Snake handling in the U.S.

This is about the most literal example I have of how religion poisons everything.  The handling of poisonous snakes as a sign of faith is a practice of some Pentecostal churches in the southern United States. It comes, of course from literal interpretation of two verses of Scripture:

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. (Mark 16:17-18)

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. (Luke 10:19).

The practice had led to over 100 deaths and many maimings. This nine-minute documentary, narrated by Billy Ray Cyrus, for crying out loud, seems almost supportive of the practice.

Religion poisons everything.

93 Comments

  1. Posted May 22, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Well on the plus side it drums up a few good contenders for the Darwin Awards…

  2. Posted May 22, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Wow, stupidity knows no bounds.

  3. Posted May 22, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    (Mark 16:17-18)

    This is why, when I meet someone who claims to be a Christian, I offer them a bottle of Drano and a chance to participate in a little experiment…

  4. Posted May 22, 2012 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Did I get this right: you’re told that when you pick up that snake it won’t bite you, and when you lay a hand on someone sick, he will get better.
    Then some 100 fellow believers pick up a snake and get bitten (broken promise #1) and you quickly ‘lay up’ your hands to cure them, and they die (broken promise #2).
    And then you STILL pick up your own snake?
    Then that’s got nothing to do with faith anymore. That’s just plain stupidity.
    The same stupidity that prevented you from noticing that nowhere does that bible quote tell you to pick up VENOMOUS snakes! You should pick your serpents more carefully!

    • truthspeaker
      Posted May 22, 2012 at 11:23 am | Permalink

      If it bit you, it means your faith wasn’t strong enough.

      If you lay hands on someone, and the healing doesn’t happen, it means your faith wasn’t strong enough.

      You’re right, that is a blatantly obvious con.

      • PB
        Posted May 22, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

        You failed because your own lack of faith.
        Very good!
        :D

    • Tim
      Posted May 22, 2012 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, you think you’re so smart. If evilution were true, George Hensley wouldna died when he was an old man. He woulda been weeded out of the gene pool before he could reproduce – so much for yer hero Darwin!

      • Notagod
        Posted May 22, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, you think you’re so smart. Evolution is a process and doesn’t guarantee that stupid won’t occur – evidenced by the existence of christians.

        You are confusing what could be expected of a loving god with a process that isn’t expected to change the life span of a specific individual. If you remove your god you will notice that you can understand more clearly.

        Also Darwin didn’t cause evolution, he described the fundamental and natural processes that change life forms over, usually long, periods of time.

  5. Posted May 22, 2012 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    Bushmasters, black mambas, and taipans only respond to postmodern forms of radical orthodoxy and progressive, apophatic principles.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted May 22, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

      modern snakes, modern methods.
      ;)

  6. wordpressreport
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on WordPress Report.

  7. Sunny
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    After they get bitten, are they allowed recourse to snake antivenom (brought to them by Science)?


    I grew up in a Pentecostal home. And I thought “talking in tongues” was strange enough.

    • Posted May 22, 2012 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      “Talking in parseltongues”?! ;-)

      /@

      • Ichthyic
        Posted May 22, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

        it would not surprise me one bit if it was discovered that Rowling based her “parseltongue” concept on the Pentecostals.

  8. the Siliconopolitan
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    The wonderful thing about this practise is that it was never in Mark in the first place.

    This is ‘long ending’ that a scribe appended to the original story long after, ruining the excellent ending in many ways.

    • Greg Peterson
      Posted May 23, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink

      Yes, thank you…I was looking for someone to point that out, and you’re the first. Along with the post-resurrection appearances, this is entirely enterpolated or appended to Mark’s actual ending. Which makes taking it “literally” not only stupid but double-dumb-ass-plus stupid.

      • the Siliconopolitan
        Posted May 23, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

        To be fair: Scripture is Scripture solely because it’s Scripture to the Fundies.

        It doesn’t matter who the earthly author is, when in the end the real author is the Holy Spirit.

        Mark just forgot to write the right ending, so God had to inspire a later scribe to make sure Scripture contained all it should.

  9. RFW
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    At least one Appalachian state (Tennessee or Kentucky, I think) has or had laws against snake handling. IIRC, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal that this infringed religious freedom. Thus a legal principle has been established that freedom of religion is freedom of opinion, not freedom of action.

