They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them
June 1, 2012 10:52 AM   Subscribe

Why I watched a snake-handling pastor die for his faith.

"Signs Following" Pentecostal pastor Mark Wolford died on Sunday after being bitten by a rattlesnake.
posted by mudpuppie (210 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Metafilter doesn't do well + axegrindy shitstorm discussion + poster request -- taz



 
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posted by JHarris at 10:58 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


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posted by 2bucksplus at 11:00 AM on June 1, 2012 [93 favorites]


I am extremely uncomfortable with the photographer being such a passive witness. Although Wolford's family may have hesitated to call paramedics, there was no reason why the photographer couldn't have excused herself and done so. Perhaps Wolford would have fought them off and died anyway, but we'll never know that, will we?
posted by tommasz at 11:01 AM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


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posted by spinifex23 at 11:02 AM on June 1, 2012


Why I watched a snake-handling pastor die for his faith.

Short answer: Because he was an adult and a friend who knew exactly what he was doing, and sometimes it's a Journalist's job to just bear witness.
posted by philip-random at 11:03 AM on June 1, 2012 [59 favorites]


I am not uncomfortable with the photojournalist doing nothing. Presuming that Wolford was conscious and alert and had full mental capacity, he could make the decision for himself whether he wanted paramedics. I think his beliefs are idiotic, but I value human dignity and the right to have dominion over one's body and death more highly than any other consideration (in this instance).
posted by Falconetti at 11:05 AM on June 1, 2012 [29 favorites]


Hell, I will openly ENCOURAGE a snake-handler to die for his faith.

SNAKE HANDLING HOKUM MAN: My faith is so great that god will protect me from these poisonous beasts he made!

GOD: Are you a fucking moron? Not only did I deliberately make them full of poison (if you are holding to the Creationist point of view in your religious outlook), I then gave them great fangs and hissing and alarming colors specifically to tell people to stay away from them!

SERPENT: Well, gotta do what I gotta do...

(SERPENT bites S.H.H.M.; S.H.H.M. dies, predictably)

CONGREGATION, AS ONE: WOWZERS, WE DIDN'T SEE THAT COMING, JUST LIKE IT HAS EVERY SINGLE TIME SINCE THE FIRST MORON STARTED DOING THIS! WE BETTER KEEP THIS SECT OF FAITH GOING!
posted by FatherDagon at 11:05 AM on June 1, 2012 [43 favorites]


philip-random, you'd make the worst newspaper man, but a decent telegraph operator.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:06 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am extremely uncomfortable with the photographer being such a passive witness.

You could say this about any photojournalist in almost any situation.


This guy obviously had deeply held convictions and chose not to call paramedics. That was his choice.
posted by bradbane at 11:06 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Was it right for me to remain in the background taking pictures, as I did, and not seek medical attention for the dying pastor, whose beliefs forbade it?

No.

Or should I have intervened and called paramedics earlier, which would have undermined Mack’s wishes?


Yes.

It never ceases to baffle me how people can get so wrapped up in their faith in God that they lose all semblance of their faith in humanity. God could never have saved this guy. The people around him -- all God's creations, after all, if you believe in that sort of thing -- absolutely could have, and should have.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:07 AM on June 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


By his own standards of faith, doesn't his death mean he wasn't a good Christian?
posted by perhapses at 11:09 AM on June 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


Christ, what an asp holder!
posted by Hlewagast at 11:09 AM on June 1, 2012 [45 favorites]


Call on God, but row away from the rocks.
posted by jquinby at 11:09 AM on June 1, 2012 [34 favorites]


Dennis Covington's book "Salvation on Sand Mountain" is a fascinating read and offers insight into the snake-handling faith community. It's nuanced and paced well. I recommend reading it if you're interested.
posted by luminous phenomena at 11:10 AM on June 1, 2012 [13 favorites]


Yeah, no problem here. I wouldn't terribly mind if all of these bronze age mythologies had self correction mechanisms in place like this. Sucks for this guy, but that's kinda the result of living your life in a fantasy world devoid of critical thinking. I will save my grief for his friends and family that don't subscribe to this crap (if there are any, bluefield is a pretty intense place) and have to deal with the anger and sadness.
posted by lazaruslong at 11:10 AM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


FatherDagon: "Hell, I will openly ENCOURAGE a snake-handler to die for his faith. "

What a callous and awful thing to say in light of what you clearly think of his faith.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:10 AM on June 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


God could never have saved this guy.

From what I understand, he'd been bitten before and survived.
posted by veedubya at 11:11 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


CONGREGATION, AS ONE: WOWZERS, WE DIDN'T SEE THAT COMING, JUST LIKE IT HAS EVERY SINGLE TIME SINCE THE FIRST MORON STARTED DOING THIS! WE BETTER KEEP THIS SECT OF FAITH GOING!

Well, to be fair, that first guy did seem like a sinner.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:11 AM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, and:

Mack’s white Ford pickup sat on the edge of the gravel road outside, its vehicle inspection sticker stolen by a local who callously remarked that Mack wouldn’t need it anymore.

Classy!
posted by jquinby at 11:11 AM on June 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


Why I watched a snake-handling pastor die for due to the irrationality of his faith.

I dread doing a 'FTFY' on this, but how is this that much different from a guy who says "God told me if i walk off the top of this tall building,He will catch me" and becomes a stain on the sidewalk?
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:13 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


What a callous and awful thing to say in light of what you clearly think of his faith.


Yup, yup it is. The sooner religious lunatics like this stop trying to destroy the country I live in and the lives of those around them, the better. If it requires the leaders of their cult groups committing public suicide in the stupidest fashion possible in order for some few sane folks on the periphery to blink and say "wait, maybe this is a bad idea", then so be it.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:14 AM on June 1, 2012 [29 favorites]


I am uncomfortable because Wolford was not (in his mind) committing suicide and did not wish or expect to die. I see this as distinct from situations where people are choosing to end their lives for reasons such as terminal illness.
posted by tommasz at 11:14 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mack’s mother, Vicie Haywood, nicknamed “Snook,” talked about losing her pastor husband to a rattlesnake bite when her son was 15.
There's more here than lulz.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 11:16 AM on June 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


Obviously snake charmers have a more powerful god.
posted by infini at 11:17 AM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


".... I sent you a radio warning, a police canvasser, a neighbour with a 4x4, a rowboat and a helicopter, what more did you want?!"
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:18 AM on June 1, 2012 [32 favorites]


Please note, rattler bites are rarely fatal. Painful as all hell, and can become infected and cause long-term damage and short-term illness, but it's not at all often someone dies from a rattlesnake strike. I don't think the journalist deserves any blame... or even the pastor. It was a freak fatality - preventable in theory, but really unlikely to begin with.

Coral snake bites, on the other hand, are no joke.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:18 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


This guy obviously had deeply held convictions and chose not to call paramedics. That was his choice.

There are a lot of jusrisdictions where his conviction would be deeply held by a jury.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:18 AM on June 1, 2012


Hell, I will openly ENCOURAGE a snake-handler to die for his faith.
After her son was pronounced dead at Bluefield Regional Medical Center, she added, "I kissed him and I promised him that I would see him again." Her voice broke.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 11:20 AM on June 1, 2012 [11 favorites]


Dennis Covington's book "Salvation on Sand Mountain" is a fascinating read and offers insight into the snake-handling faith community. It's nuanced and paced well. I recommend reading it if you're interested.

It is a good book (despite the ending, which I did not care for), and I would also recommend it. It's fascinating stuff.
posted by OmieWise at 11:21 AM on June 1, 2012


This is rather sad. It's not a story about religion or snake charming, but about a 15 year old boy who watches his father die and understands that the gap left is there to be filled - a way to please his mom, carry on the family name, bring some pride back into the house. He might was well be a stuntman or a tightrope walker, or a mafioso. It's the same story.

We see a 44 year old man die, but it's a 15 year old boy just under the skin. It's a slow form of suicide and even the ardently religious within those circles can only rationalise it as "god's work."
posted by MuffinMan at 11:22 AM on June 1, 2012 [44 favorites]


I'm not loving the lulz here either. I'm not expecting any respect for snake handling (because of course not) but hopefully we can recognize that in these types of congregations, the death of a prominent member by ritual snakebite is going to strengthen and deepen the practice rather than weaken it. This isn't, in the minds of the practitioners, thumbing one's nose at death while laughing that God's got you covered, so much as a submission to providence. (If I understand the practice correctly, and I believe I do.)
posted by Navelgazer at 11:22 AM on June 1, 2012 [22 favorites]


Yeah, her husband was also a nut job that died for his stupidity. And her son followed. And she's a member of the church, remind me again why this isn't neglect that she and others that enable this crap shouldn't be prosecuted? Oh right, it's religion, so hands off. Fuck that. They are idiots.
posted by lazaruslong at 11:23 AM on June 1, 2012 [10 favorites]


There are a lot of jusrisdictions where his conviction would be deeply held by a jury.

In the US? My understanding is that competent adults have an absolute right to refuse life-saving treatment. I very much expect that one day my family or a medical professional will allow me to die at my direction.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 11:24 AM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


At least it's a half step up from those that shun medicine for their children and try to use 'exorcisms' to get rid of things like 'pneumonia', in that the cretins are deliberately killing themselves instead of those that can't defend themselves. Either way, the faith is toxic and the sooner it is destroyed, the better for all humanity.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:25 AM on June 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


As someone who suffered at the hands of bad religion growing up, I see no moving humanist takeaway in this.
posted by gallois at 11:27 AM on June 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


the death of a prominent member by ritual snakebite is going to strengthen and deepen the practice rather than weaken it. This isn't, in the minds of the practitioners, thumbing one's nose at death while laughing that God's got you covered, so much as a submission to providence. (If I understand the practice correctly, and I believe I do.)

You can also say that since, if he survived, they would be strengthened in their faith, that there is literally nothing any one can do that would not strengthen their faith. If the photographer had called 911 and the guy was saved, the congregation (and possibly the pastor) would have been angry at his lack of faith and him not letting God handle it. And remain convinced that God would have done so if he'd just have had faith. Delusion works like that.

There was no right way to act. I think I would have called 911 for my own sake, as a way of doing what I could for a sadly deluded person and so as not to have the guilt this guy is going to carry around. But I can't blame him for another person's desire to take insane risks.
posted by emjaybee at 11:28 AM on June 1, 2012


My understanding is that competent adults have an absolute right to refuse life-saving treatment

Yep. The sticking point is "competent."
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:28 AM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Either way, the faith is toxic and the sooner it is destroyed, the better for all humanity.

I'd say that the idea that people should be wiped out for their beliefs for the good of humanity has been shown to be a fairly toxic idea.
posted by veedubya at 11:29 AM on June 1, 2012 [49 favorites]


I am not really sure why people are so set on saving everyone. If a person wants to die for their beliefs more power to them.

There are plenty of humans and I would prefer we concentrate on saving the ones who are actively asking for help, rather than worrying about the ones who are not.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 11:29 AM on June 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'd say that the idea that people should be wiped out for their beliefs for the good of humanity has been shown to be a fairly toxic idea.

Well, if you're choosing to not distinguish between 'faith' and 'faithful', and then artificially conflating 'let them kill themselves' with 'create a pogrom to destroy them', then sure. Altho at that point you're talking to yourself about a statement no one made, so there's that.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:31 AM on June 1, 2012 [19 favorites]


This is def. not my faith - different team, and pretty scant at that, TBH - but I have to respect a man as ready and resolved to die for his convictions as this man was.

My discomfort at reading this goes more to this man's remaining family, especially his wife and children who must now carry on without him. The pastor has every right to practice his beliefs up to and including his own death, but I (as an outside observer and not a member of his congregation or faith) find it callous that he didn't temper his beliefs with the understanding that his passing would cause tremendous suffering in the lives of the loved ones he's leaving behind, and get the proper medical attention after some requisite period of suffering. Of course, I'm sure he DID realize this, and this goes back to the whole issue of what "faith" means, and what it means to test one's faith at the highest of stakes. Which is why I'm an agnostic at best and a realist at heart.

