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The Atheist 10 Commandments

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William Crawley | 09:22 UK time, Thursday, 11 February 2010

I recently live-tweeted my way through Ann Widdecombe's 'The Commandments and Me', which included some rather strained encounters between the Catholic MP and two opponents of religion, Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry. My tweeting prompted one reader to send me the 'Atheist 10 Commandments', which were (inaccurately?) attributed to Richard Dawkins. What do you make of these moral precepts? Are they an improvement on the better-known list of moral commitments -- or do they miss the point?

(1) Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you.

(2) In all things, strive to cause no harm.

(3) Treat your fellow human beings, your fellow living things, and the world in general with love, honesty, faithfulness and respect.

(4) Do not overlook evil or shrink from administering justice, but always be ready to forgive wrongdoing freely admitted and honestly regretted.

(5) Live life with a sense of joy and wonder.

(6) Always seek to be learning something new.

(7) Test all things; always check your ideas against the facts, and be ready to discard even a cherished belief if it does not conform to them.

(8) Never seek to censor or cut yourself off from dissent; always respect the right of others to disagree with you.

(9) Form independent opinions on the basis of your own reason and experience; do not allow yourself to be led blindly by others.

(10) Question everything.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Surely 9 and 10 would mean that any self-respecting atheist would have to reject the concept of such commandments - does this not constitute being told what to do as well? Morality is therefore highly subjective if there is no objective reality and Truth.

  • Comment number 2.

    First six are okay, then you hit the internal contradictions and it all goes pear-shaped.

  • Comment number 3.

    There is nothing in these commandments that anyone can disagree with - religious or otherwise, but of course the meaning of the words used will be twisted or misinterpreted by some for their own ends, as most religions have done. Why do they have to be called 'commandments'anyway? Why not just call them 'precepts'? They do, after all, promote a much more positive worldview than any of the established religions.

  • Comment number 4.

    The 10 Atheist Good Ideas?

    I don't do commandments...

  • Comment number 5.

    There are certainly some good points in there, especially in the area of taking a fact-oriented, positive, learning/progress oriented approach. But it's hardly profound. Some of it is rather incomplete. For instance, mumber 3 could have included something about generosity too, i.e. helping out those in need. 7 and 10 are pretty much overlapping. And checking against facts isn't always possible, so change 'always check' to 'whenever possible check'. Etc. I'm sure someone could come up with a better list.

    Still, even with the various shortcomings they definitely make an improvement over something jealous and superstitious like 'Thou shall have no other gods' or vain and superstitious 'Do not take my name in vain' or time wasting and superstitious 'No work on the Lords day Sunday', etc. Or the automatic respect type of thinking in 'Honor mum and dad'. Whether parents deserve respect depends on how they do as parents. It should not be granted automatically (talk to Joseph Fritzels daughter if you have any doubts about that).

    So I'd vote in favour of replacing the old list with the more rational and positive one presented in this thread.

  • Comment number 6.

    Seven in particular is problematic. Not all things are testable ("against the facts"). The scientific approach, which seems to be what atheists substitute for religious faith, entails limitations of its own in matters aesthetic, metaphysical and so on.

  • Comment number 7.

    Do Christians actually believe that the 10 commandments are from God,with all that implies about eternal punishment etc, and if so why do they break them so often?

  • Comment number 8.

    Certainly the bearing false witness one - creationism is a masterclass in that. There is no need to boil ethics down to commandments at all.

  • Comment number 9.

    Helio

    So it's "The 10 Suggestions" for you? You wonder if De Mille and Charlton Heston could have pulled that one off!

    "Let my people go!
    if it's convenient... but you know with the recession and everything, the demand for slaves is falling, and you know, economically it makes a lot of sense, and the whole multi-cultural society thing really hasn't worked out."

    Heston would have to play Moses more like Tony Blair.

    I suppose the 10 Plagues would have to become the 10 Inconveniences. Maybe Pharaohs planned privatisation of chariots would hit a few hitches. The nose of the Sphinx would fall off. On the tenth inconvenience the first born would all come out of the closet, which everyone would be very polite about, but you know the Mums and Dads had picked out these lovely girls for their eldest to marry...


    Dunno. Doesn't seem to be as appealing. Sounds like a Bollywood Musical.What is there for the special effects department to do?

