On snake-handling, Fundamentalism and suicide – Part I

A snake-handler – who may answer to the name “Stumpy” – ostensibly following Mark 16…

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A small minority of rural Christians practice “snake handling” as part of their religious ritual.  They do this based on a passage from Mark 16:16-18, part of Jesus’ “Great Commission:”

 And [Jesus] said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation…    And these signs will accompany those who believe:  in my name they will cast out demons;  they will speak in new tongues;  they will pick up serpents with their hands;  and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them;  they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (E.A.)

On the other hand, see for example Snake-Handling Pentecostal Pastor Dies From Snake Bite – ABC …, which arguably shows that such a practice may not be such a good idea.

Then there are the Christians who seek to have “quiverfulls” of children, based on another, more obscure Bible passage, to wit: Psalm 127:3-5:

Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, the fruit of the womb is a reward.   Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth.   How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them…

All of which comes under the heading of taking the Bible too literally, not to mention “out of context.”  That can be a definite problem if you think the way to get into heaven is either handling snakes (“Stumpy”), or having quiverfulls of children.  On the other hand, if you’re focusing solely on the end result and not the instructive “journey,” you may have “already missed the point.”  See for example On three suitors (a parable), which included this prayer:

O God, if I worship Thee in fear of hell, burn me in hell;  if I worship Thee in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise;  but if I worship Thee for Thine own sake, withhold not Thine everlasting beauty.

So the point – in case I’m being too subtle – is not to focus on getting into heaven as the “be-all and end-all.”   The point of your Christian life is to focus on the journey, and all the valuable lessons you can learn while you’re in your present incarnation, but we digress

But that does bring up the difference between focusing too exclusively on the “plain meaning” of the Bible – treating it as a set of definite statutes or rules to be followed, on pain of being excluded from heaven – as opposed to treating it as a Book of Wisdom, from which valuable life lessons might be gleaned (and the pathway to heaven paved, metaphorically).

In other words, you could say that the Bible message is both simple enough for a child to understand, yet so full of subtle mysteries that a lifetime can be spent on its study, yet still leave myriads of lessons yet to be learned.  (See 1st Corinthians 4:1, “This is how you should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.”)

But there is both another way, and an inherent danger in taking its “plain meaning” too literally.

For example, John R. W. Stott was an Anglican cleric whom Time magazine ranked among the 100 most influential people in the world.  He wrote a book, Understanding the Bible, and on pages 140-143, he made three key points, as discussed in Part II.

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The upper image is courtesy of Snake handling – Wikipedia.  The caption reads, “Snake handling at Pentecostal Church of God, Lejunior, Harlan County, Kentucky September 15, 1946 (National Archives and Records Administration). Photo by Russell Lee.”

As to the validity of such practices as a method of proving one’s faith, see Does MARK 16:17-18 mean that Christians should handle deadly …:

This passage can be understood two ways.  One way is to assume that Jesus followers are expected to handle deadly snakes…   Another way to understand this passage is to be reassured that when Christians accidentally come in contact with poisonous snakes, God will miraculously protect them…   Such an experience happened to the apostle Paul.  After being shipwrecked and escaping to the island of Malta, Paul was bitten by a deadly snake. [Acts:28:1-6].  Additionally, the Bible tells us that we should not tempt God by deliberately placing ourselves in potential danger [Matthew 4:5-7]. (E.A.)

Further information on the “Quiverfull Movement” can be found at sites including Quiverfull – Wikipedia; What Is Quiverfull? – Patheos, part of “No longer quivering,” an ostensible “gathering place for women escaping and healing from spiritual abuse;”  5 Insane Lessons from My Christian Fundamentalist Childhood …;  and/or QuiverFull .com :: Psalm 127:3-5.

(Please note that these were the first four entries listed under the “Google search,” and are not intended to be interpreted as any sort of personal “ranking” by the Scribe.”)

The lower image is courtesy of Understanding the Bible by John R.W. Stott — Reviews.  See also John Stott – Wikipedia. 

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