TAG | superstition
It’s not just the HHS contraception mandate. Another front opens up in the ‘religious freedom’ debate. The Daily Telegraph reports:
As beads of sweat slithered down his temples, Andrew Hamblin stared in wide-eyed wonder at the three-foot timber rattlesnake he had thrust towards his congregation.
“I am a soldier in the army of the Lord,” he boomed in a thick southern drawl, stomping a foot on the hardwood floor. “And the enemy has been fighting me this week harder than ever before”.
In this shed tucked into a dark valley of the Appalachian Mountains, before 60 adoring followers speaking in tongues, throwing up their hands and dabbing tears from their eyes, Mr Hamblin was breaking the law. The 22-year-old preacher is facing up to a year in prison after being charged with illegally possessing 53 venomous snakes seized from his church by Tennessee wildlife agency officers earlier this month. Yet the charismatic young pastor, part of a century-old Pentecostal tradition in the region that takes literally an instruction in the Gospel of Mark that “they shall take up serpents”, remains piously defiant.
Since appearing in court, he has continued wielding poisonous snakes during his raucous services at Tabernacle Church of God, after fresh creatures were snuck inside by his allies.
“I’m willing to fight this, because here in the United States we’re supposed to be guaranteed our religious freedom under the first amendment of the constitution…”We’re Christians who believe in being saved by the blood of Jesus Christ just like any other – it’s not like we’re part of some different religion. I do feel it is an attack upon our religious freedom.”
His followers claim they are victims of a state crackdown. Mr Hamblin’s mentor Jamie Coots, a a preacher based just over the border in Kentucky, had three rattlesnakes and two copperheads confiscated after being stopped while driving home through Tennessee earlier this year.
Mr Hamblin said he was called on by God to handle the creatures, and that their appearances were shows of divine power. He likened the practice to “Catholics using wine”.
Yet Matthew Cameron, a wildlife agency spokesman, dismissed all talk of persecution and said Mr Hamblin’s storage of the snakes in a back room was simply a serious “public safety hazard”.
“We treat him just as we would anyone else found to be storing venomous snakes in their home,” said Mr Cameron, who stressed that zoos and circuses must obtain permits to possess snakes in the state. Several pastors have died from bites in recent years. Mack Wolford of West Virginia, who led one of the best-attended snake-handling churches out of an estimated 125 in the region, made international headlines after being killed by a timber rattlesnake in May last year. During Mr Hamblin’s service on Friday night, several young children, including some of his own five, wandered around just yards from the snake’s box, while their parents prayed and sang.
Mr Hamblin stressed that only adults may handle the creatures. “I can understand not wanting to endanger another’s life,” he said. “That’s perfectly understandable. But in 100 years, there have been only 10 deaths in Tennessee from serpents.” He is himself unable to make a fist with his right hand, after being bitten on a knuckle in 2010 and ending up in hospital. “I was at death’s door,” he said. “Me and death were just about ready to smoke a cigarette together”.
Yet God told him to continue, he said, and showed that he would be safe by allowing another snake to bite him on the back of the neck soon after. While Mr Hamblin’s shirt was soaked in blood, he escaped serious injury. “I never swelled, I never itched, I never suffered nothing but bleeding,” he recalled. And his congregants are intensely devoted to his style of worship. “Just weeks ago I was far from God,” said Jeremy Henegar, 20, with a piercing stare.
“Whisky, beer or moonshine – I was a full-blown alcoholic. But when I took up serpents I was right there in the presence of God. I felt approval for the first time. What once was deadly, he made harmless.”
While dozens of his fellow pastors hold their services in secret and close their doors to outsiders, Mr Hamblin is determined to bring his sect into the mainstream. He hopes to found America’s first snake-handling mega-church. He is due back in court next month, and may face additional charges. Yet his followers have no intention of allowing the state to stop them. “If I were to be sent to be prison,” he said, “boy – I think that would set off such a blast”.
Skeptical as I am about so many of the claims made in the name of ‘religious freedom’ (too often a crude assertion of religious privilege), there’s a part of me that hopes that Tennessee can, through regulation (Proper storage facilities? No children present?), find a way to accommodate this little slice of the old, weird America.
