A “lifestyle” article on the dead snake handler

June 3, 2012 • 5:41 am

Grania Spingies of Atheist Ireland called my attention to a new article in the “Lifestyle” section of The Washington Post: “Why I watched a snake-handling pastor die for his faith.” It’s about the death of Randy Wolford, a snake-handing Pentecostal preacher who was done in by one of his rattlesnakes (I posted about this on May 30). The author is Lauren Pond, who was on the scene of the fatal bite because she’s doing a documentary on snake handling.  Apparently neither Wolford nor his family wanted paramedics to be called—I suspect they would have saved his life—until it was too late. Pond also decided not to override the family’s wishes and call for help.

Wolford wanted to die.  A pity for him he doesn’t get to go to heaven, and an even greater pity that he’ll never know he didn’t make it. Extinction is extinction.

“His faith is what took him home,” said his sister Robin Vanover, 38.

. . . Mack’s family has accepted his death as something that he knew was coming and something that was ultimately God’s will. The pastor believed every word of the Bible and laid down his life for his conviction, they said. For them, his death is an affirmation of the Signs Following tradition: “His faith is what took him home,” said his sister Robin Vanover, 38. . .

In my mind, Mack’s situation was different from that of a starving child or a civilian wounded in war. He was a competent adult who decided to stand by what he understood to be the word of God, no matter the consequences. And so I’ve started to come to peace with the fact that everyone in the crowded trailer, including myself, let Mack die as a man true to his faith.

Grania added this editorial note, which I have permission to post:

The nauseating aspect is how much the reporter tries to find something good and positive in this tragedy, because you know, faith is good, and unwavering faith must be even better. Even though she is clearly troubled by the stupid and primitive practices of this church, she feels she has to write positively about deep convictions and how this has helped her “understand”  – although she never elaborates what “understanding” she has gleaned from watching a man die an agonizing death while his family stood around sadly.

People respect the mere word “religion” so much that they fall over themselves trying to praise a nonsensical belief that not only led a man cause his own senseless and needless death, but paralyzed his evidently loving family to stand around mutely when they should have been trying to save him.

He didn’t die for his faith, he died for his stupidity. There isn’t anything praiseworthy about it.

There’s a short gallery of photos about Wolford taken by Lauren Pond (who wrote the article), showing him in action in healthier days, along with several photos after he was bitten, some taken immediately after the strike and some when Wolford was close to death a few hours later. Here are three that show the price of faith:

Donald Dover, left, of North Carolina and Jamie Lloyd of Sidney, Ohio, right, support Pastor Randy “Mack” Wolford after taking him to an outhouse at the Panther Wildlife Management Area. Wolford, a practitioner and defender of the faith tradition of serpent-handling, was bitten by a rattlesnake during the Sunday worship service. He later died from the effects of the bite.
Lauren Pond / Lauren Pond for The Washington Post
Donald Dover, left, of North Carolina and Jamie Lloyd, right, of Sidney, Ohio, carry Randy “Mack” Wolford, 44, to a sport-utility vehicle about 40 minutes after Wolford was bitten while handling a rattlesnake during the May 27 worship service at Panther Wildlife Management Area in southern West Virginia. Mack was then taken to his mother-in-law’s home, about an hour away, near Bluefield, W.Va.
Lauren Pond / Lauren Pond for The Washington Post
Vicie Haywood, mother of Pastor Randy “Mack” Wolford, strokes her son’s feet as the pastor lies on the couch at his mother-in-law’s home near Bluefield, W.Va. Wolford was bitten by a rattlesnake during a Sunday worship service. He was pronounced dead early the next morning at the Bluefield Regional Medical Center.
Lauren Pond / Lauren Pond for The Washington Post


125 thoughts on “A “lifestyle” article on the dead snake handler

  1. So, God could not intervene, say in the form of a photojournalist calling the paramedics?

    I do not understand this. This is not a gazelle on the veldt being brought down by a lioness. Or is it?

  2. >>His faith took him home.

    Irony of ironies. As per Mark 16:17-18, the fact that he died indicates he was not a believer at all. He died proving that he did not have enough faith.

