Is There Absolute Truth? [v41]

JULY 2002

QUESTION—Is there such a ‘thing’ as absolute truth…or are most things just a matter of interpretation and personal preference?

A recent Fortune magazine cover had the byline “Lies, Arrogance, Betrayal” under the headline was “The Enron Disaster.” It was a sordid story about the biggest bankruptcy in American history. The more we have learned about this, the more we see a pattern of terrible deception: the ‘executives’ fattening their own wallets at the expense of ‘little guys’, aided by Arthur Andersen, the accounting firm that claimed Enron was healthy, even as it hurtled toward destruction.

Many now ask, “How in the world could this have happened?” After all, the key people involved were the best and the brightest—graduates of our leading business schools.

I contend that absolute truth is essential for the formulation of ethics, and that the leading business schools are thoroughly committed to philosophical relativism. Chuck Colson tells of his friend who returned from a 3-week course in business ethics at Harvard University. The friend claimed that his professor summed up his ethical system with one sentence: “When you’re making a serious business decision, never do anything you think might end up in the newspapers.” WOW!—Harvard calls this ethics!?—but, all things considered, since Harvard is committed to relativism, it can only teach subjective values, which can never withstand the pressures of life.

We humans are very unreliable and capable of infinite self-justification—just as Colson discovered from his experience in the Watergate scandal—and as we saw in the 80’s with the Savings and Loan scandals—in the 90’s with the mismanaged operations at Texaco and Trans World Airlines—and recently at several other big-name companies, including Tyco International Ltd., Global Crossing and now, last week, WorldCom.

Theologian Michael Novak warns about this as well. Western democracy is like a three-legged stool, he writes: “One leg is political liberty, one is economic freedom, and the third moral responsibility. Weaken any leg, and the stool topples over.” We are relearning the lesson our ancestors learned in the nineteenth century, when social Darwinism drove a ruthless business culture: Capitalism without moral restraints (one of the legs) is disastrous.

We are in a decade marked by “culture wars.” Having lost a dominant moral consensus, we are struggling in our courts, voting booths, and even in our churches to resolve the difficult moral issues that are separating us.

But are all rules of life just a matter of perspective? Does a person convicted of child molesting have a right to work in a day-care center because that is his profession of choice? Are unmarried couples justified in having a sexual relationship because they love each other and practice birth control? Does a man have an ethical right to break his marriage vows if he is profoundly unhappy with his wife and “loves” another woman more completely?

CAN ONE REALLY ‘KNOW’ SOMETHING?
As I mentioned previously, this radical skepticism of deconstructionism and postmodernism has swept the academic world. It is the idea that you can’t know anything for sure; nothing is set in concrete; everything is influenced by our culture, our upbringing and our suppositions—so it’s impossible to get at any objective truth.

I flatly reject such a thing. I think there are a number of things we can count on as being true simply because the opposite is not possible. If we can even utter the sentence, “There is no truth”—and, of course, we must at least utter the sentence to make the claim—then several things must be objectively true.

First of all, if someone holds that there is no truth, then there’s at least one thing that’s true: that in the statement they just uttered there is no truth. It’s one of those awkward situations for a person making a claim, because there’s no way their claim can be true. But even if it’s true, that there is no truth—then it is also false—because that becomes a true statement, which nullifies it!

It is kind of like making the statement: “I cannot utter a word in English.”—and someone else would say, “Well, you just did.” The postmodernist—the one who says you can’t know anything—is making a statement that he knows something that you can’t know anything.  It ends up being a self-contradictory position, and actually says too much. The reality is that most of us really believe in our minds and in our hearts that we can know some things. It is not impossible to have information—-even information about some of the big questions of life.

Consider this: Are you sure that there is not such a thing as absolute truth or absolute right or wrong?…Absolutely sure?  In reality, relativism is not just a problem in self-defeating logic, it’s unworkable and unlivable.

As mathematics shows us, truth is obtainable. Two plus two IS four. Mathematics shows us that there’s only one right answer to a sum and that all the other answers are wrong.

The problem with relativism is that it provides no sure foundation for a safe and orderly society. If all people are free to choose for themselves what is right, how can a society agree on, and enforce, even minimal standards? And if there is no ultimate moral law, what motivation is there to be virtuous? The result is the loss of community. If you thought your neighbors had no clear definition of right and wrong, would you sleep well at night or let your children play in their backyard?