    This is buttressed by the convictions of various demented parents for injuring or even killing children in the name of religious opinion.

    Note, btw, my use of “opinion”, not “belief”. The distinction is a subtle one, but words matter.

    • Posted May 22, 2012 at 11:37 am | Permalink

      Snakehandling was illegal when I lived in KY in the early 1990s. There were one or two deaths in eastern KY each year, as well as cases of illegal pit viper hoarding/theft/sales. I was a graduate student at the time, and taught undergrad geology labs for four years. I had several students from snakehandler families each semester, as well as Old Regular Baptists and other local Protestant sects, and German Catholics who were the dominant religious group in that area. Oddly enough, religious tolerance was unexpectedly high, and my students didn’t seem to care that I wasn’t a “Kreeshchun”. None of them ever attempted to proselytize or argue with me. For most of them, it was the first and only science class they would ever take. Perhaps the novelty value was enough to counteract any potential protest.

      This was quite a contrast to my undergraduate education at a “state supported” college in Virgina in the mid-1980s, where a university-sponsored xtian organization operated like a vigilante group, routinely disrupting classes, confronting students and professors, and vandalizing dorm rooms of science majors. But they didn’t worship snakes.

      • Hempenstein
        Posted May 22, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

        Re. your undergrad college, like jac I went to Wm & Mary in the early ’70s. Among other assignments in Evolution class, we dissected Garner Ted Armstrong tracts (comically easy), which seemed to have come from another planet. We never caught a whiff of anyone on campus like you describe. Maybe just an indication of another time, but if instead another place, were you at Blacksburg (or possibly Madison – from several sources I gather there’s a lot of hard-core fundamentalism in the Fredericksburg area)?

        • Posted May 22, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

          Sign of the times and place, I think. I was at Radford, just down the road from Va Tech.

    • chascpeterson
      Posted May 22, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      According to the vid, it’s illegal in all states except for West Virginia.

    • gluonspring
      Posted May 22, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

      It is a kind of thrill seeking, like base jumping. If people want to engage in that kind of thrill seeking behavior I say let them, so long as you don’t endanger anyone else (including, of course, and especially, children), or cause some other kind of public harm (wiping out some endangered snake, say).

      • Ichthyic
        Posted May 22, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

        russian roulette is thrill seeking too.

        I’d bet you wouldn’t want that made legal though.

        In fact, I’d bet a single loaded chamber on it.

        • gluonspring
          Posted May 22, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

          You bet wrong, and seem to confuse what I’d allow others to do with the very different category of things I’d do myself. The things I won’t do myself are many: base jumping, snake handling, Russian Roulette, climbing Everest, etc. I regard all of these activities, and many besides, as having very little to do with me. If you want to engage in any of these activities, be my guest… knock yourself out.

          Maybe society has a stake if you have children, or a spouse. So maybe there should be something to address those third parties interests. Maybe you should have to pay more insurance premiums, or be ineligible for life insurance benefits. But if you are a single guy who relishes the thrill of a game of Russian Roulette, that’s fine by me, and I’m not going to vote for any law to stop you. I might tell you you are stupid, and warn you against it, but it’s your life, not mine, so I think you should get to make those choices.

          • Ichthyic
            Posted May 22, 2012 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

            you have very little consideration for your fellow humans.

            but in specific, you’re rather thoughtless about other ramifications of various methods of choosing to off onesself, not that russian roulette is even considered a primary way to do this.

            it’s why people bet on it.

            -It’s a form of gambling. That’s illegal in many communities.
            -If you shoot yourself, it is discharge of a firearm. Depending on local laws, that’s illegal in many communities. And even if you don’t fire it, most places have unsafe handling of a firearm laws on the books. -Finally reckless endangerment is also illegal in most communities.

