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Show Notes - Episode 99

February 14, 2022

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snake_handling_in_Christianity

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ophites

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Hopi#ref239442

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiva

https://www.businessinsider.com/the-11-nations-of-the-united-states-2015-7

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/despite-pastors-death-followers-are-still-handling-snakes/

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/snake-handling-kentucky-pastor-dies-from-snake-bite/

https://abcnews.go.com/US/snake-handling-pentecostal-pastor-dies-snake-bite/story?id=22551754

 

Now if tonight's topic isn't a clear case of people choosing their own fucked up, crazy, and fundamentally awful better story I don't know what is. I also have no clue what the writer of Mark's gospel was thinking when they came up with their version of the great commission because if they'd had just kept it simple like the rest, we probably wouldn't have this subject to talk about tonight. I'm Spider...

 

...and tonight we're talking about snake handlers – a fringe sect of the Pentecostal Holiness movement who take biblical literalism to a huge and often deadly extreme. What is the fascination with doing something that is clearly dangerous and which even they concede can have deadly consequences because, after all, when it's you're time to go, it's your time to go, even if you die “fulfilling the word of God.” Some would say especially if you die fulfilling the word of God. But before we get into that...

 

The evangelical Matrix, The Pro-Life Minority Report and Greg Locke proving once again that vile and ignorant are an intellectually lethal combination. It's Christians behaving badly: The Abject Stupidity Trifecta Edition

 

CBB 99

 

https://www.rightwingwatch.org/post/anti-vaccine-expert-sherri-tenpenny-says-covid-19-vaccines-will-turn-people-into-transhumanist-cyborgs/

 

Sheri Tenpenny, an influential religious-right activist and anti-vax “expert” says that the COVID-19 vaccine will...let's see, this is quite a claim... “Turn people into transhumanist cyborgs.” Also that they will be hooked up to the 'internet of things' and controlled by magnets and 5G.

 

These are a few of the sorts of conspiracy theories that Tenpenny has spread on various podcasts, the ReAwaken conservative events and even the Ohio State House.

 

Here's a quote from her appearance on the 'Stew Peters Show' where she tries to explain these things:

 

“The whole issue of quantum entanglement and what the shots do in terms of the frequencies and the electronic frequencies that come inside of your body and hook you up to the ‘Internet of Things,’ the quantum entanglement that happens immediately after you’re injected,” she continued. “You get hooked up to what they’re trying to develop. It’s called the hive mind, and they want all of us there as a node and as an electronic avatar that is an exact replica of us except it’s an electronic replica, it’s not our God given body that we were born with. And all of that will be running through the metaverse that they’re talking about. All of these things are real, Stew. All of them. And it’s happening right now. It’s not some science fiction thing happening out in the future; it’s happening right now in real time.”

 

Well she says it's all real so it must be true, right? I'm not sure how people come up with this stuff. I'm constantly surprised by the nonsense.

 

https://onlysky.media/hemant-mehta/mi-gop-gubernatorial-candidate-urges-rape-victims-to-be-heroic-and-give-birth/

 

This next story... well I can't explain it nearly as well as Hemant Mehta so I'll let him do it:

 

“Michigan gubernatorial candidate Garrett Soldano, a chiropractor who’s never run for any public office before, recently told right-wing anti-mask host April Moss of “Real America’s Voice” that women who are raped should thank God for the situation they’re in because that child “may be the next president.”

 

Why dos he think this? Because he knows a great guy whose mother was gang raped but hey, HE turned out okay so why doesn't every woman carry the child of their rapist to term? They could ALSO be great guys! He goes on to say the following:

 

“And so what we must start to focus on is not only to defend the DNA when it’s created, but however, how about we start inspiring women in the culture to let them understand and know how heroic they are, and how unbelievable that they are, that God put them in this moment, and they don’t know that little baby inside them may be the next president! May be the next person that changes, um, humanity. May get us out of the situation, maybe in the future. We don’t know that!”

 

Of course there's no thought for what this traumatized woman might be going through, no consideration that SHE might be the next president, or that SHE might change humanity. Nope.

 

“Keep in mind that Soldano, like most Republicans, also opposes the sort of structural policies that would assist women in that very situation. Instead of creating a world where unwanted pregnancies don’t occur, or where women who go through with an unplanned pregnancy have the support they need to raise the child, he just magically assumes everything will be okay post-birth. He added elsewhere in the interview that he supports the Texas anti-abortion law banning the procedure before most women even know they’re pregnant.”

