Police say they think Coots may have been handling a rattlesnake in a church service when it bit his right hand. Middlesboro Fire and EMS responded, but Coots had already gone to his home on Winchester Avenue.
They went his home and recommended he go to the hospital, but they say he refused. About an hour later at 10 p.m., EMS returned to the scene and found that Coots had died. Venomous snakebite is believed to be the cause of death.
The inspiration for the snake handling comes from Mark 16:18:
… they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.
This news is surprising to nobody, of course, and the jokes write themselves (“Guess he wasn’t covered under COBRA”), but let’s not ignore the obvious.
Handling poisonous snakes is dangerous, but Coots’ faith convinced him that no harm would come from it. Seeing a doctor in the event of an emergency is common sense, but Coots’ faith prevented him from accepting that help.
It’s not that he represents so many Christians, because he obviously doesn’t, but that he’s a perfect example of how faith fucks you up: It can cause you to ignore common sense even when it’s staring you right in the face.
Coots didn’t have to die. But he did nothing to prevent it, either. I don’t take joy in his death, but I am relieved that it was him who died instead of one of the children or parents who merely attend the church.
The big question I have now is how the people of his church are going to take this news. Will they leave the church (and snake-handling) for good? Or will they rationalize this tragedy as some weird anomaly?
For their sake, I hope this news jolts them back to their senses.