            • gluonspring
              Posted May 22, 2012 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

              I personally consider it higher consideration for my fellow humans to respect their autonomy than to presume to compel them to behave as I think they should. Their health is at stake, sure, but I do not consider it to be moral to compel someone to do what is in their best health interests over their own wishes. I would not use the force of law to compel a competent person to eat healthily, to receive an unwanted medical procedure, to prevent those who wish to from hang gliding, or climbing Everest, etc. We are talking about extremes here with snake handling and Russian roulette, of course, and I agree that it strains the principle, but I see no non-arbitrary way to say those risks are too great or that the activities are too frivolous so that we must ban it (which is not the same thing as regulating it to preserve public safety, etc.) Or no way that does not boil down to me just imposing my own preferences on others. Snake handlers are easy targets because almost everyone regards them as ridiculous, but what they are doing is probably safer than climbing Everest. To say they will not be allowed is just to say that you should be put in charge of their lives instead of them.

              Insofar as there are public safety, environmental health, children’s health and welfare, and other public goods at stake, clearly there is a legitimate interest in regulating such activity. I took that as a given. The risk to children is probably real, and something worth regulating fairly strictly. It’s not a new category of risk. One would face issues if you took a child up Everest as well. So, obviously you can’t do anything you like without bounds. I didn’t say they should be able to handle snakes in a mall, or give them to children to handle, or round up all the snakes in a tri-state area and slaughter them wholesale. Those forms of the activity would involve some public harm that should be regulated. I am only saying that the mere act of handling a snake should not be banned, and especially not banned “for your own good”.

              Per your last points, I don’t know what this or that currently being illegal has to do with anything. Texas banned the sale of sex toys until 2008, and a reporter in Thailand faces 20 years for insulting the monarchy. The mere existence of a law is no stamp of virtue. It seems to me that the natural human tendency is to try to use law to compel other people to follow their own preferences whenever they can get away with it. If feel this is a tendency worth resisting.

      • Posted May 22, 2012 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

        Gluonspring, these snake rituals do indeed have serious environmental consequences. Most of the snakes are obtained by pouring gasoline down animal burrows to flush out any snakes. This causes a lot of collateral damage to hole-nesting creatures.
        When I lived in Texas my Earth First! friends and I spent many a spring protesting these stupid events. In Texas they are not really religious. They were sponsored by the Jaycees and other ostensibly civic groups. There would be contests like “How many rattlers can you stuff into a sack in 60 seconds?” Another big draw was some Texan biting off a live rattler’s head.
        One night, at 2 am, I tried to hang a protest banner on a water tower overlooking a park where one of these events was to be held, using a compound bow with fishing line attached; this would pull up heavier line and then the banner, with hooks, so that nobody could take it down. Unfortunately the omnipresent Texas police caught me and my friends and sent us to jail for the rest of the night….I told them I was just trying to see how high the arrow would go, hence the need for a reference object like a watertower, and the need to do it at night so I wouldn’t hurt anyone…..
        We then went to Plan B: we chained two of our guys to the entrance gate, with banners on poles stuck down their backs. The banners wouldn’t last long, but we had a NYT photographer with us who snapped the perfect picture of a snarling policeman attacking our chained guy, with the banner clearly readable in the photo. It made the NYT and the national Jaycees immediately ordered their Texas affiliates to stop embarrassing them.

        • gluonspring
          Posted May 22, 2012 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

          Yes, my parents have gone to some Rattlesnake Roundup held in West Texas. You may have passed them. It’s a big spectacle. It seems obscene to me and it’s clearly on a scale that is likely to do environmental harm. Then it’s not just you and the snake any more, it’s you and the health of the environment and that makes it everyone else’s business.

        • gluonspring
          Posted May 22, 2012 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

          I imagine that the Rattlesnake Roundups in Texas dwarf, by orders of magnitude, the activities of those religious snake handlers.

          But by all means, regulate the activity. Make them use captive bread snakes, treated humanely. Or put quotas on them. Whatever.

    • Jeff Sherry
      Posted May 23, 2012 at 9:34 am | Permalink

      There is a snake handling Church in Muncie, IN. I had visited with my anthro prof during the late 70’s. One thing not mentioned in the short film was the practice of milking venom from the snakes.

      As long as children don’t participate the adults can be bitten as much as they like. Although they do load survival their way with milking.

  10. AGS
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    No true believer would be bitten, and only true believers could cure those that had been bitten.