 

He's serious, too. His website says “that he will fight women’s rights at every turn because he’s “guided by our shared conservative values and faith in our Creator.”  Everyone who isn't a Conservative is going to suffer under his rule because they, of course, are not worthy of representation.

 

While there's push back from the Democratic side, it's terrifying that this guy is running—and all of the other Republican candidates for the Michigan gubernatorial race have said many of the same things.

 

https://deadstate.org/pastor-greg-locke-children-with-autism-are-inviting-demonic-possession/

https://www.politicalflare.com/2022/01/far-right-pastor-claims-kids-with-autism-are-actually-demonically-possessed-and-its-just-so-horrible/

 

 

And finally, from “the guy I want to punch in the face”, Pastor Greg Locke. And this time, it's personal.

 

Man, when Greg Locke starts out saying “Do not jump up right now and rebuke me for what I’m about to say,” you know it's not going to be anything sensible or valuable. Not that anything he says actually is, of course. After that he talked about “children who were “brought to Jesus that had epileptic fits, anger issues, outbursts of emotion…”

 

He goes on with a doozy:

 

“And because we called it ‘possession,’ parents refused to deal with it,” he continued. “‘Are you telling me my kid’s possessed?’ No — I’m telling your kid has been demonized and attacked, but your doctor calls it autism. I don’t care if you stand or not, I don’t care if you leave or not. I tell you, there’s deliverance in the name of Jesus Christ for your children, and their children’s children!”

 

and then: “ain't no such diagnosis in the bible!”

 

Yeah. You know what else isn't in the bible? Cancer. Diabetes. Influenza. Because this was written by Bronze age desert dwellers who called acne “leprosy.” Locke likes to deny modern medicine, it seems, at every turn.

 

Thankfully, since the clip was posted to Twitter, plenty have responded to the tweet, pointing out the logical flaws in Locke's ideas. However, “many people pointed out that though Locke’s ideas seem so far-fetched that everyone would recognize them as untrue, they could still potentially have psychological damage on individuals and society as a whole.”

 

PATREON
PROMO

 

Tonight is episode 99!

Suffering For Jesus – How Evangelicals Define Religious Persecution Feb 13

Biblical Contradictions – Errors in the Inerrant Word of God Feb 20

No episode on Feb. 27

Unbound at the Movies: The Village March 6

 

So I looked at a lot of sources for tonight's episode but it kind of whittles down to just a couple and most of the ones that came up on the first page of a Google search referenced a reality series called “Snake Salvation.” It's no surprise to me why a bunch of reality trash TV producers (I don't care that they work for NatGeo) zeroed in on this church and this idiot's croanies. After all, the more outrageous the “reality” the more viewers you get. Snake Salvation follows the goings-on in several snake-handling churches throughout Appalachia, particularly the one pastored by Andrew Hamblin.

 

While old-timers in this movement avoided such vices as smoking and swearing, dressed modestly, eschewed divorce, and never spoke to reporters, Hamblin openly enjoyed cigarettes, never insisted on a dress code, and welcomed media. His congregation was just as likely to include grandmothers in floor-length skirts and chignons as recovered drug addicts and women in denim, rhinestones, and white leather boots. Ironically, it is this latter group—younger and far more worldly—that now breathes new life into this controversial practice.

 

They call this the Land of Misfits Church,” Michelle Gray, who’d driven 90 miles to attend the homecoming, told me. “People with a past come to Andrew’s.” Gray introduced her teenage daughter, Madison, who’d just started handling snakes, an experience she described as “overwhelming and exciting.”

 

You know, sweetie, there are other exciting things to do out there. Ride a rollercoaster. Go to a waterpark. Get a boyfriend. I mean... the possibilities are endless and they just flat out don't need to extend to handling snakes. And mom... don't even get me started.

 

Soujourner's magazine (one of the only religion publications I'll give the time of day) sets the stage for the mayhem this way:

 

When Andrew Hamblin walks into church to preach on a Sunday morning, he brings along death in a box.

 

If the Holy Spirit moves him during the service, he will open the box’s hinged glass lid and remove a poisonous snake — one of several he keeps at his house — and dance with it, sometimes wearing it, sometimes jerking it about, as his small Tennessee congregation sings and chants.