Or perhaps I’m just over-influenced by Mr. Hamblin supplying me with a lovely, fantastic, nutty image so saturated in (probably unconscious) disrespect for contemporary pieties that it merits a hallelujah or two:
“I was at death’s door. Me and death were just about ready to smoke a cigarette together”.
The BBC reports:
Some young HIV patients are giving up their medicine after being told by Pentecostal Church pastors to rely on faith in God instead, doctors warn.
Medical staff told the BBC a minority of pastors in England were endangering young church members by putting them under pressure to stop medication. Healing is central to Pentecostalism, a radical belief in the power of prayer and miracles. But one pastor denied people would ever be told to stop taking their medicine….
Pentecostal pastor Stevo Atanasio, from the East London Christian Church, said that among his congregation, blind people had recovered sight, deaf people had heard again, and what were considered terminal illnesses had been cured.
“We don’t say to people ‘don’t take your medication don’t go to the doctor’. I mean we never say that,” he said.
Pentecostalism is booming. The number of Pentecostal churches in London, for example, has doubled since 2005. The overall number of incidents of HIV patients being told to give up medicine is thought to consist of a minority of churches and a small group of people. But the Rev Israel Olofinjana, who is a former Pentecostal pastor and now a Baptist minister, said he had seen it happening.
“I’ve heard languages like that – ‘put your trust in God, don’t put your trust in medicine’.”
He said many of these churches served migrants with an exalted view of the authority of pastors.
“Within the context of African churches, if you’re coming from a culture where the pastor is like your fathers or mothers, like your community keepers, the word of your pastor becomes very important,” he explained.
“It becomes very significant… there is a minority who say ‘because God can heal absolutely… what’s the need for medicine?’.”
Dr Steve Welch, who is chairman of the Children’s HIV Association, said it found it difficult to engage with the faith leaders of churches where healing was an integral part of the worship.
Ah multiculturalism, working out well as usual, I see.
PAHOKEE—Pahokee residents, church members, and pastors are outraged over an upcoming event at the Lake Okeechobee Resort and Marina. The marina will be hosting its first Lake Okeechobee Summer Solstice Festival – a program that organizers hope will become an annual event. Pastors from various churches in Pahokee attended Tuesday night’s city commission meeting to express disappointment in city leaders for allowing the event to come to Pahokee. The crowd cheered in agreement as, one-by-one, pastors from around the area admonished city officials for allowing festivals containing witchcraft and occult practices into the city.
“I just found out about this today. I am disappointed in the city of Pahokee for allowing this group to come,” said Pastor Brad Smith, Florida Director of Kids for Christ. Smith called the event “an abomination”.
…The line of speakers from Pahokee, a city with a high concentration of local churches, seemed endless.
“We are opening ourselves up to things we should not, like belly dancing and magic spells,” said Daniel Mondragon. “We do not welcome these things…”
The Middle Ages live on. And they are not going away any time soon.
The Wall Street Journal reports:
CARACAS—Nicolás Maduro, the one-time bus driver widely expected to become Venezuela’s next president in Sunday’s elections, has resorted to an unusual campaign gimmick in the past week: At nearly every stop, he has suddenly broken out into birdsong.
The whistling started some 10 days ago, after the candidate says his mentor, the late President Hugo Chávez, visited him in a chapel in the form of a bird to bless the official launch of his presidential bid.
“I felt the spirit of my commander Chavez,” Mr. Maduro explained to a crowd after telling them how the bird circled over his head three times.
The birdsong, typically responded to by ecstatic crowds with whistling of their own, underscores the candidate’s reliance on the memory of Mr. Chavez…
I happened to come across this 2011 piece by CSI’s Joe Nickell the other day:
…In fact, notwithstanding the claims in uncritical biographies, Pio’s stigmata devolved—from bleeding wounds that could easily have been self-inflicted (like those of many fake stigmatists before and after, as I described in my 2001 book Real-Life X-Files) to merely discolored skin that appeared to have been irritated by the application of a caustic substance. Indeed, a bottle of carbolic acid was once discovered in the friar’s cell, and Luzzatto cites letters from Padre Pio in which Pio requests that carbolic acid, and at another time a caustic alkaloid, be secretly delivered to him. Eventually Pio began wearing fingerless gloves, supposedly to cover his stigmata out of pious humility; however, to me, the practice seems instead a shrewd move to eliminate the need to continually self-inflict wounds.