    1. Yep, I don’t see how a fundamentalist can interpret it in any other way. The plain reading of the passage, the interpretation that all of snake-handling is based on, is that those with faith can’t be harmed. It’s a very clear empirical test, and he failed it.

    2. Even if his family is able to rationalize that “his faith took him home” it isn’t very convincing.

      Pastor handles snake.
      1) It doesn’t bite him. See, it’s because his faith is strong.
      2) It does bite him, but he doesn’t die. See, it’s because his faith is strong.
      3) It does bite him and he dies. See, it’s because his faith is strong.

      Tautology much?

    3. These people are head bangers of note. I now refer to all nutty religious types as “fruitcakes”.

  3. This is an amazing example of foolishness. If he is not bitten it is God’s will; if he is bitten it is God’s will; if he survives the bite it is God’s will, if he does not survive the bite it is God’s will. It takes supreme blind faith to accept these premises. It is however a fine example of religion gone bad. And, to top it off his family did not seek immediate medial treatment. Ultimately, they admitted their faith was lacking because they took him to the hospital as a last resort instead of praying more for his recovery.

  4. Can Mack’s family or Pond be held legally accountable for not seeking medical attention in a more timely manner?

    1. No. Don’t be silly.

      Under US law, anyone over the age of 18 is free to reject any and all medical treatment and die any way they want.

      It happens all the time and not just faith healers. Sometimes people just can’t afford medical care and so on.

      This is a democracy and forced medical treatment isn’t part of it.

      If Wolford had accepted medical treatment and wasn’t a snake handling faith healer, then the onlookers would have been negligent.

      1. “This is a democracy and forced medical treatment isn’t part of it.”

        Terri Schiavo?

  5. None of the accounts I could find mentioned whether Wolford had a wife or children, so it’s not clear whether he’s eligible for a Darwin Award, but we can hope. However, his father died of a snakebite at age 39 when Wolford was 15, and religious fanatics tend to marry and reproduce early. In any case, Wolford and his ilk are spreading their poison (and if you consider that a pun it was intended) far beyond their families, unlike Fred Phelps, whose congregation, the only people who take him seriously, consists primarily of members of his extended family.

    1. The last picture in the post indicates that he has a mother-in-law.

      PS It is not clear whether he is dead in this picture, but if he is then this picture is a pathetic and a bad Pietà

  6. My first response:
    “The horror! The horror!” – Kurtz in “Apocalypse Now”

    My second response:
    Our cultures mandate to respect for religion immunizes the worst of them from constructive criticism. The needed wake-up call then comes only from the rationalist community.

    In the late 1940s, my father attended Yale Divinity School (He is now an agnostic who helps out the humanist community now and then and he never got ordained). One of his professors said “You’re supposed to be fool for Christ, but you’re not supposed to be a damn idiot for Christ”.

  7. It wasn’t just her “respect” for religion that made Pond fail to call paramedics, it was a cynical decision that it would make a more sensational documentary if he died. This isn’t just cowardly, it is actively evil. Unfortunately, she is already being rewarded for her decision, and it will likely be a much more profitable film than it would have been if he had not been bitten.

    1. Maybe. Maybe not.

      Under US law, forced medical treatment of competent adults is illegal as I wrote in post #6.

      Wolford had every right to reject medical care which he did.

      Pond and everyone else had no legal right whatsoever to force medical care on him, even if he was rapidly dying.

      We see this all the time in the USA. Jehovah’s Witlessnesses reject blood transfusions and blood products for some obscure biblical reason and often die for want of a transfusion or blood products.

        1. Yeah it is if he didn’t want them to.

          Where do you think ambulances go and what do they do to patients before they get there.

          I’ll give you a hint. The destination starts with an “H” and the people riding along are EMT’s and paramedics.

          1. You are just being obnoxious. You were saying it is illegal to force medical care on someone. So is calling an ambulance against the law? Didn’t think so.

            1. I don’t think it is fair to say that raven is “just” being obnoxious. A point is also being made. The issue really has nothing to do with whether it is legal to call an ambulance. Of course it is. And it is also legal to sing The Battle Hymn of the Republic on the scene. Does that mean you should do it?

