This Week in God

THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week is an increasingly tense dispute over plans to build a Muslim community center near Ground Zero in Manhattan. To say that conservatives are throwing a tantrum over this would be quite an understatement.

At issue is the proposed Cordoba House, a Muslim community center which would stand 15 stories tall and would be built not directly at Ground Zero, but rather at Park Place, two blocks north of where the Twin Towers stood in lower Manhattan. The center would include a prayer space, a performing arts center, a swimming pool, and other amenities. The effort is being spearheaded by a longtime local imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf, who has said the center would “bridge and heal a divide” and has said it’s his mission to fight radicalism. A local community board voted this week by 29-1 to support the project.

But in the nightmares of right-wingers, the project has been transformed into something more like a shrine to the 9/11 terrorists stuck on top of the site where victims of the attack lay buried, and pushed by a radical Islamic cleric.

The far-right Washington Times argued a Muslim community center may represent “an attempt to hijack the memory of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks,” a sentiment endorsed by Liz Cheney’s right-wing activist group. A right-wing radio host told listeners he hopes “somebody blows it up” if the Cordoba House is built. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) is disappointed that, under the First Amendment, the facility cannot legally be blocked.

One wonders if these conservatives appreciate the way this undermines the nation’s diplomatic and foreign policy interests — or the way in which this will be used by terrorists trying to recruit followers.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) tried to push a provision into this week’s defense spending bill that would have empowered military chaplains to proselytize at public events. Military chaplains can already lead sectarian prayers at sectarian worship services, but for Bachmann that wasn’t good enough. Her amendment failed.

* Gallup continues to track the growing number of Americans who have no religious identity: “Americans have become increasingly less tied to formal religion in recent decades, with the percentage saying they do not have a specific religious identity growing from near zero in the 1950s to 16% this year and last.” (thanks to D.J. for the tip)

* The Obama White House this week hosted a reception marking Jewish Heritage Month. That may not seem especially noteworthy, but it was the first time any White House has hosted such an event.

* And finally, about three years after Rupert Murdoch purchased Beliefnet, one of the largest and most prominent religion sites online, the News Corp. CEO is looking to sell it.