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Atheist dad struggling with cub scouts

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Wasn't the crux of the OP's question whether or not his son could advance in Scouting if he was an atheist?


If so, then I think the answer is, no...he can't.


So at that point, I should think they should go ahead and leaving Scouting.

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Hmm, I think it is more complex than that. If the parent is an atheist but the parent is leaving the ultimate decision of what to believe to the child (once the child is capable of making that choice, of course), then the child is not necessarily an atheist. He is - being a young child and as yet rather unformed - undecided. Along the way, the parent may feel that the child will benefit from exposure to others with religious faiths of various types, and scouting does offer that, though more with more or less subtlety in some units than in others.


As he grows and becomes more capable of making such important decisions for himself, the young man might eventually come to the conclusion that he is also an atheist. If he does, and he is still in scouting, then under current BSA policy, he has a problem. If he reaches a decision that he is not an atheist, then there is no problem.



The BSA doesn't exclude people who aren't entirely sure about their beliefs. This boy might be in that category for the whole of his youth. If so, he would hardly be the only one in most scout units.



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Please site which requirement is going to be the road block to advancement... I just did a quick re-read to make sure I wasn't missing anything.


If you choose to cite "Demonstrate Scout spirit by living the Scout Oath (Promise) and Scout Law in your everyday life," I would ask you if we start blocking every scout who spends money foolishly (antithesis of thrifty) from advancement... And yes, I recognise the difference between "slipping up" on following each point the law and choosing to actively defy a point of the law.... BUT...


The word "reverent" is very slippery. So unless you want to nail it down for all of us once and for all to everyone's satisfaction, I would propose that we not declare this scout's future dead on a very subjective call.


I apologize if you're response was meant to be tongue-in-cheek. It did not come across that way.

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I truly hope you are able to find a pack and troop that is willing to not shut the door in your face. I know that when I was a den leader and then cubmaster in P64 and now as scoutmaster of T207, you would not have/be been turned away from scouting. In addition, I would have taken the time to explain to you much of what many of the responders to this thread have said. I can say this, because I HAVE had conversations like this with a couple of families concerned about the tie between scouting and religion.


Scouting clearly recognizes the importance of spirituality in the development/life of any individual. But as I explained in my prior post, the words "reverent" and "spirituality" are very slippery... as are the words god and God. The working definition that I have found most useful is that a scout is reverent when he/she recognizes that there is something out there that is much bigger then them. For most of my scouts (and myself to a large extent), this "thing" is a supernatural diety. For others it is something non-sentient. When a scout (or any person) first truly internalizes the fact that the world/universe extends well beyond them and that they are but a small part is something so much bigger than themselves, they cannot fail to feel some sort of reverence and in that moment transcend to a being a better person, ergo scout. [i will refrain from digressing into my discourse that most "religious folks" have sorely failed to attain this goal.]


Another point to consider...and I do not mean to insult you if you already know this. I have found that many people (in and out out of scout scouting) confuse refusal to follow the teachings of an organized religion with atheism. This confusion straddles all levels of education and intelligence. One of my favorite religious writers is Mark Twain. If you had asked him (or even if you didn't) I am sure he would have described himself as an atheist. But it is clear in his writings that he had a clearer vision of God than most Christians. He simply fell into the trap of accepting the religious institutions' definition of god as the correct/only definition. And when that god failed his lithmus test, he came to the conclusion that god must not exist. Every self-proclaimed atheist with which I have discussed this matter (note that I am not saying all atheists) have fallen into this mold.


I truly hope that you and your son are able to find a rewarding future in scouting.




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Over the years I have had the honor of serving eight self-described atheist Scouts. They all held that position simply because they rejected the existence of supernatural forces. Such Scouts can get around that problem if you teach them how to define their terms.


Atheist Scouts tend to be independent thinkers who enjoy debate, so I set aside time for a series of four (4) brief meetings.


1) In the first meeting, I explain that not all religions worship gods, and I describe a couple of those and how they work (Buddhism, for instance). See:




2) In the second meeting, I challenge him to memorize the definition of "Natural Law" as "A law whose content is set by nature and that therefore has validity everywhere."


3) In the third meeting I mention that the man who invented Scouting has been described by some authors as a pantheist. I challenge him to memorize what the great skeptic Carl Sagan described as Einstein's summary of Spinoza's pantheism:


"God is the sum-total of all the natural laws in the universe."


4) In the fourth meeting, I make sure he already knows (or now memorizes) the three elements required for combustion: a) Heat (a match), b) Fuel (dead plants), and c) Oxygen (lots of space between the dead plant materials).


I then help the Scout to build three fires that try to violate natural law: a) no heat, b) not enough dead plants to keep the fire going, c) no space between the dead plants. Then he builds a fourth successful fire and explains why it obeys natural law.


I never try to get an atheist Scout to change his mind, but just to understand (as an atheist debater) the positions outlined above.