Gah -- my heart goes out to his family.

.
posted by mosk at 11:32 AM on June 1, 2012


how is this that much different from a guy who says "God told me if i walk off the top of this tall building,He will catch me" and becomes a stain on the sidewalk?

It's not. But if someone of (otherwise) sound mind decides to jump off a building in order to see whether or not God will catch them before they hit the sidewalk, that's their decision. Well, them and the owner of the building and sidewalk, I suppose.

The sad part here, as others have pointed out, is that not only did he have a family, but his family was actually present and watched him die. That's really something that nobody should ever have to do, but that's a far cry from saying it should be illegal.

If I'd been there I suspect that I probably would have called 911, but that would just have been a sort of moral punt; let the paramedics show up and decide whether the fool is competent to refuse care or not, rather than deciding myself. That's not a brave choice, it's the cowardly one in some respects, because it just kicks the decision up to somebody else.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:32 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I see no point in calling the paramedics. If he survived due to medical intervention, he would have just claimed it wasn't a fatal bite in the first place.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:32 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


The common trope is that our overprotected society will grow more and more like Running Man (not Hunger Games thank you very much). But it looks more like it will become more like this. We need the sadness of people dying, so lets regress and play with poisons and stop inoculating children.
posted by Napierzaza at 11:33 AM on June 1, 2012


I will not attack your doctrines nor your creeds if they accord liberty to me. If they hold thought to be dangerous - if they aver that doubt is a crime, then I attack them one and all, because they enslave the minds of men.
Robert Green Ingersoll
posted by lazaruslong at 11:33 AM on June 1, 2012 [11 favorites]


charlie don't surf: "I see no point in calling the paramedics. If he survived due to medical intervention, he would have just claimed it wasn't a fatal bite in the first place."

Sure he would be no less deluded, but he would also be alive.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:37 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is no glory here. No testament to faith. Nothing but the ultimate display of hubris. The idea that we should be proud of such callous behavior is anathema to a society that values life.

But, as a society, we need to ask ourselves questions if we think this needs to be banned:
1. Are competent adults allowed to engage in reasonably dangerous activity?
2. Are competent adults allowed to refuse medical treatment?

If you say no to #1, we'll need to take a hard look at things like riding a motorcycle, piloting light aircraft, winter mountaineering, smoking, alcohol, and so on.

If you say no to #2, we're talking about forcing people to have medical procedures done on them against their will. This is even worse than being anti-choice - this is handcuffing someone to a hospital bed so you can inject them with anti-venom against their will.

I don't want to live in a society where you can do dangerous things, but only for certain reasons. The fact that this man died because of his faith is interesting, but not relevant to the fundamental idea that he was allowed to take that risk for whatever reasons he deemed appropriate. Freedom is only freedom if it includes the ability to do manifestly stupid things.
posted by 0xFCAF at 11:39 AM on June 1, 2012 [25 favorites]


Can you imagine how annoying it must be for the rattlesnake to get all fondled up by these yokels? It must piss them right the fuck off. And we have evidence that it does, they bite with some regularity.

The quote below is from here. The author in the article wrote Salvation on Sand Mountain where I first read this passage or one close to it. I believe that both the man and woman died from snake bites.

"Brother Punkin, a "legendary" snake handler, told Mr. Covington that the first time he saw Melinda: "She was speaking in tongues and handling a big rattlesnake. I told Daddy, 'I'm going to marry that girl.' " They had four children."
posted by BigSky at 11:40 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


FatherDagon: "
SERPENT: Well, gotta do what I gotta do...
"

You knew I was a snake when you picked me up.
posted by symbioid at 11:47 AM on June 1, 2012


Who among us hasn't stood by helplessly as a friend or loved one was bound and determined to practice risky or self destructive behavior? Usually it's a slow moving plummet, with plenty of chances to wise up and turn back. Peace and condolences to those who loved him, and I hope somebody learned better than to mess with snakes.
posted by Daddy-O at 11:49 AM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


veedubya: " I'd say that the idea that people should be wiped out for their beliefs for the good of humanity has been shown to be a fairly toxic idea."

FatherDagon: "Well, if you're choosing to not distinguish between 'faith' and 'faithful', and then artificially conflating 'let them kill themselves' with 'create a pogrom to destroy them', then sure. Altho at that point you're talking to yourself about a statement no one made, so there's that."

Eliminationalist rhetoric is a profoundly disgusting and shameful thing, no matter how you couch it. This man for example clearly made no distinction between his faith as well as his values and his self, and saying that you simply want to impose your values onto him does nothing to hide the fact that any effort to do so would continue to fail no matter how much it escalated.

We're better than that here.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:51 AM on June 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


"And [Satan] brought him to Jerusalem and set him on a pinnacle of the temple and said to him: If you be the Son of God, cast yourself from hence. For it is written that He has given his angels charge over you that they keep you. And that in their hands they shall bear you up, lest perhaps you dash your foot against a stone. And Jesus answering, said to him: It is said: You shall not tempt the Lord your God."

Luke chapter 4.
posted by resurrexit at 11:52 AM on June 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


Like there aren't hundreds and hundreds of religions all over the world where people test their faith in sometimes fatal ways? Like this hasn't been a feature of human life for all of recorded history and beyond?

The lulz are completely distasteful. Would you guys be all "haha what a stupid Amazonian tribesman, good thing he's dead!" if something like this happened during a shamanistic ritual? I think people are getting hung up by their specific dislike for fundamentalist Christianity, here.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:52 AM on June 1, 2012 [17 favorites]


Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written:

" 'He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.' "


Snake handlers are definitely 'putting God to the test'.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 11:53 AM on June 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


The sooner religious lunatics like this stop trying to destroy the country I live in and the lives of those around them, the better.

My perception is that generally the snake-handling cultists and the polemicist Bible-tainted politicians are two non overlapping magisteria.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:56 AM on June 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


philip-random, you'd make the worst newspaper man, but a decent telegraph operator.
posted by filthy light thief


To be clear, I was just trying to paraphrase the article, not agree with the writer's position. I'm just not that clear on what I'd do, either way. My experience with friends who have become extreme in their beliefs/positions has generally been to lose touch with them; not consciously, it just sort of happens over time. Whether it be a fanatical dedication to a drug, a religion, a favorite band, a quest for revenge (I've lost friends over all of these), I find I just grow tired with them, and bored.

And terrified.

Who among us hasn't stood by helplessly as a friend or loved one was bound and determined to practice risky or self destructive behavior?

I remember one guy who, well past his crazy teens, still insisted on doing unnecessarily dangerous stuff (often while drinking, drugging). He'd drive way too fast. He'd climb a couple hundred feet up the side of a bridge. He'd walk the edge of ten story drop like he was walking a curb. I just couldn't be around him anymore. Eventually, I got a phone call from his brother. He'd died in a car wreck, late at night, alone, hit a telephone pole at speed, wasn't wearing a seat belt. Was it suicide? Just recklessness? Did he fall asleep at the wheel?

One thing is clear, nobody was surprised. Or as thermonuclear.jive.turkey just put it:

Snake handlers are definitely 'putting God to the test'.
posted by philip-random at 11:58 AM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


lazaruslong: "I will not attack your doctrines nor your creeds if they accord liberty to me. If they hold thought to be dangerous - if they aver that doubt is a crime, then I attack them one and all, because they enslave the minds of men."
Robert Green Ingersoll
"
Why the fuck are you spamming us with unrelated Atheist doctrine? There is no reason to think that this dude has ever done anything to restrict the liberty of anyone or called anything a crime. Its annoying and stupid when fundies spam baking threads with Bible verses about atonement and this is annoying and stupid here.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:01 PM on June 1, 2012 [11 favorites]


Live by the snake...
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:02 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


My perception is that generally the snake-handling cultists and the polemicist Bible-tainted politicians are two non overlapping magisteria.

My perception was that snake-handling cultists were drawn from the most disadvantaged and marginalized white people on the planet. This is the disadvantaged and marginalized part of Appalachia, for the love of Crotalus.
posted by mcwetboy at 12:06 PM on June 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


I'd be very happy to put in some atheist snark, but I'm just fucking terrified by snakes....*shudders*

Now start a religion based on the handling of cats...I'll join up.
posted by Chekhovian at 12:09 PM on June 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


SNAKE HANDLING HOKUM MAN: My faith is so great that god will protect me from these poisonous beasts he made!

GOD: Are you a fucking moron? Not only did I deliberately make them full of poison (if you are holding to the Creationist point of view in your religious outlook), I then gave them great fangs and hissing and alarming colors specifically to tell people to stay away from them!
The problem here is that that's pretty much the opposite of what their god told them. Jesus is directly quoted as saying that one of the things that a believer will do is to pick up snakes.

Another way that people can tell who is a believer and who is not, according to Jesus, is that a believer will drink deadly poison and not be harmed.
posted by Flunkie at 12:13 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I told him to wait until after the recruitment drive.
posted by digsrus at 12:15 PM on June 1, 2012


It's a pity he's dead, and I feel briefly bad for his mom, but there are a lot of people who are dead, and a lot of moms.

Not much different, to me, than a climber who gets swept off K2. They engage the risks knowingly, and if some of 'em die, well, they took the risk, they paid the price. Tough for their mom, but there it is.
posted by aramaic at 12:16 PM on June 1, 2012


There are a lot of jusrisdictions where his conviction would be deeply held by a jury.

In the US? My understanding is that competent adults have an absolute right to refuse life-saving treatment. I very much expect that one day my family or a medical professional will allow me to die at my direction.


And regarding the journalist, the general rule in the US is that there is no duty to rescue someone else who is in danger.
posted by fogovonslack at 12:20 PM on June 1, 2012


Part of me respects his decision to not seek medical treatment. The rest of me can't but help think about our reaction if he was depressed, threatening suicide and no one called 911. One is characterized by deeply entrenched beliefs about the order of the universe, and in a perverse way, so is the second. Is it the fact that we know depression to be a painful disease that changes are view?

I know that the people he was the Pastor for would disagree, but to me this is a form of suicide, albeit indirectly and for very different reasons than usual.

Either way

.
posted by Hactar at 12:21 PM on June 1, 2012


ChurchHatesTucker: " Yep. The sticking point is "competent.""

My understanding is that there is no reason to suspect that the unfortunate pastor was not alert and oriented. For better or worse, that is the standard.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:23 PM on June 1, 2012


in these types of congregations, the death of a prominent member by ritual snakebite is going to strengthen and deepen the practice rather than weaken it.

Sounds like they need more snakes. Way, way more snakes.
posted by c13 at 12:31 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


My understanding is that there is no reason to suspect that the unfortunate pastor was not alert and oriented.

There is a difference between "alert and oriented" and "competent". A very significant one.
My 4-year old is definitely former, but just as definitely not the latter.
posted by c13 at 12:33 PM on June 1, 2012


From what I understand, he'd been bitten before and survived.

Yeah, but sometimes the dice come up snake-eyes.

Politically, I'm ok with adults handling snakes, if they want to; spiritually, I think it's best not to tempt providence; emotionally, snakes, I hate snakes!
posted by octobersurprise at 12:36 PM on June 1, 2012


Now start a religion based on the handling of cats...I'll join up.

I've meant some pretty mean cats....I think if I had to choose between worship that includes handling snakes and handling cats, I'd go with the snakes.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:36 PM on June 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


Why the fuck are you spamming us with unrelated Atheist doctrine? There is no reason to think that this dude has ever done anything to restrict the liberty of anyone or called anything a crime. Its annoying and stupid when fundies spam baking threads with Bible verses about atonement and this is annoying and stupid here.
posted by Blasdelb


Relax there buddy. Just because you failed to miss the relevance of the quote that I felt like sharing doesn't make me a useless irrelevant spammer. If you can't figure out the connection between the condemnation of doubt and thought in a situation where faith-healing is preferred to life saving intervention, then obviously my comment doesn't apply to you. Feel free to chill the fuck out or take a walk, thanks.
posted by lazaruslong at 12:42 PM on June 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


While I may not approve of snake handlers, and maybe even make fun of them, if they get bitten, I WILL call the paramedics.