  11. Buzz
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    I took an undergraduate anthropology class (Magic, Witchcraft, and the Spirit World), where we spent about a quarter of the class talking about snake handling and its relationship to other forms of ritual. We learned how some members of these churches also do things like drink strychnine and other poisons. But only some poisons are used. The most dangerous thing about strychnine is the same as the most dangerous thing about snake venom: the body’s shock reaction. The people handling snakes (or drinking poison) are in an ecstatic state that largely protects them from shock, making snake bites less dangerous that they would be considered ordinarily (although they’re still potentially quite deadly).

    (Another fascinating thing I learned in the class was how claims of alien abduction plays essentially the same role in our technological culture that claims of demonic visitation and possession portrayed in much earlier times.)

    • Ivo
      Posted May 22, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

      I’ve learned of the alien-abduction / demonic-visitation connection from Sagan’s wonderful The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, together with some hypotheses as to the underlying psychological mechanisms. As the book came out in 1995, I (idly) wonder what the current understanding is.

    • L Delaney
      Posted May 22, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

      I was under the impression that snake venom was of two types: a blood agent or a nerve agent. The blood agent inhibits the blood from carrying oxygen while the nerve agent inhibits nerve activity, sort of like nerve gas. Three of the North American venomous snakes have the blood agent type. Rattlers, water moccasins and copperheads. The Coral snake has a nerve agent (I think). Maybe an injection of snake venom causes shock but it is hard to see how religious ecstatic state could interfere with these biological processes.

      • Ichthyic
        Posted May 22, 2012 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

        the “blood agent” types of venoms contain a lot of nasty tissue-digesting enzymes as well.

        ask anyone who has been bit by a rattler to show you their scar.

        • Ichthyic
          Posted May 22, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

          oh, and some vipers carry BOTH neurotoxic and hemotoxic venoms.

          there is a rattler in the SW US that has both, for example. can’t remember which subspecies now. Mojave rattlers seems to ring a bell.

          • Achrachno
            Posted May 22, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

            Yes, Crotalus scutulatus. Mojave rattlesnake venom is both hemotoxic and neurotoxic and it’s apparently a very bad idea to be bitten by one.

            • Achrachno
              Posted May 22, 2012 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

              I gave the common name incorrectly — “Mojave green rattlesnake” is more conventional. Or just Mojave green.

              I don’t think snake handlers use them in their services for some reason. Perhaps they could pick up a few in the desert on their next trip to Las Vegas, for a real thrill.

              • Ichthyic
                Posted May 22, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

                heh.

                maybe we could move on from snake venoms to other venoms?

                I know some bulldog ants that they could play with.

                japanese hornets?

                maybe eat some blowfish livers?

                the possibilities are near endless!

              • microraptor
                Posted May 22, 2012 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

                @Ichthyic- Komodo dragon kissing?

              • Achrachno
                Posted May 22, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

                I’m sorry but these alternatives are not going to work. The Bible does not say “They shall take up ants”. Nothing about smooching dragons either. The fundies would have outs on those right away. I think a puffer smoothie might have potential as a test of faith though.

      • microraptor
        Posted May 22, 2012 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

        Technically, they’re called cytotoxins and neurotoxins. Cytotoxins affect the muscle tissue or blood cells of the envenomed individual and the effects typically start at the site of envenomation and radiate outward. Neurotoxins affect voluntary muscle control and tend to cause paralysis or similar effects.

        As has already been pointed out, most snakes have more than one type of toxin that they release when they bite, so there’s often multiple types of problems caused with a single bite.

        It’s also possible for someone to suffer an anaphylactic reaction to a snakebite, but my understanding is that it’s something that’s most commonly experienced by people who’ve been exposed to snake venom often, like professionals who milk snakes for their venom.

        • microraptor
          Posted May 22, 2012 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

          Note that I’m not anywhere close to being an expert on the subject, I’ve only studied it a little bit.

  12. raven
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    wikipedia Mark 16:

    Most scholars, following the approach of the textual critic Bruce Metzger, hold the view that verses 9-20 were not part of the original text.[1] Textual critics have identified two distinct endings—the “Longer Ending” (vv. 9-20) and the “Shorter Ending,” which appear together in six Greek manuscripts, and in dozens of Ethiopic copies.

