Sexual Morality In A Christless World

How would you make a case for Christian sexual morality in a secular setting? Specifically, what would you say if you were asked to speak on the Christian view of homosexuality and same-sex marriage in a university classroom? This is exactly the opportunity that motivated pastor Matthew Rueger to start researching and studying Christian sexuality in depth, and ultimately to write the book Sexual Morality in a Christless World.

Sexual Morality

Rueger begins the book by recognizing that the world has radically changed and that Christians increasingly find themselves being considered outcasts and radicals by the secular elite. In light of this reality, he asks a probing question: “Will we mirror the ancient Christians who were not afraid to stand out in the crowd and say, ‘Not for me?’ Are we willing to be ostracized, excluded, secretly derided, and maybe even openly mocked simply because we are Christians? We need to be; our children need to be.”

And yet Rueger rightly notes that for Christians—and in particular Christian students—to stand boldly for biblical morality, they need to first understand why it makes sense. It is critical to understand why God created sex to be experienced between one man and one woman for life, and why this model is still best for society today. This is the exact same approach John Stonestreet and I take in our book Same-Sex Marriage. In order for Christians to speak out confidently for a Christian ethic on marriage and sexuality, we must first understand why God designed sex to be between one man and one woman in a lifelong married relationship.

Sex in Ancient Rome

Ancient Roman sexuality was primarily tied to the idea of masculinity and the male’s need for domination. Thus it was permissible for men to have sex with his slaves, whether male or female. Rueger explains: “It was understood that he would be visiting prostitutes of either sex. A strong Roman male would have male lovers even while married to a woman. In the Roman mind, man was the conqueror who dominated on the battlefield as well as in the bedroom.”

And this domination often carried into sexual relationships between adult males and adolescent boys (pederasty). In the Roman mind, sex with boys was often viewed as intellectually superior and a purer form of love than sex with women.

While there are exceptions, women were often viewed as physically and mentally inferior to men. Their value was often tied to their ability to have children. In fact, in the primary creation story accepted in the classical world, which came from Greek mythology, woman was created as a punishment for man (the story of Pandora). This is radically different than the biblical view in which Eve is created as an equal companion to Adam (Genesis 2).

Sexual Exploits of the Caesars

In perhaps the most interesting section of the book, Rueger chronicles the sexual exploits of the Roman Caesars, who both reflected wider culture and helped advance its debauchery. There are stories of Augustus Caesar inviting senators to dinner, and then excusing himself to sleep with their wives. Tiberius practiced pedophilia and is said to have funded a special public office that concentrated on his sexual pleasures. Caligula lived in an incestuous relationship with his sisters. And Nero engaged in public cross-dressing, incest, rape, and other kinds of sexual assault.

It is important not to overstate the debauchery of ancient Rome. There were certainly many good people who resisted wider sexual norms. But citing such differences does reveal how radically countercultural Christian sexual morality was in the first century. And it also shows the courage of the first Christians who knowingly put themselves in harm’s way to advance the greater good in general, and the gospel in particular.

Secular Morality Today

Rueger speaks some chilling and prophetic words for Christians today: “Secular society is moving ever closer to Rome in its assessment of Christianity. The message of Christ is despised, and Christians are seen as bigoted and unloving. Christians today can learn from the Christians who lived in the Roman Empire of St. Paul’s day. The bubble of social acceptance for Christian morality has burst, and now we must be prepared to suffer. Those who speak God’s truth in love will be hated. They may even be prosecuted in some instances” (p. 41).

What I have discussed so far only takes us through the first two chapters in his book! Rueger also contrasts early Christian sexual morality with Jewish morality. He explores some of the key New Testament passages that lay the biblical foundation for sex and marriage, such as Ephesians 5:22-33, 1 Corinthians 7:2-5, 1 Peter 3:1, 7, and Matthew 19:4-6. And he also considers common objections against the biblical sexual ethic. In each case, he shows how Christian sexual morality both elevated women and cared for children, even though it was considered extreme at the time.

Overall, I found Sexual Morality in a Christless World to be insightful, timely, and challenging. Despite what we increasingly hear in our wider culture, the Christian ethic is both reasonable and good. And this is a truth we cannot hide, but must teach to our children and proclaim from the rooftops.