 

And these people are SO delusional they think they can't follow the “whole gospel” without engaging in this practice that quite literally calls them to what author Julia Duin refers to as the radical edge of Christianity, where life and death meet every time you walk into church and pick up a snake (paraphrhased). Her book In the House of the Serpent Handler: A Story of Faith and Fleeting Fame in the Age of Social Media recounts how she “embedded herself in multiple Appalachian snake-handling congregations like Hamblin’s” to learn what motivates people to embrace this potentially deadly expression of faith.

 

Snake handling is a largely American thing (surprise surprise). Its roots in practices that most closely mimic pentecostal snake handlers are in the religious rites of the Hopi. With its largest concentration in southern Arizona, the Hopi have an annual ritual called the snake dance where snakes are handled, held in the mouth (I wonder how many salmonella deaths can be traced back to this...) and, at the end, are released in the four directions to search for rain. The public could observe part of the ritual but it was rather lengthy and some of it considered private enough to be done in kivas (an enclosed space, usually circular and underground).

 

Interesting to me is the ritualistic, almost native american vibe that Hamblin's church embraces when it comes to snake handling. NatGeo describes it this way:

Men in dress shirts and black pants linked arms around each other’s shoulders and shuffle danced, forming and reforming circles as they wove across the pulpit’s small platform. Praying and singing, they passed sharp-fanged serpents from hand to hand or waved them slowly in the air.

 

An earlier gnostic practice among the Ophites involved snake handling and snake worship. Their name is a generic term for what they considered heretical speculations concerning the serpent of Genesis or Moses. I'm wondering if “heretical” here is close to my own heretical view of the serpent...

 

In our conversations about Azusa Street, we made passing mention of the Holiness movement, AKA Pentecostal Holiness. This is a diabolically strict sect of pentecostal evangelicalism that places rigid rules of conduct and appearance on its adherents, and not just the women, oddly enough. Men in the holiness movement are held to pretty high standards and expectations, too and these rules still exist in settings like Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, Tennessee, the church that twenty-something pastor Andrew Hamblin pastors.

 

Yeah, he's a kid. And the probability of him dying young is high.

 

Snake handling, also called serpent handling, is a religious rite observed in a small number of isolated churches, mostly in the United States, 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. Participants are Holiness, Pentecostals, Charismatics, or other evangelicals. The beliefs and practices of the movement have been documented in several films and have been the impetus for a number of state laws related to the handling of venomous animals. (NatGeo)

 

CBS News has this to say about the history of snake handling:

 

Snake handling gained momentum when George Hensley, a Pentecostal minister working in various Southern states in the early 1900s, recounted an experience where, while on a mountain, a serpent slithered beside him. Hensley purported to be able to handle the snake with impunity, and when he came down the mountain he proclaimed the truth of following all five of the signs in Mark. Hensley himself later died from a snake bite.

 

Today, snake handling is most common in the Southern Appalachian states. Snake handlers commonly use native rattlesnakes and copperheads in their rituals. Such churches are largely independent, and often call themselves "signs following" churches. We'll get into the signs in just a few.

 

Let's take a trip now into the heart of Appalachia and learn about this odd, almost a-country-within-itself section of the U.S. According to the Wikipedia about Appalachia:

 

While the Appalachian Mountains stretch from Belle Isle in Canada to Cheaha Mountain in Alabama, Appalachia typically refers only to the cultural region of the central and southern portions of the range, from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia southwest to the Great Smoky Mountains. As of the 2010 United States Census, the region was home to approximately 25 million people.

 

Map: https://static.wixstatic.com/media/9ab7d6_6f5499e295d14446850fe399872ef255~mv2.gif

 

So that map gives an idea of the official area of Appalachia in terms of geography, but some sources go more by the concentration of cultural traits present in the region and place their influences a little further south, extending into Texas and surrounding states, eventually meshing with the Deep South. Colin Woodard, in particular, has an interesting take on the makeup of America. He asserts that America is divided into 11 distinct cultures with Appalachia being one of the largest. His book American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures in North America breaks down all of the cultures and identifies the regions they each dominate.

 

So Appalachia was recognized as a distinctive region in the late 1800s. It is the subject of numerous stereotypes regarding the intellect, genetics, isolation, and temperament of the people who live there.