              There is only one reason to call an ambulance for someone who is stricken by a self-inflicted religious snake bite. IF you know that he didn’t want treatment if bitten, what exactly is the purpose of calling 911 if not to provide treatment that the victim didn’t want?

              1. If I found myself as an observer in this situation, I would call 911 and explain that some nut had gotten himself bitten. I expect the EMTs would respond, and then try to talk the victim into accepting treatment. If he does, great — I helped save a life. If he still refused, well that’s his funeral (literally) — but at least I could live with myself afterwards.

              2. You don’t know what would have happened had the paramedics arrived on the scene. Maybe the victim would have been unconscious by then, unable to refuse treatment.

              3. But you are either pretending false ignorance (I’m assuming everyone, including “you”, know that this person has said they don’t want treatment) or assuming the right to prevail against his wishes.

                I don’t find your position(s) morally defensible. I want the right to refuse treatment under certain conditions (not the same as these xtian idiots, of course). And I don’t want some well intentioned 3rd party interfering with them. This guy was stupid, but he was a stupid adult who set the rules for his own demise. C’est la mort.

              4. I would leave the second guessing to the professionals, i.e. the people in the ambulance.

              5. Your argument is based on assumed ignorance. There is no second guessing involved.

              6. If you’d sung the Battle Hymn of the Republic, the family probably would have joined in.

                If you’d called the paramedics, at least they’d have been close at hand if/when he/the family decided he did need help. The main risk I see is that if they’d arrived, it would put his/the family’s backs up and they’d reject help they might have called for.

              7. What do you mean, “at least”? Why do you refuse to grant this guy responsibility for his stupidity? Why is it somehow the ethical obligation of someone else to counter his preferences for how he lives his life (or dies, in this case)?

                I find the desire to wrest control for the personal consequences of stupid religiosity from the stupidly religious completely wrong-headed. I don’t want idiots like this guy intruding into my life choices. And, equally, I don’t see any moral justification for me to impose myself into his. If I can’t grant him that control, then I don’t see how I can demand it of him for my future (hopefully distant) end-of-life choices.

              8. the only issue I see with calling an ambulance for someone who doesn’t want medical treatment, is that if they die, and you HAVEN’T called an ambulance, in some states I think you would have to show some proof that your actions didn’t contribute to a negligent homicide.

              9. Ichthyic, srsly? Please tell us which states would consider it homicide to watch someone kill themselves for Jesus.

              10. when I lived in CA, it was considered negligent homicide to let someone drown if you were a certified rescue diver.

                in a family situation, i do recall several cases where the family members were charged with negligent homicide when they let a family member die due to lack of medical treatment.

                search google, there was even a well publicized case of this about a year or so ago?

                actually, now that I consider it, I can’t think of a state that does NOT have negligence laws in situations just like the one with the rattlesnake bite victim.

                it doesn’t necessary apply to strangers (but see what I started this post with), but in this circumstance, where you have family surrounding him?

                yeah, I think calling an ambulance was a wise move.

                they have now helped cover their asses against prosecution.

                not guaranteed, mind you.

              11. Ichthyic, are we talking about people drowning themselves and not wanting help? Are we talking about adult family members not getting help for minors? I think you are muddying the subject with examples that are not comparable.

              12. “when I lived in CA, it was considered negligent homicide to let someone drown if you were a certified rescue diver.”

                I would think that being certified implies state licensing and a concomitant professional duty to the terms of that permit. On the other hand, would even a certified rescue diver be expected to go after someone who jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge?

                Just three years ago, Dale and Leilani Neumann were convicted of second-degree reckless homicide and sentenced to six months in prison and ten years’ probation for allowing their daughter to die of complications from diabetes by refusing treatment other than prayer. Subsequently, a bill was introduced in the Wisconsin legislature to exempt parents in faith-healing death cases from being charged in their childrens’ demise. In a similar case in Oregon at about the same time, two parents were acquitted of manslaughter charges.

                You can’t count on being aware of local standards and statutes. Ya gotta wonder, though, if the snake people didn’t at least check out what legal liabilities might be incurred if something like this happened.

            2. You are just being obnoxious.

              Someone is obnoxious here and it is you.