Their belief is that God will save them. My belief is that I will not stand by and watch someone die if I can help it.

I certainly won't stand by and jeer at them as they cross over.
posted by Bill Peschel at 12:43 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I so appreciate the opportunities MeFi affords to see my left wing liberal kumbaya-elitist brethren wallow in unbridled, unapologetic hatred. (And we're supposed to be the tolerant side of the aisle...)
posted by DarlingBri at 12:44 PM on June 1, 2012 [27 favorites]


From the first article: "to ingest poison, such as strychnine, which Mack also allegedly did at Sunday’s ceremony"

If he did ingest strychnine, it maybe that his body couldn't handle both the poison and the snake's venom.
posted by onhazier at 12:44 PM on June 1, 2012


Please note, rattler bites are rarely fatal. Painful as all hell, and can become infected and cause long-term damage and short-term illness, but it's not at all often someone dies from a rattlesnake strike.

However, sensitivity to rattler bites grows with each successive bite. In other words, this might not have been the first time he'd been bit.

And holy crap YES YOU CALL 911 when you see someone has been bit by a rattlesnake. There is nothing stopping you from doing your photo-journo job and dialing an ambulance at the same time.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:50 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


in unbridled, unapologetic hatred

You must be that hyperbole-and-a-half girl. Love your work.
posted by c13 at 12:51 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Good riddance to the disgraceful idiot. I wouldn't have helped him either. These people poison humanity and humanity is well rid of them.
posted by Decani at 12:57 PM on June 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


this thread's starting to feel a touch poisonous, folks.
Please calm down a touch. Be humane, as opposed to human.

And I agree with theopinksuperhero, cats are way more dangerous than snakes, kind of like it's more dangerous to be loved than hated.
posted by philip-random at 12:58 PM on June 1, 2012


"Rarely fatal": please understand that hemotoxic venom, such as rattlesnakes', induces tissue necrosis. Venom essentially starts the digestion process before eating. There are not a few venomous snake keepers out there with less than 10 fingers, and have I got some photos for you showing legs and arms with the flesh literally dripping off them. Death is far from the only side effect of a venomous snake bite.
posted by mcwetboy at 12:59 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


as a society, we need to ask ourselves questions if we think this needs to be banned:

Actually, it is banned. In Kentucky, Alabama, and Tennessee.

How is that not a platform of the Tea Party? How can the government ban the handling of snakes? Strangeness abounds.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 1:03 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think cheering the painful death by snakebite of someone with whom you disagree theologically really sets a great example of "humanity". But maybe I'm thin-skinned like that.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:06 PM on June 1, 2012 [10 favorites]


I'm an atheist because I was raised by conservative fundamentalists. It's difficult for me to find something appropriately disapproving but not overtly offensive here. I generally try not to point out specific faiths as being more or less ridiculous than others, because I believe that they are all equally made up fantasies, but jesus christ already.
posted by Occula at 1:07 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


And we're supposed to be the tolerant side of the aisle...

I loathe this sort of moral relativist BS.

What if it had a child that had died as a consequence of this snake handling insanity? Would it still be verboten to pass judgement then?
posted by Chekhovian at 1:08 PM on June 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


... difficult for me to find something disapproving but inoffensive TO SAY about this, rather. sorry.
posted by Occula at 1:08 PM on June 1, 2012


You can express shock, anger, frustration, disgust for a particular cultural tradition, etc., without being gleeful about someone's death. That's not moral relativism.
posted by ChuraChura at 1:09 PM on June 1, 2012 [12 favorites]


There have been times in my life that I have envied those of great faith. Growing up around pentacostals (and briefly in the church), I always was amazed at the depths of faith these folks had and how strong they seemed to believe. Did they never question? Did they never doubt? Did they ever, like I did, look at the things their faith asked them to do with terror and fear and know without a doubt that this time God wouldn't protect them?

As I've grown older, I still envy the faithful for the comfort it seems to provide. But no longer do I romanticize what that faith costs them.

I saw my aunt face stage 4 liver and lung cancer with a smile because she knew she was going to heaven. I've also seen incredibly devot people rage in terror at the last moments of their life. I hope he died believing, for his sake and his mother's sake, because to die in doubt is a fate I'd never wish on anyone.
posted by teleri025 at 1:10 PM on June 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


There is nothing stopping you from doing your photo-journo job and dialing an ambulance at the same time.

Nothing except ethics. Do you believe it is ethical ever to refuse medical treatment? If your answer is yes, then what is the rule you use to distinguish between when it is ethical and unethical? Who should have the ability to be the arbiter? My answer is yes, and I believe the rule should be if you are mentally competent (i.e. this excludes the clinically depressed, minors, certain types of mental illness), then you have the right to refuse medical assistance. This holds true even if commenters on the internet think an individual's belief system is stupid.
posted by Falconetti at 1:15 PM on June 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


I got a heart that shines in the dark like the road to the pearly gates,
You come creepin' up the slow lane baby but you know I just can't wait,
I'm a fire-walker and a straight-talker,
I'm a snake-handlin' man.
posted by BrashTech at 1:17 PM on June 1, 2012


From the first linked article:

A family member called paramedics when Mack finally allowed it, but it was too late.

So apparently at some point he relented and was willing to be treated; perhaps it was the pain? I have seen the same thing a few times with Jehovah's Witnesses on the way to the OR. After insisting that they be allowed to bleed to death rather than accept a transfusion in front of friends and family, they will occasionally turn to me on the way to the OR and say "Doc, whatever happens, just don't let me die." Typically they get evasive when asked if that means they will accept blood, and on top of that is the issue of whether they are competent after having been given preoperative sedation. It really puts you on the spot. Fortunately I have never been in that situation and then had to decide to give blood. It is much more common for Witnesses to stick to their guns, though, and as long as they are competent adults and understand the consequences of their decision I am willing to respect their wishes. That attitude is fairly common in medicine, although it is by no means universal. So for those who feel the man should have been treated against his wishes, that might not have happened even if the photographer (or whoever) called for help.

Now that I primarily care for children, we approach that issue differently and typically inform the parents that we will tranfuse their children if they needed, getting a court order if necessary. It is rare, but I have seen parents who then refuse surgery all together, which is problematic. Others have made the case that parents of small children cannot refuse needed medical care (I personally disagree with that approach). And court decisions supporting virtually any of those scenarios can be found. So the idea of refusing medical treatment for religous reasons can get pretty complicated, and has been discussed in great depth by most people who care for such people on a regular basis. I would not be surprised if local hospitals have some experience caring for snake handlers and have at least informal policies on how to proceed when confronted with a snakebite victim who refuses treatment.
posted by TedW at 1:20 PM on June 1, 2012 [11 favorites]


Chekhovian: "What if it had a child that had died as a consequence of this snake handling insanity?"

Then this would be a different conversation, with different responsibilities, and a different moral calculus?
posted by Blasdelb at 1:24 PM on June 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


I can't believe how man people seem torn between thinking that he should be kept alive at all costs regardless of his rather fanciful personal beliefs, and that he's also so stupid that he doesn't deserve to live.

Is it possible to die from condescension alone?
posted by hermitosis at 1:27 PM on June 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


Where do you get that?
posted by c13 at 1:31 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


A serious question, directed to anyone who is familiar with snake-handling. By looking at the Bible verse posted as the title of the post, why don't these people just drink poison? Is that also something they do, in addition to handling snakes?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 1:37 PM on June 1, 2012


From the second article:
Should anyone feel called by the Spirit this weekend to make such an expression of faith, there is a kerosene-filled Coke bottle on a ledge in front of the pulpit, and a Mason jar of strychnine and water hidden behind the pulpit. (Wolford, who has drunk strychnine on several occasions, says it made his muscles stiffen and lungs seize up but didn’t appear to have any long-term effects.) A hand-lettered statement taped near the pulpit reads: “The pastor and congregation are not responsible for anyone that handles the serpents and gets bit. If you get bit, the church will stand by you and pray with you. And the same goes with drinking the poison.”
posted by ChuraChura at 1:40 PM on June 1, 2012


A serious question, directed to anyone who is familiar with snake-handling. By looking at the Bible verse posted as the title of the post, why don't these people just drink poison? Is that also something they do, in addition to handling snakes?

Some of the churches that do this also drink strychnine.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:41 PM on June 1, 2012


Interesting. Thanks for finding and posting, ChuraChura. I guess it wasn't a deadly thing, then? And also, it did appear to hurt him?

Anyway, I guess there's no sense in trying to reason all this out.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 1:43 PM on June 1, 2012


I'm equally frustrated by the people saying, "Good, let the idiot die!" and those saying, "What kind of monster wouldn't call 911?" Both attitudes are terribly disrespectful. I say this as an atheist who thinks snake handling is a poor choice like whoa. But it's still the man's choice, and he has a right to it.

Current thinking in medical ethics is pretty clear that a person has the right to refuse treatment. Autonomy of the patient is the first and strongest guiding principle. Not only was it not the responsibility of the journalist to call 911, I believe it would have been incredibly disrespectful to do so. The concept of "competence to make a decision regarding your own health" does not place any value on "do you agree with the doctor" or "do you agree with the majority of Americans" or "do you agree with the person holding the phone dialing for an ambulance." You can't call someone incompetent just because you disagree with them. Valuing something even more strongly than your own life does not make you incompetent.

The only ethical dilemma I can see here is that nobody was able to take the patient aside, away from his family and community, and ask if he really truly did not want the ambulance called. If this guy was having a crisis of faith or thinking maybe he would prefer treatment, he had a lot of people surrounding him that would make it really difficult to voice that change of heart. Loving, caring people, yes, but people who might have been influencing his requests nonetheless.

That said, in the end the guy weighed was was most valuable to him, and "more life" did not end up winning. Whether the winner was "faith" or simply "appearances," we'll never know. But it does sound like he made his decision.
posted by vytae at 1:46 PM on June 1, 2012 [17 favorites]


So I've been reading Japanese Proverbs, which yield this:

Baka wa shinanakya naoranai.
Literally: An idiot will not be cured(of his idiocy), unless he dies.
posted by Chekhovian at 2:04 PM on June 1, 2012 [11 favorites]


Two conflicting thoughts on this:

1. Not all beliefs should be respected. Some should be mocked. This is one of those.
2. There must be a mental illness angle to this. In that case, mocking won't do any good and will probably do harm.
posted by b1tr0t at 2:05 PM on June 1, 2012


There must be a mental illness angle to this.

Of course there is. Just think what would happen if this guy was fucking around with snakes and drinking poison because Elvis or JFK told him so. He'd be presumed incompetent and would be on a mental ward full of Haldol due to being a danger to himself. But since he calls himself a christian, he's not having a psychotic episode with delusions and hallucinations, but testing the strength of his faith.
posted by c13 at 2:14 PM on June 1, 2012 [12 favorites]


If you really think that deeply religious people are mentally ill, then I don't think you have any business getting into a conversation about this in mixed company.
posted by hermitosis at 2:15 PM on June 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


They fit the DSM criteria. What can I say?
posted by c13 at 2:19 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Could we please stop with the mental illness schtick? I know people will mental illnesses. Using mental illness as a rhetorical cudgel against people you dislike is disgusting.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:22 PM on June 1, 2012 [24 favorites]


I value human dignity and the right to have dominion over one's body and death more highly than any other consideration (in this instance).

Looks like others have gotten to the mental illness comment already. I don't think it's that controversial to say that someone who deliberately kills themself with a snake because INVISIBLE SKY GIANT is at least a little unbalanced.
posted by DU at 2:25 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you really think that deeply religious people are mentally ill, then I don't think you have any business getting into a conversation about this in mixed company.
Some people who are deeply religious are actually mentally ill, some are not. I'm not saying that help should have been forced on this guy. I disagree that discussing the possibility mental illness can masquerade as religious experience is an inappropriate topic.

