Evil – Can anyone be so characterised?

evil
Ratko Mladic

Ratko Mladic was the key player and commander of the Bosnian Serb forces that tried to eliminate Muslims from large parts of Bosnia. His forces were responsible for much social evil, massacring eight thousand Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995: the brutal siege of Sarajevo between 1992 and 1995 resulted in the death of 10,000 people. His capture and trial for war crimes reminds us of the torture, mass rape, arson and genocide that formed part of this ‘ethnic cleansing’.

How does one explain these evil crimes against humanity? How could someone like Mladic fundamentally go against human values, and be outside of what civilisation universally sees as acceptable behaviour?

Can a person be evil?

When someone, like Mladic, or one of his followers, harms another person, should they be considered as evil? Or are they so out of harmony with themselves, they should be seen as sick or ill rather than wicked? This may be so. But even if no individual person is evil, this does not mean that some human behaviour cannot be properly considered evil. According to this second view evil is part of the process of individual choice rather than the quality of the person doing the choosing.

Is evil a useful term?

Some people ask whether the social context in which harm to human beings is done, calls into question the idea that such acts can be universally considered as evil. For them, standards of good and evil are only products of local culture, custom, or prejudice and that the very word ‘evil’ is an outmoded concept no longer fit for purpose.

However, others point out that what counts as evil is all to do with the individual intent, independent of culture. Arguably, those who are willing to go against moral codes will justify their actions if it suits them to do so, whether they be those ship captains and plantation owners who engaged in the slave trade, the Nazis who found mass extermination of the Jews acceptable, or the leadership of the United States Union Army’s massacre of “savage” Native American Indians.

Is evil an illusion?

The results of evil intent are real enough whether they be seen in times of war, suffering of victims of serious crime, or simply those on the end of spiteful gossip. But should we understand evil as a powerful identity that causes suffering in the world? Or is it just a man-made idea that has no reality? Should we ditch the idea of Satan as just old hat?

In one sense perhaps we should. Ever since Thomas Aquinas, the Catholic Church has defined evil as the absence of good. Just as cold is defined as the lack of warmth, and darkness the deprivation of light, so evil is defined in terms of good. To understand evil one thus needs to understand what is meant by good. For evil is its opposite. To appreciate cruelty one first needs to experience tender care. To comprehend malice one needs to know love. To understand a state of ignorance one needs to fathom a state of knowledge.

Where does evil come from?

Likewise for Swedenborg, evil is the inversion of good. He reckons disorder is the inversion of order, and falsity the inversion of truth. Evil is a quality of life which has no independent origin, but is a distortion of the one Divine life.

Using his psychic vision, he describes a way of life of human spirits in a hidden spirit realm, who choose hatred over love, and crime over justice. One is not normally conscious of their influence but if one continually allows their presence into one’s heart and mind, they are said to then prompt and urge cruelty, sexual violence, and self-ascendancy without any concern for human suffering. We don’t know if people like Mladic will join them in his after-life. But allowing himself to be constantly swayed by their impulses and thoughts, he can become crazed with evil, caught up in a crowd baying for blood. The madness feels overpowering and the individual is swept along apparently helpless to fight against the current.

Actually, Swedenborg says this seeming overwhelming power of evil is an illusion. For there is also a divine sphere of justice and humane concern which is available to us all. This good balances the evil flow. And so we have the freedom to inwardly turn in which direction we wish. But without turning towards what is good we would all be vulnerable to the inflow of cruelty and malice.

Many of us human beings sometimes choose to turn our back on the one Source of happiness and opening ourselves to evil impulses. This is when we put self above all else. That is when what we want determines all our actions together with the fear, pride and greed that accompanies self-love. Just look in at the criminal courts of justice and see what trouble can then be reeked; never mind the international court in the Hague where crimes against humanity are tried. Perhaps the Serb nationalists who still support Mladic will then realise the full extent of the evil their hero has really caused.

Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Work life balance – How do I achieve it?

A poor work life balance can be addressed through psycho-spiritual considerations as well as renegotiation.

work life balance

The signs of poor work life balance are feeling overloaded, taken for granted, and drained. Working parents may become a little detached from the children and feel what they do is not good enough. So what causes this state of affairs and what can you do about it?

Cultural change and the work life balance

Until a few years ago professional workers who were obliged to take work home, set aside time there in order to get the work done when it would not impinge upon their personal life.

Since then technology has become more sophisticated. The “2015 Workplace Flexibility Study.” was based on a survey in the USA. It found that 64% of managers expect their employees to be reachable outside of the office in their personal time. This trend has now reached Europe.

