CHURCH OF THE FLYING SPAGHETTI MONSTER TIMELINE
1980 (July 18): Bobby Henderson was born in Roseburg, Oregon.
2000’s (Early): Henderson graduated from Oregon State University with a B.S. in Physics.
2005: The Kansas State Board of Education allowed Intelligent Design to be taught in high school science classes.
2005: Henderson published an open letter to the Kansas State Board of Education and then later published it on his website.
2006: Henderson published The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
2007: The American Academy of Religion hosted a paper session on Pastafarianism at its annual conference.
2010: The Loose Cannon was completed and published online .
2011: Austrian Pastafarian Niko Alm was granted permission to wear a colander on his head in his driver’s license photo.
2014: Australian Pastafarian Dan Guenther applied to the government to teach Pastafarianism as special religious education in primary schools. The case is pending in the office of the New South Wales Education Minister.
2014: The Polish government recognised Pastafarianism as a religion.
2014: American Pastafarian Christopher Schaeffer was sworn into office as Town Councillor while wearing a colander on his head.
2014: American Pastafarian sued the State of Nebraska for preventing him from wearing pirate regalia and worshipping freely whilst in prison. The outcome is pending.
2015: The New Zealand government authorised the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster to conduct legal wedding ceremonies.
Bobby Henderson was born in Roseburg, Oregon in 1980. He attended Oregon State University and earned a B.S. degree inPhysics. By his own account, he travelled to Nevada, Arizona, and later to the Philippines where he lived for three years (Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster 2016a).
He began to develop what would become the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster in November 2005 after the Kansas State Board of Education granted schools the right to teach alternatives to evolution in high school science classes. This meant that Intelligent Design was deemed appropriate for the classroom. Intelligent Design is a theory that adopts a putatively pseudo-scientific approach to argue that the universe is far too complex to have evolved naturally and was therefore created by an “intelligent designer.” It leaves the identification of the designer unspecified, an important element for understanding The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM), or as it is also called, Pastafarianism. This is important because Pastafarianism formed after its founder, Bobby Henderson, a physics graduate, wrote a letter of protest to the Kansas Board of Education during their deliberation. In the “open letter,” Henderson made the argument that because Intelligent Design does not specifically identify the “designer,” alternatives to the Christian/Creationist theories were equally valid and should therefore also be taught in schools. He presented the Flying Spaghetti Monster as one of these alternatives, arguing that the universe was created by a flying monster made out of spaghetti, with meatballs, and two eyes on breadstick stalks. He stated that “If the Intelligent Design theory is not based on faith, but instead another scientific theory, as is claimed, then you must also allow our theory to be taught, as it is also based on science, not on faith” (Henderson 2005).
In the letter, Henderson outlined the basic beliefs about the FSM, and argued that there is scientific proof for his existence. Theletter was written as a parody of the ways that some Christians co-opt science for their own religious purposes. Its tone is ironic, as its claims are by no means acceptable by scientific standards (for example, that global warming can be directly linked to “the shrinking numbers of pirates since the 1800s”), yet they are put forth earnestly and confidently in mimicry of the manner in which Henderson believes some Christians try to argue for the existence of an “intelligent designer” (Henderson 2005). By copying, and then exaggerating, the style of arguments employed by Creationists, Henderson satirised creationism, highlighting what he regards as the absurdity of its claims, and criticised the school board’s acceptance of intelligent design as science. His ridicule and true position can be sensed in his choice of language for his request that each theory be given equal time in science classes: “One third time for Intelligent Design, one third time for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism (Pastafarianism), and one third time for logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence” (Henderson 2005). By making this comparison, Henderson drew attention to the flaws in intelligent design theory and ultimately suggested that to teach intelligent design as science is as absurd as a flying spaghetti monster creating the universe.
