First up from the God Machine this week is an unfortunate reaction from a prominent figure in the religious right movement to the deadly tornado in Oklahoma earlier this week.
Just a couple of hours after the natural disaster, Fox News' Erick Erickson, with whom I nearly always disagree, said something quite sensible: "Someone please keep Pat Robertson away from the TV cameras for a few days." Alas, the radical TV preacher, the morning after the devastation, couldn't help himself -- in fact, Robertson suggested the storm's victims were to blame, asking, "Why did you build houses where tornadoes were apt to happen?" On a more theological note, the televangelist added, "If enough people were praying He would've intervened, you could pray, Jesus stilled the storm, you can still storms." [Update: I originally featured the wrong video clip. It's been removed.]
In other words, as Robertson sees it, if your community is ravaged by a natural disaster, it's your fault. That he chose not to blame the tornado on gay people is, however, a sign of progress.
Of course, Robertson wasn't the only one with an awkward theological perspective on the tornado. Did you catch this clip of CNN's Wolf Blitzer, asking a local mom if she "thanks the Lord"?
Let this be a lesson to media professionals everywhere: don't make theistic assumptions about people you don't know.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* It may be May, but policymakers in the Texas state legislature spent some time this week approving legislation to allow public school teachers to say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Hanukkah" and display Christmas trees, nativity scenes or menorahs. Combatting the "War on Christmas" is, apparently, a year-long affair, near the top of Texas' list of priorities (thanks to my colleague Kent Jones for the tip).
* Pope Francis caused quite a stir this week with a homily that said atheists can reach heaven through good deeds.
* Eight state legislatures this year took up proposals to promote creationism in public schools, and as of this week, all eight came up short.
* Congress clearly cannot repeal the entirety of the Affordable Care Act, but Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) believes far-right activists need not worry: "I believe God is going to answer our prayers and we'll be freed from the yoke of Obamacare."
* A high school student in North Carolina was arrested recently for going to school with two unloaded shotguns. Soon after, he was offered a scholarship to Liberty University, a far-right Virginia college created by televangelist Jerry Falwell (thanks to reader R.P. for the tip).
* Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown hosted an interfaith breakfast this week, featuring only Christians. Unlike in years past, the Jacksonville event included no Hindu priests, Muslim imams, or Jewish rabbis, and Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, and Orthodox clergy were also excluded. Brown later apologized (thanks to reader R.B. for the tip).
* Arizona state Rep. Juan Mendez (D) volunteered to deliver the legislative invocation this week, and used the occasion to announce he's an atheist. He urged legislators to look at each other, rather than bow their heads, and "celebrate our shared humanness." His comments were not well received.
* And the Defense Department published this photo yesterday of gravestones honoring a Christian soldier, a Jewish soldier, and a Muslim soldier, each of whom was killed serving in either Iraq or Afghanistan (thanks to my colleague Vanessa Silverton Peel for the tip).