Religion poisons everything: Another snake-handler bites the dust

February 17, 2014 • 9:10 am

I’ve published a fair few posts on the bizarre American religious practice of snake-handling, which rests on Biblical admonitions to “take up serpents” and its assurance that the sufficiently faithful are immune to venom. And many of these posts have been on the death of Pentecostal snake-handlers after being bitten. Now another snake-handler, Kentuckian Jamie Coots, died this weekend after being bitten by a rattler. It was his ninth bite, and he refused medical attention: reports:

Kentucky Pastor Jamie Coots died Saturday night after he was bitten by a snake, according to officials and family members.

Coots starred on the reality show “Snake Salvation” alongside Pastor Andrew Hamblin, from LaFollette, who was recently in court for TWRA citations for snake-handling. The National Geographic show profiled the Pentecostal, serpent handling preachers.

Middlesboro Police Chief Jeff Sharpe said Coots was found dead in his home at about 10 p.m. Saturday a snake allegedly bit Coots while he was handling the animal in his Middlesboro church, Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name.

Sharpe said Coots went home before emergency workers got to the church. Officials then went to his house but weren’t given consent to treat him or transport him to the hospital. About an hour later officials said they returned to the home, but Coots had passed away.

. . .”Jamie went across the floor. He had one of the rattlers in his hand, he came over and he was standing beside me. It was plain view, it just turned its head and bit him in the back of the hand before, within a second,” Winn said.

He said Coots dropped the snakes, but then picked them back up and continued on. Within minutes, he said Coots headed to the bathroom with his son and Andrew Hamblin, an East Tennessee preacher who also handles snakes.

“Andrew said he looked at him and said ‘sweet Jesus’ and it was over. He didn’t die right then, but he just went out and never woke back up,” Winn said.

Jamie Coots, pastor of the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name church of Middlesboro, Ky, stands on a bench before the church singing and holding a rattlesnake during service at Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, Tenn on May 6, 2012.(Photo: The Tennessean)

It’s tempting to joke about “Darwin Awards,” which go to those who improve the human gene pool by dying from their stupidity, but I can’t find much to laugh about here. Coots had friends and family who loved him. He’d be alive if it weren’t for religion.

As would Melinda Brown and her husband, as described below.

Curiously, those friends and loved ones often seem to show little affect after someone dies from a bit. “It’s the will of Jesus,” they claim. Although Coots’s 21-year-old son seems somewhat saddened, he’s still determined to take over his father’s serpent-handling ministry.

I’ve seen the same lack of affect in parents whose children die after being denied medical care on religious grounds (read the story of Ashley King and her mother, which I posted a few months ago).

If you watch the 4-minute video on the WBIR page, you’ll see this lack of affect in the story of Melinda Brown, who died in 1995 from a snakebite in 1995 in the very church that Coots later pastored. Her husband, “Punkin” Brown, interviewed in the video, says, “It was just her time to go. From the time she come into this world where she was born that was her appointment to die.” He shows neither sadness nor remorse. Punkin also died several years later from a snakebite, leaving behind five children—five children who would have parents if there were no Christianity.

Here’s Melinda and her future orphan:

Screen shot 2014-02-17 at 9.01.56 AM

Here’s part of the National Geographic special in which Coots featured; it’s a short video but fascinating.

If you really want to get sickened, go to the Facebook page “Snake salvation,” where many people praise snake-handling, or, at least, refuse to criticize it because after all, Jake, it’s “faith.”

Screen shot 2014-02-17 at 8.58.01 AMh/t: Hempenstein, Blue

124 thoughts on “Religion poisons everything: Another snake-handler bites the dust

    1. I hate to admit it, but that was my reaction as well. The snippets I’ve seen of him in action showed him acting with serious disregard to the animals.

      I’d have a lot more respect for these Christians if, rather than abuse such beautiful animals, they used the alternate option specified in the Gospels of drinking poison. Chug a glass of ammonia, follow it with a big bleach chaser. If you’re still standing after that with no signs of ill health, and if you can produce a valid and current wildlife handling permit, then I’d be okay with somebody directly handling a snake…but I’d still want regular inspections of the snakes to ensure they’re not being mistreated.


      1. I’m with you on that…It’s a typical blind-leading-the blind situation: we have a morbidly obese stage actor who is taking wildlife out it’s natural environment to mesmerize and thrill simple country-folks.