After receiving no response from the school board, Henderson published the letter on his website. The open letter attracted significant attention, and Henderson began to use his website to expand his theology, explaining in further detail the beliefs and practices of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Within a year of sending his open letter, the FSM had become an internet phenomenon, with millions of hits on his website. Henderson received thousands of emails, including several from members of the Kansas Education Board, the majority of whom “thanked him for the laugh,” while one member told him it is “an offense to mock God” (Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster n.d.1). Mainstream media including The New York Times, Washington Post, and Chicago Sun-Times reprinted Henderson’s open letter (Narizny 2009:44). The website BoingBoing pushed the hype further by offering a $250,000 prize to anyone who can “produce empirical evidence which proves that Jesus is not the son of the Flying Spaghetti Monster” (Jardin 2005). The prize was offered in response to a challenge put forth by Intelligent Design proponent Kevin Hind, who would give a quarter of a million dollars to anyone who could provide empirical evidence for evolution. The BoingBoing prize was even raised to $1,000,000 after contributions were offered from supporters. Of course, the fine print indicated that this prize money was to be awarded “with Intelligently Designed currency; void where prohibited by logic” (Jardin 2005), further demonstrating how dismissive the FSM movement is about intelligent design. By August 2005, the FSM had a Wikipedia entry, by 2006 Henderson had gained interest from multiple publishers for the “scriptures” that would become The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and by 2007 academics were discussing Pastafarianism as a legitimate scholarly subject (Chryssides and Zeller 2014:363).
At first, Henderson wrote the letter as an “amusement” and he did not foresee the consequences it would have (Narizny 2009:44). Despite having started as a joke or “amusement,” the Church of the FSM has developed as a religious belief and practice, with its own theology and rituals and followers. Accessing accurate membership details is difficult due Pastafarianism’s online nature and the unstructured, non-committal membership process. As Henderson describes it:
“ So you want to be a Pastafarian. Great. Consider yourself a member. You’ll notice there’s no hoops to jump through. You don’t need to pay anything” (Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster 2016b).
Henderson argues that in the Church of the FSM there is only one dogma, that is, there is no dogma. However, there are certain beliefs that are generally accepted by followers, although they may reject, add to, and reinterpret these beliefs freely. The most concrete example of this is in the publication of The Loose Cannon (2010), a scripture that has been compiled from online commentary developed by FSM followers that builds on and expands the original writings of Bobby Henderson.
Pastafarianism in many ways operates as a parody of Christianity, and to a lesser extent other religious traditions. It reappropriates many of Christianity’s myths, beliefs and practices and reinterprets them through the lens of FSM, often comically replacing familiar religious ideas with references to pasta; for example, “He boiled for your sins,” or The Old and New “Pastaments.” Pastafarianism is monotheistic in that there is one supreme deity known as the FSM. The FSM is the creator of the universe. He is made of spaghetti, with meatballs embedded in his body and his eyes mounted on breadsticks. He is also an interventionist god, involving himself intimately with humanity by “touching with his noodly appendage.” Though he is invisible, he uses his noodly appendages to control human history, in particular to confuse scientists by making them think the world is older than it really is. This is the reason that there appears to be evidence for evolution and other scientific conclusions, as Henderson explains:
For example, a scientist may perform a carbon-dating process on an artifact. He finds that approximately 75% of the Carbon-14 has decayed by electron emission to Nitrogen-14, and infers that this artifact is approximately 10,000 years old, as the half-life of Carbon-14 appears to be 5,730 years. But what our scientist does not realize is that every time he makes a measurement, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is there changing the results with His Noodly Appendage (Henderson 2005).
Pastafarianism has a creation myth that continues to be expanded and developed by Henderson and FSM followers. Due to the FSM emphasis on Intelligent Design, there is significant focus placed on creation. The FSM created the universe, in what some Pastafarians have called “the Big Boil” (Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster 2016). Parallels to the Biblical creation story abound, although the earth was created in four days, because the FSM rested on the fifth, sixth and seventh day. According to The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, on the first day the FSM created light and darkness, and on the second he created the firmament, including a “volcano to spew forth beer.” On the third day, the FSM made vegetation, saying “Let the Earth bring forth grass, semolina, rice and whatever else can be turned into food that resembles my Noodly Appendages” (Henderson 2006:70-71). In addition, because he was hung over from the beer volcano, he had forgotten that he had already created land. So he made more land, but, realising he now had “both land and firmament,” he lifted Day Two’s firmament upwards and named it Heaven, making sure to take the beer volcano with it. On the third day, he created the sun, moon and stars. On the fifth and final day, he created the animals, and, after a heavy drinking session from the beer volcano, had created a stripper factory in Heaven and a midget on Earth. After this he took “an extended break from the whole creation gig,” and declared Fridays to be a holiday.
