THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week is a look at President Obama’s attendance at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington this week, which generated a little more attention than usual.

It’s worth noting, of course, that many have raised legitimate questions about whether there should even be such a thing as a National Prayer Breakfast for the president and elected officials. In a nation that honors the separation of church and state, it’s an awkward tradition.

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That said, the tradition doesn’t appear to be going anywhere, and presidents have been attending the events for several decades. Given the right-wing’s relentless attacks on President Obama’s faith, his participation draws a greater focus than his recent predecessors.

I’ve seen some suggest that Obama was defensive at the Prayer Breakfast, feeling the need to defend himself against the ridiculous accusations of his unhinged critics, but I didn’t hear it that way. Rather, the president’s remarks struck me more as an instance in which Obama shared his vision on faith as “a sustaining force” in his life, and his larger spiritual journey, describing how he “came to know Jesus Christ for myself and embrace him as my Lord and savior.”

The president did, however, briefly acknowledge those who persist in pointless attacks. “My Christian faith, then, has been a sustaining force for me over these last few years, all the more so when Michelle and I hear our faith questioned from time to time,” he said. “We are reminded that ultimately what matters is not what other people say about us, but whether we’re being true to our conscience and true to our God. ‘Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you, as well.’ ”

I found the reaction from Mark Halperin, who is not always generous in his praise of the president, pretty interesting. On MSNBC’s “Hardball” the day of the remarks, Halperin described Obama’s remarks as “a brilliant performance,” adding, “This guy has game. If you want to make a long list, what are all the reasons Barack Obama is favored for being re-elected? Forget the Electoral College, forget the unemployment rate and earnings and all that. That performance [at the National Prayer Breakfast] has a level of sophistication and skill that not one Republican on the field right now can duplicate.”

Also from the God Machine this week:

* A large group of civil-rights, community, and faith groups have urged Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) to scrap plans for hearings exploring the “radicalization of Islam,” equating the Republican’s hearings with McCarthyism. King said he didn’t care, and would refuse to respond to the group’s concerns.

* A state judge in Ohio put a display in his courtroom contrasting the “Moral Absolutes” of the Ten Commandments with the “Moral Relatives” of humanism. In a unanimous decision, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week that the display is obviously unconstitutional.

* Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (I-Conn.) next big project, following the announcement of his retirement, is a book called “Gift of Rest.” It will reportedly be on the senator’s orthodox Judaism, and why he honors the Sabbath as a day of rest.

* It’s Super Bowl Sunday tomorrow, but some religion-based ads have already been rejected.

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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.