THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week is an interesting report from Gallup, measuring religiosity on a state-by-state basis.

There are a number of ways to measure the relative religiosity of population segments. For the current ranking, Gallup uses the responses to a straightforward question that asks: “Is religion an important part of your daily life?” The rankings are based on the percentage of each state’s adult (18 and older) population that answers in the affirmative.

The United States is generally a religious nation, although the degree of this religiosity varies across states and regions of the country. A robust 65% of all Americans (across the entire U.S. population) reported in 2008 that religion was important in their daily lives.

Looking at the results, the top 10 most religious states are all in the South, with Mississippi the most religious (85% of state residents said religion is an important part of their daily lives). Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Arkansas were close behind. Rounding out the rest of the top 10 were Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Texas.

On the other end of the spectrum, the least religious state in the nation is Vermont, with 42% of state residents saying religion is an important part of their daily lives. Indeed, every state in New England offered similar results, with New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts rounding out the top four for least religious states. Rhode Island and Connecticut weren’t far behind, and Pacific-coast states — Oregon, Washington, and Alaska — were also in the mix.

Analyzing the results, Gallup noted, among other things, “differing ‘state cultures’ that are themselves associated with life approaches that give varying degrees of credence to religion as a guiding force.”

Also from the God Machine this week:

* A California appeals court ruled this week that a private Christian high school can expel students based on nothing but sexual orientation. I wonder what would have happened if the school accepted public funds through a voucher program.

* Speaking of California, federal authorities launched an investigation this week into the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles to see whether leading church officials “tried to cover up the sexual abuse of minors by priests.” The Wall Street Journal added, “The investigation is still in its early, fact-gathering stage, and it isn’t known whether any criminal charges will result.”

* And speaking of Roman Catholicism, Pope Benedict XVI has caused a bit of an uproar this week: “Pope Benedict XVI has lifted the excommunications of four traditionalist bishops, including that of a Holocaust denier whose rehabilitation sparked outrage among Jewish groups. The four bishops were excommunicated 20 years ago after they were consecrated by the late ultraconservative Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre without papal consent — a move the Vatican said at the time was an act of schism.”

* Yes, it is possible for Ted Haggard’s sex scandal(s) to get even worse.

* President Obama named Joshua DuBois, a 26-year-old Pentecostal pastor and political strategist who handled religious outreach for the presidential campaign, to head the revamped and reorganized White House Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

* Focus on the Family hired a new D.C. lobbyist this week, picking up Timothy Goeglein, who is best known for having served as the Bush’s White House’s liaison to the religious right community. Goeglein was forced to resign after getting caught regularly plagiarizing material for a newspaper column he used to write.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.