              What is the point in calling for an ambulance if the victim-patient doesn’t want one and will refuse to get in it? On the basis of heartfelt if totally crackpot religious beliefs?

              Which is his legal right. Wolford was a competent adult and conscious and could have accepted medical care at any time or even called the ambulance himself.

              It isn’t like he didn’t know what was going to happen. His father died the same way. The snake handlers get bit often and die often.

              1. ‘A family member called paramedics when Mack finally allowed it, but it was too late.’

                This is why you are wrong too, gbjames. Hard to admit, isn’t it?

              2. Hard to admit? Admit what? The call was made at the victim’s request.

                The point is that this guy was an adult who controlled his own fate, at least with regard to his manner of death. The rest of the folk were responsible only to the extent that they shared his stupid faith. Which is not nothing, I’ll grant. But you, nor anyone else, has a right to preempt his choice on the matter.

              3. But we were discussing the role of the journalist here, who knew perfectly well that she was dealing with a bunch of idiots. Did she have to behave like one as well?

              4. I it was me I would have behaved the same. Not like an idiot. Like someone who respects the rights of all adults to make these judgements for themselves. It may be an idiot religious activity, but adult idiots have a right to their idiocy as long as it doesn’t inflict harm on other people. You have no right to inflict your common sense on other people.

              5. But it does harm other people: his wife and child. Not to mention that this sort of behaviour sets a bad example.

              6. What sets a bad example? Playing with snakes for Jesus, or allowing people to live and die on their own terms? If the former, yes, of course. If the latter, then I see no justification for the statement.

          2. If he wants to reject medical care, then he can tell the paramedics that he doesn’t want their help. Calling 911 obviously isn’t forcing anything on anyone. And the sick thing is, if the documentary-seller had called 911, and the paramedics showed up in time, these people probably would’ve allowed them to treat him. They did, afterall, go to the hospital, when they finally realized he needed it to save his life.

        2. I agree, there would be no blame for anyone calling an ambulance for someone in this condition. If called earlier, it might well have arrived in time to save him after he changed his mind about refusing treatment (which he apparently did, too late). No ‘forcing’ involved: attempted persuasion is never a crime, is it?

          But no blame for the snake either. I’m totally with the crotalid on this one, and I hope it goes free, lives long and prospers.

        3. I knew a kid in 3rd grade in Seattle whose family were Christian Scientists [speaking of oxymorons!]. One day he came to school, and during Show and Tell he announced that his father had died. Turns out Dad had had a heart attack. Neighbors had called an ambulance, which Mom and the kids had tried to stop from taking Dad away because they did not believe in medical intervention.

      1. I”m aware that people have the right to refuse treatment, but a bystander calling 911 is a pretty usual response to a life threatening situation, at least around here. I think someone would call 911 on seeing a person bleeding on the street, even if that person were screaming to be left alone, and let it be sorted out by the hospital. And I still think it was a cynical decision on her part, including her writing approvingly about it. I have no doubt she’ll finish her documentary and we’ll see it on Discover or TLC eventually.

        1. Sandi Hj, you are thinking like a normal person.

          That isn’t who we are dealing with here. These are fundie xians who are members of a snake handling cult. They aren’t what most of us call normal people. They get bitten often by their snakes and occasionally die. What happened to Wolford wasn’t unexpected inasmuch as his father died the same way.

          This isn’t much different from the JW’s and their refusal to accept blood transfusions. They also die all the time from this.

          It’s perfectly legal. In one case, a ER doc went ahead and transfused a dying JW in the emergency room. And was charged with a crime, battery.

          jwdivorces.bravehost .com/blood1.html

          The law in the United States regarding Jehovah’s Witnesses and their refusal to accept …

          right to refuse a blood transfusion, even if such refusal means they will die. ….

          to allow him to express his feelings concerning the blood transfusions.

          1. Raven, I understand and agree when you are discussing the cultists, and am referring only to the filmmaker.

          2. The same dilemma also comes up — and more frequently, I suspect — with people who are strong advocates of So-Called Alternative Medicine. They really think the “natural” woo-du-jour is more effective (or maybe just “better”) than anything scientific Western Allopathy can provide.

