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What does it mean when some of the best religion stories these days appear in New York magazine? It means the Apocalypse is near. Last week New York had a concise but interesting Q&A with Jay Bakker, son of Jim and Tammy Faye, who has moved to Brooklyn to found a hipster church. This week, columnist and Zeitgeist tour guide Kurt Andersen announces his heebie-jeebies at the ubiquity of apocalyptic thoughts in the culture just now, from Daniel Pinchbeck, author of the foreboding “The Return of Quetzalcoatl,” to Mel Gibson and his new “Apocalypto.” (Both focus on the Mayan civilization’s demise.)

What bothers Andersen, in part, is that the apocalypse is no longer counted as a necessarily bad thing. “The nuttiest Islamists and Christians agree that the present hell in the Middle East is a hopeful sign of the end-times,” he writes. He also notes that the apocalypse as a cause celebre belongs to neither the right nor the left. “Apocalypticism is one of those realms where the ideological spectrum bends into a circle and the extremes meet.”

Mel better hope so. After offending Jews last month with his anti-Semitic tirade, his mouth has now gotten him into more trouble, this time with conservative fans, according to The New York Times, this time for comparing the American troop deployment in Iraq to the kind of human sacrifice depicted in his film.

The rest of the Times article debates whether Mel’s conservative success in “The Passion,” combined with the “Are you a Jew?” rant, will sink his movie’s fortunes come Oscar time. Early reviews, like this one from a film-fest viewing with Mel in attendance, suggest the flick’s so good the Academy won’t be able to ignore it.

At any rate, Mel, as usual, is right on the trend. Says “One member of the audience asked Mel if he was saying that the decay of the Mayan empire was solely from within. Mel responded that he has always felt that the seeds for different civilizations demise always start from within.” And guess what? ” He does see the film as a metaphor for where we are today.”

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