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Agnostic Scout?

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One of my scouts came up to me to sign off on a first class requirement where he is supposed to lead his patrol in saying grace before a meal. He informed me that he was 'agnostic', and felt that this was forcing religion upon him.

 

I responded by informing him that BSA membership involves a religious component, an acknowledgement of a higher power.

 

He wanted me to waive the requirement, but I informed him that if he chose to stand by is statement of 'agnostic', that I could not sign off on the requirement.

 

Some background, this kid is 15, is only Tenderfoot, not much involved in advancement, is 'forced' to attend by his father ( but seems to enjoy himself anyway, strangly enough ), is extremely intelligent, but moody and defensive at times. I still like him though, because I can see through most of that, and he has performed well when I've asked him to lead an activity or perform a task.

 

Now I've got some ideas of what I want to do, but I'll keep them to myself in order to stimulate discussion from forum participants.

 

Does BSA require that he be expelled from the organization due to his agnosticism?

 

 

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Does this Scout believe in God? You need to answer that before you decide on a course of action. And remember, belief in God doesn't require being a member of an organized religion or denomination.

 

Ed Mori

Troop 1

1 Peter 4:10

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This is a time for the young man to take a mature and introspective look at himself. This could be teen rebellion, it equally could be he's developing a faith that takes him outside the common established religions (Chritianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Hindu, etc).

 

If he makes it to Eagle, he'll need a well-founded and well grounded personal view on faith in a Supreme Being. IDEALS are the Scouting method in use, supporting the CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT aim. That's how faith fits into the program.

 

Help him in this journey. It's not quite a "blinding flash of the obvious" he's somewhat adrift.

 

 

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Agnosticism is not the same as active atheism. There is a subtle but important difference, which may be key in how you handle this case.

 

Regardless, religious beliefs often change and grow with time and the teen age years are when many people begin their search for spiritual meaning. What this boy believes today is evidently not the same as what he believed several years ago, and likely is not the same as what he may believe several years from now.

 

This boy might simply be reacting against the established dogma of his parents or peers. Scouting can be a spiritually healthy experience for such boys, exposing them to a wide variety of beliefs and ways of being spiritual. Be aware though that some parents, who insist that their children follow their own religious beliefs, see this as a liability and not a benefit of Scouting.

 

And Ed is absolutely right: "Scouting does not define what constitutes belief in God or the practice of religion" (BSA position statement, June 2002). This is left to the individual Scout and his family.

 

Good luck.

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Interesting situation. I would try to find out more about what his beliefs are before I made a decision. What if he says that he believes in god, but also believes that communication with god should be done individually, not publicly (leading your patrol in grace). Would that be concidered grounds for waiving the requirment? If so, by whom?

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If he's being "forced" to attend scouts, could be he's discovered a legal loophole that even his Father can't control. BSA policy is clearly stated in the Declaration of Religious Principle that all members must agree to. I would ask the scout to read it carefully and think about it...then come back to you with his decision to either remain a member or resign. It's his choice...not yours.

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If he believes in God, why couldn't he lead his patrol in silent grace? There is nothing that states grace before a meal must be said out loud.

 

Ed Mori

Troop 1

1 Peter 4:10

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The spirituality of both Baden-Powell and his famous cleric father were described as "pantheistic." A hundred years later, most skeptical Scouts find the pantheistic definition of God as "the sum total of all the natural laws in the universe" acceptable.

 

Ed's idea of a moment of silence is probably the best idea. You might also have him google "agnostic prayer" and find something he can believe in. Here are a couple:

 

The Agnostic's Prayer

 

God, if you are,

Forgive me.

God, if you are not,

Be.

 

(written by Bill Lamb while in high school)

 

Another entitled 'Agnostic's Prayer'

 

O God, if there is a god, save

my soul, if I have a soul. - Ernest Renan

 

John Gunther in Death Be Not Proud offers this agnostic prayer:

 

Almighty God, forgive me for my agnosticism for I will try to keep a gentle, not cynical, nor a bad influence. And, oh, if thou art truly in the heavens, accept my gratitude for all thy gifts and I shall try to fight the good fight. Amen.

 

Evidently the following Agnostic's Prayer is famous in science fiction circles:

 

Insofar as I may be heard by anything, which may or may not care what I say, I ask, if it matters, that you be forgiven for anything you may have done or failed to do which requires forgiveness.

Conversely, if not forgiveness but something else may be required to insure any possible benefit for which you may be eligible after the destruction of your body, I ask that this, whatever it may be, be granted or withheld, as the case may be, in such a manner as to insure your receiving said benefit.

I ask this in my capacity as your elected intermediary between yourself and that which may not be yourself, but which may have an interest in the matter of your receiving as much as it is possible for you to receive of this thing, and which may in some way be influenced by this ceremony. Amen.

