Jesus doesn’t save–at least not this time

Here’s a real example of religious insanity:

LONDON, Kentucky (AP) – A woman died after being bitten by a snake during a serpent-handling service at church, police said.

Linda Long, 48, of London, Ky, died Sunday at University of Kentucky Medical Center, said Brad Mitchell, a detective with the Laurel County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday. Long died about four hours after the bite was reported, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported.

Officials said Long attended East London Holiness Church. Neighbours of the church told the newspaper the church practices serpent handling.

Snake handling is based on a passage in the Bible from the Gospel of Mark that says a sign of a true believer is the power to “take up serpents” without being harmed.

More here.

The lesson: God won’t save you if you do stupid things like handling deadly snakes and then get bitten. This woman is definitely a candidate for a Darwin Award, although she does lose points for being past reproductive age.


  1. #1 J-Dog
    November 9, 2006

    Funny, funny stuff! Maybe she can get together in hell with the nut that tried to climb into a polar bear cage awhile back, screaming Jesus would save him. I think parts of him were saved. As a snack.

  2. #2 Mark
    November 9, 2006

    One of the more pernicious aspects of this type of fundamentalism is blaming the victim. They would say that this woman died because her faith was not strong enough, or because she was a sinner. That’s the explanation for any failure of their beliefs: it would have worked if the victim had been good enough.

  3. #3 skblllzzzz
    November 9, 2006

    “Snake handling is based on a passage in the Bible, in the Gospel of Mark, that said a sign of a true believer is the power to “take up serpents” without being harmed.”

    The silly mistake is in the literal interpretation of the passage in question (as always). There is no doubt in my mind that the “serpents” here are not real snakes, but our fellow men.

  4. #4 MartinM
    November 9, 2006

    IIRC, those passages in Mark are generally considered a later addition.

  5. #5 Dianne
    November 9, 2006

    I remember a similar case occuring in south Texas when I was in med school. A woman had been bitten handling snakes. Her husband refused to take her to the hospital because Jesus would save her. She died. He was charged with manslaughter or something for his part in her death. He said God would decide his guilt or innocence and stuck his hand in the snake tank. He got bitten and died too. I don’t know, maybe God did decide…

  6. #6 Cain
    November 9, 2006

    Apparently these people have never read Deuteronomy 6:16 or Matthew 4:7, “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test.”

  7. #7 KeithB
    November 9, 2006

    Here is the passage in question:

    “((The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20.))
    9When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. 10She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. 11When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.
    12Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. 13These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.

    14Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.

    15He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

    19After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.”

    Sounds like literal snakes to me. Also, as an example, in Acts it mentions that the Apostle Paul got bitten by a poisonous snake with no ill effect.

  8. #8 J-Dog
    November 9, 2006

    Keith B – Son of a gun! I guess God really did hate that lady! Maybe she bought something at Walmart, and he didn’t want to waste a lightning bolt on her. It’s an all new, improved, frugal, killer God!

  9. #9 Pharma Bawd
    November 9, 2006

    I wrote a post in August about a minister who picked up a 3.5 foot long rattlesnake while mountain-biking. He was bare-handed and of course he got bit, nearly died. I jokingly made reference to this passage of the Bible and to snake-handling churches.

    Who do you think showed up in my comments?

    Turns out the Reverend was a really nice guy who just didn’t want anyone, or the snake, to get hurt.

  10. #10 familydoc
    November 9, 2006

    I have treated many cases of snakebite over the years and the overwhelming majority were people that handled them or tried to kill them out of fear – as usual in medicine lack of insight combined with gross idiocy is a major mortality indicator!

  11. #11 Greco
    November 9, 2006

    Jesus saves, but everyone else takes 3d20 damage.

    Clearly she didn’t have enough hit points.

  12. #12 Marcus Solorio
    November 9, 2006

    Nice story. Heard it before…”the (demeaning adjective) people who perform this (other demeaning adjective) stuff are just (demeaning paragraph which describes why these folks are better off dead/injured/otherwise affected).

    Funny thing is, I don’t see you reporting on the countless numbers of medical and surgical procedures/treatments/modalities that were supposed to help/heal or otherwise “benefit” the patient which only turned out to kill/injure/otherwise affect them!
    Oh yeah, M&Ms are not always sweet as candy!

    -Remember the one about those guys living in glass houses?…

  13. #13 William The Coroner
    November 9, 2006

    Sometimes firewalking doesn’t work, but snakehandling has it’s own char-m

  14. #14 HCN
    November 9, 2006

    Additional reading suggestion for Marcus:,,9780028636948,00.html

  15. #15 familydoc
    November 10, 2006

    Marcus,put down the koolaid – it damages brain cells.
    Orac often reports on medical misadventures and the fact that we can and do make mistakes doesn’t take away from the fact that people who handle snakes in this manner are idiots. Lack of common sense by doctors and patients can end up in an M&M meeting report – poor judgement can be a team sport.