Sean McDowell, Ph.D.is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.


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54 replies
  1. Luke says:

    The author wrote:“How would you make a case for Christian sexual morality in a secular setting? Specifically, what would you say if you were asked to speak on the Christian view of homosexuality and same-sex marriage in a university classroom?”

    I would start by saying that this is the wrong question. Christian sexual morality has many more features than gay marriage. Even under the assumption that gay sex is a sin, it is just a tiny portion of the sexual sins committed in the world everyday.”

    Why is does the author jump to it immediately?

    All the while a majority of evangelicals (per polling) support a wildly unrepentant adulterer (Mat 19:9), and don’t seem to bothered one whit. It’s easier to pick on the minority, the different, the other, but that doesn’t make it right. It just shows weakness.

    The Trump campaign has cruelly exposed most of the people that say “I take sexual immorality seriously”.

    I think Christianity Today’s words” “Enthusiasm for a candidate like Trump gives our neighbors ample reason to doubt that we believe Jesus is Lord.” are strong, but understated.

    Thanks,

    Luke

    Reply
  2. Jeremy says:

    I would have to agree with you Luke that even within heterosexual marriages and relationships there are still practices that go on that are not Biblical and are sins. All of the sin committed within a sexual relationship is discussed and even spoke of specifically i.e. when the the Bible talks about not living as the romans do especially as it pertains to sex. But just because evangelicals seem to be ok with the practices of others doesnt mean that they think ok or its right, it just means that at the very least they are holding to the position that is taken in the Bible of let romans do as the romans do. I would really like to reiterate something you said,

    “Even under the assumption that gay sex is a sin, it is just a tiny portion of the sexual sins committed in the world everyday.”

    ALL sin is equal and should be treated as such, regardless of how tiny a portion of a sin is of the total sin committed in a day it all has to to be taken in to consideration one by one, itsj just sad how much of it there is and im guilty of adding to it.That being said sin should be addressed with respect for the person and with the one calling out the sin doing so with humility as a person who also committs sin, and by treating them with respect. at the very least christians can hope to change the persons views.

    Reply
  3. Luke says:

    Jeremy said:“ALL sin is equal and should be treated as such,regardless of how tiny a portion of a sin is of the total sin committed in a day it all has to to be taken in to consideration one by one,”

    I suppose that’s precisely my point, Jeremy.

    Reply
    • Andy Ryan says:

      I just had a conversation on Twitter with Michael Brown, a Christian apologist and columnist whose main topic seems to be how gay rights have gone too far. He said that African leaders such as Uganda’s are appalled by Hillary’s stance on gay rights. I asked him if he approves of that country’s law that imprisons gays or even those who ‘abet’ gays, even by failing to report them to the authorities. He said no, but he approves of Uganda’s refusal to allow gay marriage and put LGBT issues on the school curriculum. That’s all well and good, but he seems far more approving of the latter than he is disapproving of the former. Certainly I’ve never seen him write articles attacking the imprisonment of gays. It seems if it was the choice between Uganda’s laws or America’s with regards to gays, he’d choose Uganda’s. People such as him can say it’s all Biblically inspired, but opposing gay rights always seems to be their priority. I don’t see them campaigning against straight divorce, or any other similar sins, with any of the passion they put into opposing gay marriage. It strikes me they just don’t like gays, and are happy to quote the Bible to justify that dislike.

      Reply
      • Louie says:

        Andy – but you do see Christians opposing abortion in the same manner. perhaps its because what is being attacked is so sacred to them. Like I already responded to Jeremy, all sin is not equal. John19:11

        Reply
        • Andy Ryan says:

          “but you do see Christians opposing abortion in the same manner”

          I didn’t say they attacked NOTHING else. I said other ‘similar sins’, as in other sexual sins. But sure, gays marrying is put on the same level as what you see as murder. While divorce is mostly ignored.

          Reply
          • Louie says:

            I suppose that is because divorce is not always condemned? There are acceptable avenues for divorce in scripture, so it becomes an arguing point. That said, divorce is not ignored within Catholicism. But, people simply leave the church rather than face the music. Similar with abortion and gay marriage.

