First up from the God Machine this week is a look at the annual National Prayer Breakfast, which was held this week, and which welcomed President Obama for the fifth time.
Obama's annual participation in the event has become a point of consternation for some on the right, though for contradictory reasons. Some conservatives choose to pretend the president refuses to show up, despite the evidence to the contrary, while other conservatives acknowledge Obama's appearances, but condemn his remarks.
Indeed, last year, Obama explained how his faith influences his views on public policy, including asking the very wealthy to sacrifice just a little in order to help the rest of American society. "[A]s a Christian," the president said, his approach "coincides with Jesus's teaching that 'for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.'" Republicans were outraged -- Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) condemned the speech on the Senate floor; Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) left the breakfast in protest, and scandal-plagued lobbyist Ralph Reed said Obama went "over the line."
Obama's remarks this week, which focused on the need for humility, drew fewer far-right complaints, but the president was preceded by Dr. Benjamin Carson, a conservative physician, who used his time at the microphone to complain about "fiscal irresponsibly" and the national debt, before insisting that God wants a 10 percent flat tax.
Though conservatives were outraged that Obama tried to "politicize" the prayer breakfast in 2012, the right quickly celebrated Carson's remarks this week.
It's funny how that works out, isn't it?
Also from the God Machine this week:
* The Rev. Rob Morris, a Lutheran pastor in Connecticut, felt the need to apologize this week after participating in an interfaith prayer service in Newtown shortly after the Sandy Hook massacre. Morris was apparently reminded by the leader of his denomination that joint worship with other religions is prohibited -- even after a horrific tragedy.
* Roman Catholic leaders in Colorado finally agreed this week that it's "morally wrong" for church institutions to argue that fetus' aren't people in order to win lawsuits.
* Joshua DuBois, a pastor appointed by President Obama to lead the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, has decided not to stay for the administration's second term.
* Samuel Mullet Sr., the leader of a dissident Amish sect, was convicted this week for coordinating beard- and hair-cutting attacks on other Ohio Amish. Because the assaults were considered a hate crime, Mullet was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
* Ralph Reed wants the National Cathedral in Washington to be deemed ineligible for the "Save America's Treasures" grant program because the church performs same-sex marriages.
* And in Tennessee this week, Walter Slonopas quit his job as a maintenance worker after noticing that his W-2 form was stamped with the number 666. Slonopas also, coincidentally, was assigned the number 666 on his time card when he first joined the company (thanks to Tricia McKinney for the tip).