Roger Zelazny, Creatures of Light and Darkness, 1969

 

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I think you will find all you need to know at:

http://www.bsalegal.org/faqs-113.htm

 

Q. Why is duty to God important to Scouting?

 

A. Since its founding in the United States in 1910, the Boy Scouts of America has had an ongoing commitment to encouraging moral, ethical and spiritual growth. The Boy Scouts of America believes that the principles set forth in the Scout Oath and Law are central to Boy Scouts goals.

 

 

Q. What harm would come of admitting young people who are unwilling to do their duty to God?

 

A. The Scout Oath and Law have served as the foundation of Scouting for 94 years. It would be a disservice to over five million youth and adult members of Scouting to allow members to pick and choose among the elements of the Oath or Law.

 

 

Q. How does the Boy Scouts of America define religion?

 

A. Boy Scouts of America is not a religion; it is a nonsectarian association of persons who believe in God. The Declaration of Religious Principle describes God in a broadly interfaith way as the ruling and leading power in the universe to whom we are grateful for favors and blessings.

 

 

Q. What religions are involved with Scouting?

 

A. Virtually every religion is represented in the Boy Scouts of America, from Catholics and Protestants, to the Armenian Church of America and Zoroastrians. The Religious Relationships Committee, which includes over 30 religious groups represented in Scouting, determines whether a religion is an appropriate partner for Scouting, and reviews any duty to God material which is to be used in Scouting for consistency with Boy Scout policies.

 

 

Q. What allows the Boy Scouts of America to exclude atheists and agnostics from membership?

 

A. The Boy Scouts of America is a private membership group. As with any private organization, Boy Scouts retains the constitutional right to establish and maintain standards for membership. Anyone who supports the values of Scouting and meets these standards is welcome to join the organization.

Hope this helps

Eamonn.

 

 

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If one the boys in this unit tells me he doesn't want to say a prayer, that is sufficient for me. I don't see the need to mount an inquisition. Most of it would be second-guessing probably - I doubt he'll give anyone an in-depth analysis of his beliefs, as if they are anyone else's business anyway.

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The problem here isn't the Lad and the prayer.

The Lad has said that he is an agnostic.

The correct answer to :

"Does BSA require that he be expelled from the organization due to his agnosticism? "

Is yes, he can not continue in the BSA as an agnostic and if he stands by this he should be asked to leave.

Eamonn.

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I don't think you can kick a boy out if he is an agnostic. Atheist, definitely. There is a difference.

 

The problem is he will never advance beyond 2nd Class if he refuses to say grace.

 

Ed Mori

Troop 1

1 Peter 4:10

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The definitions and differences of terms like agnostic and atheist have zip to do with whether a boy meets the membership requirements. He must have a belief in God to be a member and must demonstrate his duty to God in order to advance.

 

We don't "kick a boy out" of Scouting. That would be painful and be a violation of the G2SS. If a boy makes an informed decision that he does not believe in God and will not demonstrate his duty to God, then we are obligated to tell him that means he is giving up his membership. We then drop him from the roster in accordance with his decision.

 

It is important to understand that a member that does not abide by the terms of membership is making his own personal decision to give up membership. No one is "kicking him out".

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The definitions and differences of terms like agnostic and atheist have zip to do with whether a boy meets the membership requirements. He must have a belief in God to be a member and must demonstrate his duty to God in order to advance.

 

The definitions and differences are important. An agnostic may believe in God. If they do, they meet the membership requirement. Atheists don't believe in God. They don't meet them membership requirement. Remember, the requirement is belief in God not being a member of a religion or denomination.

 

Ed Mori

Troop 1

1 Peter 4:10

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"We don't "kick a boy out" of Scouting. That would be painful and be a violation of the G2SS. If a boy makes an informed decision that he does not believe in God and will not demonstrate his duty to God, then we are obligated to tell him that means he is giving up his membership. We then drop him from the roster in accordance with his decision."

 

So you're going to tell him he can no longer be a member, drop him from the roster, and (presumably) bar him from attending meetings and outings, but you're not kicking him out? Please. Sure, it may be his own mental state that's causing him to be kicked out, but you are going to take the steps that will strip him of membership, especially if he doesn't want to go.

 

One thing we should have all observed about teenagers is that what they say today may not be what they'll say tomorrow, or even an hour from now. So this boy should definitely be given time to think it over, and to decide if he believes in God or not. Personally, I think even the most nebulous, ill-formed, and even doubtful belief in God should be encouraged and nurtured--for me, only a flat statement of non-belief, repeated after a signficant cooling-off period, would lead me to tell a Scout that he can no longer be a member.

If he has only a general belief in the divine, it's possible to say a completely nonsectarian grace, such as "We are all grateful for the bounty of the earth, and for this food we are about to eat."

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