First up from the God Machine this week is a look at some of the religious rhetoric coming from Virginia Republicans, which strayed awfully far from the American norm.
On Thursday, E.W. Jackson, the Virginia GOP's right-wing candidate for lieutenant governor, doubled down on his previous theological condemnations of those he disagrees with politically.
Jackson has said in the past that he thinks believing in God and voting Democratic are fundamentally incompatible, so WLEE host Jack Gravely asked if he still believes it. Gravely explained that he's a Christian and tends to vote Democratic, just like his parents and family. Jackson didn't back down."You are saying for us, we're all wrong, leave that party. And all I'm saying to you is, if you said it before, you still have to believe it, why did you say it?" Gravely asked. "Oh, oh, oh I do believe it," Jackson responded. He continued: "I said it because I believe that the Democrat Party has become an anti-God party."
As a rule, major-party candidates for statewide office simply don't talk this way in the United States. American politicians have argued about religious issues since before we were even a country, but those hoping to represent a diverse constituency of millions of people generally don't argue -- out loud and in public -- that one party is "anti-God" and one party is pro-God.
Jackson, in other words, whose rhetorical excesses have made him a caricature of what a ridiculous candidate looks like, is pushing the envelope beyond traditional American norms. He's also lying -- while most secular voters gravitate towards Democrats, there's literally nothing about the Democratic Party or its platform that's hostile towards religion or the supernatural, and most Democratic voters nationwide consider themselves religious.
Indeed, Jackson went so far that Pat Mullins, chairman of the Virginia Republican Party, distanced himself from the candidate's extremism. "I do not agree with that statement," he told Salon in a statement. "My parents were Democrats, and I've got a lot of Democratic friends in Christian churches all around Virginia."
To provide some context, it's not at all common for a state GOP chair to criticize a statewide GOP candidate's rhetoric three months before Election Day. Jackson has apparently gone so far, he's too extreme for far-right Republicans.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* Pope Francis raised eyebrows around the world this week when he said, "If someone is gay, who searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?"
* A church in Minneapolis has been vandalized three times in recent months after expressing its support for marriage equality. According to a local media account, "Officers say the reporting party said several eggs were thrown at the front door and messages 'referencing homosexuality' were written on the siding."
* Expanding hate crimes data: "The Justice Department will begin keeping numbers on hate crimes committed against Sikhs and six other groups, in connection with Monday's one-year anniversary of the killing of six Sikh worshippers in Oak Creek, Wis." (Thanks to my colleague Tricia McKinney for the heads-up.)
* An unexpected success story: "Lukas Novy says he's a member of the 'Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster,' a satirical faith which teaches that a creature composed of pasta and meatballs 'created the world much as it exists today.' ... Novy, a resident of the Czech Republic, insisted that he be allowed to wear a pasta sieve on his head while being photographed for an official government ID. And he succeeded."
* Anti-Islam activists in Tennessee continue their efforts to challenge construction of a mosque in Murfreesboro, including appeals to the state Supreme Court. (Thanks to reader R.P. for the tip.) [Clarification: The mosque already exists, but the right-wing activists are challenging the process that led to the house of worship's construction. Indeed, the anti-Islam conservatives hope to prevent the mosque from being used by the congregation for worship.]
* The Kentucky chapter of the American Family Association is not only pushing for government-sponsored religion in public schools, it's now arguing that government-sponsored religion will "boost student test scores, lower the crime rate and even decrease the rate of HIV infection."
* And radical TV preacher Pat Robertson was asked by a viewer this week what to do about his home, which the viewer believes may be "haunted." The televangelist replied, "[I]f it was me I'd burn the house down and move on," but added that an exorcism might be more cost effective.