        Are they forgetting that gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins? To quote W.C Fields: there’s a sucker born every minute.

    2. I highly doubt it. The local authorities confiscated all of Hamlin’s snakes back in November. They were turned over to a local zoo, which ended up euthanizing them. They were emaciated and infested with parasites, and presented an immediate danger to their own reptiles. They brought in experts from the local university’s veterinary program, but nothing could be done.

      Presumably he hasn’t been treating the new ones any better.

      1. “They were emaciated and infested with parasites…”

        Perhaps that answers the question I had throughout the video at each clip of the victim dancing around with a snake: why the hell wasn’t he bitten right away?

        Seems possible that the poor critter was too debilitated to do so. Also seems possible that starvation might affect the amount of venom a snake could produce.

        And if so, it’s likely these big brave bullies doing the dancing would be aware of those facts…

        1. Also, perhaps the pastor and his son secretly previously milked-off the venom prior to the public handling of the poor creatures as they energetically danced and hooted with them.

      1. I am hoping that Jerry Coyle is running this page. I am “debating” a creationist on on a thread to an anti-evolution rant by some poor soul named DesLattes in the opinions section. The column is typical creationism nonsense, but one Johnny Byrd is busy on the threads quote mining Jerry Coyle and Pierre Grasse It would be interesting if the real Jerry Coyle made a guest appearance to set this guy straight.

        1. …in other words, you’re looking to pull a Marshall McLuhan?

          Send a short email to Jerry with the link in the body. You can find his address by clicking on the “Research Interests” link at the top of the page.

          And please do so! I think Jerry’ll get a kick out of it.



    1. There is not going to be a gene — or even a set of genes — for “religious fanaticism.” There may be genetic tendencies towards developing more basic personality traits like passionate commitment, or having mystical experiences, or going along with a group — but what and to what degree is always going to depend heavily on environment.

      All this “gene pool” talk is, I assume, hyperbole and/or a joke.

  1. You don’t hear too much about them “drinking deadly liquids” anymore: I wonder if that’s because of the hard lesson learned that, if you handle a snake, it MIGHT bite you- but if you drink drain cleaner, I WILL hurt you, in a totally reliable fashion?

    1. Understanding the selection pressures for producing venomous proteins and enzymes would seem more useful than understanding any selection of scripture. I suppose the tree of knowledge remains forbidden. Oh well.

  2. “It was just her time to go”? So if she hadn’t been killed by a snakebite at the appointed hour, it would have been a lightning strike, or a bus?

      1. Can we bring him up on conspiracy charges, then?

        I don’t support the death penalty for humans, but I’d have no reservations against applying it to this particular non-human.


          1. Works for me!

            …especially considering that whole pesky statue of limitations thing, what with the direct crimes he’s bragged of having happened in the pre-Imperial Roman Empire, if not before….


  3. Not a nice way to go, the timber rattlesnake, which may have been the species used (it doesn’t say what species in the report) has the following reported symptoms from a bite; swelling, blob blisters, ecchymosis, general weakness, breathing difficulty, myoneecrosis, blood coagulation, hemorrhage, bleeding gums, weak pulse, heart pain, increase in heart rate, heart failure, renal failure, rhabdomyolysis, nausea, paralysis, giddiness, unconsciousness, shock, foaming at the mouth, paresthesia, diarrhea! I only hope he went from giddiness as I would wish the rest on anybody.

  4. It appears they have edited the FB page to prevent anyone posting critical comments, and edited out the older ones. I guess they want to get their religious message out, but don’t want to be exposed to any contrary views themselves.

  5. The snake is the agent that delivered a chemical substance in a quantity fatal to the human body. Faith is the virus that resulted in this chain of events. Unfortunately, this tragedy and the others that precede it seldom results in awakening awareness in witnesses that they are also infected.

    The Darwin Award story doesn’t provide enough information to know if the people mentioned are infected with faith, but imo recognizing only the equipment operator as a recipient of it quite unfairly excludes the bonehead observors who couldn’t be arsed to act on their sensible concerns about what happened outside their window for days. They couldn’t walk over and talk to the operator, or pick up a phone and have a word with the construction company office?