    GV

  • Comment number 10.

    I think I need more sleep

  • Comment number 11.

    Well they're certainly a great improvement on the old version, but no-one could commit to definitely follow every one to the letter all the time - that would be impossible.

    (Having said that of course no-one, not even the most rabid of bible-literalists, sticks to the old ones all the time either)

  • Comment number 12.

    Looks like the moderator popped out for an extra kit-kat...

  • Comment number 13.

    Garibaldi and mccamleyc

    Most people get the implicit, "..including this." in number 10.

    Morality is therefore highly subjective if there is no objective reality and Truth.

    'Fraid so. Live with it:-)

  • Comment number 14.

    The UN Charter on Human Rights is a list of basic moral values which have no religious underpinning. They are secular values which should be upheld by all, the religious and the non-religious. So the list which is being offered here is not such a novelty.

    It is questionable, however, how useful such lists of basic moral values are. As the comments above show, each one is quite reasonable and deserves assent, but none is absolute and conditions and qualifications apply each time.

    As Peter Klaver wrote, honouring one's parents does not apply if your father is Josef Fritzl. Likewise, no 3 above recommends love and respect, etc, but does not provide the obvious qualifications.

    Regarding no 5, can one decide to feel joy and wonder? Or do such feelings simply happen to us? Do we really control our emotions?

    What about humour? See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EpuYoK6wv_Y Some people will be amused by it. Others won't. The differences between human beings must be acknowledged, especially when those differences include false beliefs.

  • Comment number 15.

    10 Suggestions. Hmmm. I like it. Maybe non-god could have written them with his finger on the misted-up windscreen of Moses's air-con Hummer that he drove to the top of the mountain. And Non-God spoke from the burning bush: "I AM THAT I MIGHT BE BUT PROBABLY NOT BUT YOU NEVER KNOW DO YOU I MEAN LOOK AT AQUINAS HE WAS NO DOZER BUT THEN THAT DAWKINS SPOILSPORT CAME ALONG YEAH".

    Maybe that's why they spent 40 years in the wilderness. "Look, Moses, I'm working on it, OK? Have you made a business case? Have you run it past the people in finance? OK, but I'll need to take this up with the managers of your directorate - there is a route for these things, you know. I'm treating it as a matter of priority. Here, have some manna. It's fresh. OK thanks. Bye!"

  • Comment number 16.

    The question is.....why should I?

  • Comment number 17.

    Who is Christopher Hitchens kidding. His religion is money.

    Don't like these commandments one bit.

    Here's a couple of different ideas;

    Do unto other before others do unto you.

    Never give a sucker an even break.

    The golden rule is he who has the gold makes the rules.

    Never put off for tomorrow what you can put off for next week.

    And from that great American philospher Yogi Berra, when you come to a fork in the road, take it.

  • Comment number 18.

    The first "commandment" is rather like this one:

    "What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary." Talmud, Shabbat 31a.

    Commentary indeed.

  • Comment number 19.

    Helio

    "I AM THAT I - MIGHT BE BUT PROBABLY NOT BUT YOU NEVER KNOW DO YOU?"

    Could this be the Fundamental Particle of Anglicanism? Or of postEmergent post-everything post-Churchiness? The one article that unites them all?
    Or is the use of the word "probably" too strong? Is it too judgmental?

    Mybe the text should be rewritten to
    - MIGHT BE BUT YOU NEVER KNOW DO YOU THERE'S LOTS OF ROOM FOR DISAGREEMENT IN A BIG COMMUNION BUT CAN'T WE ALL AGREE GOD'S A NICE IDEA
    ?
    GV

  • Comment number 20.

    And as for the rest of your post, evangelicals will never base their church life on business plans! Never! The very idea is absurd!

    (I've got a pie chart that proves you wrong. Could you fill in a little survey on how entertaining evangelical church services are? thank you for your custom!)

  • Comment number 21.

    (1) Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you.

    As ever, Jesus beats this one hands down with his, "Do to others what you would have them do to you".

    It's such a relief that number 10 on the list gives me the freedom to write this post about number 1...

  • Comment number 22.

  • Comment number 23.

    I prefer the positive formulation of the Golden Rule (Jesus) to the negative one (Hillel). Perhaps with "Act towards" replacing "Do unto".