Again borrowing from the Biblical account of the creation of humanity, the midget becomes the Pastafarian “Adam,” and is placed in the Olive Garden of Eden, a playful name that refers to the popular American Italian restaurant (Olive Garden). In the Olive Garden of Eden, the FSM creates woman as a companion for the midget. Similarly, the FSM mythology includes the story of the Flood, the Tower of “Scrapple” and the story of cook-turned-pirate, Mosey. For Pastafarians, the flood was caused by the boiling water that went down the sink and covered the earth when the FSM cooked pasta in Heaven. The story of Mosey is a clear parody of the story of Moses. Mosey is a short-order cook, oppressed by an evil boss, “Phil,” and Mosey is guided by the FSM to help all the exploited cooks escape from under Phil’s regime. In the desert, the FSM speaks to Mosey through a toasted marshmallow, and when Phil will not release the cooks, he brings forth three plagues: a rain of spaghetti sauce, a hail of linguini, and repetitively playing an irritating song in Phil’s head. Pastafarians even celebrate the “Pastover” in memory of when “the angel hair pasta of death” passed over the houses smeared with pasta sauce (Henderson 2006:76).
Mosey was also given the eight “I’d Really Rather You Didn’ts,” the Pastafarian version of the Ten Commandments. They illustratethe lack of dogmatism and rigidity in the Church and its understanding of the FSM’s wishes. His wishes are decidedly more flexible, nuanced and comic preferences, rather than absolutist commandments, and show that the FSM criticises the severity of fundamentalist world views. There are only eight because Mosey dropped two of the tablets, which Henderson says “partly accounts for Pastafarians’ flimsy moral standards” (Henderson 2006:77). However, in fact the FSM moral code is fairly strong in its ethics. For example the FSM would “Really Rather You Didn’t Act Like a Sanctimonious, Holier-Than-Thou Ass When Describing My Noodly Goodness…,” and he would “Really Rather You Didn’t Use My Existence As A Means To Oppress, Subjugate, Punish, Eviscerate, And/Or, You Know, Be Mean To Others.” The other requests from the FSM are a blend of moral standards and jokes about vanity, hunger, “lowering the cost of cable,” and sex (Henderson 2006:78).
In a reflection of the Jews as the Judeo-Christian “chosen people,” Mosey’s people, Pirates, are the favoured people of the FSM. This belief was first laid out in Henderson’s open letter, and plays an important role in faith and practice. Pirates are the chosen people, and therefore all teaching about the FSM should be carried out in full pirate regalia or else the FSM will be angry. Henderson (2006:41) explains that humans were created in His ideal image, the Pirate.
In the open letter, Henderson explains that there is a direct correlation between climate change and the number of pirates. Heexplains to the Board, “You may be interested to know that global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters are a direct effect of the shrinking numbers of Pirates since the 1800s” (Henderson 2005). Henderson also included a graph to illustrate his point, that “there is a statistically significant inverse relationship between pirates and global temperature.” His main point is also that evidence can be fabricated for any argument and passed off as science, something that Henderson considers a tactic used by intelligent design advocates.
Pastafarianism is fundamentally shaped by its origin as a protest against the mixing together of science and religion. It actively participates in dialogue on the relationship between science and religion. It does this primarily through replicating and spoofing the creationist belief that answers to scientific enquiry can be found by looking at the supernatural. Thus, Pastafarians also claim that the FSM can be proven through scientific method, and conversely, that the FSM explains science. For example, in The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, gravity is explained as the force of Him pushing us down with His noodly appendage (Henderson 2006:4), and the “String Theory” of theoretical physics is shown to be misinterpretation of “Unified Spaghetti Theory,” where life was created by cooking “strings” of spaghetti in a giant pot (2006:41).
