By: Don Boys, Ph.D.

Someone needs to say it so I will: religious snake handlers are nutty. Alright, so they are sincere (one would have to be sincere to play with poison snakes!) but it is possible to be sincere and a little nutty. In fact, some of my fellow Baptists are a little nutty! Of course, that would be true of all entities: politicians (in spades), media personalities (see previous parenthesis), doctors, lawyers, truck drivers, school teachers, and the like.

I grew up in West Virginia, the only state where handling snakes is legal, and pastored a church only two miles from a snake-handling church. We never had interaction with them in any way! I’m not an ecumenist anyway, although I am a lover of everyone and have been and will be the first to speak up for anyone’s rights to personal belief–even weird ones.

Some uninformed or bigoted media people identify snake handlers as “Fundamentalists” but that is ridiculous and almost laughable. That’s like saying, “The mainstream media are all journalists.” (Stop laughing. This is serious business.) Journalists should be honest, fair, and balanced. Fundamentalists adhere to and teach the fundamentals of Christianity and snake handling is not one of those fundamentals. The fundamentals are, in part, the incarnation of Christ, His virgin birth, His physical resurrection, His divinity, His vicarious death, His second return, and the inerrancy of Scripture.

The snake handling group uses the last few verses in Mark to justify their fanaticism. Mark wrote that the newly commissioned evangelists would have special protection in the event they were bitten by poisonous snakes or accidently drank deadly poison. That passage reveals that all nature is subject to God as was exemplified by the Apostle Paul in Acts 28:5 when he was bitten by a poisonous snake yet was not harmed. Paul was not showing off his ability, strength, power, or special relationship with Christ. The passage does not mean that a disciple of Christ could announce to a crowd that the following night he would drink a shot of strychnine and kiss a poisonous snake just after the evening offering!

Snake handlers are, in my opinion, flaky religious exhibitionists. Their sincerity isn’t the issue; hence they are bitten and sincerely die.

Such exhibitionists have been around for two thousand years. In the Middle Ages, they were Roman Catholic flagellants who whipped themselves into a bloody, messy fury while parading through the streets, and crazy dudes who never washed, cut their nails, brushed their teeth, or worked a job. No wonder the Reformation exploded all over Europe.

In Luke 10:19 Christ promised, “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.” Those are not promised signs for future Christian leaders, but protection against those threats as the first preachers carried out His orders to evangelize the world. After the Bible was completed, signs were no longer necessary as suggested in Mark 16:20 “And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following.” Signs in the New Testament were to confirm the truth of the Apostles’ message. Now that we have an authoritative Bible, signs are no longer needed.

A news article said of the snake handlers, “Their intense faith demands sinless living and rewards them with spiritual ecstasy– the chance to hold life and death in their hands.” No, it is not their “intense faith” but their twisted thinking that causes to them reach into a bag for a rattler. Nor does their “intense faith” demand sinless living since no person on earth lives a sinless life– not the Pope, not the Dali Lama, not a Hassidic Jew, not even a Baptist preacher. All those people who profess sinless perfection always reserve the right to define what “sin” really is! And he who controls the definitions controls the debate.

Moreover, Christians are not supposed to seek “spiritual ecstasy” but holiness. Seeking unusual spiritual experiences is the stuff of heresy. Always has been. Confused people have always looked for signs to validate their religion; however, the proper reading and proper hermeneutic of the Bible are all that is needed.

Not only are the snake devotees wrong about their activity being a sign, they are wrong about feelings. Everyone wants to “feel good” but most are not concerned with truth. One snake-bitten pastor said, “You can feel God’s power in the flesh.” He did not get that from Scripture.

Snake handlers have a legal right to practice their unlawful, unscriptural, unnatural religion; however, for their physical safety no children should be permitted during their exhibition of rattlesnake religion.

Serpent handlers see it as a badge of honor to refuse medical care when bitten and to rely on prayer. I think it is a badge of stupidity! They should at least have an ordinary stun gun available that could be used on a bitten person to break up the poison, rendering the bite harmless but that’s another column.

Dr. Don Boys is a former member of the Indiana House of Representatives, author of 14 books, frequent guest on television and radio talk shows, and wrote columns for USA Today for 8 years. His most recent book is ISLAM: America's Trojan Horse! His new eBook, The God Haters is available for $9.99 from   He is a new columnist for Ether Zone.

Dr. Don Boys can be reached at:

Published in the June 18, 2012 issue of  Ether Zone.
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