    1. In that Darwin Awared example I think the “watchers” are due a little slack. In circumstances similar to that it is pretty reasonable for an observer ignorant of the field to suppose that the professionals in the field know what they are doing. Assuming that the professionals probably know something that you don’t is reasonable and quite often accurate.

      This took place over days?! What I would want to know is, who was in charge? That person was criminally negligent, or perhaps criminally incompetent. Of course, the person who did the demo certainly did earn the Darwin Award.

  6. The video is so disturbing, specially the part about the lost finger due to the snake bite. Although the amount of stupidity in the video makes me sick, I still cannot help but feel a lot of respect towards these snakes and their incredibly powerful toxins.

    1. I’m surprised his lost finger didn’t miraculously grow back. Perhaps he should have taken that as a hint from his god that his faith wasn’t strong enough.

  7. It is a struggle to keep my contempt leashed. Sometimes I lose that struggle.

    It takes work to maintain the position that these people should be granted the same basic respects (no, I don’t mean respecting their beliefs) that should, ideally, be afforded to all if we are to have a chance at achieving that better society we are aiming for.

    1. It’s a good idea to provisionally grant people you don’t know a measure of respect, but it’s not such a good idea to continue to grant them such respect after they demonstrate they don’t deserve it.

      They still must have all their rights, especially the right of free expression. But there’s no right to be respected.

      In many situations, pity should take the place of respect, but contempt is also often called for. And it should be self-evident why pity and contempt are almost always incompatible with respect.



  8. The book, Salvation on Sand Mountain, tells the story of a journalist who joined a snake handling church for a few months. It’s interesting to look at the way these people think. For example when one dies, they often just think it was their time to see god or that the person didn’t have enough faith, the death changes none of their views and the very new week someone else is handling the snakes.

    1. That’s an interesting. The last few verses of Mark, which include the verse about snakes, are believed to have been added a couple of centuries after the oldest know surviving manuscript. Of course their arguments won’t convince those that the King James version is inerrant.


      1. That’s one of the great features of that line.

        If somebody could have lied and put words in Jesus’s mouth in that instance, how is one supposed to know that other people didn’t lie and put other words in Jesus’s mouth elsewhere? And why hasn’t Jesus held a press conference or the like to clear up the matter? Maybe he really did say those words, and it was a true act of faith and determination that finally got the amendment inserted in order to set the record straight.

        But lacking some independent means of verification, how would you know?



  9. Ever notice how every picture of these weirdos holding snakes their eyes are glued warily to the snake’s head? You’d think they’d want to get bitten. Why, living through a non-snakebite doesn’t prove anything!

    1. Imagine how much more Jesus it would prove to live through a game of Russian Roulette with a sawed-off shotgun. Yet, unfortunately for the snakes, it never occurs to them to do that….


      1. You can’t play Russian Roulette with a shotgun. Gotta be something with a revolving magazine, I think. And externally powered (not gas-operated). A revolver qualifies because ones trigger finger supplies the ‘power’.

        I’m just trying to imagine some way to play Russian Roulette with a minigun, but I think it might be impractical.

        But then there’s this…

        1. You cant play Russian Roulette with a shotgun.

          Erm…that was the point. If their faith was pure enough, they wouldn’t need to leave the results to chance.


  10. From the video:

    These believers think they can handle the venomous snakes safely:

    “Once the feel God’s anointment overtaking them…”

    So what does a William L. Craig or a Plantinga do with this? Both those “sophisticated believers” fall back on their purely subjective experience as being essentially infallible: Plantinga takes his God belief as true due to the feeling of Sensus Divinitatis – his sensing God. Craig too says no evidence can discount the truth delivered to him via the “inner witness of the Holy Spirit” – his purported sensing of God within himself.

    And yet, these nutty snake handlers start picking up venomous snakes BECAUSE, exactly like Craig and PLantinga, they believe they are sensing God’s presence within themselves, ratifying their beliefs.
    Yet they suffer snake bites, and some die while in this purported state of sensing God.

    What are the options here?

    1. The snake handling Pentecostal’s were right: God was indeed present and anointing as they picked up the snakes.

    So, do Plantinga and Craig think that such snake-handling is a sound, God-endorsed activity for people to take up? I’m betting they don’t. And you’d think that these people being bitten and dying would be on the side of “not a good idea, actually.”