I imagine Zeus will be sending a thunderbolt my way any moment now.
posted by b1tr0t at 2:31 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Could we please stop with the mental illness schtick?
Handling poisonous snakes like this is either evidence of stupidity or mental illness. Which is the more polite path for this conversation to take?

If I'm wrong, I'll await my thunderbolt.
posted by b1tr0t at 2:34 PM on June 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


I know people with mental illness.

Well, not that it would convince an expert such as yourself, but here's some signs and symptoms of psychosis:

People with psychosis may have one or more of the following: hallucinations, delusions, catatonia, or a thought disorder, as described below.
[edit]Hallucinations
A hallucination is defined as sensory perception in the absence of external stimuli. Hallucinations are different from illusions, or perceptual distortions, which are the misperception of external stimuli.[7] Hallucinations may occur in any of the five senses and take on almost any form, which may include simple sensations (such as lights, colors, tastes, and smells) to experiences such as seeing and interacting with fully formed animals and people, hearing voices, and having complex tactile sensations.
Auditory hallucinations, particularly experiences of hearing voices, are a common and often prominent feature of psychosis. Hallucinated voices may talk about, or to, the person, and may involve several speakers with distinct personas. Auditory hallucinations tend to be particularly distressing when they are derogatory, commanding or preoccupying. However, the experience of hearing voices need not always be a negative one. One research study has shown that the majority of people who hear voices are not in need of psychiatric help.[8] The Hearing Voices Movement has subsequently been created to support voice hearers, regardless of whether they are considered to have a mental illness or not.
[edit]Delusions
Psychosis may involve delusional beliefs, some of which are paranoid in nature. Karl Jaspers has classified psychotic delusions into primary and secondary types. Primary delusions are defined as arising suddenly and not being comprehensible in terms of normal mental processes, whereas secondary delusions may be understood as being influenced by the person's background or current situation (e.g., ethnicity, religious beliefs, superstitious belief).[9]
[edit]Catatonia
Catatonia describes a profoundly agitated state in which the experience of reality is generally considered to be impaired. There are two primary manifestations of catatonic behavior. The classic presentation is a person who does not move or interact with the world in any way while awake. This type of catatonia presents with waxy flexibility. Waxy flexibility is when someone physically moves part of a catatonic person's body and the person stays in the position even if it is bizarre and otherwise nonfunctional (such as moving a person's arm straight up in the air and the arm stays there). The other type of catatonia is more of an outward presentation of the profoundly agitated state described above. It involves excessive and purposeless motor behavior as well as extreme mental preoccupation which prevents intact experience of reality. An example would be someone walking very fast in circles to the exclusion of anything else with a level of mental preoccupation (meaning not focused on anything relevant to the situation) that was not typical of the person prior to the symptom onset. In both types of catatonia there is generally no reaction to anything that happens outside of them. It is important to distinguish catatonic agitation from severe bipolar mania although someone could have both.
[edit]Thought disorder
Thought disorder describes an underlying disturbance to conscious thought and is classified largely by its effects on speech and writing. Affected persons show loosening of associations, that is, a disconnection and disorganization of the semantic content of speech and writing. In the severe form speech becomes incomprehensible and it is known as "word-salad".


Now then, if you have a better explanation of seen and hearing lord jesus, speaking in tongues, froliking on the floor and performing acts that are extremely likely to cause great harm to onself, I would be interested in hearing it.
posted by c13 at 2:34 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm in the slightly uncomfortable position of being a go-to person for parents who have DNR/AND orders and less-than-safe hobbies. But that's an responsibility I'm willing to take on because we've discussed the issues at length. I suspect that Pond and Wolford had a similar understanding. But without that kind of conversation, my instincts would be to call 911 and sort out the ethics later.

Could we please stop with the mental illness schtick?

Yeah. People engage in risky behavior for all kinds of reasons, and usually justify it in terms of the spiritual/mystical buzz they get from doing it.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:37 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not much different, to me, than a climber who gets swept off K2.

Or a 22-year-old woman whose boyfriend flips a car on Route 6? Risk of death is omnipresent.

I don't think it's that controversial to say that someone who deliberately kills themself with a snake because INVISIBLE SKY GIANT is at least a little unbalanced.

90% of Americans believe in God. And he certainly wasn't trying to kill himself.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:38 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


In the Pentecostal movement, practices like this are intended to demonstrate that God's will is fundamentally benevolent, not that God is guaranteed to intercede. It is not a belief that God intercedes in the moment but that the event is predestined to occur -- it doesn't change their beliefs if the snake attacks at all.

In practical terms, snake handling is a matter of calculated risk driven by superstition, and it's not a bad calculation. The few dozen churches that practice it rarely experience fatalities. The fellow who died here had been bitten before.

You're well aware of similar practices that you typically don't complain about, like free solo climbing and BASE jumping. There's ultimately no rational reason for free soloing and BASE jumping. People die from doing them not-infrequently. They're probably not mentally ill. But they have the trappings of things you've been told to tolerate in secular culture -- risk-taking, egocentric behaviour. And of course, look how much loving that has served us.
posted by mobunited at 2:42 PM on June 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


This guy was leading others down a path of recklessness and stupidity. What kind of spiritual leader condones playing russian roulette in the name of Deity? What greater gift are we given by than precious life itself? This form of religion is not just a spiritual cancer...it actually kills people, and I'm not going to be upset that there is one less false prophet leading people to their deaths.
posted by malocchio at 2:43 PM on June 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


How do you draw a line between risk taking and mental illness without setting up some arbitrary boundary of "this much risk and no more?" It's as irrational to devote your life to climbing up sheer cliffs that are likely to kill you as it is to handle snakes that are likely to kill you. What's the difference between someone who handles snakes for Jesus and who catches gators for fun?

Of course we all have the freedom to say "that's some stupid shit you're doing there buddy" and shake our head when people die. But people do stupid stuff regardless of whether Jesus is involved. Possibly they are all mentally ill, but if they otherwise act rationally, what are we to do about it?
posted by emjaybee at 2:45 PM on June 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


Handling poisonous snakes like this is either evidence of stupidity or mental illness. Which is the more polite path for this conversation to take?

From the article:

Mack’s mother, Vicie Haywood, nicknamed “Snook,” talked about losing her pastor husband to a rattlesnake bite when her son was 15.

You don't have to be crazy or stupid to have a hard time breaking away from the culture you were raised in.
posted by prize bull octorok at 2:47 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


What's the difference between someone who handles snakes for Jesus and who catches gators for fun?

I think it's the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, anthropocentric deity part of the former that sets it apart.
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:48 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


And he certainly wasn't trying to kill himself.

Hey sure. I'm gonna go lay down in the middle of a busy interstate at night. Not that I'm trying to get myself killed, just sleepy, that's all...


Mobunited, funny you bring up BASE jumpers, I just listened to a Gran Rounds lecture on iTunesU. They did some fMRI and PET studies of some famous jumper, and the activation pattern in his brain is significantly different from a normal person. If you want, I can dig up the actual name of the lecture.
posted by c13 at 2:49 PM on June 1, 2012


What's the difference between someone who handles snakes for Jesus and who catches gators for fun?

The preachyness.
posted by DarkForest at 2:50 PM on June 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Thank you, Darwin. You're proven correct on a daily basis.
posted by newfers at 2:51 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


How do you draw a line between risk taking and mental illness without setting up some arbitrary boundary of "this much risk and no more?" It's as irrational to devote your life to climbing up sheer cliffs that are likely to kill you as it is to handle snakes that are likely to kill you. What's the difference between someone who handles snakes for Jesus and who catches gators for fun?
I see very little difference between snake handling and russian roulette. Rock climbing is dangerous, but you can develop skills to mitigate the risk and also make effective use of safety equipment.

Raising or training poisonous snakes would be more comparable to rock climbing. Sure it is a dangerous hobby, but you can take precautions to reduce your risk. Handling dangerous snakes with God's will as your only safety net is simply stupid. Promoting the practice to others, some of whom may conclude that the appropriate response to their mental issues is to follow a similar path rather than seek medical help is deeply irresponsible.
posted by b1tr0t at 2:52 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't think it's that controversial to say that someone who deliberately kills themself with a snake because INVISIBLE SKY GIANT is at least a little unbalanced.

Well, it clearly is controversial since there is a controvery in the very thread your replying in. Maybe you mean to say that you don't think it should be controversial, otherwise your statement is directly contradicted by comments before and after yours.

Furthermore, do you think holding a belief in common with a community of believers is the same as holding a belief inapposite to the majority of your community (or humanity) is the same? For instance, is a Catholic just as "mentally ill" as someone who believes that aliens are secretly recording their thoughts? I am not asking you whether such beliefs are equally true or untrue, but rather whether they are equally indicative of being mentally ill. I think when you move past the glib "invisible sky giant" yuks (which is a lazy and overused formulation), the question is much harder to answer. I am a hardcore athiest, BTW, so I am not trying to secretly argue from a position of faith or religious belief.
posted by Falconetti at 2:52 PM on June 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


I guess we know which side the snake-handlers fall on with respect to the "faith" vs. "works" thing. Isn't this just the equivalent of praying at the front of the Temple, like the hypocrites do?
posted by notsnot at 2:54 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


What's the difference between someone who handles snakes for Jesus and who catches gators for fun?

The preachyness.


When have you ever been preached to by a pentecostal snake handling church?
posted by Falconetti at 2:57 PM on June 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


You guys are missing a point when comparing snake handling to other dangerous activities. The danger and steps taken to mitigate it is not relevant here. What's relevant is that in the case of a rock climber, for example, he understans that the activity that he's engaging in is dangerous. That is part of the fun for him. In the case of a snake handler, he does not percieve any danger due to his delusions that god will keep him safe. His reality testing mechanism is out of whack.
posted by c13 at 3:00 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sure it is a dangerous hobby, but you can take precautions to reduce your risk. Handling dangerous snakes with God's will as your only safety net is simply stupid.

I refer to just rock climbing, but the form of rock climbing where you deliberately take no precautions. You may then invoke the idea of skill. I have no doubt there's skill involved in Pentecostal snake handling -- the pastors who do it, typically do it many times. And of course, these churches specifically caution you against doing it yourself, to boot.

You have no rational reason to defend one over the other. One practice is not more rational than the other simply because you find superstitious reasoning less appealing than a lack of any coherent reasoning.

I'm sure some of us *want* this to be an event that confirms our sense of superiority as irreligious folks, because the truth is that we all make irrational decisions many times a day, and that if refusing to apply a specious framework to why is not a comfort, we'd be in a real pickle, eh?
posted by mobunited at 3:04 PM on June 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Honestly, this thread has really surprised me. Maybe I don't know Metafilter as well as I thought I did, or maybe I just ignore the parts that I don't like, but there's a lot more hate here than I expected to see. Or maybe I'm just too sensitive.

We do pretty well in most threads about rightful death about respecting people's right to do what they want to their own body and to end their life as they see fit. I know that's different than what happened, here, but I think there are parallels.

Religion was clearly a core of this man's being, and though I personally think it's stupid for him to die this way, it seems like an incredibly disrespectful thing to take that decision out of his hands and undermine the foundation upon which his life has been built. He made a choice to handle snakes and he knew the risks firsthand. That is his choice to make, and if he wants to die from it I have no right to say otherwise.

Obviously I don't blame the photographer for not doing anything. I don't think he should have. My personal opinion on most religious beliefs is that they're not for me, and I do admit to thinking a good many of them are simply stupid. But that's not my decision to make for other people.

The man died doing what he believed in and we have no indication that he wanted otherwise. All of the hate and the glee over his death is really, really distasteful.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 3:04 PM on June 1, 2012 [7 favorites]



You guys are missing a point when comparing snake handling to other dangerous activities. The danger and steps taken to mitigate it is not relevant here. What's relevant is that in the case of a rock climber, for example, he understans that the activity that he's engaging in is dangerous. That is part of the fun for him. In the case of a snake handler, he does not percieve any danger due to his delusions that god will keep him safe. His reality testing mechanism is out of whack.

