A Different Kind of Salvation

A Different Kind of Salvation

Salvation On Sand Mountain, by Dennis Covington, gives us an insight into the religious practices and the private lives of a very unique group of people living in the northeastern Alabama, northwestern Georgia, Appalachian Mountain chain. The meaning of the word “salvation” for these people holds a different meaning than the standard term of God saving their soul. Their sense of salvation is something that is continuously sought out and has to be proven time and time again to their selves, and to those around them who indulge in the practice of the religion. The power of belief in the unseen, or a sensation, and the need to unify with like minds, to feel a part of a community, can propel an individual into acts that may seem crazy to the outside world.  For this group of people, the feeling of power that comes to them by the handling of poisonous rattles snakes and copper head snakes, surviving multiple venomous bites, and drinking strychnine, is their challenge for displaying their keeping of the faith. This ritualistic organization seems to hold their community together. Insecurities, fears, lack of self-identity, are the inner forces that drive these people into submitting to a higher power, not only that which is in a heaven above, but rather a forbidden act that gives them the sense of self-worth, self-control, and acceptance by those in their immediate community. The snake handlers pass down this ritual from generation to generation. They believe they are predestined to do so and they feel it’s an honor. They are even willing to die for the cause. In all cases, their fathers and forefathers were snake handlers for the faith.
The surrounding circumstances of these types of people, poor, some uneducated, and sense of obligation, induce the need to dominate their object of choice, the need to control something, to have power over something that can even possibly cause their death, seems to be their need in order to feel worth.
Seeking to feel and experience the unseen is a way to strengthen one’s faith, as if God did something mysterious for him, finding the great favor of God. They want to feel it; they want to believe it, so some make it happen. Believing one has to be in the spirit in order to not be bitten by the snakes determines who handles the snakes. The ultimate devotion and loyalty to the cause, is to die unattended by medical provisions, and some want more bites as their going down. The more snake bites that one survives, the larger and more dangerous the snake that one handles, the more spiritual the man is deemed, making him higher up on the holiness chart because he has supposedly obtained an amazing higher faith that Jesus proclaims makes you a marked follower of His (NIV Mark 16:17-18).
However “around eight thousand people in the United States are bitten by poisonous snakes.” But “only a dozen or so die” (147). This is if they have immediate medical attention. But in the in the snake handlers faith and belief in God to protect them, there are instances in the book where people have been raised from the dead, as it is told. Also, for people to survive the bite of a rattle snake and copper head snake without medical attention, does take a divine intervention. To say that these practices are all in their minds would be not interrupting the book correctly, and over-looking these amazing facts (131). Certainly this would be a powerful attraction for someone who is an on-looker.
In observation of the events told in this book and the way it relates to religion, I have the opinion that a person can become drawn to even the most outrageous religion if there is a trace of identification, history of ancestors, insecurities, fear, lack, and the need to be accepted by society or community or individual relationships, or possibly rebellion against the norm. Though someone may have no desire at the start, one could possibly turn their lives over to a religious ritual no matter how much one rejects the idea to begin with. Curiosity can turn a person’s mind and heart to convert to a religion by repeated exposure to its particular practice. Dennis Covington was a “freelance journalist stringing for the New York Times” wanting to write an article (242). He paid a visiting to Sand Mountain and began believing he was called to be a snake handling Preacher. After watching these people handle snakes, he said, “I wondered what it would be like being bitten by a rattlesnake. I wondered if there would be any pleasure in that, coming close to death and surviving.” I think maybe some people can be hypnotized or captured by an idea or ritual if they are compelled to any of the criteria that are involved in the ritual. He began to think back to a time when he was a child and how he would hunt and capture non-poisonous snakes. This made him ponder the possibility that he may be predestined. He says, “I actually envisioned myself, preaching out of my car with a Bible, a trunkload of rattlesnakes, and a megaphone (236).”
Conforming to religion is a must to be like-minded. One has to agree on every aspect of what that particular religion demands that you do. If not, that person will be ostracized. For example, when Dennis Covington got up in front of the church and defended the position of women in the Bible and in the church, he was opposed by the congregation and the Preacher, who were all of his friends, those who accepted him and his wife and welcomed him with opened arms. This was also the end of his illusion and the end for his book (231-233). How are the women treated in their home after the church service is over? Are they forced to be subservient? Unfortunately, I’m not sure if anyone in a group such as this would come to the aid of someone other than for the need of prayer from a snake bite.
What can make a person desert their entire life’s past, their accomplishments, their families, their careers, and sense of direction, all for the sake of a religion that offers ideas that do not make sense, odd challenges, and a path without certain direction, and possibly a destructive end? I think everyone is in search of fulfillment and many find it in religion. I believe it’s the unconditional acceptance of those who welcome a person into a group, even if the group is a dangerous one. Some people find their salvation by taking on the identity or persona of a group, one that makes them feel safe, secure, accepted, powerful, and fearless. Whoever offers the best idea for life’s salvation is where a person will find their Shangri la.


