Does The Constitution Protect A Snake Handling Religion?

Magical thinking is a part of most religions I know about, and, certainly part of Christianity.  For example, magical thinking is that grape juice becomes Jesus’ blood or that prayers healed someone.

This kind of magical thinking mostly is harmless and is protected by our Constitution.  But, when does the government have a right to prohibit practices that are legitimate parts of religions?

Most of us would agree, I would guess, that the state has a right, generally, to prevent religious practices that harm vulnerable people.  The practices of polygamy, child exploitation, spousal abuse and self mutilation are among those prohibited by our laws.

A snake handling preacher was killed by a snake a few months ago.  This was in spite of the precaution to feed the snakes before the event–God apparently protects the faithful from snake bites if the faithful make sure the snakes are in a mellow mode.

I saw an article in the Wall Street Journal today by a snake handler making the case the Consitution protects practicioners from intervention by government.  I don’t know if the practice should be allowed or not, but putting practices into the realm of religion has lots of implications.

Making gay marriage and abortions into religious ceremonies, for example, should end the arguments they are immoral.   Because religion is an arbitrary and man-made phenomenon, the argument can be made most any practice is protected.


33 Responses

  1. Michael Ross

    Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple,
    and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, HE WILL COMMAND HIS ANGELS CONCERNING YOU’; and ‘ON [their] HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP, SO THAT YOU WILL NOT STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.'”
    Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.'”(Matthew 4:5-7)

    I don’t know about the Constitution but Christ condemned this behavior. This is so fringe and bizarre that only hyper-scoffers would even bring it up.

    1. entech

      Diverting attention to the fact that it is rare does not answer the question.
      Does any government have the right to ban any activity if it is a seriously held religious belief. Even the fringe and bizarre.

      If the answer is no, how about the Church of Satan, sex and drugs and rocknroll ?
      If the answer is yes: where do you draw the line, who decides where to draw the line, who decides who decides ?

      Bit like Biblical belief, which bit is true and inerrant and which bit is metaphor, raising the same category of questions – who decides etc. or, worser and worser if some is believed and some not; where do you … ❓

      1. Michael Ross

        If consenting adults wish to play with snakes behind closed (home or church) doors I believe they should be allowed to do so. Just as they should be allowed to practice sexual perversion in the privacy of their own bedroom. When it goes public as it has in the case of gay rights (“marriage”, pride, parades, serving openly in the military etc.) a line should have been drawn. It was not and perversion has gone ‘in your face’ viral. Snake handling has been around for generations and has remained extreme fringe. The only reason it is even brought up by secularists like Jon or the establishment media is to make the point that all people who have strong religious beliefs are dangerous and should looked upon with suspicion.

        1. Michael 3:57 ” even brought up by secularists like Jon…is to make the point all people who have strong religious beliefs are dangerous and should be looked on with suspicion.”

          Atheists have a lot of problems, they are rejected and scorned by the majoriety. One problem they do not have is handling snakes, having several wives, refusing to allow the children to see doctors, men seeing their wives as their possessions and lessers and other things that are included in the broad practice of Christianity. It’s not all of the faith, a tiny part. But, its there because Christianity is so meaningless, anything the comes through the door can be justified.

          1. Henry

            By that rationale, atheism is meaningless as well with the numerous factions within the atheism/agnostic spectrum.

          2. entech

            Henry, to use our new word of the day, context, I must agree that atheism is meaningless. In the religious context there is no meaning in the sense that an atheist can never stand there with his bare face hanging out and say, “God gives my life meaning” .
            The meaning you get from God is that your life does not end when you die, reward or punishment awaits, this is the meaning behind being a good person in a religious sense. The Atheist on the other hand can only do good things because it seems the right thing to do, the meaning, the motivation is, perhaps, a little bit of self satisfaction, a tiny touch of that makes me feel good.

            How many factions are there in atheism: In general terms just one, there is no God.
            For agnostics: again one, there is no way to know whether such an entity exists.