You are wrong. This is not how the theology works, or even what the victim believed.
posted by mobunited at 3:05 PM on June 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


10 Respecting people's beliefs is such a load of horseshit.
20 This is what I believe!
30 GOTO 10
posted by newfers at 3:07 PM on June 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


In the case of a snake handler, he does not percieve any danger due to his delusions that god will keep him safe.

You are straight up incorrect. You should spend a little time reading about snake handling. If you had even bothered to read a wiki page about it, you would know that you are wrong.
posted by Falconetti at 3:08 PM on June 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


I feel like there's a lot of disrespect here. This is the same kind of thing atheists hate from believers, lack of respect for people of other faiths.

Speaking as an atheist, this guy had meaning in his life and died poignantly for what he believed in. Who am I to judge his life or his belief?
posted by Gyrus at 3:08 PM on June 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


OK, now y'all are just cock-waving with pitchforks.

Tolerance is two sided. Jehovah's Witnesses spend more time in the Supreme Court defending First Amendment rights than anyone except the ACLU. People who have no understanding of the fundamental inter-dependence of freedom of religion and freedom of speech appear vastly more ignorant than the guy waving the fucking snakes.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:09 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you had even bothered to read a wiki page about it, you would know that you are wrong.

This is straight from the wiki page

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, spreading to mostly coal mining towns. The practice plays only a small part of the church service of churches that practice snake handling. Practitioners believe serpent handling dates to antiquity and quote the Book of Mark and the Book of Luke to support the practice:
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)

There's also a part about it being unlawful, which is something I did not know. But please point out the part where I am wrong.
posted by c13 at 3:17 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


10 Respecting people's beliefs is such a load of horseshit.
20 This is what I believe!
30 GOTO 10


I know the temptation is to cynically reduce it to this and hey, totally come out as being *above it all*. But the actual point is that you're not. None of us are. Everyone gambles their lives to various degrees on experiences they find meaningful, for reasons that aren't necessarily that hot.

Listen: Hacking at combat sports I punched, kicked and choked people at the risk of being punched, kicked and choked, as part of organized punching, kicking and choking behaviour. I can point to the preparations I took and that it might help me punch to prevent punching, but I honestly cannot tell you that my time wouldn't have been better spent doing more pushups and deciding to cultivate a more pleasant personality. There is something in us that decided to do these things for reasons that are opaque to our consciousness, but which we're really good at justifying midway or post-hoc. Is there really a difference between making up a reason and coming up with a vague idea that it's to define oneself, or for some kind of rush or something?

That said, snake handling is in the set of dumb ideas, for sure. It's more dumb than the dumb stuff I do, but God has nothing to do with that.
posted by mobunited at 3:18 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Besides, I fail to see how taking what snake handlers say seriously any different from taking delusions of a schizophrenic seriously. I mean , obviously the experience is real and meaningful to them, but it does not change the fact that we're dealing with psychopathology.
posted by c13 at 3:22 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


In practical terms, snake handling is a matter of calculated risk driven by superstition, and it's not a bad calculation. The few dozen churches that practice it rarely experience fatalities.

They certainly experience bites and fatalities at a much higher rate than the background population. AAFP references about 8000 bites and approximately a dozen fatalities per year in the US, out of a population of 311 million (growing year over year). That puts a standard citizen at about a .002% chance of a bite and .000004% chance of snakebite death each year. Compare to a population of snakehandlers that is generally ballparked at 500-1000 people, and has been in the US for about 100 years. There are about two dozen media-reported fatalities in this group for snakebites (this article references a much higher 75 but doesn't source it), or about one every four years (not counting the deaths that were not reported as associated with the Pentecostal Signs Following movement, who have a strong motivation not to self-report). That comes out to about a .02% yearly chance of *death* by snakebite, or five HUNDRED times more likely than the general population, at a minimum.

On top of it all, this is a self-reinforcing structure of insular cult activity. These aren't independent psychosis hobbyists, but part of a tightly knit group of devotees that deliberately encourage this kind of behavior in other parishioners and their family members. This fellow didn't just happen into the suicide-by-snake trade, his own FATHER died the same way and he was raised up in it by a mother just as devoted. These people are deliberately and methodically brainwashed into thinking this is a valid lifestyle, and they are not just killing themselves through it, but raising their families and friends into the same path of agonizing death.

The legality of this entire endeavor is fairly hazy ground - it's been outlawed in some states, and taken to trial in many others, including a very contentious case in Georgia where a seven year old girl was murdered by snakebites (wiki). This concept of free faith is actively murderous to not just the 'competent' adults engaging in the activity, but to every person brought up to think it's not just acceptable but HOLY to participate. And then die, in wrenching agony.
posted by FatherDagon at 3:22 PM on June 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


Besides, I fail to see how taking what snake handlers say seriously any different from taking delusions of a schizophrenic seriously. I mean , obviously the experience is real and meaningful to them, but it does not change the fact that we're dealing with psychopathology.

I am asking you, please, to stop this.
posted by shakespeherian at 3:23 PM on June 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


According to wikipedia:
As in the early days, worshipers are still encouraged to lay hands on the sick (cf. Faith healing), speak in tongues (cf. Glossolalia), provide testimony of miracles, and occasionally consume poisons such as strychnine.
[...]
Most religious snake handlers are still found in the Appalachian Mountains and other parts of the southeastern United States, especially in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Ohio.
Can someone explain how this is anything other than an approach to mental illness that has grown out of poverty and a lack of access to mental health care?
I feel like there's a lot of disrespect here.
There is. Dude was stupid and/or mentally ill. His beliefs and life don't deserve respect. Tolerance, perhaps. But not respect.

Respect is not meaningful if you apply it to everything. Respect has to be earned.
But the actual point is that you're not. None of us are. Everyone gambles their lives to various degrees on experiences they find meaningful, for reasons that aren't necessarily that hot.
That may be a fair statement about my life, but it is quite disrespectful to people in the mental healthcare profession who are clearly and objectively helping people.
I am asking you, please, to stop this.
I'm asking you, please, stop this. We could be at it all day, and I've got work to do!
posted by b1tr0t at 3:26 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


c13, "reading about it," is not sufficiently satisfied by picking your fave wiki paragraph. It's satisfied by actually knowing what's going on in the context of the religion being practiced.

Or you could read the links, which clearly say they simply believe that if they die, it was predestined. Pentecostalism (the religion is not "snake handling") doesn't argue that God intercedes, because God has already determined what will happen from the beginning of time. Pentecostalism says that God *tends* to heal, and that this is a sign of God's grace.

When this is expressed as "Dude, it could be my time," by an extreme athlete, I bet that's totally rad instead of sick though, because people with money do it on TV. Rad!
posted by mobunited at 3:29 PM on June 1, 2012


Can someone explain how this is anything other than an approach to mental illness that has grown out of poverty and a lack of access to mental health care?

And you wonder why people join the Tea Party.
posted by mobunited at 3:32 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


[Folks, maybe either take the religion/mental illness derail elsewhere or realize that it's a TOUCHY AS HELL subject and if you can't approach it respectfully, please don't. MetaTalk is available if you are not understanding this or if you just need to complain some more. This is a classic "MeFi doesn't do this well" topic and you are not, in fact, doing it well. ]
posted by jessamyn at 3:33 PM on June 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


As someone who suffered at the hands of bad religion growing up, I see no moving humanist takeaway in this.

Same here.

My father is a wackadoo hokum loving woo-woo Fundamentalist Christian. He and my mother divorced because he believed that rather than take me to the pediatrician for pneumonia when I was a baby, that Jesus would heal me. He hasn't become any more rational since.

My stepmother is currently in the hospital with a very serious and very, very rare blood disorder as a complication of more "mild" and treatable leukemia. She quite literally has the same odds of making it through this as flipping a coin. And what do I hear from her and my father? That it doesn't matter because Jesus is going to heal her. And it's just so fucking awful to watch. Yes, she's in the hospital. Yes, she's getting treatment. But it doesn't matter because JESUS is going to heal her. She almost didn't consent to chemo at all - her children had to convince her that it doesn't diminish the power of Jesus and his alleged healing for her to get actual medical treatment. Without the chemo, there's no question that she would die.

So, maybe the wrong thread for me to wander into right now - but please don't wish death upon people with crazy weird beliefs in the healing power of Jesus. I'm going through it right now and it's fucking awful in every way. And if my stepmother isn't "healed?" In that eventuality, it will be God's will that Jesus "take her home."

This is absolutely gut wrenching to watch and it's impossible as a concerned and loving family member to do anything but bite the hell out of my own tongue. This is not the time to try and convince someone in a horrible situation that G-d *doesn't* exist. I wouldn't wish this upon anyone and I'd appreciate it if those calling for the death of humans in order to extinguish crazy beliefs would dial it back a few hundred notches.
posted by sonika at 3:36 PM on June 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


c13 - you are right, the meaning of being bitten in pentecostal snake handling churches is not addressed in Wikipedia, my bad. Notwithstanding, snake handlers don't believe that they will not get bitten or that they will not be injured or killed if bitten, which is what you stated in the comment I was replying to.

b1tr0t - Respect is not meaningful if you apply it to everything. Respect has to be earned.

I too believe this, but I don't base respect on whether someone believes in something that I find stupid but does not impact me (or classes of people in general) negatively. I don't know your politcal or philosophical leanings, but an individual like Gandhi, who is generally respected, had a lot of pretty bizarre beliefs. Yet, I still respect him.

Some individuals in this thread are having a very hard time separating their personal opinions on snake handling from the underlying issues that have been part of this ongoing conversation.
posted by Falconetti at 3:36 PM on June 1, 2012


And you wonder why people join the Tea Party.

Poverty and a lack of access to mental health care?
posted by Benjy at 3:37 PM on June 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


My grandmother was part of a pentecostal church when she was younger, they did the whole snake handling thing , she was a nice lady, and was not at all mentally ill. It would have been sad if she was killed by a snake.
posted by St. Sorryass at 3:41 PM on June 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


this is a self-reinforcing structure of insular cult activity. These aren't independent psychosis hobbyists, but part of a tightly knit group of devotees that deliberately encourage this kind of behavior in other parishioners and their family members. This fellow didn't just happen into the suicide-by-snake trade, his own FATHER died the same way and he was raised up in it by a mother just as devoted. These people are deliberately and methodically brainwashed into thinking this is a valid lifestyle, and they are not just killing themselves through it, but raising their families and friends into the same path of agonizing death.
posted by FatherDagon


This.
posted by lazaruslong at 3:50 PM on June 1, 2012


This was a pointless, needless tragedy. But what really upsets me is that his example as a spiritual leader will encourage others to kill themselves. It's hard for me to see anything but evil in that.

(Eponysterical, I know).
posted by malocchio at 3:50 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind." - John Donne, Meditation XVII
posted by lord_wolf at 3:52 PM on June 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


Poverty and a lack of access to mental health care?

No, because Republicans can turn casual liberal classist bigotry against itself.
posted by mobunited at 3:54 PM on June 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Mobunited, I was told to go read the wiki page. Where there is nothing that would point to me being wrong. Again, thoughts and actions of a schizophrenic are also consistent with his pathology, but what of it? I don't know how closely you know snake handlers, I certainly haven't met any. But I've worked with long-term (years) institutionized schizophrenics, and if you try to see their point of view, in a good number of cases it all seems pretty logical. But you have to remember that there is reality and there is delusion.
It seems to me you're saying that I'm wrong because snake handlers don't feel danger, but rather think that if they die playing with snakes and drinking poison, it was "pre-ordained". I fail to see how the former is any more or less delusional than the latter. So I'm wrong about the exact delusion they have. How does it change anything?

I am asking you, please, to stop this.

