Boy Scouts of Christian America

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.

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Muslims, Jews, Christians, and Hope

My mom was a born again Jew—her response to my brother’s conversion to Christianity, and my unwavering commitment to Atheism. In her continuing effort to have me meet and marry a Jewish man, during my vagabond years she suggested I to go see Israel. She said it was the most beautiful place on earth, an oasis they’d turned from desert wasteland into paradise. She had taken the guided Hilton Tour. My mother never really saw Israel.

The moment I got off the plane I knew something was wrong with the place. Bullet holes riddled the walls of Ben Yehuda airport, which had plaques commemorating this or that war or terrorist encounter. I had traveled much of the world by then but had never seen anything like this. Military men and women, some no older than teens were armed with Uzi’s; grenades hung off breast belts lined with bullets. On the ride to Tel Aviv, the public bus was packed with soldiers. The French girl next to me leaned over and whispered, “Are those guns real?” Clearly even she thought it odd.

I rented a flat in the heart of the city for a month, and used it as a base to travel from. Using public transport and walking, I explored most of Israel and Egypt, spent hours on buses and in cafes watching and listening. A lone traveler, I was continually invited to join diners, and occasionally even into people’s homes to partake in authentic meals and enlightening conversations. Most everyone spoke English, and after a while an image of the people began to emerge. However, it was my strange encounter with a Islamic man that brought into sharp focus the plight of the Middle East, and ultimately, the world.

My last full day in Israel I took a bus north, toward the Lebanese border to explore the beach town of Naharia. I felt him staring at me from where he sat a few rows back. He was in his early 20’s, dark curly hair, swarthy, handsome. He was dressed in jeans and a Hard Rock Café t-shirt, but wore the traditional Islamic headdress with a black cloth band crowning a red and white checkered bandana that cascaded over his broad shoulders and down his back. The intensity of his gaze unnerved me. I assumed he was on his way to Lebanon, or the West Bank, but when the bus finally got to Naharia he go off too, and I got scared.

I tried to convince myself he wasn’t following me. I window shopped and then got some lunch in a very public café. I saw him meandering around town, often stopping to chat with small groups of men, but almost every time I caught sight of him he looked over at me. Eventually he went into a shop and I ran across the street and tried to disappear into some woods. The low pine forest was only a few hundred meters thick. The blue/green Mediterranean glimmered beyond the trees. When I finally sat down on a log at the edge of the forest I was sure I’d lost him. I dug my toes into the warm sand and looked out at the dazzling sea. The deserted beach was silent. Then I heard twigs breaking underfoot behind me as someone approached.

The Arab man came out of the woods a few yards from me. The thought of running seemed absurd. He could have caught me in a flat second if he wanted to. I stood up, spun around, and tried to make myself as tall as possible. Then I looked him straight in the eye and said in my harshest tone, “What the fuck do you want?” Cussing, speaking before spoken to, and looking a man in the eyes are things I’d been told Islamic women do not do.

He stared at me, startled, but didn’t respond. He probably didn’t speak English. And I didn’t speak anything but.

“Leave! Or I will.” I pointed back through the forest. He didn’t move so I started to walk away. I was scared out of my mind.

“Please don’t go.” He spoke softly, his voice deep and throaty. “You’re an American, right? I just want to talk to you.”

“About what?”

“I’ve just come back from the States.” His accent was English, but richer, more sultry. “I was two years in Boston, at university there. I’ve been back in country three weeks now, and I am missing the hell out of good conversation.” He smiled then, thick ruby lips curved into a gentle grin.

I don’t know if it was his tone, his easy manner, or his striking green eyes that made me stay. He kept distance between us, and slowly sat cross-legged on the sand in the spot he had been standing. Curiosity overrode every other feeling. I’d never spoken at length with an Arab. An opportunity to speak freely without the prying eyes of others could be educational, to say the least.

“I’m from Lebanon, but in my heart I’m an American. What about you? Where are you from?”

“L.A. Hollywood,” I clarified, since many outside of the States had no clue where L.A. was, but everyone knew Hollywood. The conversation spun from there, unraveling like a well worn sweater, venturing down the road of trust, slowly revealing ourselves.

He’d recently graduated from Harvard—not just for the prestigious MBA, and the connections to society’s elite, but also to study our people. He’d returned home to take his place beside his father, a wealthy statesman of some note, and it was going to be his job to advise on how best to “work with the infidels,” meaning the U.S, according to dad.

Strange mix of anger and fear. “I’ve never considered myself an infidel as an American. I thought that title was meant for Israel, or Jews in general.”

