Monday, 17 March 2014

Religious  snake  handlers—fools, every one of them                        


Snake handling or serpent handling is a religious ritual in a small number of Pentecostal churches in the U.S., usually characterized as rural and part of the Holiness movement. The practice began in the early 20th century in Appalachia, and plays only a small part in the church service. Practitioners believe serpent handling dates to antiquity and quote the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Luke to support the practice of handing snakes during the church service.

In the New Testament and specifically in Mark 16:17-18 it says;

“And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” unquote                                      

Many years ago, a man accidentally swallowed a mouthful of liquid drain cleaner and it ate through his stomach and intestines and destroying much of those two organs.

And in Luke 10:19 it says;

“Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” unquote

Each year, tens of thousands of people around the world accidentally tread on venomous snakes and die from those snake bites.

The snake handlers in the churches I previously described often use native rattlesnakes and copperheads.

The venom of a rattlesnake travels through the victim’s bloodstream, destroying tissue and causing swelling, internal bleeding, and intense pain. Rattlesnake bites are the leading cause of snakebite injuries in North America.  If treated promptly, the bites are rarely fatal.

Bite symptoms of a copperhead snake include extreme pain, tingling, throbbing, swelling, and severe nausea. Damage can occur to muscle and bone tissue, especially when the bite occurs in the outer extremities such as the hands and feet, areas in which there is not a large muscle mass to absorb the venom.

A bite from any venomous snake should be taken very seriously and immediate medical attention sought, as allergic reaction and secondary infection are always possible.

The belief of religious snake handlers is based on spurious biblical manuscripts at the tail end of Mark's Gospel. What is really interesting is that the earliest copies of the Gospel of Mark do not include those verses. They were added centuries later.

Snake-handling churches are part of a larger movement concentrated in the central and southern Appalachian Mountains. Congregations can be found, however, from central Florida to Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. Because there is no national organization, the exact number of members is unknown. Observers estimate that there are 50 to 100 snake handling churches nationally with a total of approximately 3,000 members.                                     

Members of these churches who were bitten during services are approximately eighty people that are known to have died in the Twentieth Century after being bitten while handling snakes. Surely by now, these people who attend those churches have to know that Luke was wrong when he made that particular proclamation.

The history of snake-handling churches extends back to the early 1900s in East Tennessee. Tradition attributes the practice to George Went Hensley, a rural preacher working near Cleveland, Tennessee, around 1909. He claimed that he could handle venomous snakes without being harmed. He was dead wrong. He was bitten by one of them and died. From about 1910 to 1920 snake handling was widespread in the ‘Church of God’ based in Cleveland, but by the end of the 1920s the denomination had renounced the practice. From then on, it existed primarily in independent churches in Appalachia with a few in northern United States. However, in 2001, about 40 small churches practiced snake handling, most of them considered to be holiness-Pentecostals or charismatics. In 2004, there were four snake handling congregations in the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, Canada.                         

Beginning in the 1940s, several southern states, including Georgia, passed laws prohibiting snake handling in religious services. The law in Georgia developed after a six-year-old girl was bitten during a service near Adel, in Cook County. Police arrested both her father and her pastor, Warren Lipham, who later stood trial but was not convicted for the earlier death of a worshipper in 1938. In 1941 Georgia passed a law that made snake handling a felony punishable by twenty years in prison in the case of injury to another, or by the death penalty in the case of a fatality. The law was repealed in the 1960s. Today, the handling of poisonous snakes in Georgia is legal only by permit.  But in my respectful opinion, even that is going too far in the name of religious freedom.

Would the State of Georgia permit parishioners of these churches to swallow poisonous drinks in the name of their religion? Look what happened to the 907 followers of Jim Jones in Guyana who drank the Flavor Aid laced with poisons that included Valium, chloral hydrate, cyanide and Phenergan. The poison caused their deaths within five minutes. All 907 of them died.        

Some of the leaders in these churches have been bitten numerous times, as indicated by their distorted extremities. Hensley himself, the founder of modern snake handling in the Appalachian Mountains, died of snakebite in 1955. In 1998, snake-handling evangelist, John Wayne Brown died after being bitten by a timber rattlesnake at the Rock House Holiness Church in rural northeastern Alabama although members of his family contend that his death was probably due to a heart attack. A snake bite can bring on heart failure. Brown's wife had died three years earlier after being bitten in Kentucky. Another snake handler died in 2006 at a church in Kentucky. In 2012, Pentecostal Pastor Mack Wolford died of a rattlesnake bite sustained while officiating at an outdoor service in West Virginia, as did his father in 1983. Reverend Jaimie Coots of the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name in Middlesboro, Kentucky while conducting his service was bitten on February 15, 2014 by the snake he was handling. He went home rather than go to a hospital where he could have been given life-saving anti-venom. He died naturally. This stupid man’s belief that he wouldn’t die from the bite of a venomous snake begs the question—was he and all those others who handled venomous snakes during church services and died, crazy? 
Now consider another stupid man’s statement. Andrew Hamblin, the pastor of the Tabernacle Church of God in nearby LaFollette, Tennessee said after watching Coots dying;

“Reverent Coots died no matter what, if not by a snake, then a stroke or some accident. God’s appointed time of death trumps everything.” unquote     

Does anyone with a sound mind really believe that drivel?  If Coots had gone to the hospital and received the life-saving anti-venom, would he really have died in a car accident on the way home or died from a stroke on the way home?

What motivates these religious fools to handle venomous snakes at any time but especially during their church services?  I believe that Professor Paul Williamson who is a professor of psychology at Henderson State University explained their motives quite well when he said that survivors of venomous snake bites during church services get the feeling as to what is like to have a high which is higher than any drug or alcohol. They claim it creates a feeling of joy, peace and extreme happiness. It obviously creates a rush of religious adrenaline. Searching for that kind of ecstasy is senseless. Is seeking that kind of high worth dying for? And let’s face it. One can get the same high when they have reached the top of Mount Everest. It is the epitome of one’s goal that gives them the high. However, climbers take great steps to make sure they don’t die on that mountain even though some do. But do snake handlers in churches take great steps to make sure that they aren’t bitten by these venomous snakes? Apparently, a great many of them didn’t and they died. And the height of stupidity is that those who died in their churches while handling the venomous snakes in their hands didn’t have anti-venomous serum on hand to save them. Did these religious fools actually believe that Luke was right when he said that the venomous snakes wouldn’t hurt them?

These religious snake handlers are in search of ecstasy, daring to reach the edge of death rather than take the safe and secure middle ground of mainline Christianity. Mainline Christian beliefs do not search for ecstasy at the expense of intellect and commonsense.

 I really feel sorry for these religious fools who risk death in order to obtain a state of ecstasy at the expense of their lives.  If there is a God, I doubt that that such a god would want these people to die while handing venomous snakes during the times when they are praying to their god. Doing so is just as stupid if they were to walk into a roaring furnace in the belief that their god would protect them from harm just as God protected three men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, who were thrust into the midst of a blazing fire still tied up and walked out unharmed many, many centuries ago.

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