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.