The Snakes in Ireland

for the week of April 22, 2002
by Rubel Shelly

Because Ireland is a damp, cool island, reptile experts doubt that any snakes were ever native to the place. Far more interesting, of course, is the legend that St. Patrick ran all the snakes out of Ireland in the fifth century. As the story goes, he preached a sermon from a hilltop that drove them all away.

So a headline caught my eye the other day: "Snakes slither back into Ireland." It was a story out of Dublin about how snakes are turning up in some very unexpected places these days.

"We're finding them in attics, in people's cupboards, under the sink in the bathroom," said Gillian Bird of the Dublin SPCA. "One family was watching TV when a snake crawled out from underneath. TVs are such warm places."

So how are snakes getting onto the once snake-free island? People are bringing them there as pets! They're trendy. Believe it or not, it's stylish and smart to have a snake especially around St. Patrick's Day!

Doesn't that sound just a bit perverse to you? I'm no fan of snakes and can't imagine wanting a reptile as a pet. But in a place that is historically free of snakes? Putting the slithery creatures in places from which either climate or saintly presence had banished them? But hold on a minute . . .

Now that I think about it, it seems a characteristically human thing to do. Put Adam and Eve in a garden paradise, and they ruin it by introducing sin and rebellion. Put John in the holy bonds of marriage, and he sometimes feels compelled to prove he "hasn't lost it" by a flirtation that blossoms into an affair that in turn destroys a family. Put Mary on a responsible career track, and she sabotages her future with credit-card fraud or shoplifting at the mall.

What is there about a situation of safety that fairly screams for some people to take an irresponsible risk? Is a clandestine evil really more appealing than an obvious right thing to do? Or is the human ego just so immense that we dare to fantasize about breaking the rules and getting away with it? Or does some hidden impulse of appetite or anger make us vulnerable to devilish traps?

Why would an Irishman import a snake to his lovely land? Why would an otherwise upright soul tempt fate by importing the vices of a decadent culture?

Proverbs 6:28 warns against the folly of trying to walk barefooted on hot coals and expecting not to get burned. It's worth thinking about this week.

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