First up from the God Machine this week are some unsettling remarks from Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who sounded an awful lot like the head of a religious right activist group last weekend.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said Saturday the idea of religious neutrality is not grounded in the country's constitutional traditions and that God has been good to the U.S. exactly because Americans honor him. Scalia was speaking at a Catholic high school in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie, Louisiana.
At its root, Scalia's remarks emphasized two broad points. The first is the justice's belief that the United States has received divine favor in exchange for symbolic, rhetorical references from public officials.
"God has been very good to us," Scalia said. "That we won the revolution was extraordinary. The Battle of Midway was extraordinary. I think one of the reasons God has been good to us is that we have done Him honor. Unlike the other countries of the world that do not even invoke His name we do Him honor, in presidential addresses, in Thanksgiving proclamations, and in many other ways."
The second, and arguably more important, point was that Scalia believes government neutrality on matters of religion is fundamentally wrong: the Supreme Court jurist explicitly argued that there's nothing wrong with the government favoring "religion over non-religion," effectively making atheists and related secularists second-class citizens in their own country.
Or put another way, Scalia considers the principle of church-state separation obsolete, sees the Constitution's secularism as an annoyance, and prefers an American system in which government is so big, it falls to politicians and government officials to promote, support, and encourage religiosity.
My friend Rob Boston's reaction rings true: "Scalia has been on the court since 1986. In March, he will be 80 years old. Although he appears vigorous, there's a good chance he'll have to retire in the next few years. With any luck, his views on church-state relations, which seem to be anchored in the late-19th century (as does much of Scalia's worldview), will go out the courthouse door with him and never return."
Also from the God Machine this week:
* A changing faith landscape: "Muslims are on track to become America's second-largest religious group before 2040. That's according to a new analysis from the Pew Research Center, which estimates that Muslims will outrank Jews before 2040 as the biggest religious group in the U.S. after Christians."
* Wait, the pope is vlogging? "When Pope Francis cares deeply about something, it shows. On Wednesday, Francis launched a monthly video prayer series with an emotional call for peace between people of different faiths.... Francis, like other pope's before him, has long shared monthly prayers with the world, but never before via video."
* And finally, TV preacher Pat Robertson claims to regularly receive divine messages, and this week, he told his "700 Club" viewers about his prophecies for 2016. Among other things, the televangelist said Saudi Arabia's kingdom will fall. Saudi officials shouldn't worry about this too much, though -- as Right Wing Watch noted, Robertson's annual predictions usually turn out to be wrong.