snake handlers, sin, and sudden surprises

"Snake Handler" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

“Snake Handler” cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

I spend most of my youth and young adult years in Pentecostalism. So did my wife. In fact, my wife grew up in southern Alabama where snakes are plentiful and snake handlers can be found.

So another snake handler dies by snake bite. Sad.

This poses a serious theological problem for snake handlers. It is believed that a true believer can safely handle poisonous snakes without being harmed. But what if a snake handler is harmed? What does this mean? Hence the cartoon.

I interned at her home Pentecostal church for a summer before we were married. It was fantastic, as in fantastical. One day the pastor took me on a journey one day through the swamps and bayous until we came to this small church in the wild where he was to speak along with other preachers. They waved their hankies. There was red paint splashed everywhere symbolizes the spilt blood of Christ. There was shrieks, shouting, sweating and swaying and shuffling on the floor. What a wild night that was! I’ll never forget it.

But I want to make something clear: many of those people will go down in my memory as some of the sweetest, most down to earth, salt of the earth people I’ve ever met.

Including snake handlers!

Some years ago I read Daniel Radosh’s book, Rapture Ready!: Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture, and he concurs. In fact, he conceded that the snake handlers he met were sweet people with some strange (to him) ideas and practices. That’s all.

Lisa and I left Pentecostalism during my seminary years. We left that behind. But we didn’t leave behind the memories of the wonderful people we met, loved, and were loved by.

Why not check out The Lasting Supper? We are a diverse mix of people with strange ideas too. No snakes allowed though.


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14 Responses

  1. as a Christian I would never handle snakes like these folks do. But then again I have to face Texas heat and the things i like nad have to do are all outside, riding my horse and recumbent trike and yard work. p.s. you might ask these snake handlers how they handle questioning God and having doubts that led you to where you are today. I bet they would have an interesting take on it.

  2. Sabio Lantz says:

    Fun story, David. I’ll bet you were a fantastic person even when you use to have your wacko ideas.
    It is important to realize that great people can have wacko ideas (like snake handling protection).

    It is also important to know that:

    (a) Christians, with their wacko idea of “being covered in the blood of Christ”, can still be fantastic people.

    (b) New Agers, with their wacko idea of “the Universe cares for me”, or “Everything happens for a reason”, can still be fantastic people.

    (c) Homeopaths, with their wacko idea that hyper-diluted poisons can cure like disease, can still be fantastic people.

    Hell, we all have wacko ideas in some realms of our life. It is just a matter of degree and if we are still nice people in spite of our stupid ideas. Which shows that there are more important methods of judgement than just our beliefs.

  3. Sabio: A few years ago I attended a “Wellness Expo” full of new age woowoo stuff and people with their amazing booths with crystals, wands, unicorns, incenses, you name it… and they were all wonderful people.

  4. Sabio Lantz says:

    Yep, David, indeed I was one of those wackos — I use to be a Homeopath, an Acupuncturist and many more things. I have a post called “My Confessions” where I confess all the silly beliefs I had in the past. Yet people would not have described me as “WACKO” back then, and would have thought I was a nice person.

    I did those posts to show atheists that a wacko belief does not make a person a wacko. AND that wacko beliefs are not limited to religions.

    And I am sure I still have wacko ideas and yet am well liked by those who know me — well, by most folks ! 😉

  5. Sabio Lantz says:

    All that said, we need to still try to limit wacko beliefs, even in nice people.

    Otherwise snake handlers die, children are killed by faith in God healing, people don’t lay up money for the future (they listen to Jesus) or they treat others as infidels or people who need to be converted least they burn forever in hell.

    In other words, nice people can become bad when their wacko ideas are active.

  6. I would agree that the voracity of an idea is tested in real life and how it affects people. But you and I both know belief can’t be controlled. This is why it’s important for their to be policies in place to protect people. It comes down to politics.

  7. ReAwakeningWoman says:

    I love this post! Mainly because I too have found your conclusions to be true. As a former Pentecostal (and former wife of a Pentecostal pastor), I can say that there were some really sweet, generous people I met while in that life. ALL churches/denominations have sweet, caring, authentic, kind, loving, generous people in them. Just not the majority :o)

  8. Thanks reawakeningwoman. This has been my experience as well.

  9. Bernardo says:

    Being Bred, Born and Brainwashed in the absurdities of your religion does not make you a mean person. It, however, can be very dangerous to yourself, your relatives and your neighbors. Is there a cure for this Three B Syndrome? Holding pastors, clerics, imams and rabbis liable for the conduct of their followers would be a good start if it indeed can be shown that they influenced their conduct. Did some cleric, for example, convince this latest snake victim that he could not die from a snake bite?

  10. That’s an interesting question Bernardo. But age of consent I wonder.

  11. Benjamin Roberts says:

    Have you ever read Salvation on Sand Mountain. It is about a journalist that investigates a snake handling pastor and begins attending services. The last page left me in tears.

    Great toon and post!

  12. R Vogel says:

    Although we would think that snakebite would present a problem with snake handlers, they have actually adapted to it relatively effectively. The verses in Mark upon which their practice is based does not guarantee or even mention immunity from snakebite. Just that they will ‘pick up snakes with their hands.’ The fact that there is no such promise makes the practice an even more dramatic act of defiance of the fear of death. Richard Beck did a nice piece about it a while back.