            From what I’ve personally heard from proponents, if you die while using a SCAM remedy, then you have only done as Nature intended — so it was “your time to pass (to another Level) so THAT’S all right, then.

            Bottom line, they’re adults. Well, technically. And the law probably shouldn’t involve itself in that type of technical distinction.

          3. This is true up to a point: If the person in need of medical care is a minor, or is not competent to make that decision, the decision can be made for them. JWs have sued because blood was forcibly transfused to their infant or minor children – and lost. I would argue that the snakehandling Pentecostal minister was not in his right mind [as evidenced by the fact that he was a snakehandling Pentecostal minister], so he was not competent to make such a decision.

            1. As far as we know the man was perfectly competent in all ways, except for his religious delusions. The vast majority of our countrymen have religious delusions of one sort or another. This fact is not sufficient to override the principle that adults have a basic right to determine the their own fate regarding healthcare. Even stupid snake handling Pentecostal ministers.

        2. This is a person, from my understanding, when perfectly capable of making an informed decision refused to allow anyone to initiate medical treatment and was quite clear that he did not, in his own words, he refused medical attention. He refused the ambulance call.

          He wasn’t unconscious. He was lucid and said no. And here you, and others, are blaming others for respecting his lucid, concious wishes…

          This is not someone laying by the side of the road bleeding to death and, quite possibly, not in his or her right mind where you’d pay them no attention. This was a lucid, theoretically rational and sane man, making a choice.

          And you’re beating up others because you, obvioiusly, don’t give shit about respecting people for the choices they make with their bodies.

          You know what I find most ironic about the whole thing. I’d bet money he was anti-choice in the abortion issue. Choice for him, but not for others.

          The same thing you’re trying to do to him.

          1. No, I don’t respect people who are stupid enough to think that they can play with rattlesnakes. There is nothing lucid in that. But that’s not the issue. All I’m saying is that he should have explained himself to the paramedics. Did it escape your attention that he changed his mind in the end? By then it was too late.

        3. On November 5, 1990 the United States passed the Federal Patient Self-Determination Act. This act requires that healthcare providers inform patients regarding their right to determine the extent of care they receive and the right to have their decisions respected by heath care personnel.

          Treatment even if deemed by physicians to be life saving, may not be performed on competent patients without their consent.

          It’s against the law to treat people against their will. It was against the law even before the Federal Patient Self-Determination Act was passed.

          In fact, a physician who treats someone against their will without a court order is in danger of being charged with a crime themselves and this has happened before. At the least, they run a high risk of losing their license.

      2. That’s true. The mother of one of my coworkers had an illness that could have been treated with a blood transfusion. She refused it because she was a Jehovah’s Witness and died an apparently slow and painful death because of that decision.

  8. The pastor believed every word of the Bible and laid down his life for his conviction, they said.

    1. No, he was a fool and died of it.

    2. It isn’t possible to “believe” every word of the bible. It’s full of contradictions and obsolete morality, atrocities, and long disproven science.

    All xians are cafeteria xians. Wolford probably rejected the Flat Earth. 26% of the fundies are Geocentrists though.

    Wolford probably rejected the OT Mosaic law, like most but not all xians. To do that he had to reject the explicit words of jesus.

    The fundies always reject the command to stone false prophets to death. If they did that, all their leaders would be dead under piles of rocks and we wouldn’t even have a fundie problem

    3. As many have pointed out the snake handling verses in Mark aren’t even part of the original Gospel but were added later by someone.

  9. Anyone want to take bets on how these folk who stood by would feel about assisted suicide for terminally ill people?

    1. That could be an excellent loophole but probably only in West Virginia.

      On the other hand, death by venomous snake isn’t a very pleasant way to go, so I wouldn’t recommend it.

    2. “Anyone want to take bets on how these folk who stood by would feel about assisted suicide for terminally ill people?”

      My thoughts exactly. The irony is delicious.

      I’d be willing to bet that The House of the Lord Jesus does not support assisted suicide for the terminally ill and would consider it equivalent to a mortal sin.

      I’ll bet the physicians who would support not treating this fellow’s snakebite in order to respect his religious freedom, would also consider it unethical to help someone in agony to die with dignity.(We already know, of course, that to do so is actually illegal!).

