First up from the God Machine this week is a closer look at Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney coming under fire from a GOP rival over matters of faith.

Herman Cain raised some eyebrows last Sunday with unusually-bigoted public remarks towards Muslims, with the candidate arguing that Muslim Americans shouldn’t even be allowed to build houses of worship if a local community doesn’t like Islam.

A few days later, Cain turned his attention to Mormons.

Republican presidential primary candidate Herman Cain says front-runner Mitt Romney cannot win the party’s White House nomination next year because of his religion.

“Romney would be a good choice, but I don’t believe he can win,” Mr. Cain told editors and reporters of The Washington Times.

Mr. Cain on Monday became the first of Mr. Romney’s nine declared and potential nomination rivals to say publicly and explicitly something long whispered: namely, that the former Massachusetts governor’s Mormonism is an obstacle too big to overcome in the most solidly Republican region in the country. The South has a high concentration of evangelical Protestants, many of whom doubt the legitimacy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“I know the South, and you have to win the South. Mitt Romney did not win it when he ran against John McCain” in the 2008 primaries, said Mr. Cain. “The reason he will have a difficult time winning the South this time is because when he ran the first time, he did not do a good job of communicating his religion. It doesn’t bother me, but I know it is an issue with a lot of Southerners.”

Unlike his anti-Islam comments, Cain isn’t saying he has a problem with Mormons. The oddity of Cain’s new argument is that he believes Republicans don’t like Mormons.

We’ll see if GOP primary voters mind the insult.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* A growing number of Republican governors are “asking constituents to join in prayer to God to solve their states’ intractable problems.” The latest example is Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R), who is urging her constituents to seek divine intervention for rain.

* In an apparent attempt at rebranding, Campus Crusade for Christ International, an evangelical Christian ministry group targeting college students, has changed its name. Given the theologically-charged meaning of the word “crusade” in many parts of the world, the organization will now be known as “Cru.” Yes, seriously.

* In Arizona, local newscasts have referred to a major dust storm as a “haboob.” This led some conservative activists to complain bitterly, because it’s an Arabic-derived term. “How do they think our soldiers feel coming back to Arizona and hearing some Middle Eastern term?” one local resident asked.

* Public Policy Polling this week published the results of a survey asking for God’s approval rating: “It turns out, if God exists, voters would give God a strong 52-9 approval rating.”

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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.