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Atheist dad struggling with cub scouts

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We had a few atheist parents and I have to say the only negative experience I ever had with atheist in scouting is here on the forum. The parents in our units were open minded and letting their sons choose their own path. In fact, many of those parents were fairly active in supporting the unit, they just didn't sign up. One parent was an Eagle. He was less active with the pack, but very supportive of his son in the program non-the-less.



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As a Presbyterian Elder, I know what I believe. As an Atheist, you know what you believe. That might a problem for some, but not for me.


I suggest that you look at the actions of individual persons involved in a unit rather than at the unit itself. Some religions demand that their members prosthelytize, others forbid it. As your son moves through the program, he will come into contact with influential adults with different viewpoints and experiences. Youth is the time to consider various points of view and try out different ideas.


My son is a Life scout, venturing officer, and leader in the church's youth program. He knows scouters, teachers, coaches, summer camp counselors, etc. Some are theists, others are atheists; I don't he knows the beliefs of most of them. As a parent, I have been intentional in bringing into my childrens' lives people of good character that they would see me associate with and potentially receive influence from. I do not know the religious pedigree of each.


"I've never discouraged him from exploring religion but I also haven't taken him to church since he started school."

Your son will encounter people with many theological views. Hopefully Scouting will help him gain tolerance, empathy, patience, and the courage to decide for himself what he believes. As a Dad, what else could you want?

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KnoxDad, I guess I have to ask this question. You've mentioned that you have not taken your son to church since he began school. Is that the basis for your statement that you (or he) are an atheist? If so, I would ask you to keep in mind that not attending an organized religious establishment is not necessarily the same thing as being an atheist. This is not a matter of reading between lines or splitting hairs, but a real and important difference. There are a lot of "unchurched" people who none the less would not consider themselves atheists. Some of those grew up in a religious tradition and made an active choice to leave that tradition but never found another organized version of religion that they felt comfortable with. Some others were not raised in any particular religious tradition.


People who are unaffiliated with organized religion can still be BSA members. THe BSA does expect that people have some faith in something, however vague and unformed that may be. But it isn't required that this be formalized by being a member of a specific religious group of any sort.


About your son - I think, as a parent, you have some challenging decisions to make. If you are certain that you are atheists and you are certain that you want your son to follow in your beliefs about religion, then I would say that on an official level, scouting is probably not the right program for you because scouting does include at least this minimal acceptance of the notion of religion. On the other hand, as has been noted, many units (especially cub packs) stay far away from religious issues and are happy to live and let live.


And on still another hand (that's at least the third, I know!), scouting can offer wonderful opportunities for you to have real conversations about religion and belief systems, and for your son to grapple with what he will believe. I know that some of the more profound conversations I personally have had with my son about religion have come about because of his exposure to different ideas of religion through scouting. And while we don't subscribe to the beliefs that a lot of his scouting peers hold, it has never hurt him and, I think, has actually helped him develop a better understanding of his own and others' world views, to have that exposure. I think that if someone asked him point blank he would find it difficult to articulate what he perceives as his "duty" to a higher power (or whether he thinks he has such a duty at all), but at least he has thought about it because of his involvement in scouting - and I don't find that bad, whatever someone's beliefs might be.


This thread is evidence enough for me that a de facto "local option" already exists in scouting, and that this is a good thing for everyone. (ie, many scouting units choose not to emphasize religion in the daily affairs of their unit, while many other units see public acknowledgment of religion as being a key element of their unit's program).

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Well LisaBob, a de facto "local option" exists in some units, but it's a crap shoot on whether you get one or not; KnoxDad says he expects his son to be rejected past cub scouts, which certainly might be the case if it's headed by someone like skeptic or Beavah.

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" a de facto "local option" exists in some units,"


Isn't that the definition of a local option. (Which I am against.)



"which certainly might be the case if it's headed by someone like skeptic or Beavah."


Add me to the list.



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" a de facto "local option" exists in some units,"


Isn't that the definition of a local option. (Which I am against.)


No. A genuine local option would allow gays and atheists into whatever units want them, even if National or anyone else knows about them. National can and will throw out gay or atheist members, even if everyone in their unit wants them to stay.

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My experience in Cub Scouts (as a parent, a den leader, a Cubmaster and a committee chair over 6 years) was that the area of Duty To God was handled completely by the Cub Scout's parents. To quote from the Wolf Handbook:



Complete the Character Connection for Faith

*Know. What is "faith"? With your family, discuss some people who have shown their faith - who have shown an inner strength based on their trust in a higher power or cause. Discuss the good qualities of these people.