      This is hypocrisy on a grand scale.

      1. I wonder if it is used that way, effectively, though not admittedly. A way to check out that would be seen by your little community as honorable might encourage people wanting to commit suicide to handle a few more snakes, a bit more carelessly, than usual.

  10. Mack’s mother, Vicie Haywood, nicknamed “Snook,” talked about losing her pastor husband to a rattlesnake bite when her son was 15. “I couldn’t give up when his dad died, and now that [Mack]’s given his life, I just can’t give up,” she said. “It’s still the Word, and I want to go on doing what the Word says.”

    Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

  11. It seems to me that the journalist (Lauren Pond) is just as deluded as the pastor was. She seems to believe in some kind of Higher Journalistic Ethics that absolved her from the obligation to call an ambulance. In some countries it is a criminal offence to act like she did.

  12. This isn’t any different from the JW’s refusing blood transfusions. No one knows how many die from it because the JW’s don’t publicize the deaths, but one estimate is 1000 a year using conservative numbers.

    They take it seriously enough that any JW who gets a transfusion gets kicked out of the cult. (Which might be the best thing that ever happened to them.)

    For fundie faith healers, it is probably way higher than that because there are a lot more.


    The resulting estimate shows that approximately 1000 Jehovah’s Witnesses die annually as a result of the blood prohibition.

    It might be added that although the 1000 deaths per year figure seems large. It translates to less that one death for each 5,500 Witnesses annually. This means that in an average circuit of 2000 Witnesses, we would expect to see only one death about every three years. In the average congregation, we would expect to see a death only once every fifty years. H.L.C. members, and experienced elders will generally testify that the death rate they have witnessed actually exceeds that produced with this illustration.

    1. Actually it is probably different, at least legally. One is seen as a legitimate religious exception that can likely be challenged in certain cases and the other looks a lot like a person trying to commit suicide. In this case the law could get involved because it is assumed the patient is not competent. In any case, it is perfectly reasonable to criticize the “journalist” for not calling 911 and letting the medics sort it out.

      I understand why 911 wasn’t called. Medics aren’t going to let someone die because they refused treatment. They know that will get them sued. Someone else gets to make that decision and take the risk.

      1. It is exactly the same.

        Wolford wasn’t an isolated nut. Nor was his church, the church of signs or some such.

        These cults are old. There are a lot of them. Snake handlers are found through all of the south, in Texas, and as far north as Canada.

        It’s illegal in all states but West Virginia where this event took place. But they are just about never prosecuted. In might well be thrown out of court on a Freedom of Religion basis.

        Medics aren’t going to let someone die because they refused treatment. They know that will get them sued.

        Oh really? And what will they do if Wolford resists treatment or his family and church members do? Pull out a gun? Medical personnel aren’t trained in involuntary treatment. Among other reasons, it is illegal.

        On November 5, 1990 the United States passed the Federal Patient Self-Determination Act. This act requires that healthcare providers inform patients regarding their right to determine the extent of care they receive and the right to have their decisions respected by heath care personnel.

        Treatment even if deemed by physicians to be life saving, may not be performed on competent patients without their consent.

        It is against the law to treat people without their consent. Them’s the facts.

        Someone might get sued if that happened but it won’t be the involuntary patient. It will be the doc, who might also face criminal charges as has happened before, and may well lose their license.

        1. For JW children there is a standard legalistic out, that the adults accept (quite happily, I suspect), by which medics can have a child in need of s blood transfusion declared a ward of the State, or some such, for as long as the transfusion takes. A US p[a]ediatrician told me this is quite a routine procedure.

  13. One thing good might come from this pathetic case and the resulting publicity.

    Some people might wake up and leave the snakes alone.

    One interview with Wolford before he died said he was trying to keep the religion alive and implied that a lot of members were dropping out. Which makes sense as their common sense and will to live overrides their religious delusions.

    1. That is good to know.

      The right to refuse medical treatment is only for competent adults.

      Children are a different story. They aren’t considered competent to make that decision.

      If the parents kill their kids with faith healing, which happens around 100 times a year, some states give them a get out of jail free card.

