January 06, 2008

Show Me Your Faith...

I was thinking recently about religion, and the personal beliefs and convictions held by some--beliefs and convictions which to those holding them, are as natural as breathing, but may seem bizarre to others.
In the various religions that I have read about, heard about, and experienced at one time or another, they have been as normal and practical as anyone could want, and others have been somewhat confusing, as far as what they preached and practiced. Others, which I must admit were more "read about" than personally experienced, seem downright bizarre, and scary, but when it comes to personal convictions, they are just that--personal. To each his own, and far be it from me to try to change them. I know what I believe, and what my personal convictions are, and I don't want anyone trying to change them for me, either.

One of the strangest of these various religions that I have heard about involve the snake handlers, which are mostly found in Appalachia, and particularly around Sand Mountain where I lived for awhile as a little girl, and then again for awhile, years later.

A few years ago, I became interested in a case involving a preacher, Reverend Glenn Summerford, the pastor of a church whose members believed in, and practiced the ritual of "taking up serpents" or snake handling. At the time, there were at least three churches on Sand Mountain who practiced it. It seems that the pastor became suspicious of his wife, and according to reports, forced her hand into a box full of rattlesnakes until she was bitten. He was convicted of attempted manslaughter, and sentenced to 99 years in prison.

As bizarre as all this sounds, the people who practice snake handling are not crazy, but very dedicated in their adherence to practicing what they believe, and this belief is based on a verse of scripture found in Mark 16:17-18 which says:"And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; 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."

They are fervent in their belief, and they take this scripture, literally. They feel that if their faith is strong enough that they will not be bitten, and if they are, that it will not kill them. As strange as it may seem, there have been but few deaths in all the churches which practice snake handling, and when it happens, they believe it was because their faith was not strong enough, or that they had not waited until the Lord moved on them.

There are laws in most states, other than Georgia and West Virginia, which prohibit the practice, with small fines, but they are not usually enforced because it is seen as a religious practice, and that is, after all, what all the hue and cry is about lately--freedom to practice any religion we choose. I guess it just depends on which side of the fence you're on when it comes to something like this--whether you approve, or disapprove.

I've wondered, since some are requesting special areas for foot washing to satisfy followers of Islam, if they will have to start providing sections containing cages of rattlesnakes in public areas, too--you know, so that those who like to handle serpents can practice their beliefs? And don't forget the religion that is based on smoking marijuana, or the one which sacrifices chickens, or the one...oh, I know, I know this is beginning to sound ridiculous, but I was trying to make a point, which is that we do have freedom of religion in this country, and freedom of speech, but sometimes we just get so carried away, that we don't know when to stop!

~But someone may well say, "You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works."

James 2:18
New American Standard Bible


Tanie said...

Interpretation can house many variations and in truth who are we to say they are wrong. They aren't 'wrong' in my opinion. I do feel however that as a world we need community guidelines to co exist in relative harmony. Laws can do that.

Well you got me thinking this early on a Sunday morning.....

Jan said...

"Well you got me thinking this early on a Sunday morning....."

tanie..Well, 'Thinkers' are always welcome here! :)

I agree with what you say about needing guidelines in order to have harmony--goodness knows we need a little more of that!

Yehudi01 said...

This is all very bizarre.

The Frank Family said...

I believe that many things in the Bible are taken in the wrong spirit. Scripture does not tend to give us acts to do just to show that we can do them. How are we suppose to distinguish ourselves as Christians? By our love!!! The Bible also says that if we have enough faith that we could say to a mountain to move and it would. Does that mean that we as Christians are called to go around displacing the Earth's mountain ranges just to show we can? All amazing acts of God's people are meant to accomplish God's work or to authenticate God's Word. They're not like playing a cosmic and heavenly game of truth or dare. Just one man's opinion.

Jan said...

yehudi..yes, it is very bizarre, but to those who are members of those particular churches, it is not.

Many, if not most of them have grown up in it, and it is a natural part of living out their faith.

It is not at all as prevalent as it was years ago, and I don't believe that there are a lot of the churches, which practiced that particular ritual, around anymore.

