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This Week in God

First up from the God Machine this week is a look at the Faith & Freedom Coalition's big event in Washington -- this year's not-so-subtle theme: "Road to the Majority" -- where activists from the religious right movement heard from all kinds of political and theological leaders about the need for an ongoing culture war.

But of particular interest were remarks from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), whose libertarian views do not always dovetail with the social conservative worldview, but who also thought of a way to present his agenda in a way the religious right finds appealing.

For those who can't watch clips online, Right Wing Watch, which posted the video, also provided a transcript:

"It saddens me to see these countries that are supposedly our allies that they continue to persecute Christians. It angers me to see my tax dollars supporting regimes that put Christians to death for blasphemy against Islam, countries that put to death Muslims who convert to Christianity and countries who imprison anyone who marries outside their religion, I say no more money to countries that are doing that to Christians. There is a war on Christianity, not just from liberal elites here at home, but worldwide. And your government, or more correctly, you are having to pay for it. You are being taxed to send money to countries that are not only intolerant of Christians but openly hostile.

"In Egypt, in Pakistan, they burn our flag -- I say not one penny more to countries that are burning the American flag."

So, the United States already devotes a very small percentage of our budget to foreign aid, and the Kentucky Republican wants to make it much smaller. But to sell this idea to the Faith & Freedom Coalition, Paul has to put a specific spin on his preferred approach: we shouldn't just cut off aid for libertarian principles, we should cut off aid to Muslim countries.

But what I saw as the funny part was Paul's contention that countries that burn American flags shouldn't get American aid. The trouble with that argument? Americans can and occasionally do burn American flags -- and Paul might have trouble cutting off all domestic aid.

As for the notion that "liberal elites" in the U.S. are waging "a war on Christianity," the argument is plainly silly, and Paul's remarks help demonstrate why. When American progressives start pushing for laws that that put Christians to death for blasphemy, kill Christian converts, and imprison those who marry outside their faith, Rand Paul and the Faith & Freedom Coalition might have a point. In the meantime, religious liberty is alive and well here at home.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* A victory over discrimination: "A Catholic school teacher who was fired after she became pregnant through artificial insemination was awarded more than $170,000 Monday after winning her anti-discrimination lawsuit against an Ohio archdiocese. A federal jury found that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati discriminated against Christa Dias by firing her in October 2010" (thanks to reader R.P. for the heads-up).

* Glenn Beck, citing the Book of Mormon, thinks the world is coming to an end -- literally.

* Unexpected remarks from the new pope: "For years, perhaps even centuries, it has been an open secret in Rome: Some prelates in the Vatican hierarchy are, in fact, gay. But the whispers were amplified this week when Pope Francis himself, in a private audience, appeared to have acknowledged what he called a 'gay lobby' operating inside the Vatican, vying for power and influence."

* As North Carolina's Republican-led legislature continues to pursue a very right-wing agenda, local leaders of the faith community are getting more involved in protesting needlessly punitive new state laws. This week, at a rainy "Moral Monday" protest, 84 clergy members were arrested for civil disobedience.

* And in a terrific example of a man lacking in self-awareness, radical TV preacher Pat Robertson told his viewers that disaster prophecies are "nutty" and come "from the pit of hell." For the record, Robertson has spent much of his career making disaster prophecies, which invariably do not come true.