First up from the God Machine this week is an extraordinary exchange about the Bible with the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination.
"Well, I wouldn't want to get into it because to me that's very personal," Trump replied. "You know, when I talk about the Bible it's very personal." Asked to cite a verse from the Bible he simply likes, the Republican responded, "No, I don't want to do that."
When John Heilemann asked if he preferred the Old Testament or the New Testament, Trump responded, in all seriousness, "Uh, probably [long pause] equal. I think it's just an incredible, the whole Bible is an incredible, I joke, very much so, they always hold up The Art of the Deal, I say it's my second favorite book of all time. But, uh, I just think the Bible is just something very special."
Watching the video, it's hard not to get the impression that Trump almost certainly hasn't read the Bible; he probably doesn't have a favorite verse; and the GOP White House hopeful has no idea what the differences are between the Old and New Testaments.
I've seen some suggestions this week that the questions might have been inappropriate, since it's arguably unfair to press candidates for public office on personal matters of faith. But in this case, Trump has personally boasted, several times, about his great affection for the Bible. Given his posturing, there's nothing wrong with an interviewer probing the details of an issue the candidate himself has repeatedly emphasized.
Indeed, after talking about scripture in recent weeks, shouldn't Trump have realized that someone would eventually ask a question or two about this? The best answer he could come up with is that the Bible is deeply private for him, except for all the times he brags about his love for the book in public?
Regardless, this seems to be part of a larger faith-based focus. Last week, Trump even delved into the "War on Christmas" nonsense, telling an audience, "There's an assault on anything having to do with Christianity. They don't want to use the word Christmas anymore at department stores."
It's hard to know whether anyone will take such rhetoric seriously, but voters should expect to hear more of it -- the Trump campaign announced this week that he's arranged a September meeting with a group of evangelical leaders "to hear the heart of America's Christian leaders and learn what they feel are the most critical issues facing our nation today."
Also from the God Machine this week:
* Rowan County Clerk Kimberly Davis: "A U.S. appeals court on Wednesday ruled that a Kentucky county clerk must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, turning down her request to stay a judge's ruling that she said violated her religious beliefs." Davis' lawyers are appealing to the Supreme Court.
* Unequal treatment in Arkansas: "Legislators in Arkansas voted earlier this year to erect the Ten Commandments at the state capitol in Little Rock. This would seem to be a clear example of government showing favoritism to a religious code. But for now, other faiths shouldn't assume they'll get the same treatment. Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, offered to give the state a statue of Lord Hanuman, a popular Hindu deity often described as a monkey god. The group would have covered all of the costs to create, transport and erect the statue.... State officials were quick to deny the request."
* LDS: "The Mormon Church announced Wednesday that it would continue its close association with the Boy Scouts for now, ending speculation that it would sever ties because of the Scouts' decision last month to let openly gay men and women serve as leaders."