The lack of work life balance becomes more acute for parents, particularly mothers. This is because of the increase in their numbers in the workforce, together with the unwitting expectation that they will continue to shoulder most of the responsibilities of child-rearing and domesticity.

Self-care and the work life balance

Most of us know only too well that looking after oneself is crucial for health and well-being. This means time to get a proper night’s rest – doctors recommend 7-8 hours: time to have a little regular physical exercise which helps to relieve stress: and time to renew batteries through being on one’s own and having meaningful contact with family and friends.

These sound like the bare minimum for self-care. Yet, even these are under threat from the office email demanding some immediate response. How can one switch off one’s mind from the demands of the world if one’s smart phone is always switched on? And even if you do turn it off, you are likely to regularly turn it back on just to see if anything has turned up whilst it was off.

“Technology has expanded the 9-to-5 workday into the 24/7 workday, which has made it extremely difficult for employees to have personal time”
(Dan Schawbel, Founder of WorkplaceTrends.com)

Addictive technology and the work life balance

When people use this technology at work it can be adopted for their interests at home e.g. social media and use of search engines. Often a lot of this is in some way work-related e.g. professional networking, and information gathering. There is thus a blurred line between work responsibilities and personal life. The frequent use of Twitter, Facebook, Google etc at home can be so habit-forming as to even be seen as an addiction.

Fear and the work life balance

The fear is in missing something important through not being constantly connected. What if a crisis occurred and they couldn’t contact me? Or something happening which I feel I need to know about?

Often the fear is partly rational with some element of exaggeration. Is it really the end of the world if you don’t respond to that enquiry during unsocial hours? Or to that international customer from another time zone? Unless you are on call and working for an emergency service, you are not going to respond to a text message during the middle of the night – or are you?

An underlying unreasonable fear may be one of catastrophic failure, making obvious mistakes, not meeting people’s expectations, and being criticized. Why not replace this desire for faultlessness with being “good enough.” After all no one is perfect.

Negotiation with the boss about work life balance

Re-negotiating boundaries should not be considered as negative. Rather, it is a way of affirming something about one’s own self-worth and is a path to sanity. Saying ‘no’ to unreasonable demands can be an important first step in bargaining. One compromise deal might be not taking the work smart phone on holiday but giving your private phone number just to the boss on the understanding you may be called only in a dire emergency.

A reasonable boss, who values your work, may be willing to do a deal. If there is no organisational policy regarding a general flexibility for employees’ work life balance, this may be just a private understanding only with you. Such a deal may or may not be at the cost of reducing your further advancement within the company.

Other managers, however, may be intransigent and refuse to compromise. And so it may not be possible to strike a compromise in favour of a better work life balance. In such a scenario you possibly will need to consider looking for another job where the need for worker flexibility is better understood and where work goals better resonate with you. However this could mean having to accept lower pay.

Staying attuned spiritually and the work life balance

One way of dealing with our fears is to get some perspective on them by getting in touch with the higher dimension to life.

With late night and Sunday opening, modern secular life doesn’t allow for any special day of the week. Yet, according to the biblical legend, even God rested on the seventh day of creation! Perhaps we do need permission to keep one day for ourselves. A chance, without the ubiquitous smart phone, to get out into the fresh air, connect to nature, or listen to music. This creates space for personal reflection focusing on the deeper things of life: considering what really matters.

Look at what the world’s religions teach about the importance of meditation and prayer. Such spiritual disciplines calm the spirit and help you focus less on mistakes and the bad things and instead remember what is going right and what it means to you.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” (Socrates)

Swedenborg on the work life balance

Spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg wrote about the religious significance of the seventh day of the week. According to him, people with inner religious faith want regular time to devote themselves to getting in touch with their image of God. This means reflecting on spiritual lessons and allowing oneself to be led by the ‘Divine within’ rather than by the demands of the world. In so doing they are said to find the tranquillity of ‘peace that passes all understanding’

Copyright 2015 Stephen & Carole Russell-Lacy

Stephen Russell-Lacy is author Heart, Head & Hands (http://spiritualquestions.org.uk/2012/10/heart-head-hands-ebook/)

Muslim attitudes and Western fear.

Most of us will recall where we were on 9/11.

jihadist muslimI was in my studio when the announcement came and, like so many others, knew the world would never be the same again. That afternoon I collected my six year old granddaughter from her after-school club. As we drove away, slowing down at the T junction, a boy, brown skinned (Asian, British Asian, Muslim, who knows) of about eleven, still in his school uniform, was sitting on the road sign. He looked me straight in the eye and grinned. I guess that boy will now be in his twenties. Was he a jihadist Muslim in the making? I’ll never know.

