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Is this the last word on the atheism issue?

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The following editorial appeared on line today.




Scouting out nihilism


Scripps Howard News Service

November 18, 2002


- Tradition? Ha! In America today, traditions are as disposable as old razor blades, even if they've been around for virtually a century. Standards? You must be kidding me. There's just one standard modernity cares for - tolerance, my friend - and as for all the others, well, wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Know what I mean?


And so it is that all the right-thinking, politically correct, up-to-date moralists among us just cannot believe it that the Boy Scouts of America would be so outrageous, so contemptible, so egregiously narrow and shallow as to think the code it has used for nine decades and better actually matters and that its leaders ought to subscribe to it, and, if they don't, should leave the organization.


It's even worse than that, in the eyes of these critics, because this standard was about - you can almost see the smirk as they say the word - God.


For Pete's sake, the critics ask, you really, truly think that a young man of 19 ought to profess belief in God if he wants to direct young people in your organization? In the writings of some of the critics, the condescension is explicit. For them, God clearly is a hallucination of the past, an unsustainable idea in our own enlightened times, at least among those who are, ahem, intelligent.


You would think it might occur to some of these intelligent people that there is something ill-considered in their harangue. It seems their enthusiasm for pluralism goes so far and no further. It certainly does not go so far as allowing that a private organization might legitimately hold to a worldview different from the one they embrace.


Might they themselves be intolerant?


They are, of course, and I would like to suggest that theirs is a particularly insidious kind of intolerance that endlessly nicks away at much that is precious to our civilization. That may sound like a stretch, because, hey, we're just talking about critics of the Boy Scouts here, right? Well, yes we are, but in defense of my suggestion, I would like to call to the stand Friedrich Nietzsche, the brilliant 19th-century German philosopher.


Nietzsche famously proclaimed - or rather, had one of the characters in his writings proclaim - that God was dead. His meaning was that God was dead or dying in the hearts of believers. In the face of science and rationalism, faith was receding. There could be frightening consequences, the philosopher believed, because without a holy absolute, there is no foundation for objective morality or meaningfulness as was once known. Truth becomes strictly relative, strictly subjective. He himself had some proposals of what a rescue might entail, but he was not so sure mankind would take his advice, I have recently read. He saw a crisis-ridden future - the 20th century, he imagined, would be consumed by wars on a scale never before seen. And he was right.


The issue is nihilism. Many believe the incredibly complicated Nietzsche himself contributed to nihilism, but as a philosopher friend of mine said to me years ago, Nietzsche at least had the honesty to face up to what the consequences could be. The friend did not think many of those who would usher God offstage have any idea of the dangers or would confess as much if they did. Certainly, the critics of the Boy Scouts do not seem to get it that there might be highly important, eminently justifiable reasons to require boys to pledge to do their duty to God in an oath. The organization thereby puts its heft behind a conviction that can serve as a personal stay against moral chaos. But you should not suppose the critics would concede any merit to this grounding of ideals in something unshakably supreme and real.


Well, the critics can believe what they choose, and they can stay as far away from the scouts as they like. What is perplexing about them is their insistence that scouts officials conform to their own moral vision, which they think of as very large, but which does not seem to me large enough to accommodate much more than their prejudices.







(Jay Ambrose is director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard Newspapers. Email him at AmbroseJ(at)shns.com)

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Short answer: No, it is not the last word.


First, a statement about membership,


There should be two religious considerations when it comes to membership in the scouts.


1.) Signing the statement of religious purpose,


2.) Following Scout programmatic guidelines.


We should not be looking farther into the religious beliefs of our members. If an atheist signs the statement, and is generally supportive of boys practicing their religions, for example by sitting in on religious services, I see know reason to expell him.


On the other hand an atheist (or anyone else, for that matter) who changes the statement, or who actively seeks to recruit to his beliefs, is not supporting the program and should be dropped.


If we go down the road of judging people by our perception of their beliefs, or the shorcomings of their beliefs, rather than their actions, we are making a big mistake.


So in practice, BSA was out of line (although within its legal rights) to require Mr Lambert to express a belief in a deity. They would be in line to inquire into wether he signed the statement and wether he was supporting BSA's mission of supporting religions.


Second, a statement about advancement. BSA appropriately addresses religion in Eagle boards of review. The scout must convince the panel he has met the requirement. But this level of scrutiny is not expected at the lesser ranks, boys who do not have a religion need time to develop one.


Finally, a lesson from history. Gnosticism was a competing form of Christianity in the early centuries AD. A sort of early New Age. Gnostics looked for deeper meanings than the mere words of the Gospel. Only through study and contemplation and years of training could a member understand the deeper levels of the faith. Gnosticism died out as a major faith because it took simple, straightforward truths that can be understood by the simplest person (love your neighbor, forgive your enemies, repent of your sins etc) and made it complicated.


Sometimes I believe that the BSA leaders are making the same errors as the Gnostics. Discovering that the oath bans gays, even though there is no explicitly promulgated rule to that effect. Deciding that the religious requirement goes beyond what is the actual wording of the statement we all sign.


