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Agnostics excluded from BSA?

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Now that the subject of BSA policy towards homosexuals has been thoroughly aired, I thought I would bring up the "Duty to God" question. Most stories in the general news media never fail to mention the BSA also excludes agnostics whenever they do a story on the BSA policy on out-of-the-closet homosexuals. The context in which this information is presented in those news stories is uniformaly negative, in order to present a picture of BSA as a horribly prejudiced organization.

 

So what is the BSA policy on agnostics?

 

I personally am aware of only one instance several years ago in Orange County California where duty to god became an issue. If I recall the incident correctly there were two twin boys in cub scouts who were being raised as atheists by their father who was publicly atheist in his views. That is fine, since it is that father's right to raise his sons in any belief, or non belief, system he thinks is appropriate.

 

The den leader involved was apparently a pretty devout believer, and was represented in the media as a strong right wing Christian conservative, although his affiliation was never published. According to the news stories of the time, when this den leader became aware that these two boys would not repeat the part of the Cub Scout promise dealing with duty to god, he, and presumably the rest of the adult leadership of the pack, tried to expel the boys from scouts. I don't really recall the outcome at that time. Apparently the boys stayed in, because more recently they were up for Eagle and the same issue arose, although the youth were now reported in the media as agnostics not atheists. Some would view that as progress. The boys are suing, or at least were suing again, the last I knew.

 

There is a difference between atheism and agnosticism. There is also a huge difference, in my mind, between BSA policy in this area and BSA policy on homosexuality.

 

Personally, if I as a scout leader, was seriously interested in helping non believer youth do their duty to god, seeking to expel them from the movement would be the last thing I would want to do.

 

So, does anybody know if there is really a policy against agnostics as the media represent? Does anybody have any experiences to share in this area?

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I guess it depends what definition you use for Agnostic. I always thought an Agnostic meant the person beleives in a higher power, just not in organized religion. Since Boy Scouts only say (I think) you must recognize a power greater than you, be it God, Yahweh, Buddah, ETC. I think Agnostics should be in Boy Scouts

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I agree with you Old Greyeagle. An atheist denies the existence of god. An agnostic accepts the existence of god, but believes that god is unknowable, and therefore would logically reject organized religion generally. Does this automatically mean that an agnostic is incapable of performing a "duty to god?" Hopefully others will share some of their experiences and insights to this subject.

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While sitting on my first Eagle Board of Review, the District Advancement Chairman indicated that Atheism was not to be accepted in an Eagle and the candidate would be turned down. I was also told that to be reverent a Scout must, as OldGreyEagle says, believe in the existance of a higher power. Basically to understand that he is part of something greater than what can be seen and measured. It is not necessary to be a "church-goer" or part of an organized religion for a Scout to be reverent.

 

Those who put Athiests and Agnostics in the same catagory don't know what an Agnostic is. The best description of Agnostism is one told to me by a Scouter when I was a boy.

 

"Agnostics believe in God but they don't belive in religion."

 

In my experience, Scouts who claim to be Athiests find out that they are actually Agnostics when they discuss the issue with a Scouter who has knowledge of other faiths.

 

Unless raised in a family that practices a faith, Scouts have no idea what it means to be reverent. The description in the book is a good start but all they get at home are glittering generalities about religions that are almost always false.(IMHO) I believe that it is part of our job as Scouters to at least introduce Scouts without faith to the possibilities of faith. Expelling Athiests from Scouting is not a good way to do this and frankly, is the cowards way out. After all, these are children who only need to be introduced to God. God will take care of the rest.

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I think that Mike Long hit the nail on the head when he stated,'Unless raised in a family that practices faith, Scouts have no idea what it means to be reverent.' As a youth I had more exposure to religon in Scouting that I did with my family. With the boys I work with I see the same thing. I guess some things never change. I try my best to let the Scouts know of my beliefs. I ask them what they believe and the answers are often priceless. When I first joined Scouting the Scoutmaster told me that I couldn't be a Scout unless I went to church. It wasn't until my family moved from one coast to the other and I matured what it was he was trying to impress upon me. So like other Scouters I feel there is an obligation on our part to introduce Scouts to God, and like Mike said, 'God will take care of the rest'.

 

 

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Absolutely not!!!

 

It is not the obligation of a Scouter, no matter how well intentioned, to introduce a Scout to God. That is the territory for Mom & Dad (or guardian), and Mom& Dad (or guardian) ONLY. Only parents or guardians have that obligation. And it's not really an obligation. If Mom & Dad choose not to make that introduction, so be it. We can not and should not attempt to change that. As Scouters, we have no obligation, right, or permission to introduce a Scout to God. No matter how religious I might or might not be, I know that I would not want a Troop Leader making that introduction for me. That is a very personal issue, and so it should be.