Well the world hasn’t been the same. The bombing of Iraq and Afghanistan, supposedly in order to destroy Islamist jihadists then called Al-Qaida, has probably led to the rise of an even more extreme group in ISIS. Western cities have been attacked by suicide bombers and in our own country we see reports of increasing attacks on innocent Muslim people, usually women wearing the hijab.

People look at what’s happening in the world today and many point to religion as the cause of the world’s conflicts both past and present. Wherever you look, religious persuasions have always been used to justify wars and hateful actions with both sides often believing that ‘God’, ‘Allah’, ‘Jehovah’ – or whatever name they might give to their version of the Divine Creator – is on their side. We have always been adept at creating a god in our own image.

It is said that fear is the opposite of love and that hatred is a symptom of fear; the fear of the oppressed and the fear, and perhaps guilt, of the oppressor. If we use the mountain as a metaphor for the Divine Creator, we are all coming up the mountain from different sides, different cultures and belief systems, Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Buddhist etc that at the ‘extremes’ of the mountain are totally ‘foreign’ to us (how language can be so loaded and appear politically incorrect!) Following that metaphor, it is as we draw up to the Light at the top that differences fade away and there is no longer a place for the shadows of fear and hatred as we see each other as brothers and sisters in the light of Love. In today’s world the top of the mountain seems a long way off.

What can we do about it? Not a lot you might think as we leave our elected leaders to argue it out whether more air strikes and bombing or troops on the ground are the best option against Muslim jihadists in Syria. In the words of the song, ‘Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me’, this is the only place we can start. If life is about anything, it’s about learning to recognise our own personal shortcomings, prejudices and fears, challenging them, and bringing them to the Light.

Going back to the boy on the street sign. Every child will pick up all sorts of things from us adults, including our prejudice and fear. They will accept, and may later reject, many of our interests, opinions, loves and hates. It is up to us to question the influence we have on them, encouraging them to see all sides of a situation (the mountain) and hopefully give them a ‘leg up’ to a higher starting point on their journey towards the Light.

Copyright 2015 Carole Lacy

Courage

Courage

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

revcooper.ca


Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

When the children of Israel finally reached the Jordan River, the Lord selected Joshua to lead them into their new home in the promised land. We remember how when the Lord first commanded them to enter the land of Canaan and conquer it with His help, they were too afraid, they were unable to trust the Lord’s guidance; and we remember how as a result of their fears and lack of confidence in the Lord they had to wander for forty years, until every single person who had been in slavery in Egypt had died and a new generation, born and bred in the difficult conditions of life in the wilderness, had taken their place.

Joshua and Caleb were the only two of the Egyptian Hebrews to enter Canaan because they alone were constant in their trust in the Lord and courageous in their willingness to do His bidding. They knew the risks they faced. But they had also seen the 10 Plagues in Egypt, and had seen Pharaoh’s army drowned in the Red Sea. They had genuine courage based on trust in the Lord’s power.

Now it was time for Joshua to lead his own army, forged in the desert heat by his own hand, guided by the Lord, into the Land of Canaan. Joshua called the people together and spoke to them of the task ahead of them, and reminded them, as Moses had before him, that if they would only have courage, if they would only trust in the Lord’s help, that they would soon have their promised rest. “Be strong and of good courage,” Joshua told them, “for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (text)

It is remarkable to note that although the Word is full of stories of courageous men, that the Heavenly Doctrines have very little to say on the subject of courage. Perhaps this is because the doctrines have so much to say about the human emotion that is conquered by courage, that is, fear. Therefore we must learn about courage by considering the nature of fear.

There are people in the world who claim to be, or seem to be, fearless. These men are not brave or courageous if they actually are without fear, for courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the ability to function in the presence of fear. Everyone has fears of many kinds, so much so that the Heavenly Doctrines speak of fear as the “common bond” among men (see AC 7280) meaning that fear of one sort or another is the one thing that every human being has in common with every other human being — including those living in the spiritual world!

To understand how it is possible for angels to have fears, it is necessary to understand that there are two kinds of fear; internal and external. In the heavens, there is only internal fear, in hell, only external. With men in the world there is a mixture of internal and external fears according to and depending upon each individual’s spiritual development. External fear is the fear experienced by those in hell. It is the fear that external things might be lost or destroyed. The examples given in the Heavenly Doctrines are:

the fear of the loss of one’s reputation among men;

the fear of the loss of one’s honors;

the fear of the loss of wealth;

the fear of punishment;

and the fear of death. (See Ibid.)

