As some readers may have picked up, I’m always fascinated by the lunatic fringe of religion. Here’s some information on the real famous snake handlers of America’s Appalachian region:
What’s interesting is that it is not something which is dying out. The article here was written in 2003. Indeed, the practice is spreading. I also found a couple of things very interesting in the article. First is that the snake handler interviewed said he came to the practice after praying about it and reading the Scriptures.
He decided to handle the snakes “after a religious awakening that included baptism and scripture study. ‘I prayed for this, for God to give me the sign to do this because it was in the scriptures,’ he said. ‘I don’t want to get out of it. I want to get further into it.’ ” There is no sign that this fellow is insane or imbalanced. Operating on the same authority system of non Catholic Christians everywhere, he sincerely read the Scriptures, prayed about it, and honestly felt he was led by the Spirit and was given a sign to handle snakes.
The other thing which I found interesting in the article is that the snake handling services are really not that extreme or weird. An expert on the phenomenon says, “They look just like any other Pentecostal, Charismatic type service. ‘If you were there when they were not taking up serpents, or even during other parts of a service where they did, it would be like many other Pentecostal groups,’ he explained. ‘There is singing, preaching, laying on of hands, praying, testifying, and that sort of thing. It’s kind of an expressive church service where people freely share emotions, a very participatory service like most Pentecostal services.’ “
For those who are interested, this article has a more complete historical and theological explanation of the snake handling tradition. It seems the snake handling churches are theologically virtually identical to other churches in the Protestant, Pentecostalist, Charismatic tradition. In other words, they’re not blatant heretics. They’re pretty much orthodox Protestant Christians. They’re just the same as other fundamentalist, charismatic Protestants except they handle snakes.
Meanwhile this article from Wikkipedia outlines a bit more of the practice, and shows how it is spreading. It lists charismatic holiness churches where snake handling goes on. They have spread to Indiana, Alabama, Canada and throughout the American South. Hey, we even have one here in Greenville, South Carolina!
Tomorrow maybe I’ll have time to blog on the Toronto Blessing.
Padre,If a Protestant Charismatic Snake Handler challenge you to handle the snake to test your faith in Scripture,would you do it? ;-)Father Gary V.
Call me a liberal Biblical critic, but I’d point out that the verses in question were probably a later, non authentic interpolation. I would also quote the verse, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.”
Ah, Father, I share your interest in the “fringe” of religion, whether it be snake handling (and yes, I would love the opportunity to attend a service, albeit I would keep at a distance) or even the joyous and often frentic dancing of Hasids at the festival of Simchat Torah.I read your piece above regarding the Toronto Blessing. I attended a charismatic Mass locally once, heavily attended by Filipinos, and was surprised to see even the priest speak in tongues. Can God’s work be at hand? Well, of course – but in extreme cases, a person really needs to first ask the Holy Spirit for the gift of discernment, so one can tell what is induced by good and what is induced by bad.
“You shall not tempt the Lord your God.””Can God’s work be at hand? Well, of course – but in extreme cases, a person really needs to first ask the Holy Spirit for the gift of discernment, so one can tell what is induced by good and what is induced by bad.”Absolutely, I agree! Thank you both for saying it well.