THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week is a good example of the larger dynamic among political conservatives this year, with competing contingents split between secular economic issues and religious culture-war issues. For much of the right, the emphasis on issues like taxes and health care should remain the focus, especially in the midterm elections, but as we saw last week, self-proclaimed moralists also have a religious war in mind.

It’s leading some Republican officials to shape campaign messages built around notions of “righteousness.”

The head of the Hawaii Republican Party is calling GOP Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona the only “righteous” gubernatorial candidate while urging pastors to bar Democrat Mufi Hannemann from campaigning in their churches.

In an undated e-mail that came to light Sunday in three Hawaii political blogs, Jonah Kaauwai also wrote that a vote for Hannemann or Democrat Neil Abercrombie is “succumbing to fear and advancing unrighteousness.”

The e-mail frequently cites Bible verses and uses other religious language to allege that Hannemann deceptively wants to visit church services to boost his support in the Sept. 18 Democratic primary.

“Duke will win because the church has been behind him the entire time operating in the POWER and the AUTHORITY of the NAME OF JESUS!” stated Kaauwai’s lengthy e-mail. [emphasis in the original]

Kaauwai added that Hannemann does not deserve voters’ support because he’s shown “no signs” of being “controlled by the Holy Spirit.” He also described the Republican candidate’s campaign as “Christ’s opportunity.”

Just to be clear, the letter wasn’t written by some odd televangelist, but rather, the head of a statewide Republican Party — who apparently believes in some kind of evangelical religious test for public office.

If the GOP’s right-wing base takes on a more moralistic crusade, these kinds of religio-political messages will likely become more common. It’s something to look out for in the coming months.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* As if the Roman Catholic Church’s scandal involving the sexual abuse of children couldn’t get worse, it gets worse: “The former leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Belgium urged a victim of serial sexual abuse by a bishop to keep silent for a year, until the bishop — the victim’s own uncle — could retire, according to tapes made by the victim last April and published over the weekend in two Belgian newspapers.” (thanks to D.J. for the tip)

* Right-wing radio host Michael Medved insisted this week that if the Christian God were a registered voter in the United States, “[He] would cast his all-important ballot for Republicans.” And if Medved thinks so, it must be true, right?

* Focus on the Family foists “abstinence-only” education on China. This will not end well.

* Legendary physicist Stephen Hawking argues in a new book that “the universe can and will create itself from nothing,” making the role of the supernatural unnecessary. “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper [fuse] and set the universe going,” Hawking writes. The argument is causing consternation among religious leaders in Britain, who are pushing back publicly against the new book.

* And in Afghanistan this week, U.S. Army chaplain Capt. Dale Goetz was killed, along with four other U.S. soldiers, when the convoy he was traveling in was struck by an I.E.D. Goetz, a husband and father of three, is the first American military chaplain to be killed in action since the war in Vietnam.

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Steve Benen

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.