First up from the God Machine this week is a closer look at an interesting question that came up during this week’s debate for Republican presidential candidates. CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked the GOP field a question we don’t often hear: “Should voters pay attention to a candidate’s religion?”

The responses weren’t exactly encouraging. Disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, for example, said, “I, frankly, would be really worried if somebody assured me that nothing in their faith would affect their judgments, because then I’d wonder, where’s your judgment? How can you have judgment if you have no faith? And how can I trust you with power if you don’t pray?”

Mitt Romney, hoping to become the first Mormon nominee for president, not surprisingly rejected the notion that “we should choose people based upon their religion for public office.”

Amy Sullivan had a good piece on the bigger picture.

Americans wouldn’t accept an ethnic or gender test for office. Why then do so many voters impose a de facto religious requirement on their candidates? […]

The problem is that religion has become so politicized that it actually gets in the way of providing that moral clarity. Yet liberals and conservatives alike have fallen for the idea that a candidate’s religious beliefs are the key to predicting how they will govern.

I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when I taped a segment for On the Media about how reporters cover religion on the campaign trail. In an unaired portion of the interview, I got into a debate about the relevance of candidates’ theological beliefs with host Bob Garfield, who argued that everything should be on the table. “Shouldn’t we know if Rick Santorum believes homosexuality is a sin?” asked Garfield. No. The only thing we should care about is whether a candidate like Santorum would seek to ban gay marriage as President. So just ask him that. In the end, his motivation for taking the position is irrelevant.

That sounds about right to me. If policy beliefs shaped by faith are what matters, voters should hear about those beliefs — not because of the theological underpinnings, but because we care about the kind of agenda policymakers will pursue if elected.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* New research suggests frequent reading of the Christian Bible leads to more liberal political beliefs. (thanks to V.S. for the tip)

* Roger Wolsey, a United Methodist pastor, put together the “10 Things Christians Should Know & Do about the ‘Occupy’ Protests.” (thanks to C.B. for the tip)

* And finally, remember Harold Camping, the guy who was certain the Rapture would arrive in May? He soon after revised his “calculations,” and assured everyone that doomsday would actually come on Oct. 21, 2011. That, as you may have noticed, was yesterday. We can probably expect a revised date again sometime soon. (thanks to R.P. for the tip)

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.