    And indeed, all else is commentary.

  • Comment number 24.

    gv;

    ""I AM THAT I - MIGHT BE BUT PROBABLY NOT BUT YOU NEVER KNOW DO YOU?""

    Oh yeah? Well then;

    ABLE WAS I ERE I SAW ELBA

    So there.

  • Comment number 25.

    #21

    Tried it.

    Arrested and charged.

    Can't discuss.

    Sub judice.

    >8-D

  • Comment number 26.

    Athiests only have one commandment. If there is no proof of something, nor even evidence for it, don't believe in it and don't fall prey to those who try to use perverted logic or fake evidence to convince you otherwise. Not even in something as unimportant as god.

    From an old American song called "The Dodger." The American composer Aron Copland orchestrated and arranged it as part of a collection of old American folk songs;

    "Oh the preacher he's a dodger, yes a well-known dodger
    Oh the preacher he's a dodger, and I'm a dodger too.
    He'll preach the gospel and tell you of your crimes,
    But look out, boys, he's a-dodgin' for your dimes."

  • Comment number 27.

    I agree with all of these, and especially nos. 7, 9 and 10, which give the reason why I am not an atheist. I am particularly pleased to obey no. 7, which allows me to discard a certain 'theory' about origins, which has become a "cherished belief" for many people.

    Concerning no. 10: does this "questioning of everything" include questioning why we need any moral principles at all? Why should we "strive to cause no harm" to others? Why should we "be ready to forgive" etc?

    Does no. 3 include treating the unborn with respect, I wonder?

    I look forward to seeing an "honest questioning of everything" by contributors on this blog. I am not holding my breath, however.

  • Comment number 28.

    The commandments numbered 6;7;9;10 do seem to over-emphasise the same point- not to simply believe everything you're told, see or read. I can see that ignoring this forms the basis of all religions (faith) but I think its being "over-egged" here.

    I would have preferred to see the feeling in the following points included (I try to use these in my own life):

    a) Travel through life as yourself (don't give the impression that you're something that you are not)

    b) Countenance no evil (this is very difficult to achieve as one first has to distinguish good from evil. I don't intend to use the words "good" and "evil" in a religious context of course!)

    c) Waste nothing (this means "nothing". This encompasses recycling, time, opportunities, money)

    What do other contributors think about these points?

    RH

  • Comment number 29.

    RH

    There's a rather humorous piece on Youtube by George Carlin where he reduces the 10 Commandments to 1. Worth checking out, if only for the laugh.

    When Jesus refers to The Law in terms of the question of divorce and the Pharisees answer that Moses allowed them to write up writs of dismissal, he states that Moses did this because "they were so unteachable."

    Just as we would call a society without laws, lawless, immature, primitive etc.., a society where laws are enforced inappropriately, oppressively or stupidly (the law is an ass), isnt much better.

    We presently live in a society where it definitely seems to be one law for the rich and another for the poor. We are about to enter a new era where it looks as if we will be living under a Conservative government. George Galloway stated recently that it wont be a society where it will be fun to be poor, sick or old.

    My ten commandments would begin with a commandment stating that the next nine are NOT written in stone, that they are open to debate, change and that they are to be applied with compassion taking into account the circumstances of the transgressor. (Someone who steals food from a supermarket to feed his family has done something very different from an MP who has stolen to make a house for his duck pond, for example.)

    Recycling, though important, is rather far down my list of priorities.

  • Comment number 30.

    Why do atheists need commandments? By what right does anyone have the authority to issue commandments to others? We have manmade laws to keep civil order and manmade penalties for violating them That is what civilization is about. Sometimes I think it is highly overrated.

  • Comment number 31.

    Number 10, question everything: does that include number 10?

  • Comment number 32.


    Casur1 #31

    "does that include number 10?"

    No!

    One might expect, of course, in the interests of consistency that it would, but it appears that only 'truth claims' which basically means 'religion' are open to question.

    I'm not an expert on the methodology however and am unable to explain this any further. Others on this blog however know much more about the limits of doubt and questioning than me and you may wish to refer to them.

    I must admit though that I feel really rather silly, I've been thinking for ages that doubt meant doubt, question meant question, and everything meant everything.