          • Andy Ryan says:

            Sure, Louie, but the impression is strongly created of people who simply don’t like gays using religion as a cover. They’re choosing the parts of the bible they want as an excuse, they’re ignoring the parts they don’t.

            “There are acceptable avenues for divorce in scripture, so it becomes an arguing point.”

            Yeah, if you look hard enough I’m sure you can find something to justify the position you want to take. Look at all the people justifying their support for groping divorcee Trump.

          • Louie says:

            Andy:
            Recall when in past blogs, when I use the phrase “true Christians” and you ask what that means? This is one small example of what I am talking about. Sure, Atheists, Christians, politicians, doctors, no matter who you are or what you do, all people cherry pick from whatever book, to justify their position.
            When it comes to presidential election, it is a choice between bad and bad. I could say nasty things about both candidates and their supporters as well, but I will hold my tongue.

        • toby says:

          I believe this is called cherry picking. Not all sin is equal? Okay, which ones are worse than others and how do you know this. As I heard it said once a sin is an act against an infinite being and therefore infinitely wrong.

          Reply
          • Louie says:

            Toby: I am not God, and I do not have the sin scale. I can only offer you what I read in scripture, do you have something from scripture leading you to believe all sin is equal? The passage I offered above came to mind when I read the comments, and it tells me that Jesus did not see all sin as equal. “You heard it said”, from who? John19:11 is straight from Jesus, and He is the word in the flesh, not a theologian that is interpreting the word. Don’t trust anything you hear, until you’ve dug into it. That includes me as well, don’t take my word for it.

          • toby says:

            Matt Slick defends your position but then says:
            Even though there are sins that are greater than other sins, all sin leads to eternal damnation. The reason sin does this is not because of the severity of the sin, but because who the sin is committed against. Since it is God who gives the law, when we sin we break his law. Therefore, we are offending God and our sin is against him. Since God is infinite, our sins take on an infinite quality.
            This is why we need an infinitely valuable sacrifice, which is found in the person of Jesus who is God in flesh (John 1:1, 14).

            On one hand he points out a few sparse verses that intimate that some sin is greater than others, then at the end he states that whether you tell a lie or commit the greatest holocaust the world has ever seen you’ll still go to hell just as much. Doesn’t seem to be a difference to me. You can say that some sin is greater than another, but it doesn’t seem to have much use. Sin is either pass or fail.

          • Louie says:

            Toby:
            Yes! It is pass or fail and all sin(no matter the size) leads to damnation! Unless you accept the free gift of salvation from Jesus Christ. That is what is referred to as “the good news” that Christians speak of. You are putting to much emphasis on sin. I think the real trick, is that one day when you are face to face with Jesus, don’t allow Him to say “I do not know you.” Get to know Him, and that will lead you down the path to salvation.

          • toby says:

            So you agree that a sin is a sin and all equal. Then people cherry picking one sin over another goes to Andy’s point that some christians just don’t like gays. They could equally be going after laws that would ban divorce, but noooooo, they have to go after what makes them feel funny in the stomach.

          • Louie says:

            Toby:
            Again, I am not God, but I can read His word. It reads that God was so upset with mankind at one point in history, that he wiped two cities off the map. Why did he wipe Sodom and Gomorrah off the map? In brief, it was because of complete lack of morality. And it specifically pointed out homosexuality. Read it for yourself, and Google the topic for opinions of people that are better read than me.
            Do I have the list of sins from highest to lowest? No, but obviously, this one really ticks Him off. So does killing innocent children, and that is why abortion is fought against as well.

          • Kyle says:

            And yet Louie in another story he flooded the world because of the evil human imagination. Which begs the question how 3 couples were able to repopulate the entire planet. I can’t recall is incest allowed in the bible? Either way there is no chance of the human population spawning from 3 couples. Do we chalk this up to biblical error while your Sodom and Gomorrah is inerrant?

          • toby says:

            Do I have the list of sins from highest to lowest? No, but obviously, this one really ticks Him off.
            So god is a homophobe.

