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This Week in God

First up from the God Machine this week is an annual study published by Gallup, showing levels of religiosity by state. The report, released every year around this time, is a reminder that, whatever one's assumptions about faith in America -- about seven in 10 Americans consider themselves "very" or "moderately" religious -- there are still significant differences between states and regions (thanks to Kent Jones for the tip).

Looking at this map, put together by Gallup, the lighter colors show states with fewer religious residents, and the darker colors show the opposite. Overall, Vermont is easily the state with the smallest religious population, followed by New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts, while Mississippi is on the opposite end of the spectrum, followed by Utah, Alabama, and Louisiana.

It's hard to miss the regional similarities. In the top 12 least religious states we see the entirety of New England, along with the three most Northwestern, Pacific-coast states (Alaska, Washington, and Oregon). Among the top 10 most religious states, nine are from the Southeast's so-called "Bible Belt," stretching from Oklahoma to North Carolina.

Though Gallup didn't mention it, there's also a political angle to this -- of the top 12 least religious states, President Obama won all of them except Alaska in 2012. Of the top 10 most religious states, Mitt Romney carried the entire list.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* This doesn't look good for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles: "Pressed to come up with hundreds of millions of dollars to settle clergy sex abuse lawsuits, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony turned to one group of Catholics whose faith could not be shaken: the dead." Apparently, Mahoney "quietly" appropriated $115 million from a cemetery maintenance fund to help pay the church's victims.

* A Republican state lawmaker in Missouri is pushing a bill that would "require that intelligent design and 'destiny' get the same educational treatment and textbook space in Missouri schools as the theory of evolution." It would also redefine words like "hypothesis" and "scientific theory" in a way Republicans find more politically convenient (thanks to reader R.P. for the tip).

* On a related note, a creationism measure pending in the Colorado state legislature was defeated this week. The proposal had been pushed by the Discovery Institute, which has spent several years crafting proposals intended to undermine belief in modern biology.

* And radical TV preacher Pat Robertson told his followers this week that Islam is not actually a religion, but rather "an economic and political system with a religious veneer."