 

Early 20th century writers often engaged in yellow journalism focused on sensationalistic aspects of the region's culture, such as moonshining and clan feuding, and often portrayed the region's inhabitants as uneducated and prone to impulsive acts of violence. Sociological studies in the 1960s and 1970s helped to re-examine and dispel these stereotypes.

 

Moonshining and feuding were, however (and in some areas still are) real aspects of Appalachian life but not all Appalachians fit the negative stereotypes. Ever hear of the Hatfields and the McCoys? It isn't urban legend. You can read all about the real history and how it started around the time of the civil war over land disputes and other details.

 

The region is teeming with valuable natural resources. Logging, coal, oil, and steel are still part of the Applachian landscape. And yet, the region has always struggled economically and poverty levels are high, especially in the more truly rural and isolated areas. Logging and coal mining were the biggest industries there from the late 19th century until sometime in the 1960s when jobs started disappearing due to the antics of rich moguls who didn't bother to come up with a long-term plan of sustaining their wealth. So... outspending what they were making on the production of coal and wood products, they ran out of cash to pay their workers and eventually left lots of people in a lurch that the regional economy feels to this day.

 

Efforts have been made over the years to alleviate the poverty that pervades the region. The U.S. federal government attempted to intervene in the 1930s with various new deal initiatives. They created jobs building dams for generating hydro and implemented farming practices that were designed to ease the process of cultivation and produce better yields. Less labor an better yields should lead to higher profits but none of this really worked out that well.

 

Then...

 

On March 9, 1965, the Appalachian Regional Commission was created to further alleviate poverty in the region, mainly by diversifying the region's economy and helping to provide better health care and educational opportunities to the region's inhabitants. By 1990, Appalachia had largely joined the economic mainstream but still lagged behind the rest of the nation in most economic indicators.

 

...and it still does.

 

So why does any of this matter? Well... religion and religious practices and the proliferation of each has various socio-economic factors built in. Different flavors of Christianity “work better” in different parts of the country. While there are Catholics throughout the U.S., for example, you will find far more Catholics in the Northeast than in the deep south. The deep south likes their old-time religion and the rustic folk culture of Appalachia likes a more rustic, folk religion-based brand of evangelicalism. This is true in various settings, not just the one we're talking about tonight.

 

It IS worth mentioning that snake handling is still too batshit an idea even for most people who think they can speak in tongues. A vast majority of pentecostal evangelicals decry the practice as being reckless, foolhardy, vain, and rebellious. They prefer Jesus' admonishment to Satan about not putting God to the test and cite the fact that people die as proof that this is not an instance where god is going to give his angels charge over them. We'll revisit this concept in a few.

 

So let's talk about snake handling and why people do it. Well, the obvious reason is that they're fucking idiots who have found themselves cruising down the road at lethal speeds on one of the wildest bandwagons Christianity has to offer. I think Santeria might have this beat but it's a close call. The problem is that, yes, they're idiots, but they're the idiots that their religion and its radical interpretation of just one brief passage in Mark's gospel have made them.

 

The Great Commission appears five times in the NT. Only two of the four gospel writers thought things like the virgin birth of Christ were important but they ALL included this. And they slapped it onto the beginning of the book of Acts, too, for good measure. Four of the five are similar.

 

Here is how John presents it: Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:21-23 NIV)

 

Matthew's version says, “16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mt. 28:16-20, NIV)

 

Luke says it this way: 45Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

 

This one reads like a bit of a cliffhanger because it is widely held that Luke and Acts had the same author and that Acts was basically a sequel. Acts recounts the commission this way:

 

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:18

 

 

And now here comes Mark. The other gospel writers talk about things like performing miracles, receiving the Holy Spirit, and making international impact with the Gospel. Mark's version is just a bit more flamboyant than average and it includes something that the others just plain don't. It reads like this:

 

And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17And these signs will accompany those who believe: In My name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues;d 18they will pick up snakes with their hands, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not harm them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will be made well.” (Mk. 16:15-18 NIV)

 

So, obviously this is the one that some people choose to embrace. It's their better story and they're sticking with it. And... bonus! More than a few have died for it and still do.

