First up from the God Machine this week is an interesting shift in Americans attitudes towards Pope Francis in advance of his U.S. visit in September. MSNBC's Eric Levitz reported this week on the latest survey results from Gallup.
Americans are losing faith in Pope Francis, according to a Gallup poll released Thursday. The Pope's favorability rating in the U.S. has fallen from 76% in early 2014 to 59% today, roughly where it stood at the start of his papacy.
Gallup's report noted that the most striking change dragging down the pope's U.S. support is the changing attitudes of American conservatives. Last year, 72% of conservatives said they had a favorable opinion of Francis, while this year, the number stands at just 45%
To put that in perspective, Gallup also noted this month that among Republicans, 49% have a favorable opinion of Donald Trump -- suggesting that on the right, Trump's message is resonating slightly more effectively than the Vatican's.
The report added, "This decline may be attributable to the pope's denouncing of 'the idolatry of money' and linking climate change partially to human activity, along with his passionate focus on income inequality -- all issues that are at odds with many conservatives' beliefs."
Though Francis' standing dropped with more than one U.S. group, the decline in support among conservatives was the most significant, and it comes on the heels of high-profile criticism of the pope from prominent Republican figures, including Rush Limbaugh and several leading GOP presidential candidates, each of whom have argued the pope is addressing debates they want him to avoid entirely.
Or put another way, after Republican leaders urged Francis to stay on the sidelines of major political/moral disputes, Republican voters soured on the pope.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* This was a unanimous ruling from the 9th Circuit: "Washington state can force pharmacies to dispense Plan B or other emergency contraceptives, a federal appeals court said Thursday in a long-running lawsuit brought by pharmacists who said they have religious objections to providing the drugs."
* Don't be surprised if there are lots of similar lawsuits along these lines: "An employee at a county clerk's office in Indiana who was fired because she refused to process marriage licenses for same-sex couples claims her 'religious freedom' rights have been violated. So now she's suing."
* A right-wing news website, WorldNetDaily, popular with Rand Paul and other Republicans, told readers this week that Seattle may be poised to "implement Islamic law." Note, in reality, Seattle is not poised to "implement Islamic law."