Much like Pastafarian beliefs, Pastafarian rituals tend to mimic Christian rituals and practices, with a few notable exceptions. The most familiar is the practice of ending all prayers to the FSM with “Ramen,” a combination of the traditional “Amen” and the Japanese noodle. The strongest playful element in Pastafarianism is the act of changing existing religious beliefs and practices into something relating to pasta. In The Loose Cannon (2010), there are chapters titled “The Torahtellini,” “The Book of ProvHerbs,” and the “Acts of the Apastals.” The Loose Cannon also provides a Pastafarian prayer book, containing numerous prayers written by members of the online Pastafarian community. Some are parodies of existing prayers, such as “Hail Marinara” (Hail Mary) (2010:183), “The Spaghettiudes” (the Beatitudes) (2010:194), and multiple versions of the Lord’s Prayer, including:
Our Pasta, who “Arghh” in heaven, Swallowed be thy shame. Thy Midgit come. Thy Sauce be yum, on top some grated Parmesan. Give us this day our garlic bread. And give us our cutlasses, As we swashbuckle, splice the main-brace and cuss. And lead us into temptation, But deliver us some Pizza. For thine are Meatballs, and the beer, and the strippers, for ever and ever. Ramen (2010:181).
Other prayers are simply devotionals to the FSM, although all are humorous attempts to incorporate pasta, pirates and intelligentdesign as themes. There is even a Holy Limerick:
There once was a Prophet named Bobby,
Who challenged ID as a hobby
His Monster (FS)
Was such a success
That he conquered ID in the lobby (2010:194)
This kind of creativity is the most popular form of devotion to the FSM. Devotional art plays a significant role in the practice of Pastafarians. In the open letter, Henderson included a rough sketch of what the FSM looks like, accompanied by some trees, mountains and a “midgit.” This has been the source for further artistic expression of devotion for followers.
The official FSM website hosts numerous examples of religious art that followers of the FSM have created. Pastafarians create images of the FSM for both devotional and evangelical purposes. The most well-known work is Arne Niklas Jansson’s appropriation of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam , in which God has been replaced by the FSM, with a caption that reads “Touched By His Noodly Appendage.” Many followers create illustrations, digital art, and sculptures, and the FSM’s image can be found on everything from t-shirts and mugs, to Christmas decorations, and parade floats.
Pastafarian practice often revolves around the chosen people, Pirates. Pastafarians are encouraged to dress in full pirate regalia, celebrate the International Talk Like a Pirate Day on the nineteenth of September, and have a pirate fish fossil that acts as a symbol for pirate admiration. This also is a playful criticism of intelligent design’s understanding of the fossil record. Halloween is also a significant holiday, as it allows followers to dress freely as Pirates without judgment.
In addition to dressing in full pirate regalia wherever possible, Pastafarians are also encouraged to wear colanders on their head, as an outward symbol of their devotion to the FSM. This is partly for the absurdity, but also for its role in cooking pasta. This has been a controversial aspect of the Church of the FSM developing into a religion, as many followers seek to legitimise their beliefs by wearing colanders in official or legal circumstances. Examples include wearing colanders in their passport or drivers licence photographs where the question arises as to whether or not a colander counts as religious headwear (Cusack 2016:7).
The Church of the FSM has very little formal structure, both in terms of leadership and organisation. The founder, Bobby Henderson, is sometimes thought of as a prophet, and he largely acts as head of the church through running the official website. While the church began in the United States, it has expanded across the globe, with numerous chapters in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Many chapters simply run through a website, although meeting up as a community it encouraged. While there are discussions of schisms within the Church of the FSM, most new groups are undeveloped and exist online as extensions of the pasta-themed humour. For example, there is a list of schismatic groups on Uncyclopedia.com, a spoof of the popular online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, that includes followers of Spaghetti & Pulsar Activating Meatballs (SPAM), the Moominist Church of His Flying Spaghettiness, and the Flying Spaghetti-O Monster (Uncyclopedia Website n.d.).
