First up from the God Machine this week is a second look at the Republicans' presidential debate on Thursday night, with a specific focus on matters of faith.
In his opening remarks, for example, Ted Cruz noted that Iowans "have welcomed my dad to preach at your churches." As Time magazine explained, Marco Rubio was far less subtle.
When asked to explain how is trailing Donald Trump in the polls despite being hailed as the "Republican savior" by TIME Magazine, Rubio cited a savior he feels trumps them all. "Let me be clear about one thing, there's only one savior and it's not me," he said. "It's Jesus Christ who came down to Earth and died for our sins."
As if that weren't quite enough, Rubio made multiple additional references to "Judeo-Christian values," his own personal faith, and the senator's closing statement was devoted to his belief that the Bible "commands us to let our light shine on the world." The Florida senator also made four separate references to the word "apocalypse," a word that carries its own theological significance.
At other points in the debate, Cruz talked about energy policy by saying, "I think God has blessed this country with enormous natural resources, and we should pursue all of the above"; Rand Paul referenced British theologian Os Guinness; and John Kasich said in reference to mental-health treatment, "When I study Scripture, I know that people who live in the shadows need to have a chance."
There's no great mystery here. As Time's report added, "nearly 60% of caucus-goers in 2012 identified as born-again or evangelical Christians."
Whether Iowa Republicans appreciated the faith-based politicking or got annoyed by ham-handed religious pandering will become clearer in a couple of days.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders talked to the Washington Post in some detail about his religious beliefs this week. Among other things, the senator said, "I think everyone believes in God in their own ways. To me, it means that all of us are connected, all of life is connected, and that we are all tied together."
* This seems like the wrong call: "Late [Monday] afternoon, a federal judge in Kentucky ruled that creationist Ken Ham's controversial 'Ark Park' has a legal and constitutional right to receive a package of tax incentives from the state and, thus, the taxpayers." (For more background on this story, check our previous coverage.)
* Unexpected Netflix news: "Alongside programs like 'Orange Is the New Black' and 'House of Cards, Netflix now offers users another type of content: Christian sermons. The online video streaming service added lectures by four popular Christian pastors in early December. 'I believe if Jesus were on planet Earth today in the flesh he'd be on Netflix,' said Ed Young, one of the pastors, in a phone interview."
* Ohio state House leaders seem to like invocations, but they prefer to keep things brief: "The names "God" and the "Lord" naturally come up in prayers to open government meetings, though often in nonsectarian ways. Then there was 'Jesus,' cited by name seven times and even more by inference in the Ohio Statehouse this week. 'Jesus' might have been mentioned even more times, had Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger not cut off a guest minister, Pastor B.J. VanAman of the Pickerington Baptist Temple. The pastor appeared to test the leader's patience, and well as that of some other lawmakers, with a prayer lasting beyond five minutes" (thanks to my colleague Will Femia for the heads-up).
* Equal time in Arizona: "Members of a satanic group will give the opening prayer at an upcoming Phoenix City Council meeting. Some council members have objected, but city attorney Brad Holm says the government cannot exclude a religion from praying under such circumstances"(thanks to my colleague Kent Jones for the heads-up).