Throughout most of Western history, the moral consensus was largely informed by the Judeo-Christian tradition. But with the Enlightenment, intellectuals began to argue that since God was no longer needed to explain creation, He was no longer needed to establish moral laws. Reason alone would form the basis for morality. Since then, the great question that has faced Western society is the one posed by the great Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky: “Can man be good without God?”

Can reason alone come up with a viable moral system? Well, in the summer of 1939, with the last hopes for appeasing Hitler finally shattered, the world girded itself for another world war. Realizing that the moral resolve of the Western world must somehow be reinforced, Louis Finkelstein, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, began planning for a grand conference— where the greatest scholars from every discipline would draw on their collective wisdom to devise a universal code of ethics to provide the moral foundation for democracy.

The Conference on Science, Philosophy, and Religion continued to meet many times until the early 60’s, debating all the issues. But it disbanded because the original goal of defining “cultural universals” had proved impossible to do!

Think of it: For decades some of the world’s greatest minds engaged in stimulating debate and produced…nothing! Why? Because they disagreed about the proper starting point of ethical knowledge. This brings to focus the failure of efforts to derive ethical rules from reason alone.

We also saw an example of this when President Clinton was caught in facts he could not explain away. Nevertheless, he tried—invoking the indeterminacy of language—citing how different people have different interpretations. We saw how a worldview that denies truth was brought down on the issue, appropriately enough, of lying.

But, most remarkably, the academians were hailing him for his capacity to “re-invent himself,” for his freedom from restrictive absolutes, for his ability to construct alternative realities, and for otherwise going beyond the old-fashioned paradigms that actually believe there is such a thing as objective truth. It appeared that the president was finding out, that despite his constructions, truth is not so easily evaded.

According to postmodernists, words do not have a definite objective meaning. Rather, meaning is only a matter of interpretation. People interpret words in different ways; therefore, words are incapable of communicating any kind of objective truth, as such. In practice, this “deconstruction” of language means that such texts as the Constitution and the Bible do not have fixed meanings, but are open to unlimited interpretation.

President Clinton’s semantic juggling has been almost a comic parody of deconstruction. He was not lying, he maintains, when he denied having “sexual relations” with Monica Lewinsky. When he was testifying under oath and wagging his finger at the American people, he had his own interpretation of what the words “sexual relations” meant. Therefore, he was not committing perjury—it was all just a matter of conflicting interpretations—he had his meaning in mind, and if other people have different meanings, that was their problem!

This sort of thing has become almost a game in the literary criticism fashionable in academia. In this context, though, Mr. Clinton’s reasoning comes across as ludicrous and pathetic.

To be sure, if there is no truth, it is impossible to lie. If language has no meaning, there can be no perjury—and, one might add, if there is no right and wrong, there can be no moral failure. But now it appears that the whole postmodernist house of cards is collapsing.

The whole sordid affair with Mr. Clinton proves that morality is not relative either. If one constructs their own moral values according to their choices, why was the president so furtive in his affair, sneaking around the Oval Office like a guilty 21-year-old when his parents were not at home? Why should he be ’embarrassed’ at the exhibition of his “values”? Why was he ashamed?

The Clinton spectacle was a conflict of worldviews: between postmodern relativism and the biblically informed realism encoded in our legal system. Our legal code grows out of a worldview that recognizes objective truth. Its legal processes may seem drawn out and tedious, but they are designed to get at facts, weigh evidence, and assess matters of truth. The law may grind slow, but when it works as it should, the truth will be found out—and reality thwarts relativism every time.

ARE THERE DIFFERENT ‘APPROACHES’ TO TRUTH?
What has happened to our postmodern president will happen to every relativist and to our culture as a whole. Denying intellectual and moral truths, pretending that we can make them be whatever we want them to be, is delusional. No evasions, no constructivist ideologies, no pretensions that we ourselves rather than God are the creators and lawgivers can prevent reality from breaking in.

