated. Millions of people have been lifted from poverty and have gained access to modern education and health care. We have a universal declaration of human rights, and awareness of the importance of such rights has grown tremendously. As a result, the ideals of freedom and democracy have spread around the world, and there is increasing recognition of the oneness of humanity. There is also growing awareness of the importance of a healthy environment. In very many ways, the last half-century or so has been one of progress and positive change.

At the same time, despite tremendous advances in so many fields, there is still great suffering, and humanity continues to face enormous difficulties and problems. While in the more affluent parts of the world people enjoy lifestyles of high consumption, there remain countless millions whose basic needs are not met. With the end of the Cold War, the threat of global nuclear destruction has receded, but many continue to endure the sufferings and tragedy of armed conflict. In many areas, too, people are having to deal with environmental problems and, with these, threats to their livelihood and worse. At the same time, many others are struggling to get by in the face of inequality, corruption and injustice.

These problems are not limited to the developing world. In the richer countries, too, there are many difficulties, including widespread social problems: alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence, family breakdown. People are worried about their children, about their education and what the world holds in store for them. Now, too, we have to recognize the possibility that human activity is damaging our planet beyond a point of no return, a threat which creates further fear. And all the pressures of modern life bring with them stress, anxiety, depression, and, increasingly, loneliness. As a result, everywhere I go, people are complaining. Even I find myself complaining from time to time!

It is clear that something is seriously lacking in the way we humans are going about things. But what is it that we lack? The fundamental problem, I believe, is that at every level we are giving too much attention to the external material aspects of life while neglecting moral ethics and inner values.

By inner values I mean the qualities that we all appreciate in others, and toward which we all have a natural instinct, bequeathed by our biological nature as animals that survive and thrive only in an environment of concern, affection and warmheartedness — or in a single word, compassion. The essence of compassion is a desire to alleviate the suffering of others and to promote their well-being.


This is the spiritual principle from which all other positive inner values emerge. We all appreciate in others the inner qualities of kindness, patience, tolerance, forgiveness and generosity, and in the same way we are all averse to displays of greed, malice, hatred and bigotry. So actively promoting the positive inner qualities of the human heart that arise from our core disposition toward compassion, and learning to combat our more destructive propensities, will be appreciated by all. And the first beneficiaries of such a strengthening of our inner values will, no doubt, be ourselves. Our inner lives are something we ignore at our own peril, and many of the greatest problems we face in today’s world are the result of such neglect.

Not long ago I visited Orissa, a region in eastern India. The poverty in this part of the country, especially among tribal people, has recently led to growing conflict and insurgency. I met with a member of parliament from the region and discussed these issues. From him I gathered that there are a number legal mechanisms and well-funded government projects already in place aimed at protecting the rights of tribal people and even giving them material assistance. The problem, he said, was that the funds provided by the government were not reaching those they were intended to help. When such projects are subverted by corruption, inefficiency and irresponsibility on the part of those charged with implementing them, they become worthless.

This example shows very clearly that even when a system is sound, its effectiveness depends on the way it is used. Ultimately, any system, any set of laws or procedures, can only be as effective as the individuals responsible for its implementation. If, owing to failures of personal integrity, a good system is misused, it can easily become a source of harm rather than a source of benefit. This is a general truth which applies to all fields of human activity, even religion. Though religion certainly has the potential to help people lead meaningful and happy lives, it too, when misused, can become a source of conflict and division. Similarly, in the fields of commerce and finance, the systems themselves may be sound, but if the people using them are unscrupulous and driven by self-serving greed, the benefits of those systems will be undermined. Unfortunately, we see this happening in many kinds of human activities: even in international sports, where corruption threatens the very notion of fair play.

Of course, many discerning people are aware of these problems and are working sincerely to redress them from within their own areas of expertise. Politicians, civil servants, lawyers, educators, environmentalists, activists and so on — people from all sides are already engaged in this effort. This is very good so far as it goes, but the fact is, we will never solve our problems simply by instituting new laws and regulations. Ultimately, the source of our problems lies at the level of the individual. If people lack moral values and integrity, no system of laws and regulations will be adequate. So long as people give priority to material values, then injustice, inequity, intolerance and greed — all the outward manifestations of neglect of inner values — will persist.

So what are we to do? Where are we to turn for help? Science, for all the benefits it has brought to our external world, has not yet provided scientific grounding for the development of the foundations of personal integrity — the basic inner human values that we appreciate in others and would do well to promote in ourselves. Perhaps we should seek inner values from religion, as people have done for millennia? Certainly religion has helped millions of people in the past, helps millions today and will continue to help millions in the future. But for all its benefits in offering moral guidance and meaning in life, in today’s secular world religion alone is no longer adequate as a basis for ethics. One reason for this is that many people in the world no longer follow any particular religion. Another reason is that, as the peoples of the world become ever more closely interconnected in an age of globalization and in multicultural societies, ethics based in any one religion would only appeal to some of us; it would not be meaningful for all. In the past, when peoples lived in relative isolation from one another — as we Tibetans lived quite happily for many centuries behind our wall of mountains — the fact that groups pursued their own religiously based approaches to ethics posed no difficulties. Today, however, any religion-based answer to the problem of our neglect of inner values can never be universal, and so will be inadequate. What we need today is an approach to ethics which makes no recourse to religion and can be equally acceptable to those with faith and those without: a secular ethics.

