“Examine the religious principles which have, in fact prevailed in the world. You will scarecely be persuaded that they are anything buy sick men’s dreams.”

David Hume

Another snake worshiper dies of snakebite. He refuses medical treatment. It’s against his religion.


How do you react, as a rational atheist skeptic? I turn to the comics, but not without a nagging feeling that something is grievously wrong with these people’s minds. A primitive obsession with snakes lingers in their neurology, just as we have vestiges of organs we no longer need. Do these people need to be locked up and medicated for their own good?

But as a libertarian, I believe in religious freedom, even if that freedom involves the ability to commit suicide by the object of your religion…and have it be OK with your religion.

I guess I side with libertarian psychiatrist Thomas Szasz. who believes that psychiatrists should definitely not be in the business of deciding who gets medicated and/or incarcerated. The crazy are entitled to be crazy, as long as they don’t harm anyone against his/her will. By this logic, as long as they don’t proselytize, and as long as they allow people to opt out, the harm is limited to a few lunatics acting according to their free will and taking the consequences.

What do you think?

4 Responses to “Snake-worship and death: What to make of it?”

  1. on 26 Feb 2014 at 5:53 pmRich

    On the snake handlers. There are also Christian Scientists (Ha!) who believe prayer cures everything. Not so long ago, theologians were against bathing, due to its alluring effects.

    St. Thomas More wore a hairshirt all his life. When they prepared his body for burial, “the lice came out like foam”. His contemporaries whipped themselves. St. Theresa swallowed a phlegm-ball to abase herself.

    Some religions burn or explode themselves and heretics. An old story.

    Physicians and theologians fought ether in childbirth, since pain is God’s Will. Queen Victoria shut them up. She also popularized smallpox vaccination. Leeches were used in medicine into 19th C.

    Judging by the vast amounts of heroin he bought, I believe P.S. Hoffman wanted to kill himself.

    Human folly, perversity, and self-loathing will always be with us.

    On Szasz. He’s a crank. “The MYTH of Mental Illness”??? Really? A potentially dangerous crank. Thus endeth my sermon.

  2. on 26 Feb 2014 at 7:37 pmAlan

    Thanks for all the delightful examples of religion-induced suffering! (Tho they’re slightly off-point, since we’re talking about wild animals used in rituals.)

    On Hoffman…I prefer “no restraint, no judgment” to “suicide.” He said of intoxicants “I like them all” and implied he couldn’t get enough. I will never understand why people throw away great careers and other goodies of life. I never had such opportunities, and you can damn well bet I wouldn’t waste them.

    I am interested in a reasoned critique of Szasz that transcends name-calling. We’re still friends, regardless.

    (I saw him in a public debate back in MI, opposing Emanuel
    Tanay, another shrink and Holocaust survivor, who accused him of “pissing in the mikva” by denigrating psychiatry).

  3. on 27 Feb 2014 at 10:59 amRich

    The poem & song “Richard Corey” is apposite. You can have a great life (D.F. Wallace & Heath Ledger come to mind) and yet suffer unbearable lethal psychological/emotional pain.

    I read “The Myth of Mental Illness” in the 70s. Wasn’t impressed. Not interested even to debate Szasz’s ridiculous arguments.

    So more name-calling. He’s a Monomaniac. They come in all flavors. I’ve met a few. To me, it’s a waste of time to debate them.

  4. on 28 Feb 2014 at 3:15 amRich

    Sorry I was a bit peremptory. But I’m v v well acquainted w/mental illness. I lived w/it.

    Ma was Borderline Personality. I won’t bore you w/the gory details. But looking back, I’m lucky to be alive, or not permanently crippled, or a mental case from lack of mothering when I was a baby and little boy.

    My sister is a semi-psychotic dipsomaniac. She’s an RN, but was fired several times for coming to work reeking of booze. She has a knee brace. I call it “William Holden Syndrome.”

    Holden was an alkie. He had a drunken fall down the stairs at home, and died of head trauma.

    Gloria almost killed me 7 years ago when I was recovering from a botched hernia op. I haven’t seen her since.

    I didn’t emerge unscathed. I had 2 major breakdowns, and am incapable of intimacy. But I count my blessings.

    So professional morons like Szasz get my goat.

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