THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week is a look at the rift between the religious right movement and the Republican leadership.

In some ways, the notion of a rift is itself hard to imagine. The religious right is a part of the Republican Party mainstream — it’s like having a rift between a finger and the rest of the hand. But there are obvious strains between the two and they’re getting more serious.

It began in 2005 and 2006, when the religious right assumed it would finally get action — Republican White House, Republican Senate, Republican House — and GOP lawmakers largely ignored the movement’s wish-list. It grew more intense when the religious right said that under no circumstances could John McCain be the Republican presidential nominee. And it became even worse after the movement balked at Michael Steele’s candidacy for RNC chair, and he won the gig anyway.

Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, perhaps the most prominent religious right activist in the country, told U.S. News this week that he expects the Republican establishment and the RNC to start doing far more to make him happy. Asked if Steele needs to “proactively reach out to his party’s social conservative” base, Perkins said:

“It’s a good way to put it. Given the present standing of the Republican Party among social conservatives, the bridge building is going to have to be from the party out. Social conservatives are not going to be banging the door down to establish a relationship with the GOP. The party leadership is going to have to show a good-faith effort….

“[S]ocial conservatives are still committed to the issues and still involved in the political process, but don’t see the GOP as the only means to affect things in this culture. And to the degree that the party is not moving with them, they are not going to move with it. There is not the strong connection to the Republican Party that there once was. I’m more representative of the younger generation and I don’t have as strong allegiance to the Republican Party. And to the degree that they try to avoid the values issues and put them at the back of the bus, I don’t have a lot of desire to mess around with that.”

Keep an eye on this in the coming years. For more than a decade, the religious right was Charlie Brown and the Republican establishment was Lucy holding a football. Every election cycle, the GOP would tell conservative evangelical activists that if they served as the foot-soldiers, the party would deliver on the agenda. The religious right is now starting to second guess the relationship.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* NYT: “Responding to global outrage, especially in Pope Benedict XVI’s native Germany, the Vatican for the first time on Wednesday called on a recently rehabilitated bishop to take back his statements denying the Holocaust…. A statement issued on Wednesday by the Vatican Secretariat of State said that Bishop Williamson ‘must absolutely, unequivocally and publicly distance himself from his positions on the Shoah,’ or Holocaust, which it said were ‘unknown to the Holy Father at the time he revoked the excommunication.’”

* The Rev. Robert H. Schuller’s empire and “Hour of Power” broadcast appears to be crumbling quickly around him.

* Atheist groups around the world launched a high-profile campaign recently with ads on buses. Predictably, the ads have prompted a new round of counter-ads.

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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.