    :-)

  • Comment number 33.

    Of course it means number 10. So question number 10. Go right ahead. Where does that get you? Questioning something does not mean dismissing it out of hand, and if you question "Question everything" there is no paradox, there is no problem.

    See, this is the problem with these armchair cod-philosophers. Rigid categorical essentialist thinking. Completely unable to manoeuvre their portly behinds off the comfy cushions and step out of the Smoking Room into the real world.

    Peter, you're too good for this - don't let LSV (or anyone else) inveigle or cajole you into his plushly upholstered intellectual fishy oubliette! Stay out here in the light with us *real* lovers of wisdom! :-)

    You know it makes sense.

  • Comment number 34.


    Helio

    Sometimes I’m not quite sure what to say. There are times I look at my Christian world and think, “Whhhhhhhhhaaa-t”, and to hear that right you must make the ‘t’ ‘spiky’.

    There are times I would like not to ‘believe’, times when Christendom makes me cringe, times when I struggle to make an apologetic defence, not because one cannot be made, but because at times it seems like little more than defending the indefensible.

    Faith is not easy and there’s far too much cosmetic ‘clostridium botulinum bacterium faithium’ around, all fun and funky appearances and blown out botox just to make sure our plastic spirits don’t sag...

    But here’s the thing, what do you *believe* in?

    *Everyone* believes in something.

  • Comment number 35.


    I believe I'll have another drink. *hic*




    ©W.C. Fields

  • Comment number 36.

    Peter, like Eunice, I believe in Love. That's it. :-)

  • Comment number 37.


    You'll have noticed a few dilemmas then, H.

    :-)

  • Comment number 38.

    One or two :-)

  • Comment number 39.

    2manypeters: Sometimes I’m not quite sure what to say. There are times I look at my Christian world and think, “Whhhhhhhhhaaa-t”, and to hear that right you must make the ‘t’ ‘spiky’.

    There are times I would like not to ‘believe’, times when Christendom makes me cringe, times when I struggle to make an apologetic defence, not because one cannot be made, but because at times it seems like little more than defending the indefensible.

    Faith is not easy and there’s far too much cosmetic ‘clostridium botulinum bacterium faithium’ around, all fun and funky appearances and blown out botox just to make sure our plastic spirits don’t sag...


    2MP - is it possible that you are recognising/feeling the inconsistency in some churned out traditional Christian teachings compared to what is within your own heart? I'd say trust your own inner heart/inner knowing!

    Helio: Welcome aboard! :-) As love and God are synonymous you now know God! Easy :-)

  • Comment number 40.

    Coolio. So we created god. What's news? :-)

  • Comment number 41.

    "See, this is the problem with these armchair cod-philosophers. Rigid categorical essentialist thinking. Completely unable to manoeuvre their portly behinds off the comfy cushions and step out of the Smoking Room into the real world."


    On behalf of us armchair cod-philosophers (and I'm sure I can call upon the support of Richard Dawkins here) I really must object. That we choose not to manoeuvre our portly behinds off the cumfy cushions does not indicate that we are unable to; it never seems to occur to the presumably non-Rigid categorical thinkers (and it's always the other guy who's the rigid categorical etc; isn't it?) that we have come to our comfy perches after thought and reflection. Still, in charity I suppose that everyone needs a crutch to get through the day, and for our new atheist friends it's the self-perception that they are some kind of Nietzschean noblity setting morality by the strength of their implacable will. Whatever floats your boat...

  • Comment number 42.


    Eunice

    There is much in faith and religion to be wary of yet you ask me to trust my heart... I’ll assume you mean ‘character’, ‘personality’, ‘identity’, rather than some esoteric, ghost-busting sixth sense.

    emmmmm.

    Trust myself? Now we’re getting to the ‘heart’ of doubt! :-)

  • Comment number 43.