 

What a Scouter can do, is make possible the opportunity to a Scout to explore, understand, and practice his own issues with faith and belief as he so chooses. This can be done simply by Ecumenical services on Sundays at campout or such. This may be simply an opportunity to have a moment of silence at service, or an opportunity to sit on a mountain top and wonder. But introducing a Scout to God? No... Introduce him to the wonder around him. Give him the chance to question why everything around him is as it is. Don't give him the answers, unless you're his Mom or Dad, Minister, Priest, or Rabbi. Direct him as to where the answers can be found, if he asks. But don't try to minister faith or belief to him. That is defintely not our job.

 

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Hold on folks!

All I said is I believe that we should

"at least introduce Scouts without faith to the possibilities of faith." at no point did I say that we should introduce scouts to a particular belief system. That is the responsability of the parents. (and I DO believe that it is a obligation of the parents, but my wife and I make the rules in our house not other peoples houses. Still a free country ya know.)

 

All I meant by that was that we pose questions as to what a scout believes in and why. Encourage them to explore why they hold those beliefs and what forms their world view. If they ask me about a certain faith that I have experience with, I tell them what I know and where they can get the rest of the story. I am not a Priest, a Rabbi, or an officer of any faith and don't attempt to be one. However, I have studied most of the major religions of the world and know quite a bit about a few of them. I know enough to give a courious scout a fairly accurate synopisis of what and how they believe, but do not give an endorsement of said faith.

 

All that being said, the original topic of this forum was "Does the BSA exclude Agnostics?"

As I understand it Agnostics are not excluded from the BSA and I have never heard of a National policy that requires us to exclude Athiests either. I have heard of several cases where Adult Scouters tried to kick out Athiest Scouts and National defended the Scouters decision in court. To me that indicates that National agrees that Athiests should not be in Scouting or at least that Atheist view are incompatible with Scouting, but I have never seen that in print or come out of a BSA employees mouth officially.

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You're right, there's no stipulation anywhere that an Atheist or Agnostic cna't participate in Scouting. If they say nothing, no one knows, and life goes on.

 

The only place in Scouting where a Scout will get tripped up as an Atheist is the Eagle application process where a written statement from the Scouts religious leader is required (the alternate being a statement from the Scout and/or parents). If the written statement says that the Scout believes in nothing at all, well National will have a problem with that, and likely the Scout will go no further in that process.

 

As to Agnostics, it depends upon what they say in the statement. Most Agnostics believe in 'something', they just can't define it as God. And a belief in 'something', even with questions, shows that there is an underlying faith that something or someone is responsible for creating us all and all that surrounds us. And that is acceptable. In my SM experience, I've been through that twice in 17 years.

 

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As the one who posed the question, I would like to make a positive suggestion. Among those participating in this dialogue there is a clear consensus that agnostics should not, and are not as a matter of policy, excluded from belonging to BSA. In posing the question I forgot about the Eagle requirement for a letter from the scout's "religious leader." My original concern in posing the question was what I perceived to be a steady drumbeat of negative media coverage about scouts concerning the policy on homosexuality that so often would throw in a statement about scouts' alledged exclusion of agnostics. Such throw away assertions were never supported with any evidence, but just added in to the story on the other scout policy that has become so controversial.

 

I suggest that those who care about the accurate portrayal of scouts in the media should take it upon themselves to write corrective emails or letters to news media whenever they see this false assertion popping up. If the assertion that scouts exclude agnostics is false, then those of us who care should assume the responsibility of responding with correct information.

 

Also, for what it is worth, I think that the most effective way of making youth aware of God is to get them out from in front of the TV or computer monitor and into the outdoors. When youth see the beauty and complexity of God's creation, they are capable of drawing their own conclusions. Two other simple, unobjectionable vehicles are to incorporate "scout's own" into outings, and to say a non denominational grace before meals. At a recent OA ordeal for which I was responsible, I think I shocked the assembled masses by not allowing the very hungry people into the mess hall until hats had been removed and we had recited the Philmont grace. One minute is all it takes.

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Right on the money! For many Scouts, saying a prayer prior to a meal at a Scout event or going to chapel services at camp is the only religeous experience they get. While a few may not acknowledge the presence of a God, most, if not all, appreciate being there. Leaders must lead by example, remembering "A Scout is reverent". It carries through for sure.