    But then what is happening? Is God “kind of present…but not totally?” As in, they are right to feel God is there with them as they handle deadly snakes, but wrong to interpret this as God ratifying their belief in snake handling? But if God disapproved of the snake handling, why would God make his presence felt in just the way that (He would know) would be interpreted as justifying their belief in snake handling? This bizarre behavior comes off as utter incompetency in terms of being able to communicate, or maliciousness – either way, certainly not a reliable method of coming to any conclusions about God.

    The other conclusion is pretty clear: that these people are simply mistaken. They THINK they are experiencing the presence of a God, but they aren’t. Not a few Christians would probably think they are mistaken in this way.

    And this again only serves to undermine the subjectively appraised certainty of experiencing a God, as a reliable method of knowledge.

    So either Plantinga and Craig have to start granting all manner of crazy stuff like this as a sound method of thinking, or they admit this subjectve-inner-experience of God stuff is seriously unreliable.

    It’s amazing how even when you go to the “best they’ve got” in theology, the end move the produce amounts to the same one used by the most naive Christians: Faith.


    1. Excellent point.

      It’s very much the school of “My Experiences Are More Real Than Yours.”

      Why? Because they’re mine.

      When they imagine what must be going on in the minds of those who thought they were connecting to God but couldn’t be, they imagine it wasn’t at all similar to what they experienced. Not in the way that counts, where your certainty is justified because it is justified. You just know. You have to experience it… like me.

      Contra Plantinga, belief in God is not every bit as reasonable as an inferred belief in other minds. Knowing God through personal experience requires a subtle rejection of the idea that other people have minds just like yours.

  11. I thought for a moment I was watching a twilight zone episode. I still cannot understand how belief/ideology can utterly shut down higher order brain function, yet evidence abounds.

    1. Agreed. And it is really insanely unfortunate stuff like this that makes that statement stick for anyone who uses faith.

      Religion always matters and if a person takes any part of seriously they have a serious character flaw.

  12. What bothers me about this story is some of the spin I’ve seen coming from various sources, which basically comes down to “this is a test of our ability to respect the religious beliefs of others.”

    Yes, he died. But he died according to his principles. He followed his convictions. He didn’t swerve. He remained faithful to his understanding of God.

    Isn’t that wonderful? Can’t we mix some respect into our sorrow and draw out a positive lesson here? Even if you think he was wrong, he was at least strong.

    No. This is not strength. This was weakness and it’s not to be emulated.

    Why the hell should this be framed like someone being shot by a tyrant for a principled stance on human rights, or a rescue worker succumbing to cold while searching for a lost child? This is someone who was so stubborn he could not admit he was wrong no matter what.

    He LOVED the fact that what he was doing made no sense according to “the world.” And I LOVE the fact that someone with such a view only chose to handle deadly rattlesnakes himself — and not place them at God’s command into the unsuspecting beds of the infidels. What luck.

    Context matters. Steadfast determination is only granted the status of virtue when the steadfast adherent is not a pig-headed fool. Which as far as I’m concerned lets out anyone who dies specifically because they were following some nonsensical bit of reality-conflicting dogma which came straight from their religious faith. Faith is a vice.

    1. “This is someone who was so stubborn he could not admit he was wrong no matter what.”

      The below is not an exact quote (someone can correct me if s/he is hurting for something to do):

      “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, to consider that you might be wrong.”

      – Oliver Cromwell

    2. No strength or bravery. It is what some athletes call “The Mohawk Principle”. Will a mohawk haircut distinguish you? Definitely. Was it brave to get a mohawk? Maybe, depending how embarrassed you thought you might be. Did it take effort to get a mohawk? No.

      Will swimming from one end of the pool to the other faster than anyone human distinguish you? Definitely. Was it a brave thing to do? Probably. Did it take any effort to do? More than most people could ever comprehend.

  13. “Religion poisons everything: Another snake-handler bites the dust”

    What, religion has even poisoned snake handling? That’s awful.

    That’s how that headline played in my mind at least. 😉

    1. No, actually. The biting was done by the snake, and what got poisoned was the snake-handler. There, untwisted all Jerry’s metaphors.

  14. I suspect that the ‘lack of affect’ is because their religion asserts that a ‘bad thing’ (death of a loved one) is a ‘good thing’. The contradiction shuts down emotional responses and the ‘shut down state’ is self-perceived as evidence that the ‘bad thing’ really is a ‘good thing’ because they are ‘not experiencing grief’.

