First up from the God Machine this week is a look at the deeply unfortunate reaction from some prominent religious right leaders to yesterday's school massacre in Connecticut.
The American Family Association's Bryan Fischer blamed the horrific violence on public schools' neutrality towards religion. God could have protected the gunman's victims, Fischer said, but chose not to because "God is not going to go where he is not wanted." Around the same time, Mike Huckabee made a similar argument on Fox News.
For those who can't watch clips online, Neil Cavuto said that many invariably ask after tragedies like this, "How could God let this happen?" Huckabee responded:
"Well, you know, it's an interesting thing. We ask why there is violence in our schools but we have systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage? [...]
"You know, God wasn't armed. He didn't go to the school. But God will be there in the form of a lot people with hugs and with therapy and a whole lot of ways in which I think he will be involved in the aftermath. Maybe we ought to let him in on the front end and we wouldn't have to call him to show up when it's all said and done at the back end."
So, by Huckabee's reasoning, the separation of church and state is at least partially responsible for a gunman killing 26 people, including 20 children. There are a few problems with such a perspective.
Theologically, many Christians believe God is omnipresent, and can't be "systematically removed" from anything. For that matter, there's very little in the Christian tradition that suggests God punishes children when constitutional law hurts His feelings.
Politically, Huckabee's comments -- seeking to exploit a violent tragedy to push a bogus culture war agenda -- are a reminder that the former Arkansas governor and failed presidential candidate occasionally just isn't a nice guy.
And legally, Huckabee doesn't have the foggiest idea what he's talking about.
For the Republican pundit, Americans "have systematically removed God from our schools," is presumably a reference to Supreme Court rulings prohibiting state-sponsored, government-endorsed religion in public schools.
What Huckabee may not appreciate is just how many religious rights public school students currently enjoy. Contrary to myth, students can pray before, during, and after school, so long as it's not disruptive to class. They can say grace before meals in the cafeteria, they can invite classmates to religious services, and they can form after-school religious clubs. All of this is legal right now, under existing law and court precedents, suggesting if anyone has tried to "systematically remove" religion from public schools, they've failed.
The only thing the law prohibits is schools and school officials interfering. Government, in other words, must remain neutral, leaving religious lessons in the hands of families and faith leaders.
Huckabee may find this offensive, and may prefer big government step in to promote religion. That's certainly his right. But to blame horrific violence on his confusion about church-state separation is, at a minimum, deeply unfortunate.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) declared last Saturday a "Day of Restoration" in his state, and called on his constituents to "collectively repent of distancing ourselves from God and ask for His mercy on us."
* The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, generally known as the Mormon Church, has shifted its teachings, and now believes sexuality is not a personal choice. The church continues to believe, however, that it is sinful to "act on" homosexuality.
* A Milwaukee-area Roman Catholic priest was stripped of his priestly duties last week after he presided over a Mass with a woman priest.
* And in Texas, a chain email prompted Dallas-area school officials to launch an investigation into "Islamic bias" in the district's curriculum. Ironically, the probe reached the opposite conclusion: there's a Christian bias in schools, not a Muslim one.