First up from the God Machine this week is a look at the role of religio-political rhetoric at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), where condemnations of President Obama and Democrats routinely went beyond public policy, and veered into matters of faith.
Take former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), for example.
As those familiar with the failed presidential candidate might expect, Santorum urged his party and conservative activists not to abandon the culture war in order to gain support from the American mainstream. "For those in our movement who want to abandon our moral underpinnings to win," he said, "what does it profit a movement to gain the country and lose its own soul?"
Santorum then turned his attention to the president.
Santorum accused the president of wanting to "close the deal" on a transformation of America 100 years in the making. He said Obama "wants to replace the 'why' of American Revolution for 'why' of French revolution -- a society that is Godless without faith," that is "anti-clerical, anti-God, where the government is the center, and they are the ones who care for us. This is President Obama's New Deal."
Santorum wasn't alone on this front. Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) also argued at CPAC that Americans are "dangerously close as a nation to rejecting the God that gave us that life" and who "gave us those rights."
It's unclear what in the world Santorum and his like-minded allies are talking about. Over the years, I can think of times in which Obama's critics have accused him of being a secret Muslim and a secret Jew, but a secret atheist desperate to create an "anti-God" country and "a society that is Godless without faith" seems especially outlandish for the Christian president.
For the record, Santorum's strange theory might seem less outlandish were it not for Obama's prayer breakfasts, religious celebrations, inaugural bibles, religious holidays, and church attendance, all of which suggests one thing: if the president is trying to create "a society that is Godless without faith," Obama isn't trying very hard.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* A U.S. delegation, led by Vice President Biden is headed to the Vatican to celebrate the installment of the new pope. House Speaker John Boehner, who is also Roman Catholic, was invited to join the delegation, but declined, citing scheduling difficulties.
* Speaking of the Vatican: "The election of a new pope could help heal the wounds left by a Roman Catholic sex abuse crisis that has savaged the church's reputation worldwide. For alleged victims, much depends on whether Pope Francis disciplines the priests and the hierarchy that protected them."
* A "religious liberty" bill that recently passed Kentucky's legislature appears intended to protect discrimination against the LGBT community.
* The White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships has a new director: Melissa Rogers, a scholar of church-state legal issues. (Disclosure: I've known Melissa for many years and I'm delighted she got the job.)
* In news that Rick Santorum won't like, the number of Americans who claim to have no religious affiliation is "the highest it has ever been since data on the subject started being collected in the 1930s, new research has found" (thanks to reader R.P. for the tip).
* And Mayors Against Illegal Guns launched a new ad this week, featuring a diverse group of faith leaders calling for more regulations on firearms.