Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, from left, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum gather on stage after speak at the Homeschool Iowa's Capitol Day, Thursday, April 9, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo

This Week in God, 4.25.15

First up from the God Machine this week is an aggressive push from likely Republican presidential candidates to characterize social conservatives as a “victims” of a secular American government.
If this seems like a cyclical problem, it’s not your imagination. Four years ago, Newt Gingrich delivered one of my favorite quotes of all time, warning that if conservatives “do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America,” his grandchildren might one day live “in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists.” The contradiction was apparently lost on him.
Four years later, it’s Rick Santorum reading from a similar script. Right Wing Watch reported this week:
Santorum told [the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins] that, for the first time ever in U.S. history, religious liberty is under assault from a new secular theocratic system:
“For the first time in the history of our country, the government is attacking people, prosecuting people, calling for people to be rehabilitated…. We have the state establishing a new religion, a secular state religion…. We have now the secular church that is being imposed on this country and anybody that defects is subject to persecution and prosecution.”
For the record, I haven’t seen any evidence of any government agency “calling for people to be rehabilitated.” The notion of “secular churches” and a “secular religion” also seem misplaced, if not oxymoronic.
Around the same time, a likely Santorum rival for the Republican nomination, Mike Huckabee, also told the Family Research Council that the United States is moving toward “criminalization of Christianity” – which by any sensible standard, is completely bonkers.
This coincided with Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) arguing in a New York Times op-ed that Christians face “discrimination” unless they’re allowed to discriminate.
We’re dealing with the confluence of a few related storylines: the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments on marriage equality on Tuesday; fights over right-to-discriminate laws have dominated national headlines; and the presidential race is beginning in earnest, with leading candidates eagerly embracing the sense of victimization that’s common in social conservatism, pandering to the party’s religious right base.
The result, evidently, is some over-the-top nonsense about secular churches and making Christianity illegal.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* The Vatican on Tuesday announced “the resignation of a Kansas City, Mo., bishop who was convicted of a sex abuse coverup but remained in office – a fact that particularly horrified abuse survivors and their advocates. Bishop Robert Finn’s resignation will be seen as a key achievement for Pope Francis, who has said his papacy would show more accountability for abuse within the church.”
* Hundreds of Evangelical pastors attended training sessions this week in Las Vegas “to learn how to motivate their congregations to get out and vote, preferably for social conservatives. David Lane, an evangelical political activist and event sponsor, is eager to get preachers to tackle government policies from the pulpit and energize the estimated 30 to 40 million evangelical Christians who are not registered to vote.”
* Mark Strauss had fun report this week on why “creationists are praying we never find alien life.”
* And televangelist Creflo Dollar this week blasted critics as “the enemy” after he launched a fundraising drive to buy a $65 million private jet for his Georgia-based ministry. “You cannot stop me from dreaming,” the preacher said in response to criticisms.