Reports Gallup Politics: "Gallup has asked Americans to choose among these three explanations for the origin and development of human beings 11 times since 1982. Although the percentages choosing each view have varied from survey to survey, the 46% who today choose the creationist explanation is virtually the same as the 45% average over that period -- and very similar to the 44% who chose that explanation in 1982. The 32% who choose the "theistic evolution" view that humans evolved under God's guidance is slightly below the 30-year average of 37%, while the 15% choosing the secular evolution view is slightly higher (12%)."
"Camera in hand, I watched as the man I'd photographed and gotten to know over the past year writhed, turned pale and slipped away, a victim of his unwavering faith, but also a testament to it. A family member called paramedics when Mack finally allowed it, but it was too late. Mack Wolford drew his final, labored breaths late Sunday night. He was 44."
-- Washington Post photographer Lauren Pond, in "Why I watched a snake-handling pastor die for his faith"
So, according to the Gallup folks, "In U.S., 46% Hold Creationist View of Human Origins.
OK, it's kind of a creepy, crappy pool, with respondents being offered only three options. As paraphrased by the Gallupies: humans evolved, with God guiding (32%); humans evolved, but God had no part in process (15%); God created humans in present form (46%).
I suspect that many people hearing these possible responses don't even understand how they're related, or how each choice may or may not reflect their beliefs. Still, the 46% winner does indeed state: "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so."
So that's what the 46% are giving their nod to, and it's small comfort that the report notes that the "ooh that God, he's such a creator" camp has averaged 45% over the two decades that Gallup has been running this loopy poll.
I know we Americans pride ourselves on not "judging" other people's religions, though of course we do it all the time. (Anyone for Islam?) Still, I don't have much hesitation in saying that the respondents who chose "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so" are all dunces -- either imbeciles or loons.
Of course it's very likely that many respondents picked that option because it's closer to what they believe than either of the others. They may not, for instance, really and truly believe in the "last 10,000 years or so" hokum. Still, they didn't tell the pollster that they couldn't pick any of his/her cockamamie choices, so I say bring on the dunce caps! This way people who aren't imbeciles or loons will know better than to pay attention to anything said by any of these clowns.
It's no knock on the ancients who wrote the Bible (and again, I'm sorry, but if people want to say that the writing of the Bible was inspired by God, fine, but if they want to pretend that any of it was written by God, then again, they're either imbeciles or loons) had a limited understanding of the world around them. Heck, we still do, but we understand a lot more than they did, because we have all those shoulders to stand on. Nevertheless, the Bible was written with the extremely limited understanding of that time, and therefore is filled with all manner of guesses, a few of which turned out to be in the ballpark, but most of which were just plain wrong. Like the notions that: (a) humans came into existence all at once in their present form, and (b) this happened 10,000 or so years ago. It would be just about impossible to claim anything wronger than either of these claims -- the wrongness quotient is 100%. And people who not only don't know that but use their wrongness as a weapon to bully people who are not either imbeciles or loons are thugs and monsters.
Talk of religion-based crackpottery brings me to the strangely fascinating piece by Washington Post photographer Lauren Pond, agonizing over the ethics of her standing by watching a snake-handling pastor wom she had befriended die without doing anything except taking pictures.
I admit, the headline rubbed me the wrong way: "Why I watched a snake-handling pastor die for his faith." Of course I recognized the story of the nutjob pastor down in Crackerland whose "faith" called on him to play with poisonous snakes, one of which did what its species is designed to do: bit the stupid sumbitch. And since the nutjob's "faith" forbids seeking medical care, which presumably would demonstrate a lack of perfect "faith," he suffered for a number of hours and then died. As, incidentally, his father had done before him.
I'm sorry, boys and girls, but this isn't a story about "faith." This is a story about imbeciles and loons.
Lauren Pond, who explains her connection to the deceased:
He wasn?t just a source and a subject in my year-long documentary project about Pentecostal serpent-handling; he was also a friend: We shared a meal at the cafe where members of his family work; he screened videos about himself for me at his house; I once stayed the night on his couch.
I decided to attend the worship service Mack was holding at Panther Wildlife Management Area, in the southwestern part of the state, on a whim, thinking that it would be good to see him again, and that I?d make the seven-hour drive back to Washington the following morning. But I haven?t returned. I have been staying at a friend?s house close to Bluefield, speaking with Mack?s family members, and gradually allowing myself to feel some of the raw emotion that has been percolating for days.
The practices of the Signs Following faith remain an enigma to many. How can people be foolish enough to interpret Mark 16: 17-18 so literally: to ingest poison, such as strychnine, which Mack also allegedly did at Sunday?s ceremony; to handle venomous snakes; and, most incomprehensible of all, not to seek medical treatment if bitten? Because of this reaction, many members of this religious community are hesitant to speak to the media, let alone be photographed.
But Mack was different. He allowed me to see what life was like for a serpent-handler outside church, which helped me better understand the controversial religious practice, and, I think, helped me add nuance to my photographs. His passing, my first vivid encounter with death, was both a personal and professional loss for me.
I couldn?t give up when his dad died, and now that [Mack]?s given his life, I just can?t give up. It?s still the Word, and I want to go on doing what the Word says.
Some of the people who attended last Sunday?s service have struggled with Mack's death, as I have. "Sometimes, I feel like we're all guilty of negligent homicide," one man wrote to me in a Facebook message following Mack's death. "I went down there a 'believer.' That faith has seriously been called into question. I was face-to-face with him and watched him die a gruesome death. .?.?. Is this really what God wants?"
That's a good question.
Pulitzer Prize winner Kevin Carter photographed an emaciated Sudanese child struggling to reach a food center during a famine -- as a vulture waited nearby. He was roundly criticized for not helping the child, which, along with the disturbing memories of the events he had covered and other factors, may have contributed to his suicide. As photojournalists, we have a unique responsibility to record history and share stories in as unbiased and unobtrusive a way as possible. But when someone is hurt and suffering, we have to balance our instincts as professionals with basic human decency and care.
In my mind, Mack's situation was different from that of a starving child or a civilian wounded in war. He was a competent adult who decided to stand by what he understood to be the word of God, no matter the consequences. And so I've started to come to peace with the fact that everyone in the crowded trailer, including myself, let Mack die as a man true to his faith.
Once the media learned that I was a witness to this tragedy, I was inundated with phone calls and e-mails asking for details of that day, and some seeking permission to use my images. I faced an internal tug of war. What was most important: revealing what had happened, or protecting the privacy of the family and the integrity of my photographic project?
Ultimately, in the face of the criticism and degrading commentary that has followed Mack's death, I've decided that I owe it to his loved ones to communicate what they knew about him and his faith -- as well as what I've learned and observed -- and to publish select images with this essay.
Though I was asked to use discretion in Mack's final hours, not once did anyone force me away or prevent me from photographing the events that unfolded before me on May 27. Perhaps Mack wanted me to be at that oppressively hot and humid park site to document the bite and its lethal aftermath. Perhaps he wanted me to witness his incredible display of conviction, so that I could share with the world a side of his faith that few have gotten to see.