Religion in Prision

Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life Report


      According to the 2008, it seems that religion, no matter what denomination or sect, regardless of the mutual idea that religion can remedy all situations, seem to cause more problems and complications in society, than not. As for the atheists, 49% agree with this statement, although I see they cause complications trying to tear religion down (Landscape Survey 15).  Interestingly, 74% of US citizens believe in heaven, while only 59% of them believe in hell (Landscape Survey 33). I see this as denial, when the Bible clearly states that there is a hell waiting in the end for those who have denied the deity of God and His son, Jesus Christ. On the chart shown on page 33 in chapter one of The Public Forum on Religion and Public Life, had they listed Christian or Non Denominational along with the others, their mark would have read 100% mark for believing that there is a heaven, and 100% mark for believing that there is a hell. Why they are not on listed the chart is a mystery to me and feels a bit discriminatory.  So technically, this would raise the percentage of those who do and do not believe in heaven and hell, therefore making the statistics incorrect.

    I tend to believe that religion causes conflict if used as a weapon such as in radical demonstrations, protests for a cause, or raging an outright war such as the Protestant/Catholic War in Ireland, lasting for decades, killing  thousands of Scotts and English Protestant settlers during the year of 1641 (Irish Confederate Wars Wikipedia).  Religion seems to conflict with the standard Hollywood ideals. It also conflicts with woman’s rights, the choice for pro-abortion. Many people have tied themselves to abortion tables or lay under cars to prevent women from committing the act at an abortion clinic. A few doctors have been murdered by religions do-gooders (Demotex). Hate crimes are committed in the name of religion, such as the radical Muslim religion, Islam; the Twin Towers for example. Murder is what their god demands. The Klu Klux Klan is based on extreme hate for the Black race, Jews, and the gay society (Voices yahoo.com).

     I find that religion and society is not so much a matter of influence, but rather, indirectly, it’s opinion and practicing of that opinion, more often forcibly. The larger percent of religious groups will always have a stronger voice. For example, just because Christians are completely 100% anti-abortion, and anti-gay marriage, will not change or influence the outcome of a government bill. Gay marriage still prevails in several states and abortion still goes on, opinion or not. Other religious controversies include great debates about displaying the Ten Commandments in certain venues, using the word God in the pledge of allegiance, prayer in school, and even using the name of God printed on money. The Atheists and other non-religious groups seem to fight harder to remove anything that has to do with God from the public eye, adding to the fight for religious freedom.

      Religion may tend to shape political views to a degree. I believe depending on what a certain religion believes in, will depend on what candidate gets the most votes by various groups, and depends upon the words of promise that the candidate speaks ahead of time, before Election Day. However, Jews, Buddhists and Hindus, claim to be liberal, so their vote is basically redundant. (Landscape Survey 17).  As a personal experience, those who are of the Jehovah Witness religion do not vote at all. Could it be that possibly because these religions are rallying for nothing to help them in the present or future is why they are all lackadaisical toward politics? Basically, it would then seem that the majority of those who shape political views would be the Democrats and the Republicans, and whatever other religious sect this would involve.

       Religion within the prison walls appears to be an entity in itself.  According to the Pew Forum, it is crucial to continue to have religious outlets for the incarcerated.  Considering the chart below, it is obvious that religion is used for a form of control by certain sects within the prison.   I’m not sure if it is a productive idea for the prison system to make accommodations such as this. I feel that this could be encouraging the inmates that prison is not punishment but rather a place of freedoms that even the outside world would not be willing to accommodate. I believe the prison systems are possibly trying to sidebar the reality of where the inmate is and why they are there. While I do believe religion should be accessible in the prison system, I don’t believe it should be so extreme to those who demand accommodations (PewForum: Religious Accommodations).  Just as the Catholic religion is a cult and a society in its own rite. The Pope plays a major role in the Catholic world. The Pope acts as a dictator. He calls the rules and laws and then removes the rules and laws and the people follow whichever way he desires. He even has the power to declare an aberration to be or not to be authentic. Also, the Priest in the Catholic religion, by their law, is the only one who can talk to God exclusively to ask forgiveness of the petitioner’s sins (Wikipedia Duties of a Priest). As big a part that the Pope may play in the Catholic religion, his influence counts for nothing in government and political decisions. He is a dictator in his own right. His position is one of controlling masses of people. It is also interesting that the people are afraid to not follow his laws. Whereas those who are non-denominational feel they can sin and repent and sin and repent and all is well under the mercy of a forgiving God. I think if a person is facing the pleasure of sin, then looks ahead knowing they will face a man in a confessional booth to proclaim their offense, they are more likely to not go ahead with their fornication, where as the Christian follower of Jesus may take the chance and sin, knowing he or she can go into his or her own room and confess directly to God and be forgiven. Who is more likely to obey the laws of God?

     I believe it’s pretty much agreed that religion can harm or help society around the world. It is agreed that we need someone or something to fill the everlasting void we feel within. Some people feel that supernatural happenings are required to constitute the function of a religious belief or sect. Belief in God can either help or heal. And many don’t agree on what happens in the end. I guess it depends on the demographics.