What Coots Was Thinking When He Held That Snake
Dead pastor wasn't under the impression he was safe
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 18, 2014 11:03 AM CST
In this image made from a video provided by WATE shows Jamie Coots.   (AP PHOTO/WATE, Jill McNeal)

(Newser) – If your reaction to the death of the snake-handling Kentucky pastor killed by one of his own snakes on Saturday was "he must have been delusional," WBIR digs into why the exact opposite is, in one way, the case. It spoke with a range of religion professors about Pastor Jamie Coots' death, and the consensus is clear: Coots had no illusions about the risks or potential consequences; snake handlers do not believe they will not be bitten, and know death is a possibility. As Maryville College religion professor Dr. Brian Pennington explains, "These are not irrational people. They know very well the fate that Pastor Coots suffered could be suffered by any of them who does this during a service."

In fact, the man who originated the practice in Tennessee a century ago, Pastor George Hensley, himself died of a snakebite. It's one of 92 deaths attributed to snakebites during worships as counted by one study, and experts says Coots' death will do little to cool worshipers to the practice, which is illegal in Tennessee and Kentucky. Quite the opposite, "They will continue, and praise Jamie Coots as a martyr who died for his faith," says University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Professor Ralph Hood, per the Guardian. Still, Coots' son, Cody, did tell WKYT he expected his father to survive the bite—as he had on eight previous occasions.