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Apocalypse when?

The XX files


Pity the poor secular humanist. Guided not by a deity or helpful tome, but rather by her beleaguered inner compass, she must weigh every decision based merely on the vague values of secular humanism: compassion and responsibility for herself and her community. In an age of fundamentalism, secular humanism is the Rodney Dangerfield of American belief systems. We don't get no respect, and why should we? We don't have no Bible to smugly refer to; we don't have no 72 virgins awaiting us in heaven.

All we have are the constant questions about poverty, about war, about the best, most honest way of getting through the day without burdening the planet or hurting others. When it comes to the big issues of life --- from global politics to marriage --- there's no playbook.

Sometimes I'm jealous of people who know. They know what God or Allah would have them do. They know how their beliefs apply to politics. They know their interpretation of words written thousands of years ago are correct: hmm, it says here we need to change these people or kill those people.

I want someone to come to me and say: Here is your path. Stop getting tangled in doubt and inquiry and just believe. I want someone to convince me, for example, that the Iraq War is really okay, as my friend's mother believes. She thinks it's one of many signs that the End Times are near. And she is not wacko. She is in a nice, fat minority of Americans who are watching the news, seeking signs of the Apocalypse.

She like many others are awaiting (pick one): the Rapture, the Second Coming, the End Times, the messiah's return to earth, or the return of the Mahdi, the last of the prophet Mohammed's true heirs. When this happens, we will all be judged. The good will rise up and the evil will be cast out, losing, for all eternity, their MySpace privileges.

I envy fundamentalists who believe they can actually have a hand in their fate. As an LA Times article by Louis Sahagun reported last month, some fundamentalists are working to hasten the End Times. The new Billion Souls Initiative, headed up by pastor James Davis, for example, hopes to convert millions of people to Christianity. As a result of this work, Davis is quoted as saying, "the end will come." The Promise Keepers' Bill McCartney puts it succinctly, according to the article. "Our whole purpose is to hasten the end times." Jews and others who haven't accepted Christ into their lives "are toast."

In the meantime, it's always good to have someone to blame when things go wrong. Just ask congressional candidate John Jacob, a Republican from Utah, about the Republican primary he lost. Satan targeted him, he told the Salt Lake Tribune, and caused business setbacks that made him unable to finance his campaign.

A marriage is like a civilization, with its past and future, goals and myths. Even though I try to bring my values about the world to my marriage, I am not perfect. I'd love to have Satan to blame for stuff. And I'd love to have a hand in bringing about a love- and candy-filled rapture. No Satan here, though, and I have to buy my own candy. So, for better or worse, my husband often finds himself the target of my wrath (and occasionally, my hope).

Recently, we were having a sticky argument about finances. We weren't getting anywhere. Like all those monotheistic faiths that are at odds with each other, we share the same goals if not the same ideas about how to achieve them. But we still locked horns. I couldn't take it anymore.

I'm not the type to train my man using the techniques of exotic animal trainers, as that wildly popular recent NYT article suggests. I save the chair and whip for other occasions. During this fight about money, however, I wished I had a trick up my sleeve, some technique to end the fight and win. A low moment indeed. I channeled my inner Kim Jong-il, hauled out my long-range missile, and destroyed:

"The Mets suck," I shot out, triumphant. He stepped back.

It was a beautiful moment. Later he would say he was trying not to laugh, but I knew I had won. And, just as introducing religion into conversations about euthanasia, stem cells, and abortion can blur and confuse, bringing up the Mets --- who had just been trounced by my Red Sox in a three-game series --- threw him off guard.

The beauty part of hurling the Mets in my husband's face is that he couldn't really argue with it. It's something I've long believed --- guilt by association with other, much more hated New York teams --- and it's all mine. Just like faith. There's no proving or disproving it.

I'll admit it's trivial to compare baseball fanaticism to the world's ancient, revered religions, but there is something about a money argument that can push people beyond their limits. I rose up and took the most righteous path I knew.

It could have been worse. Mary Winkler, the wife of a Tennessee pastor, presumably had both worldly and otherworldly resources available to her when she argued with her husband recently. Instead, she pulled out his 12-gauge pump-action shotgun and blew him away. What were they fighting about? Household finances. If only she'd known about the Mets.