The effects of this new way of thinking are evident everywhere. When we attempt to speak to people on any controversial issue, whether it is political, ethical, or religious, we invariably are confronted with different approaches to truth. Some people accept divine revelation, some accept science, and others accept no final authority. We have moved from a fact-based criteria to a feeling-based criteria for truth. The final appeal in many disagreements is often a statement such as: “That may be true for you, but it is not true for me.” This is an implicit denial of a common reality.

Philosophers have said that when one believes in God, you are not making a “rational” statement, and that we do not need God and that with unaided reason be able to come to a deduction about right and wrong.  But what happens when the moral law within is no longer revered and God is no longer respected and that we are a creation of a creator? This seems to describe modern man’s malady and where his unaided reason is leading to—irrationality!

The National Endowment for the Arts in 1989, in New York, turned down a $10,000 request from young artists to study the fundamentals of representational art because, as they stated, it was revisionist and stifled creativity. But just a year later they gave $70,000, of government funds, for a gallery art show that presented the “Alchemy Cabinet”—which displayed a jar with the bloody fetal remains of the artist’s own abortion! Revelation has been displaced by reason and has become the most irrational thing you can think of!

IS THERE ONLY ‘ONE’ TRUTH?
It is one of the greatest ironies of all history was when Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, at his trial, “What is truth?” The statement of Jesus in response to Pilate on this occasion is significant: “I was born into this world to tell about the truth. And everyone who belongs to the truth knows my voice.” [John 18:37-38]

The Bible is very clear that we all have a choice to make in this life—the most important choice we will ever make—Who is Jesus? We can face the light of God’s truth as it is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, and any truth that will also reveal about ourselves—or we can continue to avoid it. If, however, we avoid it, then we will have no choice but to face it fully one day because “For he [God] has set a day when he will judge all the world’s people with fairness. And he has chosen the man Jesus to do the judging for him. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” [Acts 17:31]

While on earth, Jesus also made many remarkable statements—ridiculous if not true—about himself. One of these is his claim to be the truth. He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” [John 14:6]  Notice that Jesus here is not just claiming to speak the truth (which he often did claim), but to BE the truth.

Jesus claimed that we would be judged in the light of the truth he himself had spoken. “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.” [John 12:48]  In that day, God “will show what is hidden in the dark and what is in everyone’s heart.” [1 Corinthians 4:5]  Unfortunately, it will be too late then to accept his forgiveness and his transforming love. Our choice will have already been made. In the solemn words of the Bible, we will be forever “shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.” [2 Thessalonians 1:9]  It is significant that we are told three times in the last two chapters of the Bible that heaven will be no place for those who have lived in deceit. [Revelation 21:8, 27; 22:15]

There seems to be only a couple of logical possibilities. Jesus claimed to be God—nothing less—so he must either be right or wrong. If he was wrong, he either knew he was wrong, or he didn’t know he was wrong. So, if he is wrong —if he’s not God—and he knew he was wrong, you’d call him a liar.

Now, if he claimed to be God and he was wrong about it and he didn’t realize he was wrong about it, he’d be an absolute lunatic. This is not just a minor mistake or an inconsequential portion of his teaching.  He made himself and his claim of deity the center of his teaching.

If a friend of yours made the kinds of claims that Jesus did about himself and if you thought he really believed it, but thought he was wrong, would you recommend people come and listen to his wonderful teachings?

These are huge issues, but not really all that complex. There really is such a thing as real truth to be discovered.  Everything is not relative.  Just because someone is sincere, that doesn’t mean their view is right—because sincerity doesn’t equal truth.

For instance, there’s a story about a wrecking company that took an order to destroy a house. They started in the morning and by the end of the afternoon they’d completed the job successfully. The only problem was that they had got the last two numbers in the address mixed up and destroyed the wrong house. They were sincere, but they were wrong. It’s plausible to be completely sincere, and yet completely wrong. Truth is narrow.

What has happened is that the relativist does not have in his perception of reality that there’s such a thing as truth. And to him, Christianity is just a preferred activity of the Christian—or a preferred notion or belief. It’s simply a preference. He prefers something different. Why should someone fault him for his preference? Why does he have to be like you in your preferences?

There’s no sense that this is a world filled with both true and false notions and that we have a rational obligation to separate the two and a moral obligation to follow truth. We don’t understand that because the Christian world view is not broad. It’s a time where we don’t have a rich understanding of the ramifications of what we hold to be true. Instead, things aren’t true or false; they’re pleasant or unpleasant; appealing or unappealing; liked or disliked.