    1. I guess if you truly believe in a heaven or a pleasant afterlife, it might soften the blow a bit.

      On the other hand if you doubt the postmortem whereabouts of your loved one and various hellish scenarios are an option, it might be torture.

  15. Many people here are condemning snake handling as a religious practice. There are several people who handle snakes for other reasons than religion. It is not the snake handling that is the problem, it is the refusal, on religious grounds, to get treatment that is the problem. You can handle snakes all you want, just don’t think that Jesus will save you if you get bitten. Faith is the problem. This guy would still be alive if he had taken the antivenom.

    I wonder if Mr. Coots refused medical care the first 8 times he was bitten.

    1. While I basically agree with the point you’re making, I have to take issue with this:

      You can handle snakes all you want

      As with any wild animal, handling should only be done by those who actually know what they’re doing and in accordance with relevant laws. There’re pet snakes which can be reasonably handled almost as casually as you’d handle a cat or a d*g, but rattlers — the perpetual favorite of shamans like the guy who just Darwined himself — basically should never be pets. And many jurisdictions do or should require non-trivial permitting for keeping them.

      So, I’d amend your statement to, “If you want to handle snakes, become an herpetologist, at which point you’ll be well qualified to handle snakes all you want. If you don’t want to become an herpetologist, they’re not hard to find and they’ll all be delighted to help you handle snakes in a safe and legal manner for all involved, especially the snakes.”


      1. Maybe we need a government permit to leave the house and go out into the wild. My daughter liked to pick up lizards when she was little, a lot of kids do. As long as they do no harm, I see no problem with this.

        The best snake wranglers are not herpetologists, but hobbyists. Some of these end up making a living handling venomous snakes to collect their venom for antivenom.

        I understand your point about leaving wild things alone, but I hardly think that the few people that handle rattlesnakes is a major concern.

        1. Surely herpetologists and other professional snake handlers take more care than these religious fanatics, who believe that God will protect them when they, so egregiously and carelessly, “take up the SAAAAARR-pent”?

          I would bloody well don some impenetrable fang-proof armor before getting within several arm’s-lengths of such a beastie, having no faith whatsoever that it would give me a perpetual rain-check.

          1. If you don fang-proof armor, please don’t handle the snakes — you’ll very likely hurt them….

            There are rare exceptions, but, overwhelmingly, if you don’t bother the snakes, they’ll not bother you. That’s certainly the case in the Southwest, where nearly all our venomous snakes are rattlers of one type or another, and they’re not shy about letting you know when you get too close. Alcohol consumption is, far and away, the most significant factor in snake bites here.

            If you’re out and about, give the snake a wide berth, but also take the time to admire it — they’re really very beautiful animals. If it’s in your home (rarely happens here, but it’s not unheard of), if you don’t know what you’re doing, call the local wildlife / game & fish service / herpetology society (or the local non-emergency police number, who’ll give you the right number to call) and keep yourself and your pets and your kids clear until the expert arrives. That’s pretty much all you need to know.



            1. Makes sense to me. I don’t anticipate ever handling such a snake. I was just prognosticating on what one might ought to do for the sake of personal safety if one absolutely HAD to handle one.

              1. I’m no herpetologist, but, generally, the snake is pinned down just behind the head with a tool designed for the job. While holding down the snake, you’d pick it up, again just behind the head. I think the release is done in reverse order, but don’t quote me on that. Regardless, you’d only be handling it when absolutely necessary, such as when milking it to collect venom from which antivenin is made. And it’d take some training to learn not just how and where to position the tool, but, especially, to know how much force to use to avoid harm to the animal.

                For all the harm they can do to us, they’re the truly vulnerable ones in human-snake encounters. They’re pretty fragile, actually. And much too beautiful to wantonly harm…you wouldn’t swat butterflies or kick kittens, would you? Same thing.



  16. Remove the Religion exemption from the DSM for Delusion and this will not happen anymore.
    This is a delusion, a very dangerous delusion in this case, very dangerous for his family and his friends.
    This man was not dumb or a retard or inbreed or any of that, he is suffering from a psychological illness, a delusion, a cognitive illness and needed our help.

    1. I think he was, like so many other kinds of fundamentalists, suffering from being the member/leader of a cult. Sure, there are cult-like aspects to religion in general, but in order to support this kind of delusion within entire communities, you need to maintain strong cultural isolation – largely walled-off from the surrounding culture.