On the other hand is internal fear, or, as it is sometimes called in the Word, “holy fear”. This is a fear or anxiety for the sake of something good, that is, a fear that something or someone might be harmed by one’s action, or by one’s failure to act. When a parent holds a newborn baby for the first time, there is a fear that they might hurt the child because it is so small and tender. Parents’ fears for their children continue through childhood as they struggle to find the appropriate balance between learning through experience and perfect safety.

Angels do not experience much anxiety or fear on a daily basis. The fears that they have would most likely take the form of careful thought about what would be a kind and helpful thing to do for their partner, a companion, or their heavenly society. The angels would be most careful and thoughtful to see that the things they do for one another are really appropriate and delightful. The fear of the angels would not seem to be bothersome to them, but rather, it should be seen as a loving concern for the welfare of others, that others might not be harmed or offended in any way by their actions.

In the natural world, as we are caught between the influences of the spiritual worlds and our own varying states, our fears are not clearly defined as being only external or internal. The quality and kind of fear we experience is related to the state of our ruling love, and to external circumstances that are beyond our control.

We cannot simply say that the fear of the loss of wealth, for example, is an external or hellish fear. We may fear the loss of wealth because we love money, or we may fear its loss because without it we cannot properly care for and nurture those under our protection. In the case of children and young people, the fear of punishment is an external fear, but for them it is a step on the road toward having a genuine conscience, and is therefore an acceptable means to instruct them in the way of life according to spiritual principles. Again, we may think we are experiencing an internal fear when we are anxious about the welfare of another, but we may only be anxious because we fear that they will blame us for their misfortune. The examples could go on and on, but the essential point remains that all humans have a common bond in that we all fear something, and courage is how we deal with that fear.

Let us reflect for a moment on our fears, and how we deal with them. Think about something that causes anxious moments, such as walking down a dark street, working late in an empty building, being in a high place, taking a trip in an airplane, or whatever. Everyone, when faced with doing something they fear, will instinctively wish that there was someone else around to be with them, to keep them company. A dark hallway never seems so frightening when you walk down it engaged in a cheerful conversation with a friend. It doesn’t even matter if your companion couldn’t possibly protect you. You still feel better. The dark is always darker, the monster always lurking when we think we are alone.

The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington DC were bad enough in themselves, but far worse is the byproduct of fear. Suddenly we are forced by the actions of evil men to look for the possibility of mortal danger in such everyday things as a rental truck, a trip by commercial airliner, a simple envelope that arrives in the mail. The Sniper crisis made it feel dangerous just to go outdoors. Safety, and the apparent lack thereof, has become a central feature of our lives, even to the point that we are beginning to speak and act as if the only function of government is to keep us all safe, not only from foreign enemies, but even from our own foolish choices. We are beginning to act and speak as if safety itself is a reasonable goal of life on earth. When was the last time a kid yelled through the screen door, “Me and the guys are goin’ for a bike ride” and all Mom said in reply was “Be home before dark”? Today, just the thought of a bunch of kids going off exploring on their bikes, without helmets and possibly accompanied by one or more dogs – causes us to be fearful.

The Lord teaches in Divine Providence 139 that no one is reformed in a state of fear, because fear closes the interiors of the mind, thus taking away rationality and freedom of thought in spiritual things. Love opens the interiors of the mind, but fear closes them, leaving only a few thoughts – those that present themselves to his animus or to the level of the senses.

Fear, then, must be conquered in order for the rational mind to be able to function, and the rational must be opened in order for the adult mind to prepare itself for heaven. As said before, courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to overcome our fears, to do what is right and proper and necessary in spite of the risks. Life requires us to learn how to be courageous by first facing little fears on the playgrounds, and then, little by little, taking on greater and greater challenges. We must to do this, or we will never be prepared to face the really frightening prospect of facing up to our own evils. One of the features of adult life is that we must, with the Lord’s help, confront hell. We are not going to be able to do that without practice, without learning to be courageous by facing other, smaller battles first. As in all things, balance, perspective, and judgment are all essential, and most important of all is being able to see the “big picture” – that it’s not about getting through childhood without and illness or an injury, but learning how to cross the wilderness first, so we can cross the Jordan later and begin the real battles with our hereditary evils

War is the most fearful thing imaginable, and it both represents our spirituals battles as well as serves to illustrate the point about feeling alone. Because of the incredible fears that must be faced, soldiers form exceptionally strong bonds with one another, based upon their mutual support in the face of fear. War is horrible, yet in the face of its horror men perform heroic, courageous acts of self-sacrifice for the sake of their friends, for the sake of civilian strangers, for the sake of their country, for the sake of high principles. Where do people get this courage? How can we learn from them to face the misfortunes and difficulties of our own lives with their confidence? Such courage comes from the acknowledgment of the heart that no one is ever really alone, that no one ever has to walk a dark hallway alone, because the Lord is with them.