There are ministers of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster; however, there is no training involved as certificates ofordination are available for purchase from the official website and there are no official duties that need to be carried out. The website explains:
These credentials [are] suitable for presiding over social ceremonies such as marriages and baptisms, giving last rites, casting out false prophets, performing exorcisims (sic) and so on. Your name will be added to the official (sic) registry of Ordained FSM Ministers (Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster n.d.).
The official written text for the Church of FSM is the Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, written by Bobby Henderson and published by Villard Press in 2006. However, the basic theology was developed in the original letter that Henderson wrote to the Kansas school board, which was included in the Gospel and is frequently referenced. Most written material about the FSM has developed through the interactivity of the church’s website, through Henderson’s blog posts and the lively and active forum hosted there. In 2010, Henderson made available a second collection of writings, The Loose Cannon, compiled from the writings that followers posted to the website. While there are texts accepted by the Church as “official,” there is no sense that there is scriptural authority or that any one person’s interpretation of the FSM is more or less valid. Pastafarians are prolific in their development and adaptation of the first writings of Henderson, and Henderson himself regularly updates the website, thus expanding and celebrating the creativity and diversity of Pastafarians.
The main challenge that is faced by the Church of the FSM is the accusation that this is not a “real” religion. The Church is one of many new religions at the heart of the ongoing debate over what constitutes legitimacy in terms of religious belief, practice, and identity. This debate also covers any implications in social, ethical and legal life. Academic study of Pastafarianism is limited, although growing steadily. It has been called a “parody” religion (Boppana 2009), a “fake” or “pseudo-cult” (Obadia 2015:120) and a “joke” religion (Narizny 2009).
For many, the Church of the FSM is not a religion by virtue of its “made up” or fictional origins. It is openly and directly a parody of intelligent design and associated ideas. It could be argued that it exists only as a critique of creationism, where the mimicry is merely one of many tactics (Boppana 2009:54) employed by new atheist movements to attack or subvert religion more broadly and that it therefore is not a legitimate religion in its own right. Pastafarianism is seen by many as either a game, an unhelpful distraction (Jenkins 2011), or as an attention grabbing front for a more important message about the separation of church and state (International Business Times 2016).
It can however be argued that Pastafarianism is what Carole Cusack (2010) has more neutrally termed an “invented” religion, one that is based on fiction, popular culture or imagination and most significantly is open about its imagined origins. In the context of new religious movements, an invented religion is really just another option in the spiritual marketplace. Whether Pastafarianism is “real” in any abstract sense is of lesser importance for scholars of lived religion and, especially, believers whose lives are influenced in some way by the framework provided by the Church of the FSM. As Cusack (2010:3) argues, “[invented religions] can be seen to be functionally similar, if not identical, to traditional religions.” Pastafarianism has “religious discourse at its heart” (Cowan 2007:361) and is modelled on the traditional and strong religious scaffold that is Christianity. Thus is retains many features that would qualify it as a religion under many definitions, including a religious doctrine, identity, and practice.
While many might consider Pastafarian doctrine as parody alone, and Bobby Henderson himself has suggested it was invented for his own amusement, the significance of Pastafarianism is in its growth and development. Whether or not followers literally believe in the FSM is of lesser importance than the fact that they claim this as their religious identity. Henderson convincingly argues that there are many believers from other faiths who do not literally believe everything their faith teaches, stating “A lot of Christians don’t believe the Bible is literally true – but that doesn’t mean they aren’t True Christians” (Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster 2016a).