Nor were the fake stigmata the friar’s only deception. Years before, Pio had written numerous letters to his spiritual directors describing his mystical experiences; however, it is now known that he copied these words verbatim from the writings of stigmatic Gemma Galgani (1878–1903) without acknowledging they were hers. And that is not all: Pio attempted to divert suspicion from his plagiarism by asking for help in procuring copies of Galgani’s books—saying he would very much like to read them!
…By the time of his death in 1968, Pio’s stigmata had disappeared, but that was effectively remedied in death. Although there was no need to cover his hands and feet—and indeed Capuchin rule forbids the wearing of socks—Pio’s “father guardian,” Father Carmelo of San Giovanni in Galdo, worried that the absence of stigmata might cause a faulty rush to judgment. Carmelo therefore had Padre Pio’s hands and feet covered, as if the covering still concealed his allegedly holy gift. And so the deception continued.
In 2002, the late friar was canonized Saint Pio of Pietrelcina—not for the stigmata he was so famous for but for his healings that were, with due illogic, assumed miraculous because they were said to be inexplicable. And when his remains were exhumed for display forty years after his death, those hoping his body would be found incorrupt… or that it would still exhibit the stigmata, were disappointed. The embalmed corpse had deteriorated sufficiently that it required a silicon mask—complete with bushy eyebrows and beard—fashioned by a London wax museum. Of the supposedly supernatural wounds there was not a trace.
That the friar was a fake is no great surprise, That the Capuchins forbid socks, on the other hand…
A hideous story from NBC:
Assailants stripped, tortured and bound a woman accused of witchcraft, then burned her alive in front of hundreds of witnesses in a Papua New Guinea town, police said Friday after one of the highest profile sorcery-related murders in this South Pacific island nation.
Some of the hundreds of bystanders took photographs of Wednesday’s brutal slaying. Grisly pictures were published on the front pages of the country’s biggest circulating newspapers, The National and Post-Courier. The prime minister, police and diplomats condemned the killing.
Kepari Leniata, a 20-year-old who had a child, had been accused of sorcery by relatives of a 6-year-old boy who died in the hospital the day before, police spokesman Dominic Kakas said.
Note the coexistence of modernity (the taking of photographs) with ancient superstition. Belief in the supernatural is not going away any time soon; the only question is the form that it will take.
Tom Chivers writes in The Daily Telegraph:
The man [just] put in charge of the [UK's] health policy is on record as supporting spending public money on magic water to cure disease. Here’s the text of an Early Day Motion he signed in 2007:
That this House welcomes the positive contribution made to the health of the nation by the NHS homeopathic hospitals; notes that some six million people use complementary treatments each year; believes that complementary medicine has the potential to offer clinically-effective and cost-effective solutions to common health problems faced by NHS patients, including chronic difficult to treat conditions such as musculoskeletal and other chronic pain, eczema, depression, anxiety and insomnia, allergy, chronic fatigue and irritable bowel syndrome; expresses concern that NHS cuts are threatening the future of these hospitals; and calls on the Government actively to support these valuable national assets.
And here’s the letter Mr Hunt sent to a concerned constituent who pointed out that homeopathy doesn’t work:
Dear Mr Ellis,
Thank you very much for your letter regarding EDM 1240 in support of Homeopathic Hospitals. I appreciate that you are disappointed that I added my name to this motion, and read your comments on this issue with interest.
I understand that it is your view that homeopathy is not effective, and therefore that people should not be encouraged to use it as a treatment. However I am afraid that I have to disagree with you on this issue. Homeopathic care is enormously valued by thousands of people and in an NHS that the Government repeatedly tells us is “patient-led” it ought to be available where a doctor and patient believe that a homeopathic treatment may be of benefit to the patient.
I am grateful to you for taking the time to write with your concerns. I realise that my answer will be a disappointing one for you, but I hope that the letter helps to clarify my view.
Jeremy Hunt Member of Parliament South West Surrey
Hat-tip to Chris Coltrane on Twitter and the Mote Prime blog.