He laughed, but not like he thought it was funny. “And that’s exactly what Islamic leaders want you think. They will say anything to get media support. They ask for a little of the West Bank here, a little of Jerusalem there. After all, who can deny them since they’ve been there for thousands of years and have no where else to go?” He shook his head in shame. “Historically, Muslims have been ruled by tyrannical fundamentalists. The wealthy few distort and then push their twisted brand of religion to keep people ignorant. They preach from birth that in order to be faithful it is the duty, the responsibility of every Muslim to convert or kill all infidels. Through killing, the individual becomes divine, and will thus spend eternity in heaven basking in Allah’s glory. All who don’t believe as they do are targets, so the ultimate goal is the annihilation of everyone who cannot be converted.”

The sun set as he spoke, and murky twilight replaced the light. Again he shook his head. Profound sadness filled the space between us. In the States, he’d become agnostic, a humanist, he told me. Integrating with our mix of cultures and beliefs taught him we all basically feel the same things, want mostly the same things—a safe, supportive environment where our needs are met so we can thrive.

“My fanatical father insists it’s business as usual—finance the current regime and whatever one replaces it. But how can I support ideology like this and sleep at night? How do I stay here and marry into a faith I no longer believe, and raise my kids to rise above the ignorance that surrounds them? Reason, logic, sanity are all washed away with the fanatics who will sacrifice their children, or raise them to hate, and the killing never ends.” He sighed heavily, his despair visceral.

I sat against the log, not three feet from him, tears streaming down my face. I had no idea what to say. I was there because of my fanatical mother. She blindly believed Jews had imminent domain to Israel, had single-handedly turned a desert into a flourishing country, and chose to see only the beauty there.

“You’ve seen a different world,” I said to him softly. “You’ve become a different man. If you can change, you can help others change.” I shut up then. Platitudes at best. I sounded like my pollyanna mom. I had no idea if change was possible with religions talons buried so deeply into the psyche of his people.

We left the beach a short while later, as it was getting dark. We both had buses to catch to take us home. He told me to leave first, walk back without him, as it wasn’t safe to be seen together. A Muslim prince alone with a white western woman in public wasn’t proper, yet, he said with a wink.

I knew I’d never see him again, and was surprised by a stab of regret as I stood to exit the scene. Only a few hours in his company, and I felt certain I could love this man. Without embracing or a parting cheek-to-cheek kiss we said goodbye, and I ventured into the small pine forest towards town.

Unfamiliar with infatuation, I had the surreal sensation of missing him on the bus ride back to Tel Aviv, and still the next day on the plane home. He’d given me a view into the plight of the Islamic people, and a deeper understanding of the struggle of Israel, and ultimately the world against our fundamentalist neighbors. And he unwittingly gave me a profound sense of hope, knowing he, and others like him were out there.

Novel Memoir, Disconnected, Releases Thursday!

20 yrs in the writing. No joke! The novel memoir, Disconnected, releases on Thursday! http://disconnectednovel.com/

DisconnectedLeftFacing

For Atheists during this Holiday season…

Atheism in America
Atheism in America

It was early November in 2001, two months after 9/11, when I went down to the end of the cul-de-sac to meet the new neighbors. We had just moved into San Ramon a few months earlier ourselves, a semi-upscale San Francisco suburb in the east bay. It promised good public schools, and gave the impression of a safe, friendly environment in which to raise our children. That afternoon several of the local residents were hanging out at the end of the block with the new neighbors, sharing beers and casual conversation, watching their children play together in the street. I joined them, introduced myself, and my [then] one year old daughter and three-year-old son, who both ran off to play with the other kids.

The new neighbors asked me about my children, their ages, where we had moved from, and the like. Then the woman asked me to repeat my last name.
When I told her again she said, “Oh, you’re the Jewish couple then? I heard that there was a Jewish family that had moved in recently.”
It was clear that she was tickled by the idea of living near Jews. Unlike L.A., or New York, the Bay area has little Jewish population to speak of. Suddenly, the three other couples standing there plugged into our conversation. Though our last name was often mistaken for Jewish, it’s derivation was German, and isn’t always a Jewish moniker. The woman’s assumption was ignorant, but typical, especially in an area where Jews were such a novelty.
“Actually, we’re Atheist. We don’t practice any religion.” I tried to sound casual.
Blank stares. Total silence. It was like I had just said that we were registered child molesters. My words hung like lead in the dead air until one of the neighbors we’d previously met broke the silence.

Reaad more: http://jcafesin.blogspot.com/2010/01/united-we-stand.html

Hey #RidleyScott–Einstein did NOT believe in #God…

AlbertEinsteinOr any higher power, no matter what you say on Numb3rs. Shame on you for saying he did, especially as a self-proclaimed atheists! http://jcafesin.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-morality-of-atheist.htmlhttp://jcafesin.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-morality-of-atheist.html