It’s Not The Snake-Handling That I Disagree With…

“Our message is not ‘handle snakes, handle snakes, handle snakes,’ ” he says. “But our message is, ‘Be saved by the blood of Christ.’ We’re not a cult. We’re not freaks. We’re Christians.”

Source–NPR: Snake-Handling Preachers Open Up About ‘Takin’ Up Serpents’. (A nice, and sympathetic, portrait of a snake-handling congregation in Kentucky.)

Some people think the Son of God
Came down to earth to die
To cleanse us with His sacrifice
(He loves us all; that’s why.)
They wear a cross to show their faith—
A fishy on their car…
But dancing with a rattlesnake?
That’s gone a step too far!

Some people think that Eden was
A real place, here on Earth
The place where Eve and Adam
Were humanity’s first birth
Where Satan was the impetus
For Paradise’s fall…
But take a chance on getting bit?
That’s not their view at all!

Some people doubt that God will judge
Some don’t believe in Hell
Some think of Christ as metaphor
(Their savior, though, as well)
Sophisticated reasoning
Brings these dear souls to God…
Their fellow Christians handle snakes?
Now that’s a little odd!

Some people think a serpent’s bite
A small price to be paid
To show their love for Jesus, and
The sacrifice He made
“We’re rescued by the blood of Christ!”
They happily exult…
And wonder why believers treat
These faithful as a cult

Some people see believers
As a vast array of views
A multicolored rainbow
With a multitude of hues
The whole believer spectrum
Could be wrong, for goodness’ sakes
Cos the most extreme beliefs, you see…
Have naught to do with snakes.

Proponents of sophisticated theology point to people like my parents and sister, who are Christians who can tell you about the actual history of the writing of the bible, who can point to similarities across religions before and after Christianity’s founding, who recognize the metaphorical nature of much of the bible, and understand the difference between Myth and history. And these people, of course, exist.

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

We atheist sorts are sometimes chided that we focus on a straw-christian in our arguments. We choose to fish in a barrel.


Two things. One… that barrel identifies with the mainstream. They see not a whole lot of difference between themselves and my parents.

Two… they’re right. The snake-handling thing is a minor detail. Doing something extreme to prove a point happens all the time… that the point is that a god-son human sacrifice saved us (from what? and exactly how does a sacrifice save us?) is the big picture. There is a huge spectrum of Christian belief, and knowing that someone identifies as a Christian does not allow you to know that they think Eden was real, that the Flood really happened, that Jesus actually walked on water… but dammit “Christian” has to mean something… and signing on with a label that identifies you with even a small handful of supernatural claims… puts you across a line and in the company of snake-handlers.

If you don’t like it… claim a different label. Don’t say that we, but not they, are Christian. That ship sailed centuries ago.

Handling snakes is a minor thing. Snakes are not the reason I am not a Christian. Hell, I like snakes. It’s not the details I disagree with, it’s the foundation.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    My favorite marker for christianism: claiming that somebody (anybody) else is not a “true Christian”.

    Non-xians don’t draw that line; other xians have to.

  2. Cuttlefish says

    Thanks, Myoo–that was a mistake (now fixed); the danger of the small composition box is, you can’t see the whole thing at once, and scrolling through I did not notice the repetition!

  3. anubisprime says

    Well it could be said that some Christians should be enthusiastically encouraged to dick around with live venomous snakes…call it natural selection.

  4. keithb says

    More poetry on this, google Tonio K, “I handle snakes”

    the lord of hosts
    has got to like me
    else this thing here
    (this one right here)
    would surely strike me
    the one man lays down 10 percent
    another man trembles and quakes
    i save my money
    i handle snakes (y’all)


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