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I’ve never had much truck for the South and Rednecks. Corky and I lived in Washington, D.C., Parkfairfax, Virginia, and New Topsail Island, North Carolina, for the three years I was assigned to Quantico, Virginia, and Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, as a Marine Corp officer. This was before civil integration of the races but after the integration of the military, before the Civil Rights Act, during the “Separate But Equal” fiasco, and right in the middle of Jim Crow laws throughout the South. That meant separate schools, drinking fountains, toilets, restaurants, bars, bus seats, railroad cars, and housing. Funny. Only some of the whorehouses were integrated.
Ku Klux Klan lynchings of blacks generally took place on weekends so the white families could gather by the thousands to watch on Saturday afternoon and then go to the country club for a fine supper. Then gut-wrenching postcard scenes of the lynching would be sent to relatives around the country. That’s been my interpretation of Southern hospitality. After retirement, Corky and I often traveled across the South in the winter. There have been some changes in 50 years, but the kudzu of bigotry, racism, and discrimination is still suffocating the South.
The best description of the South I’ve ever run across was told to Southern writer Pat Conroy by his mother: “All Southern literature can be summed up in these words: ‘On the night the hogs ate Willie, Mama died when she heard what Daddy did to Sister.’” That’s a perfect metaphor of Southern society!
Mark: “Those Who
Believe In My Name
Will Cast Out Demons...”
I admit I’m on a rant. But the Southerner has always been more religious, more holier than thou, while having the most divorces, the most shack-ups, the most illegitimate children, the highest teenage pregnancy rate, the most trash, garbage, and rusty autos loosely scattered over God’s Little Acre, and the most big-haired, slicked back, tear-jerking preachers yelling, “I have sinned! I have sinned!” Whenever we traveled in the South, we never missed the Sunday morning TV religious shows with their flashing phone numbers trolling for dollars—and the fantastic gospel singing.
But the death of a 44-year-old West Virginia Pentecostal preacher by snake bite says a great deal more about the so-called Bible Belt cinched up tight by ignorance, genetics, the conversations in unintelligible tongues, bigotry, and literal translations of the Bible—from 71 major translations.
The members of the Southern Snake Handler religion believe in the literal translation of the Bible verse Mark 16:17-18 as a dynamic test of their faith: “And these signs will follow those who believe: in My name they will cast out demons; they speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” Well—maybe some of the time. Pastor Mark Wolford steadfastly believed that the Bible verse meant that Christians should cozy up to Eve’s garden snake to test their faith in God. And, if by chance they are bitten, they should trust in God to heal them. Pentecostals also allegedly take strychnine to test their faith.
Wolford was a media treasure, always willing to take reporters on snake hunts or show them his spare bedroom where he kept rattlesnakes, water moccasins, and copperheads. He seemed to get great delight from wearing rattlesnakes and copperheads around his neck and dancing around the room with them. He carefully fed them on a protein diet of rats and mice.
On Lying Down
Wolford died after showing snake handling at an evangelical hootennay he sponsored in the West Virginia Panther Wildlife Management Area. In the middle of the “celebration of life,” he passed a yellow timber rattlesnake to church members, who then passed it back to him. When he sat down on the ground by the snake, it bit him on the thigh. He lasted slightly over ten hours.
When Wolford was 15, his preacher father died at age 39 from a similar bite. He also lasted ten hours, enduring a bite that causes excruciating pain. A snake expert at the National Zoo says the kidneys go first, then the heart stops. He describes a snake bite death as “vicious and gruesome.” So faith may be a death wish.
Wolford’s mother “Snook” exhibited the craziness of snake handling with this statement about the two deaths: “I couldn’t have given up when his dad died, and now that he has given his life, I just can’t give up. It’s still the Word, and I want to go on doing what the Word says.” However, one of Wolford’s followers finally saw the light: “Sometimes I feel that we are all guilty of negligent homicide. That faith has been called into question. I was face-to-face with him and watched him die a gruesome death ... Is this really what God wants?”
Here We Go Again—
The Civic Center
That Ten Commandments monument in the Fargo Civic Center area is back in the news again because of 8th Circuit Court action. These monuments are scattered around the country. Cecil B. DeMille, figuring out a way to get a lot of publicity for his epic film “The Ten Commandments,” came up with the idea of providing granite and concrete Ten Commandment monuments to organizations willing to install them someplace.
