"Snake handling at the Pentecostal Church of God in Lejunior, Kentucky, USA" by Russell Lee / Public Domain

The Religious Reason Many Americans Refuse to Wear Masks

Oct 13, 2020

By Kate Blanchard

Even in the most evangelical phase of my life, when I was a college student who occasionally engaged in raising my hands while singing praise songs, I was horrified to know that there were some Christians in the world who thought it was a good idea to handle venomous snakes for the Lord.

Dating back to the early 20th century, some Appalachian Christians were inspired by Mark’s gospel (the wackiest of gospels, full of high-drama spirit possessions and demon warfare) to prove their faith in God by “taking up serpents,” or even drinking poison. Doing these dangerous things was—and still is—a way of being fearless, being willing to risk great sacrifice, making room for “signs and wonders” by giving themselves over wholly to God’s control. Some of these folks perish as a result, but more of them live to tell the tales of their own faith and God’s amazing power.

I can’t help thinking of snake-handlers when I see the President and his minions going maskless. Like many mask-wearing losers, I gazed in horror upon images of the White House ceremony honoring the President’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. In colorful photographs and videos, we saw approximately 150 Republicans hugging, shaking hands, talking closely together, and just generally getting all up in each other’s personal space—almost all of them without masks. As the count of related covid-19 infections surpassed 30 this week, including the President and First Lady, multiple staffers, and high-profile figures like Chris Christie (who’s still hospitalized as of this writing), few of us were surprised to hear Dr. Fauci designate the affair a “superspreader event.”

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