Before the battle (the soldier) raises his mind to the Lord, and commends his life into His hand; and, after he has done this, he lets his mind down from its elevation into the body, and becomes brave; the thought of the Lord, which he is then unconscious of, remaining still in his mind, above the bravery. And then, if he dies, he dies in the Lord; if he lives, he lives in the Lord. (Charity 166)

It is a simple matter to carry this description of a soldier battling for his life, and in simple humility putting his life in the hands of the Lord over into our own lives, our own experience in the battles against evils and falsities. We may think that warfare, with its bombs and guns, pain and death, is the most horrible thing there is; but consider our own spiritual temptations for a moment. When a soldier dies in battle, he loses his natural life, but he dies “in the Lord.” The man who loses his spiritual battles has lost his spiritual life. As the Lord said, “My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body.… Fear Him who, after He has killed, has the power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:4,5)

Our spiritual battles are represented by Joshua’s entrance into the land of Canaan and defeating the various nations found there. Joshua was heroic and courageous as a leader all his life because he knew that the Lord was with him; Joshua lived with the confidence that he would succeed while he did what he was bidden by the Lord, and that the Lord would fight his battles for him, and that the land would eventually be conquered.

The natural world is not always fair. Things happen to us that cause pain and misery. There are things that we have to do that frighten us; and while we are trying to deal with the fears and anxieties of the natural world, we keep being reminded that we are supposed to be fighting spiritual temptation as well! It can seem like too much to bear. We wonder where we will find the strength to carry on, to face the challenges of each new day.

If we try to carry the burden entirely on our own, if we insist that we are the only ones who can do it the right way, then we are doomed to failure. If, on the other hand, we can develop within ourselves the confidence in the Lord’s guidance and protection; if we can examine the course of our lives for the evidence of the Lord’s direction and Divine Providence in the past, and from that evidence assure ourselves of His operation in our present and future; if we can think of Joshua patiently building an army for forty years in the wilderness, and then conquering the land of Canaan for his people while yet giving all the credit to Jehovah, perhaps we can begin to feel, to believe that the Lord is always with us, always seeking to lead us to eternal blessedness and peace, always willing to fight our battles for us if only we would ask Him to. Then we can begin to have the real courage that comes from trust in the Lord’s power to save, and we can courageously meet our spiritual foes – and win. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me” (Ps. 23:4) AMEN.


Lessons

First Lesson: Josh 1:1-9

After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, it came to pass that the LORD spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying: {2} “Moses My servant is dead. Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them; the children of Israel. {3} “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses. {4} “From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the River Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your territory. {5} “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you. {6} “Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. {7} “Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. {8} “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. {9} “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

2nd Lesson: LUK 2:41-52

His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. {42} And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. {43} When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; {44} but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. {45} So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. {46} Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. {47} And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. {48} So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” {49} And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” {50} But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them. {51} Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart. {52} And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

3rd Lesson: AC 7280 (port.)

…fear is the one and only means by which those in hell can be constrained and held in bonds. For fear is a bond shared by both those who are upright and those who are evil. But with the upright it is an inward fear, that is, fear for their salvation, or fear lest they should lose their own souls, to be exact, and on that account lest they should do anything contrary to conscience, that is, contrary to the truth and goodness which compose conscience. Consequently they fear lest they should do anything contrary to what is just and fair, thus contrary to their neighbor. But this fear becomes holy fear to the extent that it is wedded to charitable affection in them, and especially to the extent that it is wedded to love to the Lord. Such fear then becomes like that which young children feel towards their parents whom they love. When this happens, then so far as they are governed by the good of love fear is not apparent; but so far as they are not governed by good it is apparent, and develops into anxiety. This is what the fear of God is like to which the Word refers many times.

[2] But with those who are evil there is no inward fear – no fear for their salvation – and therefore no fear that belongs to conscience, for in the world they completely rejected that kind of fear both by the life they led and by basic ideas of falsity that were used to justify it. But in place of inward fear there is with them an outward fear, the fear, to be exact, lest they should be stripped of important positions, monetary gain, and reputation on account of these, be legally punished, and be deprived of life. These are the things that those governed by evil fear for when they are in the world.


Copyright © 1982 – 2006 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 27, 2009

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