 

So why do some people engage in snake handling? Currently, there are about 125 churches out there that are fringe adherents to the holiness movement who also follow what they call “the signs.” These signs are the ones mentioned in Mark's crack-headed version of the Commission where Jesus promises his disciples that they will:

 

Drive out demons

Speak in tongues

Handle snakes

Drink deadly poison without effect

Lay hands on the sick and make them well

 

The problem here is that some people seem to be able to do these things. From NatGeo:

 

Dancing around the pulpit, Tyler Evans, whose family has handled serpents for five generations, held a Coke bottle with a flaming wick to his skin, a practice called “handling fire.” The teenager suffered no burns. Next, he took a swallow from a Mason jar containing a mixture of water and strychnine. He let out nary a cough. From a few feet away, Pastor Andrew Hamblin nodded in approval. On his arms dangled two venomous copperhead snakes, mottled in brown and tan.”

 

Here's where Obi-Wan and I agree: your eyes can deceive you. Don't trust them. Just because you watch someone “do something” doesn't mean they're doing it. You can be told that someone is drinking strychnine but it could be nothing more than baking soda and water. You can watch someone perceptibly hold a flame to their arm but any good illusionist can pull this off, too. And snakes can have their venom sacs removed so a bite doesn't turn deadly. Now, whether or not they're doing these things remains to be seen but I've never heard of someone having these kinds of multiple and varied superhuman abilities. Even if the snakes are real and unaltered, I have my doubts about the rest. I think a lot of it is more theatric than theistic.

 

Now, it's important to understand a couple things at this point:

 

1. The bible never promises that handling snakes won't result in getting bitten or killed. They understand this. It's perfectly OK with some of these people if someone dies handling snakes. Why? Because they died while practicing “the signs.” They were never told they wouldn't die from snake venom so they know this to be a possible consequence. So getting bitten is apparently sometimes by god's plan. Again I'll ask: whatever happened to For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jer. 29:11)

 

This is how delusional some of the adherents of this extra-toxic brand of pentecostalism are about it and about the consequences of it. And they are doing what so many other groups that come under the cover of Christianity do: they completely ignore verses and passages that decry their actions in favor of doing things their way.

 

Today, there are people who travel from every corner of Appalachia to attend services in various places for the express purpose of handling snakes. These services are usually very closed-door and often take place in locations where the practice is most definitely not legal. Six Appalachian states have outlawed snake handling, including TN whose 1947 law banning the keeping of venomous reptiles stems from five people dying in snake handling rituals. But that's not going to stop a bunch of determined, radicalized people with a private enough space to do what they want and be left alone to do it. So much for “obey the laws of the land...”, huh?

 

"Obey the government, for God is the One who has put it there. There is no government anywhere that God has not placed in power. So those who refuse to obey the law of the land are refusing to obey God, and punishment will follow." - Romans 13:1-2

 

They have no real defense for why many people who get bitten by poisonous snakes and refuse medical help die. They merely justify it because handling snakes is a biblical mandate and if a handler dies, it's a manifestation of god's will. How convenient.

 

Also convenient is how they play off people dying from snake bites by playing the “it was their time” card. Basically, they'll tell you that had that person not died of a snake bite he would've had a stroke, or a heart attack, or gotten hit by a bus. The sentiment being that it was “their time” and they wouldn't have been able to cheat death one way or another. God chose that time for them to die, so they would have died when they did regardless of the cause.

 

Yeah, it's that batshit.

 

 

And I found this interesting when I read it: One young snake handler had this to say about it after his first time: “There’s no feeling like that on Earth...knowing you’re holding death in your hands and it won’t do anything to you.”

 

Oh, you know that, do you?

 

On Memorial Day weekend of 2019, an eastern diamondback bit Pastor Chris Wolford of the House of the Lord Jesus Church in Squire, West Virginia. He collapsed, his lips and tongue swelled until he could barely breathe. Ten hours later, and nearly seven years to the day after his brother Andy was bitten by a yellow timber rattlesnake, Chris Wolfard died. He had refused medical care opting to keep manifesting the signs and have people pray for his recovery instead. JFC...

 

But some more familiar names can be cited here, too.

 

Also from CBS News: A snake-handling Kentucky pastor who appeared on the National Geographic television reality show "Snake Salvation" has died after being bitten by a snake.

 

According to a news release from the Middlesboro Police Department, someone called first responders at about 8:30 p.m. on [Feb. 16, 2014] regarding a snake-bite victim at a church.