They are all, as far as I know, very rural churches, and many times, the congregants are, mostly, families who grew up in the church.

Jan said...

Frank Family..of course, much of scripture is misinterpreted, which is why there are so many denominations around.

I know the snake handling part of that denomination's beliefs is strange and bizarre, but they are sincere in what they believe, and practice many of the positive precepts of their religion, to the letter, following a very high moral code, and showing love and concern for others, expressed in many good works.

I do understand what you are saying, and I very much appreciate your comments.

pepektheassassin said...

these guys handling the snake are looking scarier than the snake itself....

May 2008 be good to you.

Jan said...

pepek..I've never attended one of those meetings, but I think I'd be scared! :)

Thank you for the good wishes..may the same hold true for you, my friend!

rockync said...

I have always been of a mind that if what a people practice serves a good purpose then I have no opposition to it. Handling snakes and killing chickens just doesn't seem to fit that criteria, but I'm not the law. I can't stop their practices but I also don't have to give them any validity in my life.
As for a place to wash feet,sacrifice animals or handle snakes; These are religious practices that belong in religious venues. This is what the separation of church and state was created for.If people feel the need to wash their feet, let them carry around a portable foot washing kit so they can maintain their ritual in private where it belongs. As you've pointed out, many states ban the slaughter of animals or the handling of snakes for religious purposes. As I sit pondering the implications of what you posted, it occurs to me that there are religious practices carried out many times in a year by many religions within their places of worship. Ash Wednesday finds Catholics going to church to receive ashes to their foreheads. We used to be able to leave school early on that day, but we had to come back after and we better had ashes on our foreheads when we returned. There wasn't a big deal made of it by non Catholics. Religion was a personal, private affair and it was each to their own.
Some day I'll tell you the story of how me and my two best friends left school to meet boyfriends and then put cigarette ashes on each others' foreheads! We're probably all going to hell for that one...

Jan said...

rockync..I was wondering when you were going to weigh in on this...and you've got me laughing so hard! :)

I'd be willing to bet that you are not going to hell for that, either!

Speaking of the ashes..I'm not Catholic, and for the longest time, being the uninformed, naive soul that I was, I had no idea what that was all about, and I just COULD NOT figure out how all those people got ashes on their faces on the same day, and seemed totally oblivious that it was on there! LOL..you wouldn't believe how dumb I used to be about so many things!

I do hope that I have become a little more enlightened over the years! :)

Thanks for your comments!

rockync said...

I'm late weighing in because I agreed to help out at the jail Sunday. This going to a real job on a regular basis is getting to be a bad habit!
Sorry about the length of my post; I didn't realize I was talking so much until I hit the button.
LOL! The ashes are a little weird aren't they? I like to think I've become more enlightened over the years also.
I think my little confession only goes to prove that all the outward rituals you perform do not necessarily prove your piousness.
We were good at getting away with skipping school though.Oh, the stories I could tell! But I don't want to spoil it for the kids that may be using the same ruses...

sheoflittlebrain said...

An interesting and thought provoking post as usual, Jan!

I've read about the snake handlers, but have never been to one of their churches. It does seem bizarre and frightening to me, but no stranger than killing a chicken or goat and smearing the blood around.

I agree with Rockync that provision for religeous ritual shouldn't be provided in public places, but I believe the provision for foot bathing is already being provided in public bathrooms in some places in the US. Your point is good..if one religeon is provided for, how about the rest.. a basin for catching blood perhaps? Oh dear, here I go again!

rockync said...

She - your post got me thinking of one scenario where maybe providing for footbathing could be acceptable. How about an international airport? They might want to do so if they had received enough requests. It would be like when they put those baby changing stations in the bathrooms.
I certainly don't think it should be a law, but I would have no objection if the airport decided to provide such. The one defining factor in all this is no matter what is provided in public areas, it must still conform to the laws of the land in which it is placed. I make my objection when groups demand new laws to support their religious practices. Religions are already protected by US laws to be able to practice their religion without persecution except where their practices violate our laws. (IE: animal cruelty, polygamy,etc).

k said...