            So does killing innocent children, and that is why abortion is fought against as well.
            You might want to recant this as there are several times god told his people to go to another tribe and cut open pregnant women and beat children to death on rocks. And killing a group of kids who made fun of a prophet by sending a bear to get them.

          • Louie says:

            Kyle:
            Sure, incest was allowed in the bible. For crying out loud, when you only create two human beings and have them populate the earth, then incest is required. There is no chance of 3 couples repopulating the entire earth? Statistically, I like my chances with the 3 couples repopulating earth, rather than the evolution story.

          • Louie says:

            Toby:
            He is also a thief-a-phobe, murder-a-phobe, adulterer-a-phobe, god-a-phobe and so on an so forth. When you create everything from nothing, then you can make the rules any way you like.
            I’m not recanting anything. All things are Gods, everything is His, and that includes life. He gives life, and He takes it. If all abortions are done at God’s command, then Christians are in the wrong for fighting against them.
            It is a crazy world we live in. I do not like everything the world or the bible has to offer, but that does not mean it isn’t real. All I can do, is keep my head up, and know that as long as I accept the new testament rules and try to walk the path, I will be saved. May God grant all of us the ability to know the truth, and the strength to accept it.

          • Andy Ryan says:

            Louie: “When you create everything from nothing, then you can make the rules any way you like”

            So did God make the rule that he can make the rules?

          • Louie says:

            Kyle:
            I am both. The more we advance in our understanding, the more I see that the biblical account being believable, due to all other accounts being so improbable. The hurdles of cellular complexity and mathematics are becoming more insurmountable as we dig into them. And, those two areas are just two of numerous areas that pose huge problems for this universe to come about without a creator. This universe we live in is a marvel, but so is a single cell.

          • Andy Ryan says:

            Louie, I might as well say you can ask him yourself some day why he isn’t actually homophobic at all, if the two of us are just offering hypotheticals. I’m asking YOU right NOW.

          • Kyle says:

            Unless you have any credentials or background to refute the widely accepted and prevailing theories of the day, you are not both. You are merely someone with a devastating lack of knowledge in both fields trying to blunder through a response while appealing to faith. The fact remains the bible is breathtakingly errant in so many cases. Consider that Noah was supposedly 500 years old at the building of the ark. There is no intelligent way to piece this together while maintaining any semblance of scientific validity.

          • Louie says:

            Andy:
            All I can tell you is what is in scripture. My response to toby was only to put things into perspective. If you are a god and create everything, and it is all yours, then you can make the rules as you see fit, right? Who’d stop you?

          • Louie says:

            Kyle:
            Wow, thank you for your judgment. I can see how you could be so confused when you limit your view to that of the current world around you. Anyway, it’s okay, I understand, as I was once like this as well. Noah, and those of his time did not live in the world we experience today, so I would not expect there lives to be as limited as ours. There is hope for you though, just being here on this site is a step in itself. I could tear you up as well, but I hold myself to a higher standard than that. I’d offer my credentials, but based on your reply, I’d be wasting the digital ink to type it.

          • Kyle says:

            So the best you can muster is to take offense and not attempt an honest rebuttal? There was a pointed question in my last post. How do you reconcile a 500 year old man existing while maintaining scientific validity?

          • Andy Ryan says:

            Louie: “Who’d stop you?”

            That’s just a ‘might makes right’ argument, which has nothing to do with morality, surely? The strongest guy gets to say something is right, and there’s nothing you can do about. I get the logic, but that’s not what most people mean by morality.

          • Louie says:

            Kyle – Okay. I’ll concede that in todays word, a 500 year old man would be tough to see. But in the beginning, God created the world perfect. The scripture tells of people living to be older than 500 years. Remember, in the garden of eden, there was no death at all, until man sinned. When removed from eden, they were in a less appealing, but still perfect living environment. In a perfect living environment, how long could one live? Think about it, no UV rays, clean air, clean water, clean food… How long could one live? It was not until after Noahs flood, that life spans went slowly down. The perfect creation was destroyed and still decays as time rolls on. We only live longer now than 500 years ago, due to technology, not because the earth is better.

          • Kyle says:

            So you believe the bible was not in error when reporting ages in these cases? You honestly believe the world has had people live to be 900+ years old? And your support of that is the bible says so?