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I disagree with the guy who thinks scout leaders must not introduce God to scouts. As a Christian, the great commission issued by Christ himself tells us to preach or tell the Word to everyone. Some boys may never hear about Jesus or God at home. I understand your disagreement if you are not Christian. I would not want my child to be exposed to a differing belief, but I know what scouting stands for and the principles involved, so I should expect my child to hear something about God in scouts. If I believed in the moon god or some other deity, I would probably try to keep my child from scouts, knowing that in scouts, he would probably be exposed to God. I guess it's what you believe and how strongly you believe it that makes all of us different.

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I remember when GSUSA decided that "to serve God" meant whatever that girl chose to serve as God, even if that meant she didn't believe in a god and chose to exclude that line of the promise.

 

To my knowledge the BSA has never published a statement saying that it too accepted this idea.

 

So, while the BSA is not excluding those who chose to worship other gods, it has not accepted them either. I feel it takes the same position on agnosticism and other religions/practices: it won't exclude them, but they won't fully accept them either.

 

 

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That's an interesting point regarding acknowledgement vs. full acceptance. And I suppose that one could make a case that BSA does just that. It probably harkens back to the religious roots of the environment during which Scouting was born. One can only hope that the written statement does not mean one vs. the other.

 

As to 'jamessnow', I stand by my statement. Having served as a Scoutmaster for a good many years in an area of the country where variety of religions is something we deal with all the time, I've had Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddists, Agnositcs, and a few other lesser known religions within the troop, and I can tell you that Scouting is simply not the place to make introductions to God...whatever you believe him/her to be. It's a daunting task to provide opportunity for such a wide variety of faiths to practice their beliefs within the Scouting environment, provide opportunity for everyone to better understand the differences between the faiths, challenge each Scout to accept the differences, and allow life to go on without also being involved in introducing God to the Scouts. That is the realm of Mom & Dad and the family religious leader(s).

 

Now if you come from an area of the country where the troop is chartered to a specific church, and everyone within the troop (Scouts, Leaders, Committee,etc.) are members of that church, then I suppose you're dealing with quite a different situation...one that I am totally unfamiliar with, for it's not that way around here. Our message to the Scouts should be that faith is something that hopefully you practice somwhow with your family, and no matter what that faith is, it is accepted here within Scouting. No Scout should feel that there is any pressure to know a God or faith that isn't his. We should, of course, be providing a safe haven where each Scout can feel comfortable with his own faith, and learn what he can about others, if he so chooses. But we should not pretend to be religious leaders.

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When I post on these boards I'm not sure that I come across as I intend to. Oh well, just trying to teach the Scout Oath and Law as best as I know how.

 

Our Troop is sponsored by a United Methodist church so our boys hear about God in a Christian Medodist context. So I guess it could be said that as an outreach of the church we try to support the teachings of the United Methodist Church without condemning the beliefs of others.

 

As to the statement

"So, while the BSA is not excluding those who chose to worship other gods, it has not accepted them either. I feel it takes the same position on agnosticism and other religions/practices: it won't exclude them, but they won't fully accept them either."

 

I don't see how one can draw that conclusion. Do you mean to say that the BSA only recognises Christianity, Islam, and Judeaism? If that is true, why does the BSA offer religious awards (or at least allow them to be worn on a BSA uniform) for Baha'i, Hindu, Meher Baba, Buddism, Zoroastrian, and Unitarian (which allows All beliefs in it's membership) It seems to me that recognising a religion with an award indicates acceptance. It is ridiculous to say to a Scout "We don't accept or recognise your non-Christian religion, but here's an award for it."

 

Obviously, by strict definition, Agnosticism is not a religion or a faith and therefore you can't very well create a award for knowledge of and adhereance to Agnosticism. So that kind of puts it in a "special" situation.

 

If that is not what you indended to say please clarify.

 

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The definition of agnostic that I have always understood is "one who does not know". This admission of a degree of uncertainty is very different from making the assertion that God does not exist, as in athesism. By that definition, we are all seekers of knowledge, I hope, and as none among us has firsthand knowledge of God, we could all be agnostics. The reluctance to identify oneself with a particular denomination or organised religion does not, by any stretch, mean that a person has rejected God.I know several Eagles who are agnostics, in the sense above, and I have seen a higher moral standard lived daily by them than many self proffessed Christians. I would be more concerned with a scout's attitude about a higher force and how he lives within accepted moral codes than nitpicking. All above is in my own humble opinion.

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