Faith and Serpents

And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover. (Mark 16:17-18)

With the growing need for people to be vaccinated in order to reach herd immunity against COVID19, some are citing religious protections for their lack of vaccination. Indeed, there is a history of religious practice in the U.S. that is considered protected despite scientific evidence that endorse treatments that might go against such practices.

But not in every case. In some (few) Pentecostal churches the practice of snakehandling can be found, typically in remote rural churches. They cite the section from Mark's gospel above in support of such practice. Now despite any arguments such as:

1) this is the only biblical reference for such a practice,

2) it's from a portion of Mark's gospel that is considered a later addition by

most scholars, or

3) that the only other biblical "example" of dealing with serpent bites is in Acts 28

when the Apostle Paul was gathering wood for a fire and got bit in the process (he

survived, to the surprise of the locals);

the practice of bringing out a copperhead and dancing around with it in an ecstatic state is still endorsed in these churches. Nevertheless, except for West Virginia (to my knowledge), snakehandling is illegal. The danger to public welfare is deemed too great and thus varying laws have been passed (most without a direct mention to religious practice).

However, even snakehandling adherents will argue that unless you sense a direct move by the Holy Spirit to do so, you shouldn't just grab the nearest snake. It needs to be a specific divinely inspired mandate. Otherwise, normal common sense practices should apply.

Thus the arguments to reject COVID vaccinations on religious conviction are spurious at best and malevolent at worst. Applying the same test of faith as snakhandlers, common sense dictates everyone who can should get inoculated. It's highly doubtful that GOd has commanded people far and wide to do something that is against their health's best interest as rejecting a vaccine. Antivaxxers base their beliefs on a single roundly discredited study, so there's no ground on that front. And the claim of the FBI microchipping the populace a la medical injection is great sci-fi but poor science. As for the "mark of beast" argument, that's discounted by the fact that injections are in upper arm, not in the forehead or hand. If you then say it's just symbolic, then why not simply see the beast's mark as symbolic of thoughts and actions that are against God's most average readers of the Revelation?

It takes a great deal of faith to reject the COVID in human beings doing the right thing, not faith in God to protect you. If you haven't gotten the vaccine yet and are able to (not medically contraindicated or too young to get vaccinated), what makes you think you'll stay safe from the pandemic's reach if others are being similarly as obstinate as you? I still mask in indoor spaces even having had the vaccine because the statistics show not anywhere near a critical mass of vaccination rates to reach herd immunity. I do not want to inadvertently pass the virus to those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons or those who haven't been out of sheer stubbornness, because I still can do so having been vaccinated. I mask and got vaccinated because I care about others. Do you care about your neighbor to do the same?

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