  17. I’m not convinced that religion poisons everything. I think that religion is just one expression of problematic aspects of human cognition.

      1. If they’re busy waving a bible with the other hand, then I object.

        If they’re just there to help, then good on them.

      2. “I just cannot condemn religious people who selflessly feed the hungry and care for the sick.”

        Including those who proselytize while they are doing it (probably most of them) or ones treating the sick like Mother Teresa did, so she could say how honorable and desirable that state of living can be?

        1. No, I don’t like the ones who have ulterior motives. Some are no doubt really dedicated to helping others. Think of a spectrum, not one or the other. There are surely some people who are indeed “saintly” — the world is after all a big place.

      3. I think that a proponent of the “religion poisons everything” concept would argue that, regardless of the motivation, feeding the hungry and caring for the sick are secular activities in this world which have merit for reasons which don’t depend on religion. They can be admired whether you have the same religion, a different religion, or none at all.

        The minute the good religious people start to do things which would not, could not make sense to an intelligent, compassionate atheist — that’s when we’ve got problems. Anything uniquely theirs.

        Overlaps say good things about the person, certainly — but technically don’t count in the favor of the religion.

    1. A valid point that I am sure many atheists would agree with. But, even if you concede that, it would not follow that “religion poisons everything” is therefore not true.

      1. “Religion poisons everything” came from Hitchens. He clarified numerous times in debates and elsewhere, what he meant by that claim.

        It’s essentially what Sastra wrote.

        It’s not that religious people can’t do, for instance, good science or be morally good people. Obviously they can and hence it’s obvious this was not what Hitchens meant.
        Rather, he explained that insofar as people do things for “religious reasons” it poisons whatever activity it touches. The reasons given by Christianity for why one ought to do good are either wrong/pernicious, and hence poison morality that way, or they match essentially the secular reasons for doing good, making the religious reasons gratuitous. Even IF a Christian manages to twist text or cock his way this or that way to make his Christianity compatible with holding essentially the same secular reasons for morality, it’s still the case the Christian is, simply by co-mingling morality with his Christianity, undermining the project. Because by granting himself license for “faith” and granting the bible ANY divine authority on these matters (no matter how he twists them) the Christian is, for no good reason, granting legitimacy to the Bible and all it’s pernicious ideas which have been dragged through history like a ball and chain.

        And the Christian disarms himself from being able to critique other faithful who come to different moral conclusions because he’s granted himself a bad epistemological method to begin with. The Christian can pick and choose from the bible in support of his doing what a secular person would agree is “the right thing,” but this only acts as a liability introduced into morality, as some other Christian or religion can take the same
        way to arrive at an opposite conclusion. And the Bible has so much odious content, it’s simply taking on a moral minefield for no good reason at all.

        (All this can be applied to WHATEVER you mix religion with, science, politics, you name it).

        This is the sense in which Hitchens meant religion poisons everything.


        1. Thanks, I agree.

          The point I was trying to make to Pliny is that even if religion “is just one expression of problematic aspects of human cognition,” that does not logically lead to or require that “religion poisons everything” is incorrect.

          In other words, regardless of any other considerations, the logic is not valid.

          1. I fear that this thread evaded my original intent 😉 The logic of the statement ‘religion poisons everything’ wasn’t at issue.

            Obviously I wasn’t completely clear.

            The point I was trying to address is that I consider religion to be one example of a larger continuum of human behaviors that aren’t predicated on critical analysis. Call them zeals for want of a better term. It is this more generic tendency that is so poisonous to human societies.

  18. The pastor was killed by religion and he was killed by being American.

    Both assertions are rhetorical and stupid.

    If the “rational” sect is going to knock religion, can we have something less inane?

    1. So, you are proposing that it was only a snake bite that killed Coots. That’s Pastor Coots, in a snake-handling fundie church with a practice (snake handling) that is a purely American phenomenon. You find that many of us see a connection there to be “inane?”

    2. If the man had not been religious, he probably would not have been handling snakes in such a careless way. Only a few societies tolerate religious snake-handling, one being the American South, I’m sorry to say. You would probably be surprised if such a story came from, say, Sweden or Denmark.