  16. #16 Orac
    November 10, 2006


    False analogy. You’re comparing someone who did a plainly idiotic thing (handling a poisonous snake and believing that Jesus will protect her) with patients pursuing what they believe and modern medicine believe to be the best evidence-based course of action to treat a deadly disease. Sometimes things go wrong; everything in medicine is a balancing of risks with benefits. Perhaps you could tell us what benefit handling poisonous snakes without protection has that’s worth the risk.

    You’re even wrong about my not writing about medical misadventures.

  17. #17 David Harmon
    November 10, 2006

    The fact that such deaths aren’t more common, says nice things about snakes! The thing is, doing dangerous stuff is a classic “high” — I find it unsurprising that a few religious types get into that sort of thing.

    Most of the snake-fanciers I’ve known personally have been sensible enough to stick with modestly-sized constrictors. (Garter snakes are common and pretty harmless.)

  18. #18 KeithB
    November 10, 2006

    Tonio K has a great song about this called “I Handle Snakes”:

    it’s my life
    it’s my decision
    it’s my idea of a good time
    it’s my religion
    i don’t make no sudden movements
    can’t afford to make mistakes
    i’m a fearless man
    i handle snakes (y’all)

    the lord of hosts
    has got to like me
    else this thing here
    (this one right here)
    would surely strike me
    the one man lays down 10 percent
    another man trembles and quakes
    i save my money
    i handle snakes (y’all)

    i handle snakes
    well i hug ’em and i kiss ’em
    i handle snakes
    and if they kill me
    i’ll sure miss ’em

    (i handle snakes
    i love it when they listen
    i handle snakes
    and if they kill me
    i’m sure gonna miss ’em

    ’cause it’s my life
    it’s my decision
    it’s my idea of a good time (yes it is yes it is)
    it’s my religion
    i don’t say hallelujah
    i don’t even say grace
    but i make my statement
    i say it with snakes

  19. #19 J-Dog
    November 10, 2006

    I call Epidemic! Didn’t Pastor Ted Haggard and Marc Foley also just get in trouble for handling snakes?

  20. #20 familydoc
    November 10, 2006

    Yes – the latin names for those is uniocularis underkiltius

  21. #21 Marcus
    November 11, 2006

    Orac: I appreciate your writing about “medical misadventures”. I stand corrected on that point. Thank you for clearing me up on that.

    About comparing “apples to oranges”: We will just have to agree to disagree. I realize that you will not contemplate the reasons why anyone would perform such a ritual without your prescribed judgment. To answer your question about me telling you what benefit this woman may have received to balance the risk she took? I CAN’T tell you, because I am not a snake handler, but I am sure that woman felt there was some “benefit” to it. I would advise you to ask her pastor, but you really don’t want to hear why these people perform this ritual, you simply want to comment on it. I get it…”they’re just wrong”.

    FamilyDoc: I don’t know what the “kool aid” comment is about, but I am sure that it is some witty putdown aimed at me. As I stated above: I stand corrected on my comment about Orac’s not writing about the “idiotic/stupid/otherwise foolish” judgment calls made by medical doctors everyday. Again, I thank him for clearing me up on that.
    About the idiocy of the snakehandler in question: By the sound of the article, she hurt herself. The collateral damage caused by her choice (family, friends, etc) went unreported, so I am left to assume that her choice affected only HER. Unfortunately, we cannot say the same of the “idiot MDs” who Orac has reported on. Their advice and/or actions DIRECTLY affected their patients, not themselves. (I would count the MD’s acquired apathy as collateral damage). BTW, I do understand that patients sometimes make decisions about their treatment that MDs would consider “idiotic” as well…it usually is some choice to go AMA. (How dare they NOT take your advice?!)

    HCN: Thanks for the reading recommendation. You’re efforts to find more and more ways to be condescending really should be applauded! Bravo!

  22. #22 Marcus
    November 11, 2006

    Before you point out my misuse of “You’re” in my last post. I meant to say “Your”.
    Any other mistakes are open for target practice. Have fun!

  23. #23 JohnnieCanuck
    November 11, 2006

    Clearly anyone who believes Mark 16:18 isn’t going to go to a doctor for a snake bite. In fact they don’t need doctors at all, at least not for any sickness.

    “they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well”.

    No exceptions, 100% efficacy, no physical side effects, no expensive equipment. Who needs doctors, pharmacists or medical science?

    I cannot see how anyone can claim that their bible is the inspired and inerrant word of God, with this passage included. Strangely enough, they do. I know one.

    Six impossible things before breakfast.

    I don’t accept the side-step that if you test God with these signs of a true believer, he won’t do it. That still leaves unintentional healing to be evidence of this ability.

  24. #24 HCN
    November 11, 2006

    Marcus… you brought it on to yourself.

    (Scientologits being the same as scientists? Give me a break! But at least I know you clicked on the links, good show!)

    Also, that series of books are not too bad. They are entertaining and educational. One of my kids used the one on evolution for a research report in a combined language arts and social studies class, and did very well.

    (though he was in 7th grade… but not to despair, he is advanced in high school and is a year ahead for a sophemore)

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