 

When the ambulance arrived, they were told that Jamie Coots had gone home. Contacted at his house, Coots refused medical treatment. Emergency workers left at a little after 9:00 p.m. When they returned about an hour later, Coots was dead.

 

Coots was caught in January 2013 transporting three rattlesnakes and two copperheads through Knoxville, Tenn., for his church. Tennessee wildlife officials confiscated the snakes, and Coots pleaded guilty to illegally wildlife possession. He was given one year of unsupervised probation.

 

[there's more of that “obeying the laws of the land” stuff they do so well]

 

CBS affiliate WKYT spoke to Coots about a year ago, after police found several rattlesnakes and copperheads in his car. Coots said he believed the venomous snakes couldn't hurt him as long as he had the power of God.

 

"We use them in religious ceremonies and I believe as for me, if I don't have them there to use I'm not obeying the word of god," Coots said.

 

Oh, Jamie Coots and Andrew Hamblin were buds. Hamblin was with Coots when Coots died. Yeah.

 

As my Theology 1 professor was quick to point out, we aren't de facto mandated to do literally everything that the Bible says to do. He cited Paul's request for his cloak and scrolls in 2 Tim 4:13 as one example...

 

Is there even the slight possibility that the whole picking up serpents things was actually metaphorical?I did some digging on this but almost all the answers came from theist sources that cited Acts 28. In that chapter, Paul gets bitten by a viper and survives unharmed which is supposed to serve as proof that this was not a metaphor and that Paul's experience was a fulfillment of Christ's promise. Only one problem: when Paul got bitten he wasn't handling, taunting, or stressing out the snake. It was an accident. Just like where it says you will drink poison and not be harmed. Jesus didn't mean “go do these things on purpose so I can save you.” The few sources that did call snake handling a metaphor equated the snakes with a person's enemies or religious detractors. The drinking deadly poison could refer to someone trying to poison you, but it could also mean being out in the world but resistant to the toxic influences of secular thought. If that's correct (and I'm not saying it is... better story and all that...) Jesus is basically telling his disciples that they will have authority over enemies of the gospel and that they would be fed a lot of ideas, possibly under extreme duress, but those ideas won't poison a person's faith.

 

But if you're into handling snakes, that's a rather boring interpretation of things.

 

So Jamie Coots' story actually gets even better...

 

ABC News also covered this story and interviewed Cody Coots, Jamie's son. He's a whackjob, too, but why wouldn't he be, having been raised in this batshit environment... Despite his father's death, Cody Coots said he doesn't believe snake handling is dangerous. "It's the word of God," he said. "We've always said it's a good way to live by and a good way to die by."

 

And if that isn't enough...

 

Three days after pastor Jamie Coots died from a rattlesnake bite at church, mourners leaving the funeral went to the church to handle snakes.”

 

Because of course they did.

 

Now, Coots had another snake handling friend – a marvelous specimen of humanity named Andrew Hamblin. The two were featured in a NatGeo special called “Snake Salvation.” Hamblin's church is in TN where the law instituted in 1947 is still in effect. But being the kind of grandstanding, possibly narcissistic pinheads these people are, they thought nothing of talking candidly about their practices to a bunch of TV producers. So what happened next?

After the special aired, Tennessee authorities cracked down on Hamblin. Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officials seized 50 poisonous snakes, including rattlesnakes and copperheads, from Hamblin in November and cited him for illegally possessing dangerous animals. Hamblin claimed the state was violating his First Amendment religious rights and pleaded not guilty to the charges. The case was eventually dismissed.

 

A little anti-climactic, but OK. I would have liked to see some kind of consequence beyond having the snakes taken away but maybe that's just me.

 

Now, there are those out there who are at least practical enough to seek medical help if they or someone in their church gets bitten. People like Jamie Coots refuse medical attention because it suggests a lack of faith. After all, one of the other signs is laying hands on the sick and healing them so why would one sign not follow another, right? I mean, as long as it's god's will, of course...

 

Welp... some aren't willing to bet their lives on any of that. If someone gets bitten they call 911. Why? Because Jesus only said they'd pick up snakes. He never said anything about not getting bitten. BUT he also never said to refuse help if you do, so..... sometimes the stupid are just smart enough to survive or they have slightly less stupid people around them who ignore their admonishments to not seek help. Lucky them. I guess. Just goes to show: there's faith and then there's faith.

