THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week is a terrific report, debunking the recent conservative hysteria about the “threat” posed by Sharia. The Center for American Progress’ Wajahat Ali and Matthew Duss published a very helpful overview of the “controversy” and the confusion that underscores the right’s efforts.

In the past year, a group of conservative pundits and analysts have identified Sharia, or Islamic religious law, as a growing threat to the United States. These pundits and analysts argue that the steady adoption of Sharia’s tenets is a strategy extremists are using to transform the United States into an Islamic state.

A number of state and national politicians have adopted this interpretation and 13 states are now considering the adoption of legislation forbidding Sharia. A bill in the Tennessee State Senate, for example, would make adherence to Sharia punishable by 15 years in jail. Former Speaker of the House of Representatives and potential presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has called for “a federal law that says Sharia law cannot be recognized by any court in the United States.”

Of particular interest is a hysterical report, called, “Sharia: The Threat to America,” published by the conservative Center for Security Policy late last year, which describes sharia as “the preeminent totalitarian threat of our time.” Ali and Duss carefully take the CSP nonsense apart, and explain why it might even be dangerous for policymakers to take it seriously.

[The CSP’s] purposeful misconstruction of the security issues America faces ignores multiple data points and turns all Muslims into traitors. According to a report from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, 85 percent of all terrorist victims are Muslims. The Muslim community, therefore, has good reason to ally with American interests to defeat extremists. Those who assert the most extreme definition of Sharia agree with the extremists’ definitions of Islam and help create an environment of alienation and distrust — which serves extremist interests, not American interests.

Adopting the CSP’s analysis — and the hysteria over the “Sharia threat” that it is clearly intended to provoke — will prevent us from working with our natural allies and weaken our ability to protect ourselves. The war against extremism cannot be labeled as a war against Islam. Taking such a civilizational, apocalyptic view could well become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Further, we actually allow extremists to operate more freely without a clear identification of the threat and a consistent and constitutionally defensible system for recognizing and tracking extremists. […]

The “Sharia threat” argument is so irresponsible as to almost demand a comic response, were it not for the disastrous consequences of adopting it. It’s important that its claims be interrogated rigorously, in order to understand that they should not be taken seriously.

That’s good advice.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing his week on the civil rights of American Muslims, helping serve as a more sensible bookend to Rep. Peter King’s hearing on Muslim “radicalism” three weeks ago.

* As governor of Minnesota, presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty (R) backed a policy that encouraged companies to offer sharia-compliant mortgages as part of his administration’s effort to expand minority homeownership. Given the right’s recent hyperventilating about sharia (see above), Pawlenty is scrambling to prevent a political problem for his nascent campaign.

* Philadelphia Roman Catholic Archdiocese, still reeling from a scandal involving the widespread sexual abuse of children, placed two more priests on administrative leave this week.

* Military Atheists and Secular Humanists, or MASH, hope to change the culture in the American military: “The cliche notwithstanding, there are atheists in foxholes. In fact, atheists, agnostics, humanists and other assorted skeptics from the Army’s Fort Bragg have formed an organization in a pioneering effort to win recognition and ensure fair treatment for nonbelievers in the overwhelmingly Christian U.S. military.”

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.