    To make this even sillier, the longer ending of Mark 16 is almost universally regarded as a later forgery.

    This is where the snake handlers and drinkers of poisons get their directions. I’m sure whoever forged it would be either appalled or darkly amused, depending on their personality.

    Somewhere else in the bible it claims that the power of prayer can move mountains. It’s never been done of course. Good thing though, otherwise competing groups of humans would be rearranging the landscape every day by chanting magic spells aka as “prayer”.

    Oddly enough, it is possible to move mountains. We humans can do it with explosives and heavy equipment.

    Science 1, religion 0, again.

    • David T.
      Posted May 22, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

      Yeah I was coming here to say the exact same thing, they risk their lives for a section of Mark which is almost completely agreed to be a fake from bible scholars.

      I read “Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia” a few years ago and its a pretty interesting book from someone who covered a group of these snake handlers only to become one himself for a short while. I’d recommend it to get into the mind of these fundies.

      • Snivellinglittlerat
        Posted May 22, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

        It’s funny to read about ‘sections’ of the bible being fake. Just sayin’…

    • gluonspring
      Posted May 22, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

      “the bible it claims that the power of prayer can move mountains. It’s never been done of course.”

      Sure it has. The disciples moved several mountains. They put them right back, though. They weren’t vandals, after all.

      • truthspeaker
        Posted May 22, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

        Faith may not move mountains, but I’ve seen what it does to skyscrapers.

  13. Tulse
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    “They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; [...]
    Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions”

    If they were true biblical literalists, these folks would recognize that neither of these passages says one can handle snakes and not get fatally bitten. The first says only that they “shall take up serpents”, not that they won’t bite and kill them.

    And of course anyone has the “power” to step on snakes and scorpions — I also have the “power” to be shot with bullets and jump off of buildings, but that doesn’t mean I’ll survive.

    “and nothing shall by any means hurt you”

    Taken literally, this is clearly a lie, since no one is immortal. Indeed, given that the guy saying this, the avatar of their god, was tortured and killed, it seems pretty damned silly to believe this. If this didn’t work for Jesus, you expect it to work for human?

    • Ichthyic
      Posted May 22, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

      I’m sure the retort would be something like:

      “ah! but Jesus in the end REFUSED to be saved from his torment!”

      or other similar mind-burningly stupid nonsense.

  14. Veroxitatis
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    A fascinating topic. There’s an excellent video on Youtube – “In Jesus’ name – taking up serpents” by Al Clayton – lasts about an hour. It is filmed in Jolo W. Virginia. The music is tremendous and well worth watching if only for the appearance of a grizzled old guy who looks like he stepped straight out of East of Eden.

  15. Posted May 22, 2012 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    This always gets me. With faith healers, snake handlers etc etc. You always hear the same phrase, “If you beleive strong enough” That seems to be the out they give themselves. “oh sorry she got bit and died. Clearly she didnt have enough faith” Loophole. Makes me crazy

    • gluonspring
      Posted May 22, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

      Wasted talent. They could have been putting that talent to use drafting tax law or some other such thing.

    • Mattapult
      Posted May 22, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

      So when one of them dies and they hold the funeral, does the Pastor say, “Sorry, but their faith wasn’t strong enough. Probably going to hell.”?

      I wonder what they would say if the Pastor kicked the bucket that way.

      • Ichthyic
        Posted May 22, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

        makes me wonder if any have tried it.

        “here, Pastor, show us the way!”

        *tosses water moccasin at pastor*

      • Winnie
        Posted May 22, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

        They say “And God was in that somehow. And what greater evidence of obedience to God is that if you died while taking up a serpent so that your salvation is assured?” Also in the video is the comment about the guy who survived 170 snake bites: “And God took care of him every time.”

        Saved if you die, saved if you live.

  16. Posted May 22, 2012 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    It still goes on. I had a pentacostal co-worker in LA of all places (he moved from Tennessee). He missed some time due to self-inflicted chronic arsenic poisoning. But they also handled snakes, as well.

    I’ve always kind of wondered if he’s still alive.

    And when I still lived in Tennessee, sometime in 2008, there was a ring of pentacostals busted for having 200 snakes — copperheads, rattlers and even cobras — and selling/trading them on the Internet for religious purposes. One of the ring-leaders was a preacher at a local pentacostal snake-handling church.

