Natural selection thwarted in Tennessee.

A Tennessee pastor, who was busted by wildlife services in 2008 for illegally owning venomous snakes, has had some more of snakes confiscated and taken to live in the zoo.

Pastor Gregory Coots, who goes by the name Jamie, told WYMT that he was on his way back from purchasing the snakes in Alabama when the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency took possession of the three rattlesnakes and two copperheads at a traffic stop.

“He wanted to know if I had any documentation and I told him no,” Coots recalled. “He came back a few minutes later and said he was going to take the snakes and containers.

Because when has faith ever hurt anybody?

Other Christians will shake their heads at Pastor Coots, thinking he is a fool for besmirching the noble quality of faith by abiding by Mark 16:18 and handling poisonous snakes.  They will then go right back to thinking believing that a guy rose from the dead is perfectly sensible, as if their delusions are any better.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Glodson

    Well, that wasn’t what I was expecting. I thought it would be more along the lines of creationism nonsense.

    Yes… the Snake Handlers. I actually feel bad for them. They believe it is faith in god that protects them. And they have a disturbing method of showing that. Some do drink venom, as proof( which might not hurt you, as long as you don’t have an ulcer for example, still a really bad idea), poisonous concoctions, and other feats.

    A number members do die in this practice, even the church leaders. Yet, this doesn’t deter the small churches.

    • IslandBrewer

      You know, the ones that die, die because they didn’t have enough faith. So … that just shows that there’s more proof of a god … oooh, and his plan is reeeeallly mysterious and complicated, too, don’t forget.

      Therefore, Jesus.

  • eric

    I don’t know what the regulations about owning poisonous snakes are, but it seems beyond stupidity to intentionally choose an illegal way of owning them if there is a legal way. You’re a snake handler FFS, you don’t think the police might know you keep snakes? This is like someone who wants to start a pet store not getting a licence to own the various animals he/she wants to sell.

    • Glodson

      He has to own them illegally, as use of venomous snakes in a religious ceremony is illegal in Kentucky.

      Source. See section 437.060

      Making owning of several venomous snakes problematic for such a preacher if done legally.

      • Glodson

        Oh, goddamnit, wrong state!

        Sorry. It is illegal in Tennessee as well. Source.

        The law is a bit more than the one in Kentucky, as it forbids the use and displace in a reckless manner across all uses.

        Sorry for the mix up, I don’t know how I got my wires crossed on which state.

        • Art Vandelay

          How can this be? Don’t you know our laws our based on biblical law?

          • Glodson

            They are. It is just that…. god told the legislatures that this law had to be made so he can test the faith of those breaking the laws that he commanded the other people to make.

            It will all make sense when we are dead.

          • Art Vandelay

            That Guy’s a genius.

          • John Horstman

            Um, how can this be? I can understand a rationale for abridging religious freedom in the interests of protecting vulnerable populations, but encroaching on a First Amendment right to stop what is primarily ‘self-harm’ actually really bothers me. I’d be down with a law making it illegal to put minors and poisonous snakes together in the same room as part of a religious ceremony, but I’m very much opposed to any laws that aim to prevent ‘self-harm’ by adults, and especially those that appear to me to run directly counter to constitutional rights. Bodily autonomy doesn’t mean people are only free to use their bodies in ways of which others approve (or don’t disapprove).

          • Glodson

            I know in Tenn, the law is written in boarder language, thus making it inclusive.

            In Kentucky, I don’t know if the bill has been challenged. On this, I don’t know all the legal justifications. I’ve not done the full research. I imagine that it is a protection for the congregation. We can easily, form the outside, say “hey, if the adults want to do it…” but we have to remember that people are brought up with this behavior normalized. As such, the social pressure from the church you were brought up in to play with the venomous snake can remove some of the choice in the matter.

            And then these risks and deaths affect the children and people around the families. It isn’t like having a stale cracker and watered down wine. I imagine the harm caused, and the added pressures involved, would be sufficient for a court to decide this is a reasonable restriction of the Free Exercise clause. But I would have to do more research into the relevant jurisprudence for a fuller answer.

  • DR

    How old is the Pastor? Is there any realistic expectation that he might have more children? If not, then natural selection was not affected… ;-)

  • Amanda


  • threesecondsearch

    It seems obvious to me that the Biblical passage saying that believers can take up snakes without injury is meant to encourage them to do so WHEN IT IS NECESSARY, not as a “test” of God. Testing God is specifically prohibited by other passages. People who handle snakes to “prove” their favor by God are committing blasphemy.

    I’m not a believer. Just my two cents.

    • Glodson

      Here’s the verses in question.

      Mark 16:17-18:

      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.

      There’s nothing in there about necessity. That’s reading into the passages. Now others have said that these verses could be forgeries.

      Here’s the problem: “it seems obvious.” This is why the Bible is a poor text to live by. What seems obvious to one reader is not always obvious to the others. Well, that and the Bible is mostly fiction.

      • Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

        Strange that they fixate on the serpents part rather than the “speaking with new tongues” part. You’d think the ability to suddenly speak, say, Italian, would be a wonderful bonus for joining up.

        • Glodson

          Well, they just speak a bunch of gibberish, so this speaking in tongues thing isn’t really a good replacement for a language program.

        • John Horstman

          My interpretation of that translation would, in fact, be something like speaking Italian or Urdu and not the gibberish sounds they actually make (of course, gibberish is much easier than an actual language).

      • Steve

        They should drink poison instead. Much more effective at culling the herd.

      • Brad1990

        Oh, is that where “Speaking in tongues” comes from? I always wondered about that. It seemed very odd… no more odd than alot of the other stuff, but still… odd.

  • BradC

    Even when I was a believing Evangelical, I still found it astounding when other believers preached from or held to teachings that were ONLY supportable from gospel passages that were KNOWN (even to fundamentalists) to not have been part of the original texts (the woman caught in adultery in John 8 is the other example that comes to mind). I mean it says right there in the NIV (a popular evangelical translation) “The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9–20.”
    (Now I know the whole thing is crap, of course)