RNS on “Freak Show” Preachers

Religion News Service (RNS), reviewing a book on snake-handling preachers, asked “Freak show or spiritual test?” Normally RNS is extremely respectful of anything in religious garb. It gives a free pass to the hate-mongering of Franklin Graham and the larceny of Prosperity Preachers. It is even respectful of pederast priests. Why the disdain for a small group of preachers whose practice is more firmly rooted in Scripture than the pope’s? These preachers literally put their lives on the line for their faith.

For example, there is no scriptural support for the claim of papal infallibility, which helps explain why it took the Catholic Church the better part of two millennia to ‘discover’ the principle. It took well over a century for the Church to discover that Peter had traveled to Rome and established the papacy; only highly imaginative exegesis can find any sign of it in Scripture. On the other hand, as the article notes, according to Mark, the resurrected Christ promised that believers will be able to handle snakes, among other things:

“These signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick and they will recover” (Mark 16:17-18).

The article mentions that modern snake handlers also drink poison. It says nothing about their healing practices.

The article fails to note that this passage in Mark is part of the “longer ending,” a later “addition” to the original gospel. It was not part of the gospel used by Matthew and Luke, and is not present in our earliest manuscripts. Virtually all of today’s bibles find some polite way of indicating that the longer ending is spurious. Needless to say, faith supersedes such technical niceties.

And the snake handlers’ faith is impressive. While the text simply talks of handling snakes, these preachers do so almost recklessly, with no attempt to secure the snake’s head, thus allowing it to bite at will. The article suggests such bites occur rather often. As a further sign of faith, these preachers refuse to use antivenom, and die with some regularity. While RNS disdains such signs of faith, I would like to see more highly-placed Christians establish their bona fides in this manner. It may rely on spurious Scripture, but it is better than anything they currently use.