The fact is, a Christian’s beliefs are not a preference. Most believers don’t ‘prefer’ Christianity. I would surmise that they would prefer agnosticism—it’s much easier—much less troublesome. They could do more of what they want. But, since they believe that Christianity is true, they are rationally and morally obligated to follow it—and because it’s true, there is a necessary quality to it.

We should all try to conform our desires to the truth rather than the truth to our desires. We ought to be kind and tolerant and respectful to all people, but we have a responsibility to reject falsehood and seek the truth. The real question is: WHO DO YOU THINK JESUS IS?

To help you with a personal investigation of Jesus and His claims, visit the following link:

http://www.4VIS.com/sfm/sfm_pres/sp_q6_d1_1of10.html

If you would like to investigate whether the Bible is at all historical or is just mythical—and if it is divinely inspired or merely human, visit this link:
http://www.4VIS.com/sfm/sfm_pres/sp_q4_d1_1of10.html

Excerpts from: Ravi Zacharias; Chuck Colson; Greg Koukl; Dick Tripp; The Search for Meaning

NOTE: In developing this message, I looked to the writings of a few philosophers and moral thinkers. I can send to you what I collected if you are interested in your own personal investigation.

Blessings….
Mark

LIFE’S DEEP THOUGHTS (v41) for JULY 2002
(NOTE: Please send your ‘thoughts’ to me at: mbesh@ameritech.net)

I am glad to organize and distribute more ‘stuff’ if y’all send it to me…

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THE PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE
I pledge Allegiance to the flag
of the United States of America
and to the Republic for which it stands,
one nation under God, indivisible,
with Liberty and Justice for all.

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GOD BLESS AMERICA
“While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free,
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer. ”
God Bless America,
Land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
Thru the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, My home sweet home.
[Irving Berlin]

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STAR SPANGLED BANNER
Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
‘Tis the star-spangled banner!  Oh long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto:  “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

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THE GETTYSBURG ADDRESS
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
[Abraham Lincoln]

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AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL
O beautiful for spacious skies
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above thy fruited plain!
America! America!

God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!

God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self control,
Thy Liberty in law!
O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!
America! America!

May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!
O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!

God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
[Katherine Lee Bates]

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An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody will see it.  [Mohandas K. Gandhi]

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Truth has to fall on fertile soil.
[Paula D’Arcy]

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Truth is not determined by majority vote.
[Doug Gwyn]

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The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie—deliberate, contrived, and dishonest—but the myth—persistent, persuasive and realistic.   [John F. Kennedy]

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We occasionally stumble over the truth but most of us pick ourselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.  [Winston Churchill]

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The truth, of course, is that a billion falsehoods told a billion times by a billion people are still false.  [Travis Walton]

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Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t goin’ away.  [Elvis Presley]

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RELATIVISM: THE WORLD WITHOUT TRUTH
Scene: a classroom: several chairs in rows all facing exit
(Alex and an unspecified number of other students enter one or two at a time, sit in chairs. Alex sits in end chair nearest audience)

