Yesterday I caught most of this story on NPR . It appears the reason snake-handling Pentecostal preachers are rarely bitten is not because of the holy spirit but because they systematically abuse and neglect their animals:
“The animals that I’ve seen that have come from religious snake handlers were in bad condition,” says Kristen Wiley, curator of the Kentucky Reptile Zoo, a facility in the town of Slade that produces venom and promotes the conservation of snakes. “They did not have water. The cages had been left not cleaned for a pretty long period of time. And the other thing we noticed is there were eight or 10 copperheads in a container that was not very large.”
What’s more, she says there was no fecal material in the container, which indicated the snakes were not being fed. Riley says a snake that may be dehydrated, underweight and sick from close confinement is less likely to strike than a healthy snake. Moreover, the venom it produces is weaker.
She says snake-handling preachers who don’t take care of their snakes are “setting themselves up for a safer encounter during their services when they use a snake that is in bad condition to begin with.”
And then there was this:
In a follow-up call, I asked him how long his snakes usually live.
“Average is probably three to four months,” Coots says.
The Kentucky Reptile Zoo reports that well-cared-for snakes live 10 to 20 years or longer in captivity.
I always thought snake-handling preachers were just egomaniacs trying to call attention to themselves. The snakes — and God — are just props. The fact that they abuse their animals to tilt the odds in their favor doesn’t surprise me a bet.