      That is changing. Some of those states have changed their laws and are starting to prosecute the human child sacrifice crowd with charges like manslaughter and even getting convictions.

  14. In the WP story there’s brief mention that he reputedly took strychnine that day, too. Unless it was a homeopathic preparation, that raises a question whether he was in a compromised state from that, and thereby not quick enough to avoid the snake, or whether it was really the strychnine that got him. Or a combination of both, neither of which would have been fatal by itself, or at least not that fast.

  15. Christians who demonstrate their faith by handling venomous snakes and drinking strychnine draw their Biblical guidance from the Gospel of Mark, specifically Chapter 16 Verses 17-18:

    “17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;

    18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”

    What never fails to amaze me is that these Biblical literalists choose to ignore the fact that the Gospel of Mark originally ended Chapter 16 with Verse 8.

    “8 And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.”

    The extended ending, Verses 9-20, was amended to the text by some unknown copyist at a later date. Portions are quoted by patristic writers in the late 2nd century and the entire interpolation is seen in some 4th century texts. While modern Biblical scholarship is clear on the idea that the Gospels were not penned by the men for whom they were named, all the snake-handling, poison-drinking, devil-casting faithful have been following the advice of some even more anonymous scribe who was not even present when the original document, which according to Christian doctrine, were inspired and inerrant in the autograph, was written.

  16. He didn’t die for his faith, he died for his stupidity. There isn’t anything praiseworthy about it.

    On May 22, Eric MacDonald wrote a post about the issue of whether faith is a cognitive sickness. He linked to videos of lectures by a Portland State University professor of philosophy, Dr. Peter Boghossian, who addresses the issue of faith as distinguished from religion itself. One of the videos is titled “Faith: Pretending to know things you don’t know.” Boghassian regards faith as a potent cultural force which must be terminated.

  17. Fortunately for me, when the rattlesnake bit me at age four, my parents had faith in what passed for modern medicine at the time, and I am here to talk about it.

  18. Ok… My thought is that if he got bit by the snake and died… He’s obviously going to hell because God let him know, by letting him get bitten, he didn’t like the Pastor…

    1. I wondered about that myself. If dying from a snakebite means you didn’t have enough faith in God, why would believers then think the bitten’s soul ascended to heaven?

  19. I agree that this story reflects (and encourages) the cultural deference and privilege so easily granted to “faith.” Because they’ve confused facts with values it’s too easy to slip into the idea that this was someone living up to a “moral commitment” and not just somebody whose ability to think rationally is out of whack.

    Sincerity is overrated. So is standing by what you said you’d do. Those are virtues usually distorted by societies which run themselves on the ideal of “Honor” — as opposed to reason and the freedom of the individual. The pastor was an obedient servant of a tyrant God.

    1. “The pastor was an obedient servant of a tyrant God.”

      Deluded fool with an imaginary friend in the sky seems closer to me.

      Your point about “honor” is an important one that needs exploration. Honor does seem to be the enemy of rationality and the friend of religion — worldwide.

  20. Whilst it is sad that anyone dies a painful death. Perhaps more fundamentalists should ‘prove’ their faith to us non-believers?
    Sick aren’t I?

  21. Apparently neither Wolford nor his family wanted paramedics to be called—I suspect they would have saved his life—until it was too late.

    I figured. Called it in the last thread on the topic.

  22. Like others, I do not take any pleasure in someone’s death resulting from stupidity. (If I did, I’d be a happy man.) I did not know Mr. Wolford and,for all I know,apart from his obsession with snakes, he was a fine human being.

    The only conclusion I can draw from this sad event is “Religion poisons everything.” Why or why do people buy into this nonsense?

  23. When I was a child in southeastern Washington state my father would take me to a hardware store in Spokane that had a huge terrarium with a whole bunch of rattlesnakes in it. I hadn’t thought of that place in a long time until one day in 1970 I picked up a newspaper that had a small “filler” article about that very hardware store: Some nut job, like the rattlesnake handling preacher, got “a call from God” telling him to go liberate those poor imprisoned rattlesnakes. The guy answers God’s call, and bops into the hardware store one day where he picks out a real nice sledgehammer. Rather than buy it, though, he took it to the terrarium and started smashing glass and shooing the snakes out into the store. The article ended by saying the store was still closed three weeks later because one of the rattlesnakes had still not been found.