      1. OK, here’s something for you to “suck up”:


        “Ever hear of dialectics? Dialectics is the process whereby exchanges are made between people who want to find the truth. Rhetoric is a similar process in which the purpose is to win.

        Your comment [“suck it up”] is rhetorical.

        Now have you ever heard of ‘dialectical materialism’? It is a dialectical process (an honest search for truth) in which the materialist assumption (atheism) is made. It is the philosophical method of Marxism – of Marx himself. Does that surprise you?

        Where can we go dialectically from the materialist assumption? Let’s see:

        There is nothing spiritual or supernatural. The universe evolves according to materialist laws of nature. The randomness of quantum mechanics expresses no supernatural intent, allows no free will, it is purposeless randomness. The sense that we have free will is therefore just a delusion. We actually have no choice in our behavior, which is just the expression of the particles of out brain following the laws of the universe or the meaningless randomness of quantum mechanics. Since we have no choice in our behavior, the idea that we deserve punishment or reward based on our behavior is false. Justice is a false idea. Any purpose of punishment, therefore, can reasonably only be exemplary, to prevent others from committing the same crime. The person punished, as already demonstrated, deserves punishment no more nor no less than anyone else. Therefore it does not matter if the person punished is the one who actually committed the crime, nor does it really even matter whether the putative crime was actually committed.

        Grab anyone, have a show trial, and punish him for a crime which may not even have been committed. In fact, a trial isn’t even necessary. Just round people up and kill them on the basis of an accusation. Killing maximizes the exemplary inhibition of the punishment. This is not unjust as justice is a false idea.

        The exemplary punishment (the means) serves to inhibit the named crime in the population (the end).

        Marx, unconsciously culturally imbued with Christian ethics, may never have gone there in his “science”. Marxist strongmen, on the other hand, always go there. It is the reason why communist powers killed more peaceful people, by far, in the last century alone, than people falsely claiming the authority of Christ did since Christianity began over 2000 years ago.

        All that is required to get to the exemplary (terror inspiring) mass killing of the typical communist state is the atheist assumption and honest reasoning.

        1. All that is required to get to the exemplary (terror inspiring) mass killing of the typical communist state is the atheist assumption and honest reasoning.

          Complete and utter bullshit of the most noxious sort, trivially refuted in countless ways — from examples such as the large numbers of decidedly-non-theistic Western democracies, especially in northern Europe and Japan, to the horrific atrocities of Christian nations (especially including Nazi Germany and the Crusades and the Inquisition and the Conquistadors), to the disproportionately few atheist murderers in prison, and on and on and on and on.

          Asserting that atheists are logically compelled to mass murder is about the absolute most baseless and offensive insult a Christian could possibly make — and, sadly, is all too typical of the uncivilized and boorish nature of Christianity.

          I mean, what else would you expect from a Bronze Age death cult whose central figure commanded his followers to kill all non-Christians in preparation for his triumphant return — a return whose crowning glory will be when he finishes the job of killing non-Christians.



        2. As you are probably aware, this is not honest reasoning and Marxism is not “atheism.” Your leap from “punishment is for deterrence” to “punish whomever you want for any reason” doesn’t follow from materialism or determinism, but is an absurd greedy reductionism of your own fancy (or hypothetical fancy, since I won’t assume you’re serious.)

          Do you think that if the Communists believed that their dogma was also the will of God that it would have been better?

    3. The pastor died because he handled poisonous snakes and then refused to take medicine when he was bitten because he thought God had told him to do this as evidence of his faith and God’s promise to keep him from harm. Do you think there is no connection here with religion?

      A “bad” religion?

      1. Also, if the reverend’s child had been somehow(accidentally?) bitten, shall the reverend, being the child’s owner – ah, uh I mean – parent, dismiss any third party concern with “Oh, he’s just following his principles,” and be exempt from any scrutiny by Child Protective Services?

  19. There really is no reason to posit that “Punkin” Brown’s “five children would have parents if there were no Christianity.” There is reason, however, to think that Brown’s one or two children might have parents, were there no Christianity.

  20. I just rec’d this excerpt from a friend which seems to be from here:

    ”His son, Cody, told the television station his dad had been bit eight times before, but never had such a severe reaction. Cody Coots said he thought the bite would be just like all the others.