*Commit. Discuss these questions with your family: What problems did these faithful people overcome to follow or practice their beliefs? What challenges might you face in doing your duty to God? Who can help you with these challenges?

*Practice. Practice your faith while doing the requirements for "Duty to God." Talk with your family about what they believe is their duty to God. Give two ideas on how you can practice or demonstrate your religious beliefs. Choose one and do it. Find out how you can help your church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or religious fellowship.

Is your atheism comfortable with having this kind of conversation with your son?

Is your atheism comfortable with having your son pledge to do his Duty To God whenever the Scout Promise is recited?

Is your atheism comfortable with allowing your son to be influenced by the example of adult leaders who accept Duty To God as a prerequisite to serving as adult leaders?

Is your atheism comfortable with the possibility that your son may, as a direct result of participating in Scouts,come to accept the premise of a higher power, more commonly referred to as God?

If "yes", then allow your son to continue in Scouts as long as it interests him. If "no", then I suggest you find another youth organization (sports, 4H, etc.) which is popular with the kids he knows in school.

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Bear Rank might be a problem.


There are two Achievements in the Bear curriculum that are faith based. I grabbed them from USScouts.org:


Complete both requirements.


1. Complete the Character Connection for Faith

* Know. Name some people in history who have shown great faith. Discuss with an adult how faith has been important at a particular point in his or her life.

* Commit. Discuss with an adult how having faith and hope will help you in your life, and also discuss some ways that you can strengthen your faith.

* Practice. Practice your faith as you are taught in your home, church, synagogue, mosque, or religious fellowship.

2. Make a list of things you can do this week to practice your religion as you are taught in your home, church, synagogue, mosque, or other religious community. Check them off your list as you complete them.



Complete the requirement.

Earn the religious emblem of your faith.


One of the two must be earned for a Cub to earn Bear.


Akela (leader) can be lots of people. One option for you here is to let your parents (his grands) or one of his aunts/uncles/cousins/friends work with him on the requirement.



I'd ask you to re-read both Gunny's and Lisa's posts.


Look at who charters the Pack. If it's a church, know your boy will get a healthy dose, even in just table graces before meals. If a VFW or Legion, he probably will get less.


Look at yourself. Are you truly saying "God does not exist?" If so, you might encounter dilemmas as your boy grows up, and he challenges you on matters of faith. That's a matter for your conscience, not mine.


Assuming he's still in Scouting at 16 or so, and is a candidate for Eagle, it will be time for some frank talk. You can expect an Eagle Board of Review to ask about faith matters. If he's joined you on the trail of there is no God, what Gunny said applies.


For now, though, I'd say let him enjoy the trail.


I wish you well.

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i'm a rel. emblems counselor. the other time when it is uncomfortable for the atheist parents/scouts in the room is when we discuss "duty to god" and the opportunity to work towards an emblem. one troop of 40 boy scouts, a scout raised his hand and asked "but what if you don't belong to a church". further discussion revealed him to be an atheist and wondered why there wasn't a religous emblem for him.


i'm too practical a thinker. i would think that finding a program more suitable to your needs would be the best option.


as for wingnut's comment.... it didn't take long for me to find us a troop that overlooks "clean" - there's only time for one shower in a week ya know!

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I feel that the UK Scout Associations policy (while still automatically rejecting avowed atheist adults) is the more humane. The UK Scout Association allows its younger members to be "searching" for a faith, allowing them to question the meaning of the promise under the direction of their section leader:


"To enable young people to grow into independent adults the Scout Method encourages young people to question what they have been taught. Scouts and Venture Scouts who question God's existence, their own spirituality or the structures and beliefs of any or all religions are simply searching for spiritual understanding. This notion of a search for enlightenment is compatible with belief in most of the world's faiths. It is unacceptable to refuse Membership, or question a young person's suitability to continue to participate fully in a Section, if they express doubts about the meaning of the Promise."




From what Ive witnessed, this reasonable policy is becoming the de facto course of action for most non-Mormon troops in my area.





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In regards to atheism, I always like to reference C.S.Lewis. He was an avowed atheist who rationalized his lack of beliefs, until he was basically prodded by his peers to write it down. His book 'Mere Christianity' is a great read.

C.S. Lewis converted back to Christianity at age 32 and became a pillar of the Anglican Church.

I have encountered many 'atheist' parents to later find out they are actually followers of skepticism.


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The UK SA's policy still tells atheists they are second-class citizens, just like an organization that allowed Jewish kids to join, but no Jewish adults. In some ways, that's even worse than just excluding Jews altogether.


The policy doesn't state that. If that is the inference you get then so be it.

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