I would agree with the idea that religion comes in all shapes, sizes and temperaments. It is quite obvious that sanity is not a prerequisite of religion. If it were, most religions would go out of business within the 30-day money back guarantee period.
Every religion has some sort of litmus test for faith. It is in this area of religion that smacks so loudly of insanity. Superstition, regardless of the basis, is one great common denominator of all religion. It is not that I mind superstition; I just do not want it associated with my religion.
I read in the newspaper headlines just this week a pastor was killed by a rattlesnake bite. I had almost forgotten this sort of thing went on in our sophisticated, "enlightened" world.
As a young preacher, I was visiting a congregation in Kentucky as the guest speaker for that Sunday. Never mind the town or the church that is beside the point.
I got to the church a little early and was escorted around the church looking at the facilities. Then they took me into the sanctuary where I could look at the pulpit and the sanctuary where I would be preaching.
Being the observant person that I am, I noticed a basket next to the pulpit. I had never seen such a basket before him all my life. I really did not know too much about the church and now I cannot remember exactly why I was invited to preach there. Be that as it may, I was greatly curious about the basket next to the pulpit. I did not know if it was a wastebasket or if perhaps it was the offering basket and the congregation would fill it up before the service was over.
So, I ask my host what the basket was next to the pulpit.
"That's where we keep the rattlesnake," he said rather passively.
"That basket there is where we keep the rattlesnake that we use in our service."
I can take a joke and give it joke back with the best of them. I responded with a hearty laugh.
"Ha, Ha, Ha," I said good-naturedly. "Really, what is that basket for?"
I could see my host was not the least bit amused with my persistent inquiry.
"I said," he said rather sternly, "that's where we keep our rattlesnake for our church service."
He then stared at me for a few moments and then said, "I don't think we'll need it in our service today. You don't look like you have enough faith."
Inside me, I sighed a deep sigh of relief. There is a time when I want to bolster my faith, but in the circumstance before me, I did not want enough faith to handle some rattlesnake. One of the tenants of my religion is to run as fast as I can away from any and all rattlesnakes. It is one part of my religion I take rather seriously.
My host tried explaining to me what was going on. He pointed to a passage in Mark 16:17-18 (KJV) , "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."
My first reaction was to think he was pulling the wool over my eyes, so to speak, and I almost laughed out loud. I caught myself in time when I realized this man was serious. According to him, he could have enough faith in God to pick up the poisonous rattlesnake and if it bit him, it would not hurt him at all.
According to their religion, when they are truly "in the Spirit," they have the power to pick up a poisonous rattlesnake, and if it bites you, it will not hurt you. They keep the basket containing a rattlesnake in the front of the church for when such an occasion arises. I was hoping it would not arise during my time in the pulpit. All during my sermon, I could not help casting a wistful eye in the general direction of the basket next to the pulpit.
At one point, I thought I did see the basket move.
I yelled at this point, which excited the congregation thinking I had gotten "in the spirit," and then everybody cast a wistful eye in the direction of the basket.
I respect other people's views on everything, I suppose. However, there are some things I have difficulty wrapping my tired brain around. This has to be one of them. How you can pull the bit about the rattlesnake out of that verse of Scripture and ignore the rest of it is really beyond me.
Religion will make you do many silly things that has no sanity behind it. Many people just go through the motions not really knowing why they are doing what they are doing.
At least the snake handlers have a little bit of excitement in their services. Nothing I want to experience, but then who am I to criticize.
I rest my faith upon the Scripture. Particularly, "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17 KJV).
My faith keeps me away from poisonous rattlesnakes.
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