Yes. I think the business of setting aside special areas for foot bathing isn't really appropriate. But in some of the areas they're talking about, apparently there are already chapels, usually non-denominational. So if one group has already had money spent on them for a small private place of worship of their choice, it doesn't seem fair not to extend it to others.

I don't mean we should put foot bathing places in. I think we shouldn't have chapels unless we're willing to go all the way for every religion. The problem is, once the chapel is in there, it's not very easy to take it out. That would make people mad. Why they shouldn't have put them in in the first place. Sorry - I know this will make some people mad.

That's one reason I object to prayer in schools. It's never all-inclusive: you're disallowing atheists, for example. As a child, bringing religion into our classes made me extremely uncomfortable. This is very private subject matter, and if I didn't want to recite the words alongside everyone else, they would notice my private business.

If it's a private school, that's a different story, especially if it's a religious school. But this is public school. I used to feel almost naked among those kids. It wouldn't matter if I completely agreed with whatever religion in question was - I hated to be forced to display my private beliefs to others.

I know I'm saying something very unpopular here. But my own reading of the founding documents of our country seem clear to me on that: although they committed some of those same acts themselves - similar to Jefferson owning slaves - the intent was for religious freedom, and for that separation of church and state.

To me this seems pretty clear: our public tax money shouldn't be spent on religious services. Not for one or two denominations, as it usually works in real life; not for any of them. It can't be done fairly. Even if it could, it simply shouldn't be done at all. Let folks practice whatever they want. Just don't spend my tax dollars on someone's religious needs.

One reason it mattered to them was because there were a number of Deists among the founding fathers. They weren't all Christians, as some folks believe. And they had a good memory for what happened during the witchhunt times, and wanted to keep that from happening again.

I've seen some TV shows on those snake handlers. Every time, the strangeness wears off and I see them just as quiet rural people. And they always strike me as very calm, decent, caring people too. Very attentive to the person they're speaking too, quietly but completely sincere in what they believe. They aren't stupid, and they aren't crazy either. Actually, they seem like fine people indeed. The kind you'd be really glad to have around as neighbors - especially after a hurricane. I bet they could deal with anything at all.

Jan said...

"Oh, the stories I could tell! But I don't want to spoil it for the kids that may be using the same ruses"

rockync..I see your point! LOL

Jan said...

She..you know your comments are always welcome here! :)

Jan said...

k..I certainly understand your point of view, and I guess one's perspective on all of these matters depends on their own religious convictions, or whether they are atheists or deists, or anything else.

Matters of religion and politics will never be agreed upon, but good and bad are found in both.

I appreciate your comments!

GUYK said...

Whatever floats there boat is just fine with me..but I wouldn't attend those services without my shotgun just in case one of them sumbitches got loose..yeah..and the snakes too.

k said...

jan - I knew that you, of all people, wouldn't jump down my throat for that! And I'm glad nobody else did, either. Thank you all.

I rarely venture into this territory. It seems as if my views are hard for some people to understand - they seem quite simple to me, but I think people are so accustomed to placing people in *groups* of one sort or another, that when a person has no group they can be put even close to, it's confusing.

Early on, commenting, I found very odd reactions to my statements on the topic of the day, or whatever serious issue was being discussed.

So, instead of getting tangled up in threads that required hours to explain, I stepped back.

Here's one: My feelings about religious privacy, and the appropriateness of spending tax dollars on religious matters?

They have nothing whatsoever to do with my religious beliefs or my upbringing.

Perhaps an exception is that in my family, privacy is held very dear. I certainly follow my family upbringing in that.

It wouldn't matter a bit if everyone around me in school was as close to sharing my own religious beliefs as humanly possible. The problem was, feeling forced to display my own beliefs in front of others made me feel naked.

I hated it then, and I hate it now. It has nothing to do with what religion I am. It has everything to do with respect for privacy, and for the right to independent thought.

Well. I shall now step back into the woodwork.

Jan said...

k..I understand what you are saying..you are a very private person, and it makes you uncomfortable to be drawn into something which you feel would be exposing your innermost feelings, especially when you feel that you have no control over the matter.

Please don't worry about being misunderstood here...I do enough of that, myself! :)