The importance of the lived experience of Pastafarians can be seen in the numerous cases of individual Pastafarian attempts toexercise the right to freedom of religious expression. This is frequently the subject of media coverage of the Church of FSM. There are many test cases that have brought the religious freedoms of Pastafarians into conflict with the law, and outcomes have varied in different countries and circumstances. At first, Pastafarians in multiple countries including, Austria, the USA, Australia, New Zealand, and Russia, attempted to have their photograph for their drivers licence (or other legal documents) taken while wearing a colander on their head. Their justification was that the colander is a part of their religious clothing, and any refusal impinges on their freedom to express their religious identity. Most cases have been successful, although Russian authorities have responded that if Andrei Filin, the first Russian to have a colander hat on his licence, is found driving without the colander his licence will be revoked (Mehta 2016). Such civic engagement has been expanded. In 2014, New York Town Council member Christopher Schaeffer was sworn in to office whilst wearing a colander on his head (Larson 2014). In the same year, an American prison inmate, Stephen Cavanaugh, sued the State of Nebraska, claiming that his rights had been violated in prison because he was not allowed to dress in full pirate regalia and meet for worship and fellowship (Millhiser 2014). Again in 2014, Pastafarians in Poland were allowed to register as an official religion, after a previous ban was overturned in the courts (Nelson 2014). Also in 2014, Australian Dan Guenther applied to teach Pastafarianism as religious education in primary schools (de Brito 2014). By 2015, the government of New Zealand had approved the Church of FSM to conduct legal marriage ceremonies (Edens 2015).
Boppana, Kunal. 2009. Parody Religions: A Case Study of the ‘Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster’and ‘Discordianism’. Unpublished dissertation. Ahmedabad: Mudra Institute of Communications. Accessed from http://keic.micaapps.net:1026/greenstone/collect/disserta/index/assoc/HASH0123/1913320c.dir/doc.pdf on 28 December 2015.
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Edens, John. 2015. “Church of Flying Spaghetti Monster Approved to Perform Marriages.” Stuff.co.nz, December 15. Accessed from http://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/weddings/75107725/Church-of-Flying-Spaghetti-Monster-approved-to-perform-marriages on 19 January 2016.
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Henderson, Bobby. 2005. Open Letter To Kansas School Board . Accessed from http://www.venganza.org/about/open-letter on 18 January 2016.
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Jardin, Xeni. 2005. “ Boing Boing’s $250,000 Intelligent Design Challenge (UPDATED: $1 million).” Boing Boing, August 19. Accessed from http://boingboing.net/2005/08/19/boing-boings-250000.html on 3 January 2016.
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Larson, Leslie. 2014. “Pastafarian Politician Takes Oath of Office Wearing Colander on His Head.” New York Daily News, January 8. Accessed from http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/pastafarian-politician-takes-oath-office-wearing-colander-head-article-1.1568877 on 10 January 2016.
Mehta, Hemant. 2016. “ Russian Pastafarian Told He’ll Lose His License if Cops Catch Him Without a Strainer on His Head.” Patheos, January 16. Accessed from http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2016/01/15/russian-pastafarian-told-hell-lose-his-license-if-cops-catch-him-without-a-strainer-on-his-head/ on 19 January 2016.
Millhiser, Ian. 2014. “ Inmate Sues Prison Claiming His Religious Liberty Entitles Him To Dress Like A Pirate.” Think Progress, October 29. Accessed from http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2014/10/29/3586041/inmate-sues-prison-claiming-his-religious-liberty-entitles-him-to-dress-like-a-pirate/ on 19 January 2016.
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Nelson, Sara C. 2014. “Polish Pastafarians Rejoice! Church Of Flying Spaghetti Monster Granted Permission To Register As A Religion.” Huffington Post, April 9. Accessed from http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/04/09/polish-pastafarians-rejoice-church-of-flying-spaghetti-monsterpermission-register-religion_n_5116900.html on 19 Jannuary 2016.
Obadia, Lionel. 2015. “When Virtuality Shapes Social Reality – Fake Cults and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.” Online: Heidelberg Journal For Religions on the Internet 8:115-28.
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Uncyclopedia Website. n.d. Accessed from https://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/Main_Page on 20 January 2016.
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