    2MP - No I don't mean character, personality or identity as you have put it (unless your identity is love - which it is in truth but you may not have meant that! ) Nor do I mean some esoteric ghost busting sixth sense .....I do just mean your heart/inner heart .....your innermost or deepest feeling ......emphasis on feeling as opposed to thinking. We all have the wisdom contained within us and yes we do doubt ourselves and doubt that we have that wisdom. Just practice trusting your inner most feeling about whatever it is ....and go with it and see what the consequences are. No perfection, just practice - if you feel to! :-)

    Helio: *So we created god. What's news? :-)*
    Incorrect. We did not create God, nor did we create love. We are love. We were created from love, with love and in love and we here to co-create with God by expressing with love in all that we do, say and think! :-)
    Simple! (well simpler than your complexity/systems/subsystems/mathematical explanations!! ) :-)

  • Comment number 44.

    Where did teh wuv come from?

  • Comment number 45.


    Trust my innermost deepest feeling, Eunice?

    And you’re sure about that?




    Helio

    Wuv is what you b'weve in; surely you know where it comes from.


  • Comment number 46.

    Helio: Wuv is ! of course....haha It just is.

    2MP: yes - trust your innermost feeling. Problem is we can complicate that and bring in the mind. Also we need some degree of self-awareness/self understanding re what our history/background/conditioning is as these things can get in the way of our inner most feeling. So for example - I don't mean that when you are angry or in rage you trust your innermost feeling of wanting to kill someone! (not that I am suggesting you get angry or have rage or want to kill someone just an example!) . The innermost feeling/impulse comes from a place of stillness and when we are feeling 'centred' and not when we are emotional. It is a journey or an unfolding in itself to re-connect to our innermost and for sure we mess it up! It is also a deepening process - because at the start one may feel they are coming from a place of stillness/innermost relative to the excess motion that was going on before but as you do it more and become acquainted with your innermost/your inner stillness, the stillness deepens and will continue to do so - so you never reach an end point and say Aha I am now there and nowhere else to go.....always deepening, unfolding. So it is relative to you, by your experience and not in comparison to anyone else. Taking 10 mins twice a day to breathe gently (there is a simple technique that helps) helps re-connect to the innermost, to become centred and get a sense of just how much motion we were in. Aim is to then take that stillness into the day in all that we do and of course this takes practice and time and learning to be fully present, mind and body working together. So whilst trusting one's innermost feeling is the way to go - it is also a journey or unfolding in doing so.

  • Comment number 47.

    Peter, *I* know, of course - I just want to see whether the flopsy bunnies that hang about here talking cabbage (or maybe lettuce) about god know. :-)

  • Comment number 48.


    My innermost feeling comes from when I’m feeling centered?

    And I feel my way to feeling the centred feeling from which will come my innermost feeling, always becoming more and more centred more and more aware of my innermost feeling?

    Eunice, do you not just mean, relaxed?

  • Comment number 49.



    Come on, H, out with it, where does the love live?

    This Peter rabbit doesn't want to have to tramp all over Mr McGregor's garden looking for it.



    BTW, is it just me or is there a sense of the surreal round here these days?

  • Comment number 50.

    Peter Wabbit, I have not got the slightest clue what you are on about, but I do love the way you twitch your nose. Where does the wuv lie? Wuv lieth not at the vertices but in the interstices.

  • Comment number 51.

    2MP - not relaxed as such - the most accurate term is still (Be still and Know that I am God). Living from the stillness that is within and bringing that to all activities - hence stillness in motion!
    One of the Gnostic gospels I think says something like -
    Question: What is God
    Answer: Stillness and motion.

    Helio: Where does the wuv lie? Wuv lieth not at the vertices but in the interstices.
    Why do you make the simple complicated??!! :-)
    Love is in the inner heart and comes from the soul....the soul is the aspect of God that each of us are in expression. ....and all are connected to the one soul even though we talk about 'my soul'. Conclusion: greatest source of love is within you - not outside of you and nobody can give it to you but you awaken to it within yourself. Then you just be love in all that you do and when 2 people are being love together whilst walking or talking etc they are also making love! :-)


  • Comment number 52.

    Eunice, I merely highlight the jarring irony of you suggesting that my concise and lovely formulation was "making the simple complicated", while you go on to spout a load of hoary old cabbage that not only makes the simple complicated, it makes it obtuse and boring too. Not everyone decorates their bedroom with wallpaper composed entirely of huge pink and pastel flowers, and it is wrong of you to suggest that those of us who prefer cleaner and simpler (yes, simpler) aesthetics are missing out on something by not adopting your decor. Indeed, your insistence on this hyperlaurashleian model smacks somewhat of fundamentalism. By all means, worship at the shrine of the hoppity flopsy bunny, but please also respect my right to view it as NMCoT.

