PITTING FAITHS AGAINST ONE ANOTHER…. After stoking the fires of hate, fear, and ignorance for far too long, the McCain campaign seemed to take some preliminary steps on Friday afternoon to keep the blaze from spreading out of control.

If the invocation at a McCain event in Iowa yesterday is any indication, it may be too late.

Unhelpful for establishing the tone McCain sought in Davenport was the Rev. Arnold Conrad, past pastor of the Grace Evangelical Free Church. His prayer before McCain arrived at the convention center blocks from the Mississippi River appeared to dismiss faiths other than Christianity and cast the election as a referendum on God himself.

“I would also pray, Lord, that your reputation is involved in all that happens between now and November, because there are millions of people around this world praying to their god — whether it’s Hindu, Buddha, Allah — that his opponent wins, for a variety of reasons,” Conrad said.

“And Lord, I pray that you would guard your own reputation, because they’re going to think that their god is bigger than you, if that happens. So I pray that you will step forward and honor your own name with all that happens between now and Election Day,” he said.

Nothing says “unity” like trying to pit people of faith against one another in a time of crisis. As divisive tactics go, Conrad’s “prayer” — I use the word loosely — is just ugly. (ThinkProgress has an audio clip.)

To its credit, the McCain campaign distanced itself from this lunacy, issuing a statement denouncing “questions about the religious background of the candidates.” The statement came from the “Midwest Regional Communications Director,” instead of the campaign’s national headquarters, but it at least struck a relatively decent tone.

It’s nevertheless a reminder of just how far gone the Republican base has become. These are some very scary folks.

Post Script: Just as an aside, I can’t help but notice that the Rev. Arnold Conrad referred to “Hindu” as a “god.” There’s quite a bit of stupidity in that invocation, but if Conrad is going to denounce the faith of a billion people, and pit people of faith against one another, the least he could do is learn a little bit about theology. Hindu is a faith, not a god.

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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.