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Jun 02 2012

“They Will Take Up Serpents…”

It’s plain to see—for goodness’ sakes—
That showing faith by handling snakes
Shows God you’ve got the will it takes
To follow and obey.

The bible says to show the “signs”—
No need to read between the lines—
Just show your faith as God defines;
There is no other way.

You’ve read the book; in Mark 16
A test of faith is clearly seen—
No doubt to what the verses mean;
You simply must believe.

Your faith is strong; these are your rites,
You have salvation in your sights,
And if by chance the serpent bites…
We all shall surely grieve.


A fascinating article at CNN’s Belief Blog, on the recent death of a snake handler. My parents lived for a while in a county where there were snake-handlers; if memory serves, there was a custody battle between grandparents, after both parents had died of snake bites. One set of grandparents were snake-handlers; the other were not, and of course the snake-handlers had a good claim that the parents would have chosen them…

So I have a bit of a fascination with these people. This most recent death was a Mack Wolford, at a very young 44 years of age. Wolford was an advocate of snake-handling–worried that the tradition was dying out (with its practitioners, apparently)–who travelled across the region promoting the practice. His death has left believers shaken.

“It devastated me,” one Tennessee serpent handler confided to me about Wolford’s death last week. “It just shook my very foundation. But (handling snakes) is still the Word of God.”

Vicie Haywood, Wolford’s mother – whose husband died 29 years ago from a rattlesnake bite during a worship service – is heartbroken. But she has no doubts about the righteousness of serpent handling. “It’s still the Word, and I want to go on doing what the Word says,” she told the Washington Post on Wednesday.

The comments at the site have, predictably, invoked the name of Charles Darwin. This disappoints me. As ludicrous as the tradition is, I cannot cheer the death of a fellow human; life is too precious. Even the life of a snake-handling fool.

13 comments

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  1. 1
    'Tis Himself

    Snake handling is on the same level as some guy on a motorcycle yelling: “Hey guys, watch this!”

  2. 2
    Katkinkate

    You’d think that they’d at least learn how to handle them safely. Although that’s still no guarantee of remaining bite-free. They think having antivenom on hand shows a lack of faith I suppose.

  3. 3
    grumpyoldfart

    life is too precious

    His life wasn’t worth a pinch of shit and he knew it. He watched his ratbag father throw away his useless life and then he did the same with his own.

    The article at CNN’s Belief Blog makes it clear he was trying to recruit gullible youngsters into his stupid religion

    “I spend a lot of time going a lot of places that handle serpents to keep them motivated. I’m trying to get anybody I can get.”

    And he was getting them:

    a growing group of 20-somethings clustered around churches in La Follette, Tennessee, and Middlesboro, Kentucky. Their individual Facebook pages show photos of poisonous snakes and “serpent handling” appears on their “activities and interests” lists.

    As each one of these gullible fools drops dead on the church floor with a snake (pardon me Lord…serpent) fastened to his or her body shall we say, “Oh what a shame. How did this happen?” Or shall we say “That useless waste of space, Mack Wolford, conned our children into killing themselves this way.”

    I’m glad he died before he could do any more damage.

  4. 4
    carpenterman

    Do we cheer for a man’s death? No. But this one, we can’t mourn either.
    A person has a right to risk their own life doing something dangerous and stupid. But he wasen’t just risking his own safety. He “traveled across the region promoting the practice”. This made him a danger to others, as well as himself. It’s not right to take advantage of gullible fools, even if you’re a fool yourself.
    Truly, if his death shocks others into giving the practice up, he will have accomplished more good in death than he did in life. Sad, but true.

  5. 5
    d cwilson

    “It devastated me,” one Tennessee serpent handler confided to me about Wolford’s death last week. “It just shook my very foundation. But (handling snakes) is still the Word of God.”

    And humanity’s capability for self-delusions continues to astound me.

    I dont’ cheer this man’s death, but he’d been playing Russian roulette for years. The house always wins eventually. I can’t muster up too much sympathy for him anyone more than I could for that Jackass guy who died recently.

    The only shame is that his death isn’t going to be an example to discourage other morons from continuing this practice.

  6. 6
    Rebecca Rose

    It AMAZES ME that snake-handlers’ deaths don’t make other handlers think, “Huh. Maybe this isn’t so safe. Why would God ask us to do this, anyway? Huh. Maybe I’ll rethink this whole snake-handling thing.” But maybe that’s asking too much of them, to have that kind of logic. They’re kind of a crazy bunch, after all…

  7. 7
    Steerpike

    Life? Precious? Human life? Really? Something is deemed to be valuable in direct proportion to its benefit, its quality, and most importantly, its relative rarity. Humans are in catastrophic oversupply at the moment, and stupid humans are so common you can’t hardly give ‘em away.

  8. 8
    Cuttlefish

    Steerpike, you are dealing with faulty assumptions. As an old B.C. comic once asked, “so… diamonds would still be valuable if they looked like raisins?”

    My children are clearly part of the surplus population you assure me we do not need. If you’d like to convince me they are not precious, I invite you to try. I’m sure you could convince some people that entire races are worthless; I doubt you could convince the members of those races.

  9. 9
    Steerpike

    Wow. THAT’s your takeaway from my comment? That I’m a racist who wants to kill your kids? srsly? For a poet you have lousy reading comprehension. No, my point is, I am not particularly sad to see a stupid person meet a stupid end.

  10. 10
    Cuttlefish

    And that’s the takeaway you got from mine? I got your point; I disagree with it. “Catastrophic oversupply” always applies to others, not ourselves, which was my point.

  11. 11
    Steerpike

    “My children are clearly part of the surplus population you assure me we do not need. If you’d like to convince me they are not precious, I invite you to try. I’m sure you could convince some people that entire races are worthless…”

    Yes, I took that to mean that I was somehow attacking your children, and that I had “races” in mind as being worthless.

    No, my comment was intended to mean that I don’t particularly mind when stupid, dense, clueless people die, particulary mean-spirited, narrow-minded and judgmental ones. I am not including your children, unless they inherited those traits from you.

  12. 12
    Cuttlefish

    We certainly do disagree, then. I would rather fix the problem through education than through attrition. Get rid of an extreme and foolish belief system, and he could well have been worth mourning, even by mean-spirited, narrow-minded and judgmental people (I do hope you included that phrase for comic effect–it’s wonderfully subtle).

  13. 13
    Steve

    The very same verse that allegedly commands them to handle snakes also tells them to drink poison to test their faith. Of course they aren’t doing that. That would be too crazy. Shame really.

  1. 14
    It’s Not The Snake-Handling That I Disagree With… » The Digital Cuttlefish

    […] do snake-handlers. I’ve written about them. Yes, more than once. My parents lived in a community that had […]

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