    “We’re going to go home, he’s going to lay on the couch, he’s going to hurt, he’s going to pray for a while and he’s going to get better. That’s what happened every other time, except this time was just so quick and it was crazy, it was really crazy,” Cody Coots said.”

    So, here’s my theory. He had built up antibody tolerance from the previous bites, in the same way that Bill Haas the famous snake man (down in FL, IIRC) did by injecting himself with minute amounts of venom from the various species of venomous snakes he kept. But I suspect that this time Coots was bitten by a different species of snake from the previous ones, which had a venom spectrum to which he hadn’t acquired any immunity.

    1. Other possibilities:
      individual and/or geographic variation in venom composition within the ‘same’ species (snakes are getting rarer, so it is known he was spending a lot of time traveling as far as Texas to get his torture victims, and similar-looking populations may be genetically distinct in the relevant subset of genes);
      antibody levels can fluctuate considerably after a course of inoculations, particularly if it’s been a few years since the last serious bite;
      he may have developed increased sensitivity to one or more venom components and suffered anaphylaxis – this seems pretty likely from the reported speed of collapse.
      Any word on an autopsy? It would be compulsory in many jurisdictions for such a case, but maybe not that one.

  21. Stupid is as stupid does….

    … and all in the name of creating an illusion that they’ve been bestowed with special powers by their bogus sky daddy. I think it’s not just chicanery, delusion and stupidity at play here; it’s the grossest form of vanity that they’re ‘special’ and ‘chosen’. I need to throw up now.

  22. In 1939, at age four, I stepped on a large rattlesnake and was bitten on the right ankle. The doctor met us about a mile out of town, and did the X incisions and tourniquet. I spent 72 hours on an operating table. They ran out of antivenom and made a fast run over gravel roads to San Angelo to get more. At one time I had 16 suction cups on my leg. One of them had a glass barrel and I could watch my blood foam up in it. It was a very painful experience.

    At that time, four out of five bitten kids of my age died. I was the one who did not die. I wouldn’t handle a rattlesnake barehanded, but have caught many using a snake stick.

    1. Hallelujah! Praise the LAAARD! It’s a certified miracle!

      (Or you were lucky, or had a good doctor, or were big for your age, or it was a relatively shallow bite…)

      Glad you made it. 🙂

  23. My mother told me that once upon a time her grandmother (a woman of grit and self-sufficiency and resourcefulness, so I’m told), while hoeing her sweet potato patch, was bitten by a copperhead. (I don’t know when it happened; but even if there were anti-venom in existence, it was not available to her, living out in the country as she did with dirt roads and hardly any transportation available. Per my mother, her grandmother opened the fang puncture wounds with a knife, caught and killed and cut the still-beating heart out of a chicken, and placed the heart over the wound in such a way that the heart would suck the (majority of the?) poison out.

    Does that sound reasonable, plausible, to the rational minds among us? (Do I correctly surmise that copperheads are not as poisonous as rattlesnakes?)

  24. From the time of the pharaohs, the priests always use stage-tricks to wow laymen (and gain followers). These snake tricks are mostly in the same vein. Wow factor.

    I just wonder current audience are just simply much tougher. Imagine 100 years ago, in the wide empty land of America … no movies or netflix … definitely different level of wowfulness ..

  25. My first thought was “Just think of it as evolution in action.” Unfortunately, he’s not eligible for a Darwin Award, because he’s besprogged already.

    Sharpe said Coots went home before emergency workers got to the church. Officials then went to his house but weren’t given consent to treat him or transport him to the hospital. About an hour later officials said they returned to the home, but Coots had passed away.

    Suicide, by stupidity.

    1. Compared with, say, the Indian woman who died in an Irish hospital after being refused a life-saving abortion on *other peoples’* religious grounds, I really can’t raise much sympathy for snake-handlers who come unstuck. I actually have more sympathy for the snakes, who didn’t choose to be subjected to that treatment.

      In fact – Go Snakes! Bite ’em all! And the sooner they all die out the better…

  26. I just want to say that the word is still true no matter what happens… I am Punkin and melinda browns daughter the one pictured above and no matter what happens in this life it doesnt change Gods word… it was simply just their time to go… no matter if they were in church or driving down the road their names was called just as it was Brother Jamies time to go…. and that is alll id like to say…

    1. Sarah – do you drive with bald tires until you have a blowout and run off the road, or do you replace them from time to time so that doesn’t happen?

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