            How many factions are there in Christianity (we don’t have the bandwidth to cover them all).
            Unitarians, Trinitarians. Divide further depending on what the nature of Jesus is supposed to be. The actual son, the adopted son, not really the son just a favoured prophet, purely human, purely spirit, fully human fully spirit. One that rewards for faith in him alone, for good deeds, by grace, on a capricious whim (hi Calvin).
            A rough, very rough, overview of the possibilities all derived from the same book, although some of the early ones were left out as being heresy, heresy meaning (that word again) not accepted by the majority, or perhaps in error.

            Agnostics as such do not, cannot, have a factional interest, the old joke about the militant agnostic sums it up “I don’t know and you don’t know either”.
            Atheists seem to come in three broad camps – those like PZ Myer who advocate a serious attempt at putting down religion, even being rude and belligerent when required : people like Jon who just point out the anomalies and some of the foolishness and generally question the ideas: and probably the majority who really don’t care enough to be bothered arguing and just carry on and live their lives within whatever framework they find meaningful.
            Pity there weren’t more Christians like the last group, but then they do have an injunction to spread the word, to save souls, some nasty things have been done to people in the way they are to have their soul saved.

        2. entech

          Do you deny that strong religious beliefs, strongly held are not dangerous. Some factions of Islam would put the lie to that. There are Christian groups that I would prefer not to have any more influence than they already have.

          Perhaps strong religious beliefs should be kept behind closed doors (Home or Church). Perhaps some like Phelps and family should be themselves kept behind closed doors, closed and padded doors in a padded room.

  2. Parents have been arrested for not taking their children to a doctor for medical treatment even when their sincerely held belief was that god could heal their illness. Some religions use illegal drugs in their ceremonies. I think these people are arrested if found. I guess I’m more concerned with venomous role models than venomous snakes. Unfortunately, you can’t protect others from the stupidity of their friends and family.

  3. Brad

    I think some religions could be classified as a form of mental illness. Not illegal, but enough of a concern to society that they should be watched carefully.

    1. Henry

      Brad:“…they should be watched carefully.”

      With your criteria, you would be on the watchlist with your former Sunday School teaching experience. I pity the poor federal agent who would be absolutely bored to death.

      1. entech

        Does that mean dear Henry, that you think all religions are a form of mental illness?
        How cruel, even I only think that they are wrong in their beliefs.

          1. entech

            Of course, I learned from the Master.
            The Way of the Master.

            Really cruel would be to suggest that all Sunday School Teachers are suspect, but I know that is not true, just the few that cast doubt on the rest, the majority who have good intentions.

          2. entech

            Does that mean that all Sunday school teachers are suspect. I said they are not and you pull context into it. The inference I can gather from this is that in the context of religion as a mental illness I am being supportive of religion and you are not.

          3. Henry

            Saying “out of context” places no context into what you said. It only alleges what you said is screwed up.

      2. Brad

        I didn’t say ALL religions, just some. Most of the moderate and liberal religions are not in that category. But, some of the more radical right wing religions most definitely are.

        Basically, any religion that believes that the Bible is the literal Word of God fits into the mental illness camp.

        1. Henry

          Brad: “Most of the moderate and liberal religions are not in that category.”

          Really? The e-freers, AOG, and Pentacostals (all liberal) you would not place in that category? That seems backward from your previous positions on this blog.

          1. Brad

            I said “most”, not all.

            Like I said, any religion that believes the Bible is the literal Word of God would fit the definition of mental illness.

          2. Henry

            Well, good. I was sweating for a moment. I do not believe the Bible is literal. Inerrant? Yes. I am now safe and not subject to your judgement of mental illness. Also not “watched”. Life is good.

          3. wolfy32

            Efreers, AOG, and Pentacostals are all liberal? Wow!! I hate to see what conservatives look like then… They are the most STRICT, STAUNCHLY Conservative group I’ve ever seen.. You can’t do anything because it’s of the world and therefore wrong.

            I have a running list of around 50-100 things that are currently wrong to do…. On that list, being liberal is a sin!