Stop what, exactly? Stop thinking? Holding an opinion?
posted by c13 at 3:56 PM on June 1, 2012


this is a self-reinforcing structure of insular cult activity. These aren't independent psychosis hobbyists, but part of a tightly knit group of devotees that deliberately encourage this kind of behavior in other parishioners and their family members. This fellow didn't just happen into the suicide-by-snake trade, his own FATHER died the same way and he was raised up in it by a mother just as devoted. These people are deliberately and methodically brainwashed into thinking this is a valid lifestyle, and they are not just killing themselves through it, but raising their families and friends into the same path of agonizing death.

. . . except that for the majority it isn't a path of agonizing death. The majority do not even handle snakes. The majority who handle snakes are not killed by the snakes.

Shit, this is like the inverse of the atheist complaint that when a tornado kills dozens of people and leaves one strangely alive, the life is a miracle.
posted by mobunited at 3:58 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


this is a self-reinforcing structure of insular cult activity.

Just because you say this, doesn't make it true. What hallmarks of it being a cult do you see? Were the parishioners venerating the man who died, as if he were a deity? Did the church try to extend totalitarian control over its parishoners? Was their an emphasis on recruiting new members and raising money? Etc...

While I have no personal experience with this church (or pentecostal snake handling in general), I am betting the answer is "no." Can you demonstrate why you think church is a cult? Or do you believe all religious belief or perhaps organized religion is a cult?

I've asked lots of critical questions of commenters here in this thread and have not received a single reply.
posted by Falconetti at 3:59 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mobunited, I was told to go read the wiki page.

You were told that as a casual shorthand for being asked to do the minimum required to have an informed opinion.
posted by mobunited at 4:00 PM on June 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Snake handling is like Russian Roulette, but with arguably higher odds for disaster. I have zero sympathy for anybody who dies as a result of either.

Why condemn a photojournalist who does his or her job documenting a bunch of people who are simply fucking ignorant beyond you wildest dreams?

This is the first time I've ever uttered an obscenity here, but I can't think of any case where it's been more deserving.
posted by imjustsaying at 4:03 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Actually, that was too brief, c13. Snake handling Pentecostals are a complex phenomenon. But *the two links* both mention that yeah, they get bitten and die, and incorporate that just fine.

It reminds me of the Pacific sects called "cargo cults," which also do not work the way you think they do when you skim 'em.
posted by mobunited at 4:03 PM on June 1, 2012


Again, thoughts and actions of a schizophrenic are also consistent with his pathology

Is that what a majority of people actually trained and licensed in psychology or psychiatry believe (I don't know if you are - I don't presume to know in what capacity you've worked extensively with schizophrenics)? Or, if not a majority, a singificant minority? I am pretty sure the answer is "no."

If you are correct, think about the implication of what you are saying. One can find in almost every religion, mainstream or not, aspects that seem absurd to a nonbeliever. Do all those believers, the majority of the all living humans, have pathologies consistent with the thoughts of a schizophrenic?
posted by Falconetti at 4:05 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Snake handling is like Russian Roulette, but with arguably higher odds for disaster. I have zero sympathy for anybody who dies as a result of either.

No, statistically snake handling is safer than the 1/6 chance of Russian Roulette.

Why condemn a photojournalist who does his or her job documenting a bunch of people who are simply fucking ignorant beyond you wildest dreams?

No, they know the snakes might bite them. They have been bitten. They do not believe God keeps the snakes back through direct divine intercession.

This is the first time I've ever uttered an obscenity here, but I can't think of any case where it's been more deserving.

Why? What's the moral offence, exactly?
posted by mobunited at 4:07 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Snake handling is like Russian Roulette, but with arguably higher odds for disaster.

It is needlessly dangerous and stupid to me, but it is pretty clear that the odds of disaster are not higher than Russian Roulette (1 in 6, classically).
posted by Falconetti at 4:07 PM on June 1, 2012


How do you draw a line between risk taking and mental illness without setting up some arbitrary boundary of "this much risk and no more?"

You don't because mental illness may not have anything to do with risk-taking behavior. I'm biased here because I seem to have inherited a fair number of bats in the belfry. But there's a big difference between actual experiences of mental illness, and people who do wrong/stupid/risky things because that's their worldview/ideology.

It's a pretty well-studied truth about cognitive psychology that our ability to estimate probability and risk is deeply flawed and biased. The ability to rationally estimate risk is a learned skill that's deeply counterintuitive. We know this because teaching people to modify their behavior based on better estimates of risk is a hard task when it comes to things like tobacco use, human sexuality, operating motor vehicles, or gambling. Lots of people who take illogical risks are wrong (in a mathematical or empirical sense), but they're not mentally ill.

I've had both mystical experiences and psychotic delusions, and while they might be the same thing for some people, I don't think they are universally equivalent.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 4:08 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


That was cruel, as an atheist the photographer could at least try to bullshit the pastor into calling a paramedic — tell this story:
A man caught in a flood. He has to escape to the roof of his house and he's sitting there waiting to be rescued. He starts praying, "Please God, save me. Rescue me from this flood." And then all of a sudden, a neighbor in a canoe floats by and offers to help, but the man turns the neighbor down, saying, "Not to worry, God will save me."

Later, with the water rising more and more each minute, the police come in a boat and offer to help the man. He turns them down too, saying, "I'm perfectly fine up here on my roof, go rescue others. God will save me."

Finally, a helicopter appears and the pilot announces that he needs to airlift the man to safety. The man says, "Oh, no thanks. God will save me."

Unfortunately the man drowns, and appears before God in heaven. The man starts ranting and raving, "I've been a good Christian my whole life and I was praying all during that flood for you to save me. And you let me die—why God? Why would you do that?"

God, in exasperation, says to the man, "Look, I sent your neighbor in a canoe, the police in a boat, and a helicopter crew to airlift you to safety. What more could I have done to rescue you from that flood?"
and then go hey man, Jesus is telling me FOR REALZ that's it's best to call a paramedic, I'm calling 911 right now, OK? and just call 911 no matter if you're an atheist or believer
posted by anonymous sockpuppet for Jesus at 4:10 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I keep stepping on mobunited's toes with my responses, but I pretty much agree with his point of view on every issue that has come up in this thread.

Frankly, even as an athiest, I would much rather be around Pentecostal snake handlers who were kind than those who believe people with "stupid" beliefs should be dead or that their life has no worth or meaning. The paucity of spirit and blinkered worldview embodied in the latter category is far more dangerous to humankind than a backwoods Appalachian preacher playing around with snakes.
posted by Falconetti at 4:11 PM on June 1, 2012 [15 favorites]


Damn. These guys can't catch a break from anyone.
posted by wobh at 4:24 PM on June 1, 2012


On a scale of 1-10 of religious sects being cool, I give these folks a solid 9!

They're not suicide bombers. They don't come to my house early Saturday morning harassing me when I have a little hangover. They don't try to pass legislation that would require the rest of us to handle snakes and they don't sneak snake handling into our kids school curriculums.

It is a shame though that every once in a while one of them has to go see Jesus a little early. I doubt that they see that as a bad thing.
posted by snsranch at 4:26 PM on June 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


You were told that as a casual shorthand for being asked to do the minimum required to have an informed opinion.

Yeah, and other than the illigality of it, I've learned nothing new. Do I have a minimally informed opinion? You seem to be an authority on the subject..

What exactly are we arguing about here? Is it about my distinction of a rock climber and a snake handler? Or is it about psychopathology as Falconetti implies? Because if it's about the former - fine, whatever. But if it's about the latter, you've said nothing that really contradicts or disproves my claim.


If you are correct, think about the implication of what you are saying. One can find in almost every religion, mainstream or not, aspects that seem absurd to a nonbeliever. Do all those believers, the majority of the all living humans, have pathologies consistent with the thoughts of a schizophrenic?

I didn't say I had extensive training in psychiatry. Just what isnrequired to get an MD, but I'm not a psychiatrist, although the field interests me quite a lot. From what I understand, there is quite a lot of disagreement in the field as to where religion falls. If you take the classic definition of delusion ( wiki),

Although non-specific concepts of madness have been around for several thousand years, the psychiatrist and philosopher Karl Jaspers was the first to define the three main criteria for a belief to be considered delusional in his 1913 book General Psychopathology.[2] These criteria are:
certainty (held with absolute conviction)
incorrigibility (not changeable by compelling counterargument or proof to the contrary)..
impossibility or falsity of content (implausible, bizarre or patently untrue)[3]



religion would fall into a category of delusion. However, according to wiki, delusion is always pathological. So you see the problem. From what I gathered in my discussions with mentors, a delusion is pathologic when it leads to harm to an individual holding the delusion, or bystaners.
In this case, the delusion is(was) clearly pathologic. In a general case of a religious beliver that claims to be in direct communication with god, it is still a delusion, but not a pathological one.
posted by c13 at 4:28 PM on June 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's clear to me that, in addition to the various belief systems being slung about this thread, there is another world view clash at play: some believe that respect has to be earned, some feel that respect is there to be lost. I am amongst the later. I find that it is difficult to engage with people who withhold their respect for me as a matter of principle until I do something to earn it, especially when I am not privy to what that thing might be. When you say "respect has to be earned" it implies to me that you hold me in lower esteem to begin with. This can often cause arguments to go sideways.

I think this collision of beliefs is one reason that "we don't do threads like this well." Does awareness of this help to open conversation about religious topics, and other "ne'er do well's?"

Perhaps I should have taken this comment to Metatalk, but I don't feel like starting a big conversation there which is simply a rehash of other conversations we've had. The truth is though, this thread had actually made me more self-aware of my thoughts on this subject, and the ways in which I show up in conversations around these topics. I feel more like trying to be helpful in-thread, and inserting a little invitation to self-awareness.
posted by salishsea at 4:53 PM on June 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


The more I read this thread, the more I can't stop picturing Nelson Muntz pointing and laughing.
posted by blaneyphoto at 5:09 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


The accusations of evil, liberal, atheist bigotry would probably mean a lot more if these people found out about snake handling as adults and joined it with full knowledge of the consequences, but like the dead man, whose father was a pastor who also died of a rattlesnake bite, they're taught their religion as children. They grow up with the idea that messing with poisonous snakes and ingesting strychnine is perfectly normal and safe. They see their parents doing it, their friend's parents doing it, depending on their area, a huge section of their community doing it.

They may not allow children to handle snakes anymore, due to it being illegal, but they teach them that it's perfectly normal and rational in expectation of when they are legally capable, which isn't much better. I imagine telling your parents you don't want to risk your life handling snakes isn't as bad as coming out, but it can't be a picnic either.
posted by stavrogin at 5:17 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


some believe that respect has to be earned, some feel that respect is there to be lost. I am amongst the later.

I don't know. To me there is a baseline level of respect, and one could go either way. The caveat is that respect is something a person gets, not his belifs or opinions. The stand on their own. Which makes things problematic to an extent online, where there is no physical presence.

Stavrogin, a funny occured to me that involved "coming out" and "snakes", but I won't persue it any further...
posted by c13 at 5:23 PM on June 1, 2012


His religion should be more Christian, where we say "You don't die for your own faith, you make the other poor bastard die for his"
(with apologies to Patton)
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 5:23 PM on June 1, 2012


I was surprised to find that snake handling has only been around for about 100 years. (Wikipedia says "between 1908 and 1914"; the Washington Post says 1909.) George Went Hensley, who popularized the practice, also died of a snakebite.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:23 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


sorry
posted by c13 at 5:24 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


The accusations of evil, liberal, atheist bigotry would probably mean a lot more if these people found out about snake handling as adults and joined it with full knowledge of the consequences, but like the dead man, whose father was a pastor who also died of a rattlesnake bite, they're taught their religion as children.

I'm sure his upbringing must've had a profound influence on him, but according to this Washington Post profile, Wolford got into booze and crime after his father's death and didn't get back into the faith until he was in his 30s.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:34 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


They grow up with the idea that messing with poisonous snakes and ingesting strychnine is perfectly normal and safe.

They do not believe it is safe. As stated, Wolford left the religion, then came back -- not exactly an inescapable trap. They believe in a theological position that you haven't learned about because despite the discussion here and the statements in both links, you possess an overwhelming bias that inclines you to prefer what you believed reading above the fold over anything else.