So thanks for the opportunity to ramble. I just wish BSA officialdom would lighten up. What would be the down side of letting Mr Lambert continue, with a warning to make sure he supports other members in practicing their religious duties?






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Jay Ambrose said it better than I could have; I guess that's why he gets paid to write, and I get paid to be half way around the world defending Lambert's right to look like a knucklehead, in a BSA uniform, on national TV.


Lighten up? That's what kids say when they want you to let them do something you know is wrong.


What's the down side? How about throwing out the 12th point of the Scout Law? On the plus side, that would certainly make ceremonies and meetings shorter...and think of the time, printer's ink, and candles we'd all save. While we're at it, we could get rid of "Trustworthy" too, or at least make it optional. That's a tough one anyway, and it could be okay for a Scout to be a liar and a cheat, as long as he supports other Scouts if they're trying to be trustworthy and become adults of good character...right?


See, if you substitute other values, and apply the same logic, the ridiculousness of this argument becomes apparent...


If you wanna play the bagpipes, you gotta wear the kilt...



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twin wasp


If we go down the road of judging people by our perception of their beliefs, or the shorcomings of their beliefs, rather than their actions, we are making a big mistake.


I don't think anybody is judging here. BSA has set a standard and Lambert didn't measure up. It's not his beliefs, but his unbeliefs. There's another judge who will in the long run judge him worthy or not of entering the big club. And there will be a popular opinionated majority that will protest then also. I think the correct terms are wailing and gnashing of teeth. Of course those of us who are Christians know that the entry requirements are not our actions or how many good deeds we performed, but the fact that we believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God.

You can pull on the camel's leash all you want, but it will be real tough to get him through the eye of that needle.


Well said Jay Ambrose.




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So in practice, BSA was out of line (although within its legal rights) to require Mr Lambert to express a belief in a deity.


You know what! You are absolutely right. They should not have even given him a chance to express a belief in God after his "coming out of the closet". Even if he did, how sincere would it have been? I am sorry, he knew the policy and he just decided to ignore it. Ambrose is right on a much larger scale. Political correctness and this desire for "tolerance" are destroying American tradition and roots. I support tolerance of other religions one hundred percent. I don't however support this notion that tolerance means freedom from exposure to a religion that was significant in this Countrys past. I think a perfect example of this would be the issue with the Ten Commandments being removed from schools and courts. There was a reason why those Ten Commandments were there! People in our past decided that the Commandments were an appropriate code of values for our country. We weren't forcing religion down any ones throat, we weren't giving special privileges to any one religion or person, all we were doing was taking a piece of our past and preserving it with a small reminder of a plaque. What is American culture? I don't think we have much of a culture anymore. I truly believe that political correctness and the idea that we have to be so careful not to offend others is ripping away our own identity. This is our history! I am sorry, if you find a country that preserves its traditions and roots to be offensive then go find another country to live in! There are plenty of free countries that are very serious about preserving its culture and traditions. Take for example Canada; it is a country that has not yet been hit by a political correctness wave. You are perfectly free to live in Canada and have your own faith. However, that doesn't mean one bit that the Canadians aren't going to show off their tradition and culture. Yeah I know this is off topic and probably something that will warrant some nasty responses. Why can't America be a little bit more proud of its past?


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Out of line? How? If you were a member of a group that required you to pay dues & you refused, that group is within their right to kick you out. That is what the BSA did!


Many organizations have membership requirements. If you don't like the requirements or don't agree with them, don't join. If you do & the organization finds out, they can require you to meet their requirements or hit the road.



Thanks for the post.


Ed Mori


Troop 1

1 Peter 4:10

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No, this won't be the last word on this issue.

However, I think BSA is skating on very thin ice as to this issue, and is much in the wrong to enforce it.

Dispite BSA's Congressional charter, no organization has the right to set membership requirements that superceed, or infringe on Consitutational safeguard. The right to not believe is just as protected under the First Admendment as the right to believe wherever our faiths take us. BSA's joining requirements regarding manditory faith, is, sad to say, a major violatation of First Admendment rights...


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le Voyageur

If the BSA were a Government owned and operated agency you would be correct but a private group can do whatever it wants.


Should BSA change its policy? You then have to answer this with another question of 'With what?' I like it the way it is, but I am open to suggestions.


Any out there?

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When the Scout Oath and Law, along with National's policies become the law of the land then I'll be agreement with this forum.


However, peeking under the Sybil stone, some day down the road the Supreme Court will decide against the BSA and enforce the First Admendment. When that day comes, we better have a Plan B in our back pocket...Just think that it's time for us to get our heads out of the sand and figure out a way to protect BSA's core values in this changing world....




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Freedom of religious practice is a core value of Scouting. It's a first amendment right. Freedom to peaceably assemble is also in the first amendment.


The right to bear arms is more nebulous. Maybe that should be first on the table for disposal.



Selective enforcement of cherry-picked portions of the constitution is not constitutional.




Today's greatest evil seemingly is saying no to someone, that they can't do what they want. Restriction is bad. Anything anybody wants is good, as long as others are not impeded. Goo-goo philosophy prevails.



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