          • Louie says:

            Kyle:
            Well, I don’t have a copy of birth certificates. Even if I did, you’d claim they were not reliable like you do with the bible, so what evidence could I have? I take the scripture as it is written, until proven false. Do you have proof they did not live that long? How long can a human live in a perfect living environment? You cannot judge it by todays world, that is full of impurities. The years being longer or shorter may be a possibility, but I have no evidence to back that up. The rotation of the earth and its orbit speed is slowing down, but those rates of change would not account for the massive life span differences when you calculate it out.

          • Kyle says:

            ” I take the scripture as it is written, until proven false. ”

            This is where your logic fails. This is no basis for science. Nothing is assumed until proven false. Things are assumed false until proven true. Are you actually grasping at straws of some “perfect” biblical world to support the ludicrous claim of Noah’s age as well as other mythical elders? How old do you think the earth is?

          • Louie says:

            Kyle:
            Using cute words like ludicrous does not make you correct. I believe in creation, because the chances of us and all that is around us popping into existence on its own is so small, that believing it would be illogical. The earths age is arguable, since the scripture does not specifically say; but life is young, less than 10,000 years. Since death did not enter the world until man sinned, and that time can be “back” calculated from today. Obviously you do not like my answers, but neither you, nor I can prove how long a human life will last when living in a perfect environment. So therefore I must accept that a human cannot live that long? That is not science.

          • Kyle says:

            And using measured words like “illogical” do not make you correct. The earth’s age is arguable to a degree, yet that is plus or minus a small amount of precision around an average of 4.5 billion years. “Life” has been around for 3.5 billion years, a far cry from 10,000. All your talk of death entering the world and perfect worlds is nonsense. What evidence aside from a bible could you possibly have? How do you define a “perfect world”? Where is your logic to support your claim?

          • Louie says:

            Kyle,
            You brought the word illogical into the mix, and nonsense as well, not me. These billions of years you speak of are required by your world view, to lessen the nonsense of life crawling out of the primordial soup and becoming what we are today, not for any other reason. You cannot prove the 3.5B “life” figure, any more than I can prove the 10K. So it comes down to things you can prove & measure, then deciphering where they point.

          • toby says:

            Sorry to butt in . . . but, Louie, why don’t we see rock forming? We know there are different layers and strata of rocks, why hasn’t anyone in recorded history or your bible wrote down that they saw a new layer form? What about stalactites? They take thousands of years to form, far more than 10,000. Where are the creationist experiments showing that they form faster that supposed? Seems like something easy that they could set up and show. Suggest that to Ken Ham’s “museum”.

          • Louie says:

            toby:
            Its okay to jump in. That is simple, #1 – because the bible was written to record the events of Gods people, not to be a book of geology. when it does record geological things, it is because it is written down as part of a different event that this being recorded. this is unfortunate, but understandable, or the bible would be an enormous book. #2 – because they did not witness layers forming. The layers are simply different deposited layers as you would expect from a huge flood or from volcanic activity.
            Stalactite’s are seen forming today. I’ve seen pictures of them, being over a foot long in parking ramps, city sewers and basements. So, obviously these did not take long to form. Growth rate is a matter of water flow, elements present, humidity and so on and so forth.

          • Louie says:

            Kyle – I will look at these links you offer. I have a pretty demanding job though, so I cannot say how long this will be before I get back to this…

          • toby says:

            Sorry to disagree, but it’s not that simple. Floods happen all over the world and we don’t see them creating rock. Other than lava flowing and making layers. But that is a very specific kind of rock and quite unlike many others. Why haven’t young earther scientists collected the layers deposited in floods and tried to see what it takes to turn it into rock? Why haven’t they visited sites of recorded floods that happened 100 years ago and dug into them to see the rock being made?