          4. Wanna B Sure

            wolfy: Not too long ago, I visited with the head of the theology department, (of one of the denominations in question), regarding several “doctrinal distinctives” , (his words) from a book they use heavily in seminary, which I have. During the conversation he told me that they do allow members to form and practice their own understanding. This denomination is included in your conversation. Virtually all of those included claim to be non creedal, in spite of their “statements of belief”. At the end of our conversation, I asked him that their “What We Believe” really means: “This we believe—sort of”. He said: ” you could say that.” In spite of a thin veneer of apparent “subjective conservativism “, liberalism is at it’s heart, and that also goes for the other denominations mentioned.

          5. Wanna 1:35 Interesting post. Of course, from my point of view, what you are arguing is that a ridgid firmly held, but arbitrary, theology is superior to one that leaves much to the individual’s arbitrary choice. Choosing the parts of the Bible to treat as literal and leaving the others as metaphor is salad bar literalism regarless of who is doing it. The difference is lost on me.

          6. Wanna B Sure

            Not arguing, just making an objective observation. Your “point of view” is from a salad bar in a different dining room.

          7. Wanna B Sure

            The term “salad bar/cafeteria” implies there is more to the menu than what is put on the plate. Yet the totality of the menu remains.

            So——Since you have nothing more substantive to contribute to the conversation other than slick catch-phrases like “salad bar”, there is nothing more to say.

          8. wolfy32

            Wanna 1:35.. What you’re saying if I understand correctly, is the doctrine is considered liberal because the leaders at the highest level of the group encourage individual churches within it’s group to be whatever composition they choose to be? If one church thinks no one should wear pink because they believe that color is offensive to God, then that flies as well as the next church that thinks flying is evil because flying in airplanes is not natural.

            That doesn’t make the churches liberal though, because the churches are each restricting freedoms.

            That’d be like saying a company is liberal because the CEO is open to giving to the poor and liberal in his own ideals. But at the manager level and below if you try to do some of the same things you’re considered evil and trying to compete with the CEO…

            So, is the company liberal or conservative? The CEO could be considered liberal, but the company as a whole could be considered highly conservative in it’s policies.

            That’s the way I would describe what you’re saying about the churches. The highest level is liberal because the churches can choose what type of conservativism they want to enforce… Any church actually chooses to be liberal in it’s ideas though and it’ll probably be shut down as not going with the conservative menu.

          9. Wanna B Sure

            Wolfy: And you would be “in error” in your assessment. See my Oct 7 2013 at 10:00Pm, and the following @ 12:10, (without the blah blah). The root of it all is convenient misuse of the historical critical.

          10. Wanna 1:56 “The root of it all is convenient misuse of the historical critical.”

            I don’t know what that post means, but slowly I’m getting on to the way some in the field of theology think. You used the terms “objective” and “subjective” a while back. I’ve seen liberal theologians dabble with these terms as well. Use of these terms in theology is much different than use in the social sciences or “hard” sciences. Somehow, Christian theologians are able to skip right over their assumption that the invisible god exists and treat that as an objective fact. The entire field would be much more persuasive if each Chrisitan discussion of scripture would start with, “I make the assumption an invisible god exists and he guided authorship of the Bible”, if of course, that is what the person assumes. No license is required to use the term “objective” so it is possible to use the term even when the writer is being subjective.

            The different way of thinking can be seen in NT scholar, Bart Erhman. He wrote a book on why it is certain Jesus existed. He does not set up the nul hypothesis. His case is more or less, everyone says he existed.

          11. Wanna B Sure

            You are confusing the narrow application with the broad, and it’s implementation. “How do you feel about that?” Chicken or the egg.

          1. entech

            Here we go “The Soviets” again, most people agree that they did a lot of terrible things,especially under Stalin but his predecessors were not very good either.

            Could you show relevance? or do you really think the sins of one group cancel the sins of another. If your house was robbed and the robber put up the defense that he had been robbed himself – would you put in a plea for leniency on this basis.

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