  • Comment number 53.

    Helio: ouch! Bit touchy Helio - what happened?? Hit a nerve??
    Of course I respect your right to view it as whatever you like. However, I know it is certainly not fundamentalism - far from it! (I don't know what NMCoT is nor do I care to know!) How come it is ok for you to pronounce on here left, right and centre about other peoples contributions like you are the all knowing one, yet when I make a tiny light hearted comment re something you say -I am now a fundamentalist!?? Kettle and pot spring to mind! I am not insisting on anyone adopting anything i say - far from it - however, I am free to share my views just as you are! Chill Helio - no need to take me or what I say or yourself so seriously! :-))

  • Comment number 54.

    Hi Eunice, I was merely trying to have a bit of fun with you - I love you really, and you know it :-) I mean, take Graham and Peter for example - I regularly vanquish them utterly and wreak awesome and complete philosophical devastation on their piffling arguments (you will have noticed), but we're great pals, and they take defeat after defeat with magnanimity (the only option open to them, you see) and gracious deference to my mightiness. (Better watch out with the "ness" business - Graham may feel he has spotted a weak point!). NMCoT - "Not My Cup of Tea" - not scary :-)

    Incidentally I did pick up a packet of some really nice stuff from the Tea Palace in Covent Garden when I was in London last week. Mmmmmm! "Afternoon at the Palace". Lovely.

  • Comment number 55.

    I'm all for fun Helio! :-)
    Like a good CoT myself!

  • Comment number 56.

    On Ness

    Not a chance that there's a unusually big Fishie in that Lough. Definitely not a Plesiosaur anyway.

    Which, oddly, disappoints me.

    GV

  • Comment number 57.

    No god in heaven either, Graham, but it doesn't bother me too much...

  • Comment number 58.


    "No god in heaven either"

    Quite right, H (your mightyness), your theology is really good! ;-)

  • Comment number 59.

    Helio: guess what - God is inside you! :-)

  • Comment number 60.

    helio : guess what, surprise, surprise - no need to look in heaven - God is inside you! :-)

  • Comment number 61.

    ps - sorry if that comes up twice - but I looked and previous post 59 had slid off the face of the earth....well blog anyhow!

  • Comment number 62.

    Yes, I ate Him. Nom nom nom!

  • Comment number 63.

    H

    You are honestly saying that the non-existence of the Lough Ness Monster doesn't disappoint you?

    I find that difficult to believe.

    GV

  • Comment number 64.

    Actually, tongue out of cheek, if you want to see the worst Science Documentary ever made google "Lost Tapes".

    Your jaw will hit your toes. It's bad on so many levels, and in so many it deserves some sort of reward.

    Seen "Plan 9 from Outer Space"? "Lost Tapes" is worse.

    And it's made by the Discovery Channel.

  • Comment number 65.

    It's worse than the Museum with the saddled Triceratops.

  • Comment number 66.

    Graham, you're not selling it to me, dude. OK, give us the skinny. You used the word "museum" without quotes. And you gave it a capital M! Incidentally, God tasted great. The beard took a bit of chomping to get down. The Throne of Grace is made of chocolate, btw. Yum.

  • Comment number 67.

    as an agnostic / religious-atheist.. i admit that the last commandment is a contradiction, which is unfortunate because it gives Christians the opportunity to scrutinize it. but really its all the more important that its included. almost everyone has a basic understanding of right or wrong. i like the 10th. any immature Christian will obviously pick on it, they have to look further than the contradictions and apply it to something which would cause difficult; religion. and thats why the 10th is there. and thats why anyone who picks on it is obviously gonna be a christian

    # At 09:46am on 11 Feb 2010, Garibaldi McFlurry wrote:

    Surely 9 and 10 would mean that any self-respecting atheist would have to reject the concept of such commandments - does this not constitute being told what to do as well? Morality is therefore highly subjective if there is no objective reality and Truth.

    Complain about this comment
    # 2. At 09:59am on 11 Feb 2010, mccamleyc wrote:

    First six are okay, then you hit the internal contradictions and it all goes pear-shaped.

 

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