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Time to Grow Up - and Kick that Religious Habit

An assembly from the Culham St Gabriel archive

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)

Aims

To explore myth and reality in relation to religion being viewed as a tool of oppression.

Preparation and materials

  • The text for the scenario given in the 'Assembly' could be read out, but it works best if a mime is performed to accompany it.
  • You will need a leader, who can be the narrator or someone else can read the story, plus, if performing the mime, students to play the Chief Priest, a group to be the people, plus others to be the animal offerings (alternatively, you could use props for these) and the young hero.
  • The only prop needed is a cardboard image to be the 'Dog God', if possible with some strings stuck to the back, so it can be torn up for dramatic effect at the appropriate moment in the story.

Assembly

The leader or narrator tells the story and, if performing the mime, the other students mime the actions being described in the story. The cardboard 'Dog God' should be placed in a prominent place in the centre at the front of the performance space and so the back cannot be seen by the audience.

Leader or narrator: Far away, in the capital city in the Land of Ned, many miles east of Eden, there was a temple. It was the temple of a great God with the head of a dog - and burning eyes and sharp teeth.

Every year, the Chief Priest of the Dog God summoned the people to their temple and told them to bring the best of their sheep and goats and cows - and their gold. He said, 'Give the best of your sheep and goats and cows - and your gold - to the Dog God! If you do, then things will go well.'

The people bowed down before the statue of the Dog God and gave the best of their sheep and goats and cows - and their gold. The statue of the Dog God in the temple was pleased and nodded its head. All went on as before. Everyone was happy.

Every year, the people gave the Dog God the best of their sheep and goats and cows - and their gold. The statue of the Dog God in the temple was pleased and nodded its head. All went on as before. Everyone was happy.

One day, however, a young hero stood up before the Chief Priest and the statue of the Dog God and said, 'Why do we keep giving this statue our sheep and goats and cows - and our gold? We are being cheated! What good does it do us? We must no longer be slaves. We must take control of our lives and not bow down like fools before this statue.'

The Chief Priest said, 'Kill this blasphemer! If you don't, the eyes of the Dog God will burn and the teeth of the Dog God will bite and the land will be made barren!'

The young hero was brave and quick and tore down the statue.

Young hero tears up cardboard Dog God.

The Dog God's eyes did not burn and the Dog God's teeth did not bite. The young hero said

holding up pieces of the cardboard Dog God so that the back can be seen if you've taped strings to it

'Look, I have found wire and strings inside this statue. It is all a trick - the Chief Priest has been making us bow down before a puppet! The Chief Priest has been taking our sheep and goats and cows - and our gold!'
         
The Chief Priest was stoned to death. The young hero said, '
We are no longer slaves. Now we have grown up. We are no longer little children.'

Everything went on as before.

Those who have performed in the mime take a bow, then go and sit down.

Leader: Have you heard this myth before or something like it? Probably.

Stories like this have appealed to many artists, particularly since the early nineteenth century. The famous Romantic poet Shelley saw religion as a tool used by the rich to oppress the poor majority. He wrote poems praising mythical heroes who threw off the yoke of the rich and their false gods.

Similar criticisms can be found in the writings of Karl Marx. In the great black and white propaganda films produced in Russia at the time of the revolution, the demolition of the Church was shown as part of the cleansing process that initiated the new age of equality. Orthodox priests were shown as slant-eyed villains, with gold stuffed under their ecclesiastical robes!

A similar sort of myth underpins Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. The destruction of false gods - of all Gods! - is seen as a necessary step in the process of mankind coming to maturity.

Here are two points in reply to this view.  

Jesus famously once rebuked his disciples for keeping children away from him. 'Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it' (Mark 10.14-15, NRSV). Of course, this can be taken in a soppy, sentimental way. Isn't it also, though, part of Jesus' campaign to turn the power structures of the world upside down - to lift up the weak, rather than oppress them, and cast down the arrogant? Also, maybe we have to accept that we are, in some sense, weak and dependent creatures?

In Christian thinking, God, in Jesus, puts himself into human hands and leaves us free to do with him what we will. When Jesus was on Earth, some reacted with blasphemy and violence, nailing him to a cross. Another response, which we saw in the myth at the beginning of the assembly, is for institutions to use Jesus for their own ends - to manipulate his image like a puppet. This sort of thing is a risk God takes in becoming one with humankind. To allow someone freedom is a sign that you respect them and view them as mature, able to make their own decisions. God gives us freedom to reject, abuse or manipulate him. This freedom is a sign that we are, in God's sight, not slaves but free. Of course, Jesus wants his message to be accepted and used rightly  . . .  but it's up to you how you react.

Time for reflection

Prayer
Heavenly Father,
We thank you that we have the freedom to respond to you in a variety of ways.
We can reject you - we can even be hostile.
We can be your disciples, your friend or even your child.
It's up to us and we thank you for this freedom.
Amen. 

Music

'You needed a stable the night you were born' by Geoffrey Ainger and Ida Mary Prins Buttle (© 1979 Stainer & Bell, 1979)

Publication date: October 2015   (Vol.17 No.10)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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