    • bacopa
      Posted May 22, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

      Handling cobras is very dangerous. Not because they’re that venomous compared to our local pit vipers, but because the local hospital doesn’t stock the antivenin.

      I know some people that keep venomous snakes as pets. They can be tamed and made fairly safe to handle. I am sure that religious snake handlers probably have a very deep understanding of reptile behavior. Some of them are probably as good as Steve Irwin.

      But I suspect they have learned these skills subconsciously.

      • Ichthyic
        Posted May 22, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

        Some of them are probably as good as Steve Irwin.

        exactly*.
        :)

        *for those that don’t know, Steve has been bitten by crocs countless times, risked his own daughter once, and was SURE, in his own words, that he would inevitably end his life in a croc’s jaws.

        ah, sweet irony that a stingray got him.

        Steve Irwin: one of only 2 documented cases of a stingray barb to the heart, and the only one to have died from it.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted May 23, 2012 at 1:05 am | Permalink

          Has anyone yet suggested that he obviously must have somehow pissed off God? ;)

  17. Posted May 22, 2012 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Religion poisons everything.

    I see what you did there. :)

  18. Veroxitatis
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Great satire on all this – Youtube Bob Jenkins Snake Handling Church Song.

  19. John K.
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    Hasn’t this always been the go to example of how crazy Christianity can get? With the immense examples of how this does not work, I cannot think of any other group that has stronger faith.

    So much for this particular “way of knowing”. Natural selection operates whether you believe in it or not.

    • raven
      Posted May 23, 2012 at 2:53 am | Permalink

      With the immense examples of how this does not work, I cannot think of any other group that has stronger faith.

      Moslem suicide bombers/terrorists.

      They don’t even expect to survive. Done right, it is 100% fatal.

      Makes the snake handlers look like amateurs, not that I’m complaining mind you.

      • John K.
        Posted May 23, 2012 at 5:48 am | Permalink

        A decent counter example, but the suicide bombers never get confirmation that those that went before them did not get their virgins. Snake handlers watch their fellow adherents get bitten and die of poisoning quite frequently. The suicide bomber goes on zero evidence, the snake handlers go on in spite of contradictory evidence.

  20. MadScientist
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    Aren’t they lucky that even the most deadly snakes don’t go around biting everyone in sight. Still, I don’t recommend people handle snakes if they’re not properly trained – not even the non-poisonous ones because they still bite and you might hurt the snake.

  21. Posted May 22, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Where can I sign a petition that this snake handling be made illegal in ALL states?

    I mean, come on: this snake handling is VERY distressing for these snakes!

    • gluonspring
      Posted May 22, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

      Have you seen a rattlesnake roundup? Now that’s some stress for snakes. They have a big one out in West Texas every year.

      • microraptor
        Posted May 22, 2012 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, they’ve even got a show on Animal Planet about professional rattlesnake catchers now. It’s pretty disgusting, honestly.

  22. Greg Esres
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    The handling of poisonous snakes

    Wouldn’t that be “venomous”?

    • Ichthyic
      Posted May 22, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

      yes.

      +1 pedant points.

  23. gluonspring
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    My favorite part of the film was the little silent film title that popped up briefly:

    The Bible is enough for salvation! Book larnin’ is the Devil’s tool!

  24. Hempenstein
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    At least not all mountain folk are into that. The Dry Branch Fire Squad is a great, hard-driving bluegrass group, and their leader, Ron Thomason, has an exceptionally dry sense of humor. This clip isn’t directly aimed at snake handlers, but here his atheist Uncle Wiley comes out on top in one story, and he takes jabs at fundamentalists in a couple others. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWJ8Apgk7dg

    • Keith
      Posted May 22, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

      That was hilarious! Thanks for the link.

      • Hempenstein
        Posted May 22, 2012 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

        Glad you liked it. If you can get hold of a copy of their Live at the Newburyport Firehouse CD, I don’t think you’ll regret it. It’s filled with more witty commentary (but not always aimed at religion) between songs, including one comment directly at either Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson – I’ve forgotten which.