    It was fun, and fascinating, to go to that store and sit on the floor facing a rattlesnake when I was a little boy. It was better daycare than television – my dad could plop me down in front of a snake, and know I would still be right there when he came back after he had gotten whatever it was we went to the hardware store for. I would sit patiently, knowing that the snake would soon realize I was there and start flicking it’s tongue at me. I would then put my face right down to the glass and stick my tongue out at the snake. I felt safe doing this because of the thin piece of glass between the snake and me. Even as a very young child, I never once thought of doing that without the glass in between.

    How many more snake handlers have to “get called by the Lord” before these folks wise up, and stop thinking they can play with poisonous snakes? For one thing, all the hooping and hollering and holy rolling that goes on must upset the snake, so it is already highly agitated when some fool starts poking him in people’s faces and yowling in tongues. I’m surprised that although these snake handler deaths are a regular item in the newspapers, they are still relatively few and far between.

    By the way, the book “Six Days or Forever?” [about the Scopes trial] has an excerpt from an H.L. Mencken article about his visit to a backwoods Pentecostal holy roller meeting. I don’t remember any snakes, though.

    1. How many more snake handlers have to “get called by the Lord” before these folks wise up, and stop thinking they can play with poisonous snakes?

      All of them?

  24. When I was a graduate student at Texas Tech, one of the professors was studying rattlesnake reproduction. He had several hundred on hand and slowly processed them one by one. The facilities were not that good and they kept getting out. Finally the janitors refused to work the fourth floor unless something was done. So all of us with offices on the fourth floor made up a duty roster of who would come in at 6:00 AM and police up the rattlesnakes.

  25. Well, the guy wanted to die so, no loss.

    What pisses me off, though, is that if someone wants to die because they’ve got, say, an incurable and painful disease, the religious bastards won’t let them. That sucks.

  26. And so I’ve started to come to peace with the fact that everyone in the crowded trailer, including myself, let Mack die as a man true to his faith.

    Why should we admire or “respect” this? Suicide bombers die for their convictions too.

    1. I think that’s not quite a fair comparison. At least the guy didn’t physically hurt anybody else in the process, unlike suicide bombers. Now if we could just educate suicide bombers to observe basic safety rules and do it in a suitably remote location, they’d be fine too…

  27. This has probably already been noted by someone, I haven’t read all the (110) comments yet, but:

    The pastor believed every word of the Bible and laid down his life for his conviction, they said. For them, his death is an affirmation of the Signs Following tradition: “His faith is what took him home,” said his sister Robin Vanover, 38. . .

    Not according to his own holy book. Someone should explain what those verses mean to these people. I s’pose they are reading it with sophistimicated literalism….

  28. He should have learnt what we all are supposed to learn – the only snake you should handle is the “one-eyed bedroom” version….

  29. Seen from a faitheist point of view, this proves conclusively that neither the victim, nor the bystanders, including the mother, had any faith at all – and so they will all burn in hell for ever and ever. Ref.: Matthew 17:20 – “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

    1. From a humane point of view, one tends to feel sorry for such unnecessary loss of life and motherly sorrow, but then one wonders why nobody anticipited a medical emergency and took adequate precautions, or tried elementary first aid procedures (tourniquet, venom suction kit, quick transport to hospital).

      1. One wonders? Who wonders? We all know exactly why nobody took precautions. There is no mystery here at all. This is simply religious belief in action. (And inaction, for that matter).

        1. Yes, I think you are right: religion is like some alien virus that switches off humane qualities and introduces inhuman insanity.
          Why are those ‘bystanders’ (and parents) not arrested for (complicity in) manslaughter?

          1. I think the closest charge would be something like “abetting a suicide” (exact wording being jurisdiction-dependent). But even that looks dubious — I don’t think you are obliged to actively prevent even a deliberate suicide, let alone an unintentional suicide-by-stupidity. And AFAIK, only medical professionals are obliged to assist someone in medical distress. But IANAL.

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