First up from the God Machine this week is an unexpected twist in a tiresome annual exercise -- the time of year in which the right says the left is waging a "war on Christmas." This week, one of the leading culture warriors on the subject, Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, presented an argument I hadn't heard before.
"Christianity is not an organized religion.... Christianity is a philosophy. You don't have to believe Jesus is God in order to admire his view on life.
"Millions of Muslims admire Jesus as a prophet. In fact the United States was founded on Judeo-Christian philosophy, that's what shaped our constitutional tenets. Again if you are stone-cold dumb and don't understand the difference between an organized church and a philosophy, I cannot help you."
The conservative host added that those who believe Christianity is a religion "are so stupid, it's painful."
Putting aside the fact that our constitutional tenets are entirely secular, what's striking here is that it's highly unusual for a socially conservative culture warrior to insist, proudly on national television in pre-written remarks, that Christianity is not a religion.
Every year, I think this annual exercise can't get sillier. And every year, it gets a little worse.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* Just as the Ugandan parliament again mulls a draconian law that would brutally punish gay people, the country's leadership is drawing praise from Family Research Council leader Tony Perkins.
* In Northern Mali, religious fundamentalists have banned all music and exiles have described "a shattering of their culture, in which playing music brings lashes with whips, even prison time, and MP3 and cassette players are seized and destroyed" (via reader R.B.).
* A federal judge this week dismissed "a lawsuit filed by a church coalition seeking to challenge Santa Monica's ban on nativity and other seasonal displays in public spaces" (via reader R.P.).
* And the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer said this week that if Americans use fewer fossil fuels, it's an insult to God.