I probably don’t need to rehearse this, but: homeopathy does not work. Homeopathy is the treatment of disease using literally non-existent amounts of ingredients which wouldn’t cure the problem even if they were actually there. It is not to be confused with herbal medicine, which often involves real active substances (eg aspirin, which is distilled from willow-bark). If homeopathy worked, we would need to explain how this non-existent substance did what it does: but it doesn’t work, so we don’t. Homeopathic hospitals are not “valuable national assets”, they’re £7-million-a-year white elephants for middle-class hypochondriac hippies.
This is not unlike putting someone who thinks the Second World War began in 1986 in charge of the Department of Education.
Or following the advice of foes of the taxpayer like Orrin Hatch, the numbskull who wanted Christian Science prayer ‘treatments’ added to Obamacare’s bounty.
Hunt should be fired.
Via The Independent:
Around 700 women and 800 children live in Gambaga camp, and in five other witch camps across northern Ghana, where they are virtually cut off from the outside world. Housed in flimsy mud huts, without enough food, they have few basic health or education facilities. Their children and, often, grandchildren grow up inside the camps’ boundaries…
“I know nothing about witchcraft,” said Ms Gigire, when she was first brought to Ghana’s largest camp. “The girl’s father and three of the men from her family came to my house and told my husband that if I didn’t release the soul of the girl they will beat me to death. They said that if I wanted to stay alive I should leave for Gambaga straight away. My husband was not strong enough to fight all of them.”
Three months ago, Ms Gigire’s husband managed to get his wife out of the camp − paying £70 to the chief and buying animals for a ritual. She is now trying to rehabilitate herself to life outside, but the stigma of being accused is hard to shake off. Around 40 per cent of the women who leave the camps return within a year, according to an ActionAid report, Condemned Without Trial, to be published this week.
Women and children are also targeted in Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, and the Central African Republic. Earlier this year, a mother of two was burned alive in central Nepal after being branded a witch, and just weeks ago, four children were killed by a “witch doctor” in Haiti…
Suuk Lari, 51, was accused of being a witch when her teenage daughter died. She has lived in Gambaga camp in northern Ghana for more than three years. She returned home once, but, when another woman’s child died, she was again accused of witchcraft, and returned to the camp.
“At my daughter’s funeral, a mob attacked me. They hammered a nail into my ankle. People were saying ‘look at this woman, she is a witch’. More men came and beat me; one pushed me down a well. They said they would kill me.
“I prefer living here. I am with other women. When I wake up I hear laughter, and we can go where we want to go. I can’t ever return home.”
Via The Daily Telegraph:
‘Political correctness’ is preventing police from stopping child abuse by parents and church leaders who believe in witchcraft, a minister warns.
Tim Loughton, the children’s minister, said that a “wall of silence” was obscuring the full scale of cruelty in some communities where beliefs in evil spirits was common. He was speaking as the Government announced plans to introduce new training for social workers, teachers, police and church members to combat the abuse.
It follows the conviction earlier this year of Eric Bikubi a London football coach, and his partner Magalie Bamu, for torturing and murdered a 15-year-old boy because they believed he was practising witchcraft. The couple, whose families came from the Democratic Republic of Congo, subjected Bamu’s brother Kristy to a three-day ordeal because they were convinced he was practising “kindoki” or sorcery. The case had echoes of that of Victoria Climbié, the eight-year-old girl who was murdered by her guardians who believed she was possessed by demons.
From the memoirs of Mark Edward, a prominent former psychic:
I’m quite confident that I would know by now if I had a spirit guide or my Aunt Ethel’s watchful ghost alongside me. I have looked and searched, then looked again. I’ve traveled all over the planet and humbled myself in front of everything from Celtic priestesses to UFO abductees and their recruiters. This process has been repeated over and over, only to circle back endlessly into the cul-de-sac of my own personal nightmare alley. There’s nothing there in the dark, though I have frequently found myself wanting to believe there are supernatural elements to converse with and take refuge in. Their existence would have made life so much easier to understand and exploit. Still, I have a head start at getting your goat. And I will. It’s Darwin’s survival of the fittest, and a sideshow tent is never far from a psychiatrist’s couch; there’s just more sawdust on the floor.
That line about the psychiatrist’s couch is the clincher.