THE BLOG
03/13/2008 11:03 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Violent Vision of McCain's Newest Mentor

In a chilling article at Mother Jones, David Corn describes the violent rhetoric of yet another one of John McCain's supposed spiritual-guides: Rod Parsley, televangelist and pastor of the 12,000-member World Harvest Church in Columbus, Ohio. Corn's article describes the violent language that Parsley has used repeatedly in his books and speeches to describe Islam:

The leader of a 12,000-member congregation, Parsley has written several books outlining his fundamentalist religious outlook, including the 2005 Silent No More. In this work, Parsley decries the "spiritual desperation" of the United States, and he blasts away at the usual suspects: activist judges, civil libertarians who advocate the separation of church and state, the homosexual "culture" ("homosexuals are anything but happy and carefree"), the "abortion industry," and the crass and profane entertainment industry. And Parsley targets another profound threat to the United States: the religion of Islam.

In a chapter titled "Islam: The Deception of Allah," Parsley warns there is a "war between Islam and Christian civilization." He continues:

I cannot tell you how important it is that we understand the true nature of Islam, that we see it for what it really is. In fact, I will tell you this: I do not believe our country can truly fulfill its divine purpose until we understand our historical conflict with Islam. I know that this statement sounds extreme, but I do not shrink from its implications. The fact is that America was founded, in part, with the intention of seeing this false religion destroyed, and I believe September 11, 2001, was a generational call to arms that we can no longer ignore.

Parsley is not shy about his desire to obliterate Islam. ("McCain"s Spiritual Guide: Destroy Islam")

Indeed, by cozying up to Parsley, McCain has given his disturbing speeches a new national legitimacy.  The alliance will no doubt help McCain rebuild the so-called Evangelical coalition that he needs to have a chance in the general election.

The Mother Jones piece is essential reading for understanding the Faustian deal McCain continues to strike to build up his base.  But it is crucial to note that Parsley's role in the 2008 election is more significant than just a religious leader who hurls violent language at Islam.  Parsley represents a deep-rooted problem in American politics:  right-wing pundits who use best-selling books and broadcast media to frame the debate in violent terms.

Parsley's views on Islam are just one aspect of his much larger violent vision--which focuses on the violent conflict between Christianity and what he calls 'secularism.' To read Parsley's violent language as he encourages his readers to join the so-called 'war' is to come face-to-face with the violent rhetoric John McCain will tolerate--even encourage--to win votes in November.

The best way to see Parsley's violent rhetoric in action is to go to the pages of one of his best-selling books.

Parsley's most recent book is Culturally Incorrect: How Clashing Worldviews Affect Your Future,
currently listed as one of the top selling books in the "Politics"
category on Amazon.com.  That's right: politics.  A casual look at the
shelves of your local Border's or Barnes and Noble bookstores will
reveal that Culturally Incorrect is not just any, but is a cash
cow for retailers, often displayed prominently on the shelves.  Sales
must be brisk, too, because the new paperback book is due out in
June -- just in time for a big sales bump in the weeks before the
Republican National Convention.

Even more disturbing than the convergence of religion, politics and
marketing timed perfectly to coincide with the 2008 general election
calendar is what Parsley actually writes in Culturally Incorrect -- how he frames the American political landscape.

American politics is a war, Parsley's book explains, and the enemy must be defeated the way the allies defeated the Nazis.

Curiously, there are two different titles and two different covers
for Parsley's book circulating.  In the first cover, which is the one
on Amazon and in bookstores, Parsley himself is on the cover wearing a
black V-neck sweater and looking decidedly metrosexual.  The second
cover, which I located on Google books depicts a blood-colored flag waving over what appears to be a war singed landscape. 

Crack open the first few pages of Parsley's book and we quickly see
which cover is a better reflection of the good Pastor's writing:

The entire book is cast in a metaphor of war that is so extensive, so thorough, that it reads like a literal call to arms. 

Lots of right-wing pundits use extended war metaphors to frame their
books, but Rod Parsley takes this literary convention to new
heights--or lows, as the case may be.

Consider this section from the book's introduction called "The Battle of the Bulge":

Beginning
with the invasion of Poland in 1939, Nazi Germany had marched unchecked
through most of the continent of Europe.  By 1941, the Axis armies of
Germany, Austria, and Italy had overrun Czechoslovakia, Belgium,
Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, and France.  Their only setback had
come at the hands of Churchill's tenacious Britain when Hitler's
ferocious bombing campaign of England failed to adequately soften the
nation's defenses and infrastructure enough to allow an invasion  of
the British Isles.

Nevertheless,  Hitler and his Axis allies seemed well on their way to
achieving the world domination for which they believed they were
destined.

At
this point, it is worth pointing out three quick points here, two  that
are in this passage and one that is not.  First, in this section
Parsley is telling his reader how they should understand the current
cultural and political landscape in America.  Like the Nazis in WWII
Europe,  America has been taken over by secularism.  Second, according
to Parsley, the only person who stood up to the Nazis was Churchill.
Third, since receiving Parsley's endorsement, McCain has produced a
Youtube Video ad in which he is compared to--wait for it--Churchill (I
am not making this up; go watch for yourself: "The Man In The Arena").

Now, after framing politics in terms of the fight against Nazis and
other fascists--including a description of the "horrifying" D-Day
invasion on the beaches of Normandy--Parsley then drives his point home
in crystal clear, violent terms:

For most of the last
century, the forces of secularism and humanism have enjoyed victory
after victory. One by one, the primary institutions of our society fell
to these philosophies.

Parsley goes on to explain
that, like the nations of Europe that fell to the Nazis, all the major
institutions of American society have fallen to secular humanism.
First the arts, then education and finally: government itself.

Parsley's violent vision of American politics is unmistakable. With careful rhetoric, he radically extends the metaphor of the 'culture war' with disturbing results--comparing the current political landscape to the actual blood-soaked battle fields of World War II--and encouraging his readers to see themselves not as participants in a civic process, but as soldiers fighting to the death against a fascist occupation.

Of course, Parsley is careful to say that he is just comparing the
two events--nowhere is there a literal call to arms in his book.  But
in politics, words are not just window dressing, and Parsley's rhetoric
follows a consistent logic of violence from start to finish.

Parsley's work as a right-wing pundit is a textbook example of the
kind of right-wing framing that has increasingly dominated politics
over the past five years.

Does Parsley's violent rhetoric and framing introduce the threat of real violence in American politics?  Not likely.

The real threat Parsley's rhetoric poses is to the democratic
conversation on which our system depends.  As right-wing pundits have
dominated more and more political topics with violent framing, key
aspects of the deliberative discussion on which or democratic system
depends are weakened and shut down.

Simply put, when a Parsley teaches his tens of thousands of
parishioners and his millions of viewers and readers to see political
debate as a war against a Nazi-like enemy--he is inciting them not to
shut down the debate itself.

McCain's embrace of Parsley is problematic, therefore, not just
because of Parsley's disturbingly violent rhetoric, but because McCain
claims to believe in a civil form of debate--claims to be the voice of
democracy based on deliberative conversation.

It is hard to see how McCain can stand with Parsley's call to
destroy 'secular humanists' like Nazis and still put himself up as a
paragon of productive and civil political debate.

Then again, maybe in McCain's mind it is  polite to liken your
political opponents to Nazis, compare himself to Churchill, and tell
his supporters that he will 'never surrender.'   

Cross posted from Frameshop