After his scout meeting, our 11 yr old son announced he was never going to advance to Eagle Scout, as we’d all hoped, when he ‘bridged’ from ‘Webelo’ Cub Scout to become a full-fledge Boy Scout.
“Attaining the Eagle rank is often the end goal of a scout and his parents. It looks good on a resume and shows commitment to a program over an extended span of time.”
These are the opening lines on an Eagle Scout information page for the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), and one of the reasons we encouraged our son to stay in their program.
But the rank of Eagle Scout was not attainable for our son, his troop leader had told him last Friday night. Even if he got all his merit badges, and fulfilled all the other Boy Scout requirements through middle and high school, he was not qualified to become an Eagle Scout.
To achieve Eagle Scouts, or any other rank, Boy Scouts must live the Scout Oath, which requires belief in God.
My husband and I introduced our 5 year old son to scouting. Fourteen Christians and one Jew, and our kid was the only member of his Webelo troop being raised without religion. Most of our neighbors, and our kid’s classmates, attend the local church. My husband and I are Atheists. Our kids are not privy to the benefits of participating in this tight-knit religious network. Scouting seemed like a positive way for our son to meet other boys his age in our area.
We didn’t consider the Boy Scouts an exclusively religious organization. We’d heard stories, of course, and knew of the pending lawsuit in the supreme court filed by a father for discrimination against his son who claimed to be an atheist. It motivated me to ask the women at the Cub Scout table during school registration if their troop was religious, and if so, how. Both women assured me their den had several different faiths among its members, and their policy was to keep religion at home, not practice it in scouting.
They were true to their word during the first five years our son belonged to their troop, participating in most events from hikes to community drives to popcorn sales, and earning quite a few merit badges along the way. Religion, even prayer, was never practiced or promoted. He bridged from Cub Scout at the end of fifth grade, and became a full Boy Scout with the aim of eventually becoming an Eagle Scout in high school.
After his new troop’s first official gathering a few months back, our son informed me the Boy Scout troop he’d bridged to said prayers at the end of their meetings. I asked him how he felt about that. He confessed he’d already branded himself a non-believer, when the scout master asked him to lead the prayer at the end of that first meeting. He’d refused, stating he wasn’t sure there was a God, and he thought praying was a waste of time because he was certain there wasn’t anything listening. Though he’d been publicly labeled “misinformed” by the scout master at that meeting, and endured jeers and taunts from several of the boys, every Webelo he’d been with the last five years had bridged to this new troop. Our son didn’t want to look for a new non-religious troop, with a bunch of kids he didn’t know. He just wouldn’t recite what he didn’t believe, he’d told me.
That wasn’t good enough for advancement, according to his new scout master, who asked him again last Friday night to say a closing prayer. No matter how lax about religion our son’s lower division troop, rank of Boy Scouts and higher stuck to the rules of the BSA, he told our Boy Scout. A religious association, and faith in God is required for rank advancement. Commitment to community service, practicing Scouting’s core values of honesty, compassion, as well as continually exhibiting diligence as a contributing team member, were irrelevant. Belief in a god was more important than social service. Atheism is a sin, the scout master assured our son at the end of last Friday’s meeting.
I could lie that I believe, my son suggested, if I have to…
Think that’s a good idea? I asked, glad to be driving, which made it easier to keep emotional distance and sound casual.
Maybe. I just don’t get why I have to pretend I believe in God. The Boy Scout handbook says we’re supposed to “respect and defend the rights of others to practice their own beliefs.” But they’re not.
Ah, from the mouths of babes…
He’s right, of course. Click on the ‘Litigation’ link on the official BSA website, and bring up the “Duty to God” page. Part of the Scout Oath proclaims the scout will ‘do his duty to God [and country].’ Every level of advancement requires a promise or show of faith in God. Boy Scouts are instructed to respect the beliefs of others, but only those that believe in the Christian/Judaeo God.
Nowhere in the BSA literature we received and perused before or after our son joined the Boy Scouts did they say they were a faith-based organization that required their members to be believers to receive equal rights and priviledges as those granted to religious members. Had they disclosed this with all transparency, as do churches and other religious organizations pushing their beliefs, I doubt my husband and I would have channeled our son to participate.
We impose no religion on our kids. We discuss it often— the concept of one god verses many; various cultures and their belief systems from beginning to modern man, using everything from the Tao to biblical references. Our kids get additional religious education through their friends and faith-based celebrations with family. My husband and I hope to expose our children to many possibilities, and let them discover their own spirituality.
Parents who provide religious training for their kids early on, and, it would appear, register them in Boy Scouts, are looking to validate their beliefs by indoctrinating their kids with the religion on which they were raised. And most of these parents have never stopped to consider whether the rhetoric their parents sold them is truth. They are blind believers, and turn their children into the same.
“The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) takes a strong position, excluding atheists and agnostics,” according to Wikipedia.
Perhaps the BSA is a front for the church, and works to convert unsuspecting non-believers working to advance in their organization. Hook the kids without religiosity when they’re young–in Cub Scouts. Get them to work hard for advancement, then deny them further advancement unless they convert to Christianity. Whatever BSAs agenda, and our son now sees they clearly have one, the meeting with his troop leader last Friday night soured him to continuing in scouting. It’s a shame, really, because the Boy Scouts have so many positives to offer. Weirdly enough, they tout the same morality I preach to my kids, like being courteous, and honest, loving and compassionate. The only difference between us is I don’t believe a god gave us this wisdom. I give credit to humanity, over eons, watching what works, and doesn’t.
There is no god that’ll save us from hate, prejudice, nationalism, exclusionary sects like the BSA who lure kids in, like the Pied Piper, under the guise of community involvement, then change the rules mid-play. Regardless of our differences, religiously, culturally, politically, PEOPLE, me and you, must use our collective wisdom to unite for humanity’s continued evolution.