First up from the God Machine this week is a look at a congressional prayer event, held for the second consecutive year in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol, featuring some rather remarkable comments from a prominent lawmaker.
Take a look at this clip of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), published by my friend Kyle Mantyla at Right Wing Watch.
For those who can't watch clips online, most of the Republican congresswoman's comments were routine -- Bachmann talked about her support for "humbling ourselves before an almighty God, crying out to an almighty God, saying, 'Not of ourselves but you, would you save us oh God? We repent of our sins, we turn away from them, we seek you, we seek your ways.'"
But pay particular attention to the lawmaker's thoughts on "judgment."
"It's no secret that our nation may very well be experiencing the hand of judgment. It's no secret that we all are concerned that our nation may be in a time of decline.... Our nation has seen judgment not once but twice on September 11. That's why we're going to have '9/11 Pray' on that day. Is there anything better that we can do on that day rather than to humble ourselves and to pray to an almighty God?"
Part of the problem with this is Bachmann using her platform to promote an event organized by Joseph Farah, a right-wing activist best known for publishing the loony World Net Daily conspiracy website. But the larger issue here is Bachmann's unexpected take on U.S. national security threats -- as she sees it, both the 9/11 attacks and the Benghazi attacks are related to divine "judgment."
This is not, as a rule, what politicians usually say about terrorist strikes. Indeed, from Bachmann's perspective, Americans are at least partly to blame for the attacks themselves -- we displeased God, the argument goes, and as a consequence, we felt the pain of God's "judgment."
To be sure, Bachmann, like everyone else, is entitled to whatever theological beliefs she wishes to embrace. But it's nevertheless jarring, to put it mildly, to see a prominent politician -- a former presidential candidate and current member of the House Intelligence Committee -- argue publicly that God's judgment of Americans' sins led to deadly terrorist attacks. Members of Congress usually blame the terrorists for mass murder, not us.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said this week he heard a curious religious perspective from one of his Senate colleagues. "I was recently at a Senate meeting where I heard a member of our Senate community say, 'God won't allow us to ruin our planet.' Maybe that's why we do nothing: we're comfortable that God somehow won't allow us to ruin our planet. That seems such an extraordinary notion that I thought I would reflect on it today." Whitehouse did not identify which senator made the comments.
* In the world of religion and music, the Catholic League is angry with David Bowie over his new music video, and the lead singer of a Christian rock band pleaded not guilty this week to charges he tried to hire a hit man to kill his estranged wife (thanks to reader R.P. for the tips).
* A Catholic high school in Columbus, Ohio, fired one of its teachers, despite 19 years of quality work, because school officials saw the name of her same-sex partner in her mother's published obituary. Voucher proponents continue to argue that schools like this one should receive taxpayer funding (thanks to my colleague Tricia McKinney for the heads-up).
* In Beaumont, Texas, a judge has ruled "that cheerleaders at a Southeast Texas high school can display banners emblazoned with Bible verses at football games" (thanks to my colleague Robert Lyon for the tip).
* As if Republican policymakers in North Carolina weren't doing enough damage already, the state Senate unanimously passed a measure this week intended to "clarify" the religious liberties afforded to public school students. Proponents of church-state separation noted that the measure grants "special privileges" to religious speech and "will likely invite constitutional abuses and costly litigation."
* And radical TV preacher Pat Robertson, who regularly assures his audience that he receives detailed messages from God, this week warned viewers about the dangers of false prophets. That's good advice, Pat. Good advice, indeed.