This statement may seem strange coming from someone who from a very early age has lived as a monk in robes. Yet I see no contradiction here. My faith enjoins me to strive for the welfare and benefit of all sentient beings, and reaching out beyond my own tradition, to those of other religions and those of none, is entirely in keeping with this.

I am confident that it is both possible and worthwhile to attempt a new secular approach to universal ethics. My confidence comes from my conviction that all of us, all human beings, are basically inclined or disposed toward what we perceive to be good. Whatever we do, we do because we think it will be of some benefit. At the same time, we all appreciate the kindness of others. We are all, by nature, oriented toward the basic human values of love and compassion. We all prefer the love of others to their hatred. We all prefer others’ generosity to their meanness. And who among us does not prefer tolerance, respect and forgiveness of our failings to bigotry, disrespect and resentment?

In view of this, I am of the firm opinion that we have within our grasp a way, and a means, to ground inner values without contradicting any religion and yet, crucially, without depending on religion. The development and practice of this new system of ethics is what I propose to elaborate in the course of this book. It is my hope that doing so will help to promote understanding of the need for ethical awareness and inner values in this age of excessive materialism.

At the outset I should make it clear that my intention is not to dictate moral values. Doing that would be of no benefit. To try to impose moral principles from outside, to impose them, as it were, by command, can never be effective. Instead, I call for each of us to come to our own understanding of the importance of inner values. For it is these inner values which are the source of both an ethically harmonious world and the individual peace of mind, confidence and happiness we all seek. Of course, all the world’s major religions, with their emphasis on love, compassion, patience, tolerance and forgiveness, can and do promote inner values. But the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I believe the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics that is beyond religion.

Source: Huffington Post





Just Because You Love Jesus Doesn’t Mean You Have to Disrespect the Buddha, Dishonor Muhammad or Disregard Moses

14 09 2012

By , Author of “A New Kind of Christianity” and “Naked Spirituality” (brianmclaren.net)

On this 11th anniversary of 9/11, it’s a good day for us to look back and assess the damage.

The damage to buildings long been accounted for, and much has been rebuilt. The damage to the economy has also been debated and estimated — and replaced by new, greater, primarily self-inflicted economic wounds.

The damage to families is, of course, impossible to assess or quantify. It can only be mourned.

But there’s another impact of those attacks that is still too seldom tallied: how our religious communities have turned from their deepest teachings and values of peace and reconciliation, and have too often become possessed, we might say, by spirits of fear, revenge, isolation and hostility.

As a Christian, I’ve certainly seen it and felt it in the Christian community, expressed often in a sense that the more you love Jesus, the more inhospitable you’ll be toward other faiths. “Don’t let them build mosques or temples on our turf,” some say. “Don’t let them express their difference in dress or ritual,” others suggest. “Require them to conform to our holidays and cultural codes,” others demand.

This turn toward hostility has disturbed me, so a few years ago I began studying it more in earnest. My research led me to the underlying relationships among religious hostility, religious solidarity and religious identity. Today, the results of my research and reflection go public in a new book (“Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?“), and among many conclusions, one stands out — one that I hope my fellow Christians can hear and ponder.

To be a strong Christian does not mean you have to have a strong antipathy toward other faiths and their leaders.

To be hostile rather than hospitable, in fact, makes you a worse Christian, not a better one.

To be respectful, curious, humble, inquisitive and hospitable to people of other faiths makes you a better Christian — meaning a more Christ-like one. To love your neighbor means, at the very least, not to discriminate against him, not to dehumanize him, not to insult him or what he holds dear, not to act as if God made a mistake in giving him a place in this world.

Put more positively, to love your neighbor of another faith means to seek to understand her, to learn to see the world from her perspective, to stand with her, as it were, so that you can feel what she feels and maybe even come to understand why she loves what she loves.

In the book I recount a conversation I shared over lunch with an imam who became a good friend in the weeks after 9/11. We each shared what it was we loved about our religions and their founders. He went first, and then as I was sharing, he interrupted me. “I have never heard a Christian share what he loves about his faith,” he told me. “I have only heard my fellow Muslims tell me what Christians believe. It is so different to hear it from you.”

I knew what he meant.

What would happen if more of us, whatever our religious tradition, extracted ourselves from the vicious cycles of offense and revenge, hurt and resentment, misunderstanding and counter-misunderstanding, rumor and innuendo? One thing is certain: We would become more faithful to the vision of our founders, not less. May that be so.

Source: Huffington Post








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