            Stalactite’s are seen forming today. I’ve seen pictures of them, being over a foot long in parking ramps, city sewers and basements. So, obviously these did not take long to form. Growth rate is a matter of water flow, elements present, humidity and so on and so forth.
            Stalactites are largely made of calcium carbonate. What you’re talking about is dissolving concrete! Concrete is a weaker form of limestone. It erodes very quickly compared to natural limestone formed from organic deposits. I live near a manmade lake with a concrete spillway. This lake was made in the early eighties and the concrete is barely hanging on. It’s eroded six or eight inches since it was built, lowering the lake that same amount. It’s not comparable to cave limestone at all. If it were Ken Hams museum would have filled a glass box with limestone gravel, filled it full of distilled water, and then let it slowly drip and magically form limestone. But it won’t. So they don’t.

          • Louie says:

            Kyle:
            I did take a look at the links, you provided. Some of it I could click my way to the source and read it, others it would just state the book it came out of, so that was the end for me. I would encourage you to do the same, and read the sources for some of this. For example, out of the Wikipedia site “Occasionally biodiversity on the planet takes a hit in the form of a mass extinction in which the extinction rate is much higher than usual.[8]” This is one that allowed me to go to the source. Please do that, click on the “8” and read that source. Do it as though you are really interested in facts. Then come back and tell me I am denying all this “research”. Yes, I will deny research such as this.

          • Louie says:

            toby: It is okay that we disagree. Yes, the examples I gave are in man made structures, those where the first that came to me, I apologize. Those were bad examples on my part. I did look into this again, but only quickly. If what you are saying is so consistent, then why can we find examples of where it does not hold true? Just searching on the web, you can find examples where old age does not hold (yes, even in caves). It comes down to environment, they can grow faster and slower depending on conditions.
            Why don’t creationists go and perform studies? I assume it has to do with money. But I agree with you, lets fully vet it and allow the truth be told. Lets dig for archeological & geological truth, and accept what we find, no hiding, no cover ups. I want to follow truth where it leads, but if it leads back to support the source of the money, I have a hard time with that “truth”. If we find that we cannot get the answer, there is no shame in stating that either.

          • Andy Ryan says:

            “Why don’t creationists go and perform studies? I assume it has to do with money.”

            Why make that assumption? There is a huge amount of money out there for anyone who could back up creationist ideas with solid evidence. The Discovery Institute, as an example, has shown itself to be very uninterested in performing research. They spend their cash instead on selling their ideas to the public, to educators and to politicians, rather than taking the first essential step of investigating any of their ideas scientifically.

          • toby says:

            I would add to what Andy said by saying that there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of money at the Creation “Museum”/Noah’s Ark Amusement Park. Are these merely entertainments?

          • Ed Vaessen says:

            Louie:
            “These billions of years you speak of are required by your world view”

            This has nothing to do with a ‘world view’.
            These billions of years are the outcome of a scientific process that started in the 18th century. Long before Charles Darwin wrote his book, scientists were already thinking about millions of years, but due to a lack of knowledge about geological processes then they had no way of knowing the real age of the earth. Many calculations were made but started from far too simplistic assumptions about processes that in reality are very complex.
            It was only with the advent of radiometric dating in the early 20th century that the figure of billions of years first came into sight. For some decennia this radiometric dating technique had to be improved and it was only after world war II that science finally arrived at the 4.55 billion year and that figure has not changed since then.

          • Kyle says:

            You were able to find one source, responsible for a single line in the entire article you didn’t like. Let’s throw that one line out. How are you going to dismiss the rest of the subject and/or sources?

          • Louie says:

            Andy and Toby – Again, it is only an assumption on my part, universities are doing research all the time, but at the cost of tax payers. The Noah’s Ark thing is an investment deal, people gave money to help build it, but there was a long term return on that money given. I am with you on this point, lets do the research and follow truth, no matter where it leads.

          • Louie says:

            Ed:
            Is that the same radiometric dating technology used to date the lava flows from Mount Ngauruhoe in New Zealand to be around 3.5 million years old?

  4. Ed Vaessen says:

    “Rueger begins the book by recognizing that the world has radically changed and that Christians increasingly find themselves being considered outcasts and radicals by the secular elite.”

    What world would that be? It can’t be the Netherlands, where we had quite some christians prime minsters running the country in the last decades. Certainly not Germany, where christian democrat Angela Merkel has been leading the country since 2005. Neither can it be Texas, where an official may be “excluded from holding office” if he or she does not “acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.”

    Reply

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