  25. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    A few days ago on this blog it was noted that David Sloane Wilson was criticizing Richard Dawkins for the overly-negative metaphor of religion as being like moth-suicide when they fly into flames following the instincts whereby they normally follow the moon.

    Now if ANYthing is like that moth-suicide it is this snake-handling stuff!!! Of course, it does ALSO seem to bind communities together which is what DSW says we should be seeing as the real function of religion, however if does so (as Bill Maher would say) at too high a price.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted May 22, 2012 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

      David Sloane Wilson was criticizing Richard Dawkins

      I saw Sloan Wilson presenting his group-selection models of religious behavior here in Wellington last year.

      He’s out to pasture.

      you can safely ignore the man.

      • Ichthyic
        Posted May 22, 2012 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

        oh, if you really want to see what binds these folks together, it isn’t even the religion itself, it’s plain old authoritarianism.

        http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/

        • Achrachno
          Posted May 22, 2012 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

          Yes, if anyone here has not read Altmeyer on authoritarianism, you should follow Ichthyic’s link. You’ll be glad you did.

        • still learning
          Posted May 22, 2012 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

          Also recommended: Altemeyer’s The Authoritarian Spector.

        • John K.
          Posted May 23, 2012 at 10:50 am | Permalink

          How is it I have not heard of this until now? Thank you for linking, its fascinating.

  26. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    I don’t suppose that Billy Ray Cyrus’ work on this video had anything to do with the infamous photo of his daughter wearing a snake-skin bra.

    No probably not.

  27. bernardhurley
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    I once had a pet slow worm. Does that count?

    • Kevin
      Posted May 22, 2012 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

      I once made my brother kiss a worm.

      He was 5, I was 6.

      No harm was done to either brother or worm.

    • Achrachno
      Posted May 22, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

      Hmmm. Not venomous and not a serpent. Sorry, no.

      Or, I don’t know, maybe fundies think legless lizards count as snakes. But then we still have the mostly harmless problem. I’m afraid you can’t be a Pentecostal. Sorry.

  28. Posted May 22, 2012 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

    I was always told I’d go blind if I handled my snake.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted May 22, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

      only if you don’t pray enough afterwards.

      and the way they tell if you have, is that there isn’t hair growing on your palms…
      ;)

  29. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted May 23, 2012 at 12:54 am | Permalink

    Why are we complaining? Since (unlike almost everything else religiosos do) it has no adverse effects on anybody else, and furthermore, it’s kind of self-limiting and can only result in a few less Xtians, which is surely a Good Thing. ;)

    Though I do feel that someone should ensure the snakes are not mistreated in all this.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted May 23, 2012 at 7:58 am | Permalink

      They teach it to their kids, so it does have adverse effects on people we should care about.

  30. Pray Hard
    Posted May 23, 2012 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    Apparently, the snakes aren’t scriptural literalists.

  31. KP
    Posted May 23, 2012 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    The height of stupid in this video is how often the narration gushes about how the mountain folk value “religious freedom.” I bet if a few dozen Muslims arrived and built a mosque nearby, we’d see the limits of that “value” appear really quickly.

  32. Steve Wagner
    Posted May 24, 2012 at 3:49 am | Permalink

    Some years back I read about a custody hearing where Grandma wanted custody of the young boy and girl who had seen their father bit in the face and killed by a rattlesnake during a snake handling ceremony. Granddad and Grandma had gotten custody of the children when their son was killed with the agreement that they would not take the children to any more snake handling ceremonies. [Their mother had been found to be too involved in the snake handling cult to be a fit parent - which would seem to be way involved, considering how lenient the courts had been with Granddad and Grandma, who were up to their eyeballs with rattlesnakes and rattlesnake cults]. Granddad and Grandma had taken the children to a snake handling ceremony, despite the agreement, where Granddad himself was bit in the face and killed by a rattlesnake, with the children catching the whole act, as they had when their father had been stricken not too long before. The custody hearing I was reading about was Grandma wanting to get the children back from Child Protective Service, who had taken custody when Granddad got killed, with Grandma promising the court [again] that she would not take the children to any more snake handling ceremonies. The court had decided that there was too much risk involved if Grandma was again given custody of the children, and the children were removed from what was left of their dysfunctional family.


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