When your opinions are incapable of being influenced by directly contradictory facts, there's a name for that. It's not a nice name.

And yes, to Go There, I would say that the reactions here are *exactly* the kind of thing that provides an opening for right wing radicalism in the poor and working class. Without any coherent idea of class, liberals cannot even describe the dynamics that make these people suffer. But they sure like to venture opinions that these people, who probably love their kids and worry about suffering in the world, are crazy. There's no attempt at the positive engagement that actually deals with real problems, like the fact that these Pentecostals are probably strongly sexist and homophobic. In fact, what the reaction reveals is that you are willing to *give up* that fight for the easier task of mocking cultural eccentricities that you tolerate when they're framed as secular sport and art.

This is why they hate you, when they hate you.
posted by mobunited at 5:44 PM on June 1, 2012 [9 favorites]


Thank you, Darwin. You're proven correct on a daily basis.

Not even close. This guy had children. He had already reproduced.

I mean, I know people love to misuse "Darwin" as a shortcut for "did something I think is stupid" but this is ridiculous.
posted by wildcrdj at 5:44 PM on June 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


Needless death. So very sad. Utterly different circumstances, but brings to mind Kate Campbell's song:

He used to preach the end of time was near
Set your house in order, before the Lord appears
Be not deceived by Satan's demonry
Brethren, let the spirit lead

Some say the devil took ahold of him that night
Spirits from a bottle led his soul awry
He forced her hand into the rattler's cage
Domestic violence with a holy rage

Reach down, pick up
Have faith, live right
If you believe signs following
The snake will not bite

Twelve good disciples decided his fate
Ninety-nine to life, the judge proclaimed
Somewhere on Sand Mountain, a woman needs no proof
That evil can lie so close to truth

posted by fiercecupcake at 5:46 PM on June 1, 2012


But they sure like to venture opinions that these people, who probably love their kids and worry about suffering in the world, are crazy. There's no attempt at the positive engagement ..

How is engagement related to having an opinion. Or, as you seem to imply, why is engagement necessary to hold an opinion?
posted by c13 at 5:54 PM on June 1, 2012


c13: "Again, thoughts and actions of a schizophrenic are also consistent with his pathology, but what of it?"

What a fantastically ignorant thing to say, you use these words like you understand them, but YOU CLEARLY DO NOT EVEN HAVE EVEN A WIKIPEDIA LEVEL UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT SCHIZOPHRENIA IS.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:27 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was not sure whether the thread would show Darwin or Godwin first. Darwin won. (times three)
posted by jcworth at 6:35 PM on June 1, 2012


For those of you thinking that we should commit these folks to mental health institutions, it isn't a novel idea.

Political abuse of psychiatry

and particularly,

Political abuse of psychiatry in the Soviet Union
posted by Blasdelb at 6:43 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Relax, dude. I'm only mentioning schizophrenia in the context of phsychosis. No, this ain't USSR- something you know very little about anyway, and no, I in no way advocate forcibly institutionizing these people. Speaking of schizophrenia, if you know what it is, there are a hell of a lot of people that want to talk to you.

Jcworth, it was actually 4 times, but my comment got deleted.
posted by c13 at 6:56 PM on June 1, 2012


c13, you really have no idea what you're talking about in re psychiatry, religion, delusions, and this case. You're writing far outside your remit, and I'm shocked to hear that you have an interest in psychiatry given your complete failure to convey any familiarity with basic ideas in this thread. You, frankly, sounds as much like someone with an overvalued opinion (religion is INSANE) as someone who is handling snakes. I write this as someone who works in mental health, has worked with plenty of people with delusions, and has more than a passing familiarity with psychosis. Your certainty that all you are representing here is your own incisive and critical thought is something you should be embarrassed about. You sound like a stoned Matrix watcher who thinks they're a philosopher.
posted by OmieWise at 6:59 PM on June 1, 2012 [13 favorites]


Ok. That sounds really great and powerful, but I think your case (not to say a personal attack) would sound even better if you provide some sort of an argument to support it.
But hey,since we're treading on sensitive grounds, if it makes you feel better, a small popolation of people that knowingly drink poison and handle poisonous snakes is completely normal, and I'm a dumbass.
posted by c13 at 7:12 PM on June 1, 2012


I think this conversation suffers from a problem that's widespread in discussions about mental health. Because we use many of the same terms for normal states of health and clinical disorders, it's often easy to think that depression is just having a bad day of the blues, anxiety is equal to butterflies in your stomach before a presentation, and delusion is the same thing as being wrong. Most people are usually wrong. I'm often wrong. Psychotically delusional is another thing entirely.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:15 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


But hey,since we're treading on sensitive grounds, if it makes you feel better, a small popolation of people that knowingly drink poison and handle poisonous snakes is completely normal, and I'm a dumbass.

There's a third option between completely normal and mentally ill. And that option describes why the vast majority of things happen in the world involving human beings. They take unnecessary risks based on bad ideas about those risks. People who drive sleepy, drunk, or using a cell phone are not mentally ill; they're just plain wrong about how that effects their safety on the road.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:27 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


People who drive sleepy, drunk, or using a cell phone are not mentally ill; they're just plain wrong about how that effects their safety on the road.

No, those people are not mentally ill. If only they were relevant for this discussion..
posted by c13 at 7:33 PM on June 1, 2012


They grow up with the idea that messing with poisonous snakes and ingesting strychnine is perfectly normal and safe.
They do not believe it is safe.
Sure seems to me like they should, though. Not necessarily the snakes, but drinking poison at least. The claim that they're basing their actions off of says they won't be harmed.
posted by Flunkie at 7:37 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


[This thread does not have to turn into everyone arguing against one person. Maybe don't make it into one?]
posted by jessamyn at 7:43 PM on June 1, 2012


> I've worked with long-term (years) institutionized schizophrenics, and if you try to see their point of view, in a good number of cases it all seems pretty logical.

No one is arguing here the beliefs of snake handlers are logical, or that you should take them seriously.

> I am asking you, please, to stop this.

Stop what, exactly? Stop thinking? Holding an opinion?


What shakespeherian said was: "I know people will mental illnesses. Using mental illness as a rhetorical cudgel against people you dislike is disgusting."

'Believing things I think are stupid' is not the same as having a 'delusion' for the purpose of diagnosing schizophrenia, and having delusions is not sufficient for diagnosing schizophrenia on its own.

Sharing the beliefs of the culture you grew up in is totally normal and not a sign of schizophrenia, even though you may think the culture is "sick" in a non-clinical sense.

You can say that an ideology is "cancerous", but you're in trouble if you insist we should actually treat it with chemotherapy. In the same way, it's unlikely you can cure people of political and religious ideologies you think are stupid, by giving them drugs used to treat symptoms of schizophrenia because these are ideologies, not brain malfunctions.
posted by nangar at 7:44 PM on June 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


I'm uncomfortable that the photojournalist didn't do anything. There is no correct answer, and it's hard to say what was right or wrong.

I guess part of the article had to do with respect. Snake handling has a long and interesting history in West Virginia. An academic article I wrote about last year argued it originally came about because of the difficult living conditions in the region. Testing one's faith by handling the snake became a way to cope with the omnipresent threat of death. So there's that part-- being respectful of other cultures.

On the other hand, the photojournalist was in a pretty unique position, because unlike everyone else there, he had no stake in the religious aspects of the ceremony. He was in the best position of anyone to call an ambulance. You can respect someone and their beliefs and still not let them die because you don't share their beliefs.

But honestly, I wouldn't want to have to make a call like that, and I really wouldn't want to be in charge of deciding if it was wrong or right. What a haunting story.
posted by kettleoffish at 7:55 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is a mistake to dismiss snake handlers and the like as crazy or mentally ill. I grew up around born-again Christians who believe many parts of the bible are literal. They'd probably line up with 99% of what the snake handlers believe, minus the physically dangerous stuff. They were neither crazy nor mentally ill - at least no more than the general population.

One thing I certainly respect about these people is their commitment to their beliefs. I've seen lots of Christians (and people of other faiths, or none) claim to believe something but not show it in how they live their lives.
posted by Bort at 7:58 PM on June 1, 2012


Nangar, please, please, please point out where I diagnosed them as schizophrenics, said their belifs are stupid or that I actually care enough about these people to dislike them.
Because it seems to me we're inhabiting some parallel metafilters that somehow got intangled.

One thing I certainly respect about these people is their commitment to their beliefs.

I knew a guy that was convinced (I'm sure that he still is) that the night shift nurces were giving him "memory drugs" and then forcibly performing oral sex on him so they could impregnate themselves with his sperm. He's been on the ward for more than ten years, I'm not sure if he thought that from the beginning, but there definitely was no way of convincing him otherwise.
I'm not sure that respect for his commitment is the main thing he deserves...
posted by c13 at 8:07 PM on June 1, 2012


When I was in divinity school (at Duke University), I was taught that the passages of the Bible used to justify snake handling are not in the original manuscripts, are not scripture, and should not be preached or taught.

For what it's worth.
posted by 4ster at 8:25 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have no opinion on the claim that they "should not be preached or taught", but yes, that part of the (current) Bible is not found in any of the early known copies.

However, it seems to me it would be a bit difficult for modern Christians to throw it out, because that part which is not found in any of the early known copies of the Bible is also the part that says that people saw a resurrected Jesus.
posted by Flunkie at 8:31 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, we get it. You think strong religious beliefs are a mental illness, equivalent to someone in a mental ward for 10 years. You don't need to keep repeating it.
posted by Bort at 8:33 PM on June 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sure seems to me like they should, though. Not necessarily the snakes, but drinking poison at least. The claim that they're basing their actions off of says they won't be harmed.

No, it does not. As I said earlier, one of the problems talking about this is like talking about Pacific "cargo cults." What you assume is true about them after a cursory reading of their rites and traditions is usually wrong. I am not an expert on snake handling Pentacostals, but I have spoken to Pentacostals extensively and know a bit about historical Protestantism.

"Snake handling" Pentacostalism carries theology from mainline Pentacostalism, which carries the principle of predestination from early Protestantism. Predestination holds that God has already selected the whole destiny of the universe. Therefore, God does not intervene in the world. God has already done everything. God decided who the snake bites and who it doesn't at the beginning of the universe. Yes, this raises the problem of free will, but that gets into a whole other thing, so never mind that right now.

Snake handling is a special manifestation of a more specifically Pentacostal belief that God will tend to heal and nuture people. He won't always do it, but he mostly will. The fact that the snakes and poison usually do not kill people is seen as a manifestation of God's basic benevolence. In this belief, God does not owe us benevolence and freedom from pain. God already preformed the fundamentally good act of creating the universe and humans specifically, and the moments where we appear to be saved from harm or happy are signs of God's further goodness, and his desire that the universe play out in a way that people know God loves them and finds salvation in Christ, especially when signs appear to point to the legitimacy of the biblical narrative. This is not necessarily overt and cannot be truly outside of nature, since the entire configuration of the universe is one phenomenon, made by God.

When atheists criticise Christians for cherry picking miracles from tragedies, or thanking God for someone's hard work, they're usually wasting their time because they're attacking an entirely incorrect notion of what God does. Atheists tend to believe that the Christian God is supposed to be like this cosmic sysadmin, tweaking things on the go and intervening in the rules of an external system. This is wrong. The "intervention" was always part of the system, and this form of biblical-literalist Christianity does not reflexively believe in the reality of systems outside of phenomena the way secularists tend to as they muddle through a mix of unconscious Platonism and positivism.

Divine healing is not considered to be a sudden intercession, or overtly supernatural, but the play of God's creation reflecting His benevolence. Snake handlers and poison drinkers know they might die, and exercise limits on how they will interpret Biblical verse to avoid being presumptuous (God doesn't owe them anything, and suicide is wrong). They know the poison can kill them. They know not to dry to drink it constantly, or too much. Same with the snakes.