 

As for Andrew Hamblin, welp... losing his friend and watching him die seems to have had an impact.

 

“Since Jamie died,” [Hamblin said], “I’ve offered a rattler to no one. I am the shepherd, and I am responsible for what happens in this building.”

 

And when Cody Coots (Jamie's son) got bitten, it went off this way:

 

During a June 2015 church service, Coots had draped a timber rattlesnake, as thick as a soda can, halfway down his back as congregants shouted and a piano tinkled. “I believe in the Lord God Almighty, and if he says I can hear him, I can!” Coots bellowed into the microphone. But after he shifted the snake toward his chest, the reptile lunged at his head, striking the artery near his right temple.

 

With blood spurting over his pale blue shirt, Coots wilted into the arms of his friends, one of whom, according to Hood, asked Coots if he was ready to die. No, Coots said. Helicoptered to a hospital in Knoxville, he was put on life support and eventually recovered.

 

At least the son saw some of the defects in the father and made better decisions.

 

I don't think I need to go into a long analysis of the whys that surround this practice. It flourishes in a part of the country that kinda lacks in the “stuff to do” category and way too many of the people who live in these areas or go to these churches don't have the money to spend on a lot of luxuries. I know. I used to make the collections calls on their cable bills. So when I say in a tongue-in-cheek way to go to a water park, I know that it's not an obtainable thing for every teenager out there. But I do have to wonder where the money comes from to drive 90 miles to one of these church events. #priorities I guess.

 

But this is just one more example of the bandwagon effect and this time, that wagon is missing a few vital safety features. As a parent and as someone who works with young people every day, I cannot imagine purposely taking my teenager to a place where she will handle snakes, knowing the possible consequences if something goes wrong. I deal with parents all the time who are afraid to let their kids drive. I can't even begin to envision how a parent decides to do this.

 

But boredom and lack of money for theme parks are only part of the reason why people seek these kinds of thrills, and if I were to be honest I would have to say that people do a lot of risky and potentially life-threatening things. A lot can go wrong with skydiving, bungee jumping, and even just swimming in the ocean. And yes, we assume a degree of risk every time we get in our cars and drive. You can be careful handling a snake and it can still bite. You can be careful driving your car and still get ploughed into by a drunk or distracted driver.

 

The difference between everyday activities like driving, thrill-seeking activities and extreme sports and something like snake handling all boils down to a couple key things. First, there is the whole peer acceptance thing. People want to fit in so they do what the crowd is doing.

 

Next, there's a real energy to a service like this and it's something you can't find just anywhere so the excitement levels are generally high.

 

Finally, it gives them a chance to prove to themselves that god is there and watching over them. If they handle snakes and don't get bitten or engage in other risky activities in the name of “the signs” it means that god's protection is with them. When you want to believe in something, even paper thin examples of “proof” hold up in our minds.

 

And again, when things go south, it must just be that person's time. They don't even seem to bash anyone for wanting medical attention. If they ask for it, get it, and survive, it wasn't their time to go and that's that. Amazing the buffers we create in our own thought processes to ensure that we remain perpetually right...

 

For me, my attitude is the same as Mr. Miyagi's: the best way to avoid a punch is to not be there. And if I were to speak the language of the evangelical here I would admonish anyone who engages in this crazy practice that even your messiah warned you about not putting god to the test. If the Bible is the word of god, you have to accept all of it. Don't worry, though. There are enough contradictions in it to allow your Better Story to flourish. As a former Bible college student I would weigh the messaging in Mark's gospel against the levels of confirmation you see in other verses to the notion of drinking poison and handling snakes without consequence. Does Paul's experience really line up? Did Andrew Hamblin go to Bible college? And if so, I wonder if he paid attention when he was taught about exegesis.

 

So when I say that your faith can kill you, I'm not kidding and I'm not overstating. People put their health in God's hands in a variety of ways and many die refusing medical help under much less extreme circumstances. Whether it's a snake bite or a tumor, the toxicity of evangelical thought can be lethal. This is why it's so important to weigh every decision we make against logic and reason, and it's important to guard ourselves against the emotionalism and sensationalism that permeates most flavors of evangelicalism. These are good ways to ensure you keep breathing and it will keep you moving ahead in your effort to get and stay Unbound.