Taking the Bible Literally Causes Death by Snake Bite
In the traditional conservative Mennonite culture that I lived in until I was 20, I was taught to take the Bible literally (the King James Version was THE king). Verses were used to show why women must wear head coverings, why divorce is not allowed and why women are forbidden to be pastors. (though I could never get an answer as to why braided hair was okay or why selling all and giving it to the poor wasn’t the norm)
Then in the conservative evangelical culture I was in for the next 15+ years, I was also taught to take the Bible literally (though now the New International Version was THE version). That was why speaking in tongues was encouraged, why gays were considered an abomination and why women couldn’t be pastors (though now divorce could be justified if one’s spouse doesn’t live up to their vows, but I still couldn’t get an answer as to why selling all and giving it to the poor wasn’t the norm)
Yet I know most, if not all, the people in both of those cultures will shake their heads at this story about a pastor from a small Signs Following Pentecostal group.. .
They will ask, “What was he thinking!?”
And many will say that he deserved what happened.
Yet, all he did was take the Bible literally. It’s there in plain words… whether you are reading the King James Version of the New International Version..
18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them… Mark 16:18 KJV
18 They will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all… Mark 16:18 NIV
The group took the entire verse literally, on occasion they’d also drink poison.
And this pastor handled snakes, even after watching his snake-handling father die from a snake bite about 25 years ago. In an interview last year, the pastor said, “Anybody can do it that believes it. Jesus said, ‘These signs shall follow them which believe.’ This is a sign to show people that God has the power.”
Since I began asking questions about religion and faith, first as a teen and then again in the past few years, I’ve realized that everyone picks and chooses what they believe from the Bible. Each denomination, group and sect zeros in on certain verses and makes them their focus. Even churches who promote themselves as being full-gospel churches, because other than this fringe group, I haven’t seen any of them handle snakes, so they are also picking and choosing.
And yes, I know this pastor is an extremist and we need to use moderation and discernment (whose?) and all the jazz… but the questions remain. And that my friends… is why I can’t help but continue to ask why about most things surrounding religion, faith, and God.
Do I think his death is God’s will for him, like some of his followers do? No, I don’t.
Is the pastor’s death his own fault? I think it is.
But having said that, I actually feel sad for this pastor. I’m sad that he felt he had to live such a risky life to please God. I’m sad that his life ended so young. I’m sad at the separation that must have existed between him and his family in the years before his death, because while his mother attended his church, his wife and children did not. I’m sad that there’s 80 to 100 other deaths attributed to this type of snake handling since its origins in the early 1900s.
Along with sadness, I’m frustrated at the oppression religious mindsets can put on people.
As I wrote in Because I Can… trying to accept my new normal after the accident with the spiritual mindsets of my past is when I struggled with depression the most. It was only when I quit God as I knew him and allowed myself to go through a spiritual renewal that I began crawling out of the dark hole of depression.
And the journey of renewal continues today…
Because life is too beautiful and too short to do anything other than live well.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Sources: ‘Serpent-Handling’ West Virginia Pastor Dies From Snake Bite, ABC News, May, 2012 Snake handling is still considered a sign of faith, Washington Post, November, 2011 Why I watched a snake-handling pastor die for his faith, an intriguing post by a photojournalist who witnessed his death, Washington Post, May, 2012