Now anyone with any sense knows that a “religious” monument or symbol placed on public property is not a casual endorsement of religion by the political powers of that governmental unit. It’s done to proselytize nonbelievers—and to gain votes in the next election. Those are the only choices that apply. In some cases, people in favor of such public monuments say, “Heck, it doesn’t mean anything.” They call that excuse “ceremonial deism”! Is a yellow timber rattlesnake that killed your preacher a religious symbol?
The general public has been harassed and intimidated by Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists, Catholic and Protestant, for the placement of symbols. DeMille’s great scheme to plug his movie was successful beyond measure. He got the Fraternal Order of Eagles, an organization founded by theater owners who had a direct financial interest in movie attendance, to get other civic-minded groups to sponsor Ten Commandments monuments around the country. Part of DeMille’s promotion was that he was also fighting “godless Communism” at the same time! No one seems to know how many monuments DeMille placed around the country. Even Google had an estimate of between 500 and 4,000.
So now we have judges from the 8th Circuit making a decision about the meaning and purpose of the monuments. Circuit Judge Bobby Shepherd (two bits says he’s a Southerner) said “no reasonable observer” would conclude that the Fargo City Commission intended to give the monument a religious purpose with their vote to keep it on public property (Fargo Forum). What planet has this guy been praying on? To a practical, free-thinking, intelligent “observer,” the granite and cement monuments served a dual purpose: to sell movie tickets and the Christian religion. This is not rocket science, it’s “Onward Christian Soldiers.” It’s a little ironic that the stone tablets carried down from the mountain by Moses (played by the God-like Charlton Heston, who even looked Christian) were made of fiberglass.
How About Putting
Leviticus Verses On
Skivvies And Panties?
Religions have been trying to get public places covered with religious symbols for a couple of thousand years. (Remember the fish symbol?) Why not put “Stop Sinning” on red stoplights? Or “Go And Sin No More” on green go lights? I’m surprised the Catholic bishops have not attempted to put the sign of the Inquisition (the stake and bonfire) on each birth control pill. Why not peddle skivvies and panties with threats from Leviticus on front and back? The possibilities are endless, in that there are over 6,000 religious sects, denominations, cults, and groups in the world, many represented in the United States. I would think that if the Civic Center Ten Commandments monument is not removed to private grounds, that every sect or denomination should be allowed to have a monument or symbol, or something, in that public place. Here are a few possible representatives:
** The Church of Body Modification believes that body piercings, tattos, lip extenders, and ear lobe stretchers are ways of expressing religious faith. Perhaps a small shop on the grounds?
** The Pentecostal Snake Handlers believe God helps them demonstrate their faith in Him by saving them from poisonous snake bites and other poisons. Why not a small ATM-like machine capable of containing poisonous snakes and cyanide to test your faith during a stop?
** The descendants of Celtic Druids who worshiped at Stonehenge are still active in Fargo. They need a nine-foot circle in the turf to practice their pagan beliefs.
** The white supremacist Christian Identity Church, locally represented by Gordon Winrod’s Our Savior’s Church, is quite strong in the region. The church is known for distribution of newsletters promoting the killing of Jews. Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was a member of Christian Identity.
** The Charlotte, North Carolina-based The Living Church of God believes that the “end times” are near and that we should all prepare to be raptured up after a period of universal turmoil. Church leaders emphasize the events prophesied in the Bible are taking place. Perhaps a monument in the form of a ticket booth?
** Some religions use animal sacrifices to keep God or gods pleasant and amenable. The Aztecs were really religious, sacrificing boys and girls by slicing their chests open with obsidian knives and holding up the still-beating hearts to be admired by their congregations. Such sacrifices would assure them of another good planting year.
The Santeria religion is carrying on the tradition, saying that blood sacrifice “is essential to [their] religious expression.” Chickens are sacrificed by Santeria followers. Hmongs from Vietnam sacrifice chickens, pigs, and cows at funeral rites. Perhaps a granite or cement ceremonial block next to the ticket booth would serve those who practice blood sacrifice.
It could also serve those Bible literalists who believe every word is dictated by God, such as these lines from the book of Matthew: “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It’s better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to do it into hell.” An Idaho young man believed he had carried the mark of the beast (666) and had sinned, so he cut off his hand with a circular saw and cooked it in a microwave. He did apply a tourniquet to his arm to stop the bleeding.
** Immigrants from Haiti often practice a voodoo religion called Loa where children who have been disobedient or commit some other sin are placed naked in a ring, have an accelerant poured over them, and then lit up. Some children have died, others have been injured for life.
We have people in this country who want religions to be able to do almost anything they damn well please. Some religions have been committing atrocities to brain and body since dwelling in caves. To remove government from making them behave in a community would be a tragic mistake.