PROF — (enters with books and papers, crosses to podium, puts down books and papers) Okay, let’s get started. Welcome to Philosphy 101. I’m Professor Johnson. The first concept I want  to teach you is that there is no objective truth. Let me repeat that. There is no such thing as objective truth.
ALEX — (jumps up, shouts) Yah-hoo!
PROF — Excuse me. What do you think you’re doing?
ALEX — I’m rejoicing.
PROF — Just exactly what are you rejoicing about?
ALEX — What you’re saying is that we don’t have to take notes and we won’t have any tests in this course.
PROF — I never said that.
ALEX — Well, that’s what you implied.
PROF — No, I didn’t.
ALEX — Sure you did. If there is no objective truth, that means that there are no right or wrong answers on the tests. So, why even have tests?
PROF — Let me make a few things clear, before you go off half cocked. In this course, there will be two midterm tests and a final exam in order to measure how well you grasp the concepts of this course.
ALEX — But if there is no objective truth, there’s only my truth and your truth. And in that case, will your tests be testing my truth, your truth or (points to another student) his truth?
PROF — Well, if you want to be contentious about it, you will be tested on the truth as I perceive it.
ALEX — And what makes your truth more valuable than my truth or
his truth? I mean, I really like the way his truth sounds. Maybe
we should hear everybody’s truth and vote on whose truth should
be in the final exam.
PROF — Since I am running this class, you will be tested on MY truth. (louder) Have I made myself clear?
ALEX — But if there is no objective truth, what we’ll be hearing from you is just your truth.
PROF — That is correct. What’s your point?
ALEX — If there is no objective truth to measure your truth against, what makes your truth more valuable that ours?
PROF — Because I say so!
ALEX — Yes, but without an objective standard to measure truth against your truth is just your opinion. Don’t you feel guilty?
PROF — Guilty? Why would I feel guilty?!
ALEX — Because you are accepting a paycheck for just spouting your opinion.
PROF — To answer your question, I am being paid for SPOUTING my opinion because my opinion is based on many years of research. Now, do you mind if we continue?
ALEX — Why bother? Your premise is flawed.
PROF — What premise is flawed?
ALEX — You said that there is no objective truth.
PROF — That is correct. There is no objective truth. What is flawed about that premise?
ALEX — Well, if there is no objective truth, then by definition it can’t be true that there is no objective truth. You’re premise nullifies itself.
PROF — No it doesn’t.
ALEX — Alright, let’s suppose for a second that the only thing in the whole universe that’s absolutely true is that there is no objective truth.
PROF — That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.
ALEX — Good. That means that nothing is absolsutely true.
PROF — That’s correct.
ALEX — ….including your premise that there’s no objective truth. Therefore, we can’t take your premise seriously, since even your premise can’t be absolutely true.
PROF — Wait a minute. That can’t be right. (mumbles)
ALEX — Yes, it can, Professor Smith?
PROF — My name is Professor Johnson.
ALEX — That would be in YOUR perception of the truth. In my perception of the truth, you are Professor Smith.
PROF — (throws up hands, exits) What’s the use. Class dismissed.
ALL — (cheer and exit, discussing excitedly)
©2001 Bob Snook

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What makes July 4th different than any other day? It is our country’s most important holiday, and it has a surprisingly rich spiritual heritage.

We must never take for granted our freedom in the United States, which was purchased with a great price. We need to exercise our freedoms, enjoy our freedoms, and pray for those who don’t have the same freedoms. We should also never take our spiritual freedom for granted. It was purchased at a great price on our behalf.

The writers of the declaration separated themselves from their own past. A growing hostility between the American colonies and Great Britain led the colonists to list their grievances against the tyrannical King George II that demonstrated why Britain had forfeited her right to rule.

We should also pray for those who are still under great restriction—even persecution—for their faith. The doors seem to be closing again in Russia. In many Islamic nations, Christians are denied basic freedoms of press, speech and association. In China, Communism is valued more than faith in God (some might say it is wealth and convenience in the U.S.).

So, pray for our national, state, and local leaders. Give praise and thanksgiving for the freedoms that we enjoy and the sacrifices that were made to ensure them. Pray for the millions who do not have the same freedoms we have and are persecuted for their faith.

As I understand this holiday, I can see a spiritual parallel to what Jesus did to purchase our independence from the penalty of sin.

You also can ‘separate’ yourself from the tyrannical ‘rule’ of Satan over your life by accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior—the only way to true freedom.

I can send you a copy of the Declaration of Independence if you would like to review it—hopefully it will remind you of the ‘treasure’ of our nation’s freedom, written with God’s perspective in mind, and firmly based on scriptural truth.  [Mark Besh]

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DEEP THOUGHT:
It takes both rain and sunshine to make a rainbow.

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Hope you enjoyed some of these insights—share them with your friends and colleagues—so we can have a larger ‘pool’ to receive from, and more to share with!

Also, remember to include your name as the “source,” if some of this wisdom is of your doing—I would like to give credit where credit is due!

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  [John 14:6]

Mark

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Disclaimer: All the above jokes & inspirations are obtained from various sources and copyright are used when known. Other than our name and headers, we do not own the copyright to any of the materials sent to this list. We just want to spread the ministry of God’s love and cheerfulness throughout the world.

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