This is an interesting article and, judging from one of your other articles, you have some interest in the religious mindset whilst wishing to remain hovering above it, pointing and giggling (well, at least smirking). However, I do believe there is a substantial weakness in your treatment which is to not sufficiently discriminate between what is a cult and what is mainstream, what is authentic religion and what is not. Any honest analysis should recognise the granularity of its subject matter if it is really interested in helping us to understand it rather than just trying to score rhetorical points.
To describe snake handlers as “Pentecostal” has redefined “Pentecostal”- the Pentecostal tradition may appear to many to be one sultana short of a fruitcake’s religion but authentic Pentecostal biblical religion will have a far more robust theology and rounded approach to religious experience. Now, granted, the people within the cult might call themselves Pentecostal but that is because they want to claim whatever religious respectability there is attached to Pentecostalism which in its early days, was an extension of the Holiness movement, noted among other things for its women preachers and racial inclusivity (this was not universal, there was plenty of prejudice but notable leaders made a point of non-segregated services and of women-led meetings). In a more modern and contemporary example, the famous feminist Germaine Greer (the Naked Ape and all that) said trans-women are not women just because they have taken hormones and are post-operative — it is just misappropriation of a designation, a basic category mistake for ideological purposes, stealing whatever intellectual respectability the terms Pentecostal, or “woman” might have.
As you correctly described, the snake handlers took one of the possible endings to Mark’s gospel and interpreted it in isolation — this is the mark of a cult, you see the same thing in the JWs, Church of the Latter Day Saints, Christadelphians, Christian Scientists etc who normally have some special “insight” not publicly available but revealed by their founders by which all else is interpreted. It is almost as clumsy as using the term “fundamentalist”- Chicago university spent 10 (maybe 15) years on a major project during the 1990s into the early 2000s with many hundreds of articles and hundreds of PhDs granted studying it to finally conclude you cannot use the term with any precision, you have to stick a load of adjectives in front of it — in fact, do not use it all and call it “strong religion” instead was the conclusion of the three main movers in that academic project — unless you deliberately want to insult people, which of course is the primary use of the term, we all know a fundamentalist when we see one, somebody white who voted for Trump.
What makes your style so interesting is that many a Western liberal does not realise that their right to dissent was established by the Reformation tradition standing in opposition to the Catholic socio-economic political hegemony. The Reformers understood we stand as individuals before God with a sovereign conscience and freedom to choose to be a heretic and then live with the consequences. By definition, they embraced pluralism, as did the early Christians by necessity — they were just one idea in the marketplace of ideas, it is just people started to notice freedom seemed to mark their communities and voted with their feet and their lives in joining and then dying for them. The Reformers gave us capitalism which for the first time, created wealthy nations rather than just wealthy individuals, people do not get wealthy by government handouts, they get wealthy when they learn to do business for themselves — that is why creating business opportunities is now at the heart of any “aid” programme that is actually interested in helping a nation stand on its own two feet rather than being a slave to the World Bank or neo-colonialist fellow travelers. Geneva in Switzerland was developed by Calvin as Europe’s refugee camp as people fled from Catholic persecution-it was the first modern state with public education considered as a right for all, people were given the opportunity to work for a living wage and develop industry; it is no accident Switzerland has been such a strong nation built on that foundation. As Jesus told his first followers, it was life and life in all its fullness, he came to bring to humanity, not the bondage of Catholicism or formalised religion that exists for itself (John 10:10 if anyone is curious).
As our society has lost its Christianity, it has moved back towards tyranny — any student of the 20th century knows it was the century of Marxism, that beautiful blossoming of the promise of the French revolution, where Humanity would kill God and free themselves from those shackles in all their wonderful maturity — yet, the Marxists shed more blood in the name of liberty and equality, surpassing even those medieval Catholics to take first prize in the Genocide stakes; what was even more remarkable was that Western “liberals” initially considered Stalin’s purges a cathartic necessity (well, according to Malcolm Muggeridge a famous British liberal newspaper editor of the 1960s and 1970s that lapsed into Christianity in his old age, senile old fool), many a pilgrimage to the USSR was undertaken by the academic elite of our finest institutions to show us how socialism should be done after the Second World War, even until the early 1970s.
It is with substantial grim amusement that we have a wonderful LGBT charity in the UK called Stonewall who now have a vodka on sale in supermarkets with the great slogan “Acceptance without exception” — except if you are a bigoted non-believer like me, please feel free to arrest, demote, fire or jail me, in fact take my children away, if I dare to assert men are men and women are women, who thinks a fanatical minority has imposed an ideology that permits no dissent, haters who accuse others of hate-speech (of course, I am speaking as an ex-Marxist from my youth, I fully accept this aggressive “liberal” ideology is the “radical” wing of the movement, there are plenty moral, gentle and loving gay folk out there, I just never hear their voices any more).
One of your great national fathers made the proclamation “men must be governed by God or ruled by tyrants”, being a fellow silver-haired person, I have seen the loss of Christian faith in our nation and the arrival of that beautiful blend of radical Islam and secular humanism as having a negative, destructive effect on our freedom and liberty. It strikes me as “how dum can you get” that our European governments will run tax-funded programs to help returning ISIS fighters “reintegrate” into the nations they left to fight for the Caliphate (we in the UK had about 250 000 who left, well 10 000 according to official government statistics…) and yet jail those for “hate speech” who dare to protest against it.