Now, this is crazy, but it is not *that* crazy. As I said in the beginning, the end result is essentially a risky act that leads to some kind of satisfying experience, keeping with the high energy, charismatic nature of worship. But there are lots of risky acts that provide satisfaction. I mentioned some of them earlier.

The main difference is that snake handling and poison drinking have this entire structure behind them, while other acts have either no coherent justification, or a purely egoistic one that has no special merit -- it's just an eccentric choice to go for BASE jumping.

The primary difference is, in the end, that BASE jumping and many other dangerous acts which are characterized as art or sport are carried out by privileged people, and snake handling is performed by a small number of broke-ass outcast Pentecostals living out near mountains of slag. You have been very effectively encouraged to have a contempt for these people that comes even before your metaphysical beliefs, but which can easily attach to those beliefs to fuel rhetoric supporting that bias.
posted by mobunited at 8:36 PM on June 1, 2012 [34 favorites]


Sure seems to me like they should, though. Not necessarily the snakes, but drinking poison at least. The claim that they're basing their actions off of says they won't be harmed.
No, it does not.
Huh? Maybe I'm misunderstanding you; it seems to say it pretty directly and without equivocation. It says "And these signs shall follow them that believe; (...) if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them".
They know the poison can kill them.
I understand that they don't believe it won't necessarily hurt them, but that's a very different thing than whether or not the claim says it won't hurt them.
posted by Flunkie at 8:44 PM on June 1, 2012


“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”
posted by edgeways at 8:49 PM on June 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


A soldier goes off to war, risking death for country.

A monk self-immolates, martyring himself in hopes of stopping a war.

A race car driver gets behind the wheel, risking his own safety for thrills and the chance of glory.

A secret service agent dives in front of a bullet, willing to die for his charge.

A lot of people risk their lives in their daily lives for different reasons, and don't face the kind of criticism and condescension this guy is getting. It's not because he was religious - see the monk example above. I know that Buddhism will generally be given a pass in this community compared to Christianity, and I understand why, but the confidence in one's beliefs is at a similar level here. So why the disdain?

I believe it is because snake-handlers are:
1. Part of a pentacostal Christian tradition, which will always have detractors here;
2. Particularly outre in their practices, and;
3. The purpose of the practice is far from universally understood.

In my examples above, I admire the Monk, because I agree with his cause, even though I don't believe he has any realistic chance of his suicide effecting change for it. I admire the Secret Service Agent, because of his or her devotion, training like crazy specifically for a moment where their death could hopefully be the less tragic option. I respect the soldier, for though I will likely not agree with their cause, I understand their belief that it is for my benefit, and their willingness to die for it if need be. And I empathize with the racecar driver, because I understand what drives him or her, even though I don't watch the sport and to me it is ultimately meaningless (and wasteful and polluting to boot.)

And I think the snake-handler fits in there somewhere. I'm an atheist, so I don't agree with his cause, and while I'm fine with snakes, I would find no thrill or glory in risking getting bitten by one. His death doesn't save another's life, and can't really be seen to benefit his countrymen. Still.

His beliefs were steadfast and he was willing to die for them, like the monk. He was devoted enough to have drank poison and been bitten before, and survived. His purpose was to show his devotion to God, which is somewhat less concrete than devotion to Country, but on the other hand he also wasn't carrying an assault rifle and ready to use it. And well, like with the racecar driver, I've been in situations in my youth where I felt the thrill of being touched by the "glory of God," even if I no longer believe in Him.

Empathy costs us exactly nothing and can give us everything. A man died as his father did, doing something unnecessary and dangerous for reasons foreign to almost all of us, and to no purpose, as far as most of us can discern. The purpose was humility before God, and to most of us that concept will strike us as beyond conception as something worth dying for in this day and age. I don't disagree. In fact, I long for the day when duty to country is also something nobody "sane" would die for.

But I will not laugh at this man or Darwin him or claim any ethereal benefit from his death anywhere. Good God, people, find some empathy.

It costs you nothing.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:55 PM on June 1, 2012 [20 favorites]


Huh? Maybe I'm misunderstanding you; it seems to say it pretty directly and without equivocation. It says "And these signs shall follow them that believe; (...) if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them".

I'm telling you the context in which they read these things. This is not the same context in which you are reading it, and you cannot demand it to be so, since they use their reading of that passage to justify their actions, and not anyone else's.

I understand that they don't believe it won't necessarily hurt them, but that's a very different thing than whether or not the claim says it won't hurt them.

The claim should really be understood as the idea that God's plan tends to correlate the lives of pious people with a "miraculous" (but see above for the problem with defining miracles as a separate supernatural phenomenon) protection and healing, though not all of the time.

I mean, the articles in the header here feature very open talk from practitioners of this that they do *not* claim to be shielded from harm. That's straight up.
posted by mobunited at 8:57 PM on June 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yes, yes, I understand that they interpret it differently, as I've already said. The way that they interpret it does not change the fact that it seems, to me, to be an absolutely direct and unequivocal statement. There really doesn't seem to be a lot of wiggle room in it, despite the fact that they (and to a much larger degree most Christians) wiggle nonetheless.
I mean, the articles in the header here feature very open talk from practitioners of this that they do *not* claim to be shielded from harm.
How many times do I have to reiterate that I understand this?
posted by Flunkie at 9:01 PM on June 1, 2012


Atheists tend to believe that the Christian God is supposed to be like this cosmic sysadmin, tweaking things on the go and intervening in the rules of an external system.

Really? I thought they don't believe in the existence of god, and therefore it makes absolutely no difference what the belivers think that mythical nonexistent entity supposedly does.

Bort, I guess you're right. I do repeat myself. It's just that I wish that someone would come up with a coherent argument here showing how extreme religious belif that leads to death is different from a non-religious belif that gets one that gets you locked up on a ward. Why are people writing all these long winded posts trying to rationalize pastor Wolford? Because he represents a group of 1000 as opposed to a guy who's sperm gets stolen?
posted by c13 at 9:04 PM on June 1, 2012


I mean, really. I said that the claim says they won't be harmed if they drink poison. You said no it does not. But that's exactly what it does say: "if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them".

If "if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them" does not mean that they won't be harmed if they drink poison, can you please say something that would mean that they won't be harmed if they drink poison? I don't think anything can possibly mean that they won't be harmed if they drink poision, if "if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them" doesn't mean that.

Anyway, I'll shut up about this now.
posted by Flunkie at 9:07 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought they don't believe in the existence of god, and therefore it makes absolutely no difference what the belivers think that mythical nonexistent entity supposedly does.

As you know perfectly well, I'm saying that many atheists are mistaken about what Christians believe, and in their lack of knowledge, make criticisms that achieve absolutely no traction.

You for example, were once entirely mistaken about what these Christians believe. Now, you're something else.
posted by mobunited at 9:09 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Heh. I was mistaken and some guy on the internet showed me the light. If only he would also explain why so many christians believe that other christians are wrong. It would help me understand the whole "what christians believe" concept a little better. Because, from where I stand, christians as a group don't know fuck all what they believe.
posted by c13 at 9:19 PM on June 1, 2012


If "if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them" does not mean that they won't be harmed if they drink poison, can you please say something that would mean that they won't be harmed if they drink poison? I don't think anything can possibly mean that they won't be harmed if they drink poision, if "if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them" doesn't mean that.

When it comes to their motives, it doesn't matter how anyone but them interprets that passage. I told you how they do it. There's really nothing else.

Going beyond that, this "Prove to me this can be interpreted in some way other than how I do it," is not something you will get a satisfactory answer for, ever.
posted by mobunited at 9:22 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


MetaTalk
posted by donnagirl at 9:24 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Pastor Wolford did not believe anyone was trying to steal his sperm, there isn't even the barest of reason to suspect that Pastor Wolford was unable to accurately perceive the world, that he suffered from delusions of any kind, or that he was any less sane than the average BASE jumper.

c13: "Relax, dude. I'm only mentioning schizophrenia in the context of phsychosis. No, this ain't USSR- something you know very little about anyway, and no, I in no way advocate forcibly institutionizing these people."

You actually have no idea what my experience with the Soviet Union is, however everyone in this thread but you has a pretty decent idea of your understanding of schizophrenia and psychosis.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:30 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Heh. I was mistaken and some guy on the internet showed me the light.

You are not being sarcastic, though you believe you are. This is literally true. You were profoundly ignorant of what this Pentecostal sect believed. You were given the information you lacked.

If only he would also explain why so many christians believe that other christians are wrong.

They are different religions with different understandings of the Christian tradition, its theology and the Bible. There has probably never been one religion worshipping Jesus Christ, though it is sometimes useful to think of the "primitive Church" to understand its evolution.

Now you know this.

It would help me understand the whole "what christians believe" concept a little better. Because, from where I stand, christians as a group don't know fuck all what they believe.

It might, but given that you were exposed to new information and you did not change even the rationalization for your position, I think you're arguing entirely in bad faith at this point.
posted by mobunited at 9:32 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


These guys are stupid, but they have a right to be stupid, and this particular stupidity is (objectively) much less harmful than many other stupidities, both religious and secular.

The End, I guess.
posted by vorfeed at 9:36 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Now you know this.

I just don't think you're any sort of an authority on christianity. I may be wrong, and will be glad to admit it shown some proof (in a very general sense of the word). But as of now, I find your claims what pentecostals, christians in general and atheists believe as very dubious.

You actually have no idea what my experience with the Soviet Union is

I'm pretty sure they didn't lock up any pentecostal snake handlers there, and even if they did, politics had a hell of a lot more to do with it than any kind of science, so your comments on Soviet Union psychiatry and your experiences there are of no relevance in ths thread.
posted by c13 at 9:44 PM on June 1, 2012


As you know perfectly well, I'm saying that many atheists are mistaken about what Christians believe, and in their lack of knowledge, make criticisms that achieve absolutely no traction.

Source?

Religious Knowledge Survey by Pew

Every study I've seen actually has the atheists/agnostics as a group having a higher knowledge than the Christian one. I'm sure that if you were to take the agnostics out, the difference would be even more pronounced.

This is assuming that Christianity has anything to do with the Bible, of course. Feel free to correct me on this assumption if you like--I'm an atheist, so having read it myself 5-6 times through clearly counts for nothing in the face of unempirically derived stereotypes.
posted by Estraven at 9:55 PM on June 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh hai. OP here, vowing never to post anything like this again.I just thought it was an interesting rumination on a subculture I know best from a Lucinda Williams song. Certainly didn't intend to start all this bullshit.

And now, carry on with your bullshit.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:09 PM on June 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Estraven: "Every study I've seen actually has the atheists/agnostics as a group having a higher knowledge than the Christian one. I'm sure that if you were to take the agnostics out, the difference would be even more pronounced. "

The study that your referencing asks mostly politically, historically, and geographically focused questions, and a few seem awfully cherry picked towards subjects of particular interest to Atheist Americans like prayer in schools. Though I do agree that in general Atheists tend to be more biblically and religiously literate than the average Christian. I think it is mostly reflective of how most atheism strongly selects for folks who put a lot a thought into religion as very few are born into Atheist families and thus is Atheism made almost entirely of folks who actively decided to identify as Atheists. If you put the average atheist up against the average convert to Christianity, or compared the average Atheist child of an Atheist family to the average Christian, I imagine you would probably find a more even picture.

Regardless, just like how if you wanted to find out what biologists believe you wouldn't ask a freshman undergrad, you'd have a very hard time finding any atheists more religiously or biblically literate than the average seminary trained pastor, especially if you excluded the sizable number of Atheists with seminary training.

I think the point that mobunited was trying to convey is that when c13 was making arguments in ignorance of the Pentecostal understanding of Predestination and Determinism, which is easy for anyone without a religious education to do, he was likely to get no traction from any Pentecostals who would understand Pentecostalism better than him. If any of us hope to guide folks away from destructive practices like this, it will behoove us to learn about them. When you get down to the nitty gritty particulars like the ones relevant in this thread, even most atheists could generally stand to learn a thing or two.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:45 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


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