Oddly, all eight of the atheist Scouts moved on from this phase not to become "pantheists," but to adopt a conventional view of God. The ones brought up by believers all adopted the faith of one, or the other, or both of their parents. Scouts from atheist homes tended to take particular delight in tormenting their atheist parents by picking funny times to put them on the spot--one SPL asked his mother to lead a prayer at a Thanksgiving dinner :-/


The Scouts brought up in atheist homes also seemed to enjoy "Scouts'-Own" religious services more than boys who had been to church before, and approached them as Anthropologists. One SPL always sang louder than everybody else.


Baden-Powell based this law of nature aspect of Scouting on his father's book, The Order of Nature, which had earned the elder cleric a mention in Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species, and a charge of heresy from the Anglican Church. See:




These are the Scoutcraft Badges which B-P calls the "Religion of the Backwoods," and they were worn on the right side of the Scout Uniform in the rest of the world. See:




Badges worn on the left side of the Scout Uniform were called "Public Service Badges." They represent the skills needed for what Baden-Powell called "Practical Christianity" because Baden-Powell was concerned not with what a Scout believes (as is common in the BSA), but with his actions (he made a special point of referring to the Buddhists in Burma as an example of this "Practical Christianity").


Practical Christianity reflects the plain meaning of Matthew 25:3146, the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, in which Jesus does not require us to accept him as our "personal savior" as a condition for eternal life, but rather to Help Other People at All Times!


Then the righteous will answer Him, Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you? 40 And the king will answer them, Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.






Yours in the Old School,




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People can change... don't stuff someone into a hole and peg them as an atheist forever. What do you think "born again" means? Kids especially are exploring and reacting to their parents, peers, and our culture. Don't ever brand someone spiritually.

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Let's try this from the KISS Method..


Let's Start with the BSA Statement...(from the Website)


"A Scout is reverent. He is reverent toward God. He is faithful in his religious duties and respects the convictions of others in matters of custom and religion."


And from Dictionary.com we have...


Atheist noun


a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings.


And finally from Dictionary.com ...


God noun


1. the one Supreme Being, the creator and ruler of the universe.

2. the Supreme Being considered with reference to a particular attribute: the God of Islam.

3. (lowercase) one of several deities, esp. a male deity, presiding over some portion of worldly affairs.

4. (often lowercase) a supreme being according to some particular conception: the god of mercy.

5. Christian Science. the Supreme Being, understood as Life, Truth, Love, Mind, Soul, Spirit, Principle.

6. (lowercase) an image of a deity; an idol.

7. (lowercase) any deified person or object.

8. (often lowercase) Gods, Theater. (a).the upper balcony in a theater. (b).the spectators in this part of the balcony.


So, using basic boolean logic....



BSA requires that a Scout believe in God,


God is by definition the one Supreme Being,


Atheists do not believe in the existence of a Supreme Being.


Therefore, an Atheist cannot be a Scout.


It's really a pretty simple rule. Logically, there's not any wiggle room.


It complicated when you put a specific religion in the mix, i.e Christianity...the question becomes "which Christianity" and what about the non-Christian faiths that believe in one Supreme Being. At some point we have to face to the fact that BSA, like it or not, was founded as a Christian-Only organization.


If you want to make the wiggle room, then BSA should remove the requirement. Of course the LDS, Catholics and other religious sponsors would never permit it.







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Not even a close comparison Merlyn! That was an actual law! And a bad one at that! This is your interpretation of a membership policy for a private organization! Close but no stogie!

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Yah, Engineer61, da thing is that kids' program policies aren't really exercises in symbolic logic, eh? Thank goodness, or they'd be frightfully boring. :)


The BSA and the chartered partner and the volunteers who run each program get to decide on their own actions and interpretations and definitions. And even da worst legal scholars and advocates wouldn't cite dictionary.com ;)


I don't reckon most kids can intellectually deny the existence of anything until their teenage years. Even then they're mostly just rebelling rather than actually making their own personal choice. I've mentioned before da many "atheist" lads I've talked with in Scouting over the years. At least one of 'em is now a minister, and most are reasonably devout Christians.


Kids are kids. They're going to struggle, and question, and challenge, and doubt. Nobody in the BSA who is worth anything is goin' to turn a lad away who is goin' through those things, and certainly nobody in the organization is goin' to force an eviction under such circumstances against the desires of the unit leaders and chartered partner. The issue of denied membership only comes up when someone is deliberately challenging the membership policy, eh? Tryin' to make a political statement through their child, which to my mind should deny 'em membership just for being lousy parents. :p Or for an older teen making a personal or political statement on his own, where we're just honoring and respecting the lad's decision to withdraw.


Now individual CO's I suppose might choose to take a harder line, eh? Honestly, I've never seen a Christian sponsored unit do so. Most churches seem to feel it's their mission to welcome those who have doubts.




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I'll give you credit for doing your homework... but your logic does not hold up.


The text you cited was under the section of religious emblems. We can probably all agree that the OP probably is not going to be terribly upset if his son does not pursue one of these. And I would agree with your logic IF religious emblems were the only part of the scout program.


The flaw in your logic that made me actually laugh out loud was your use of Webster's to bolster your case. You actually gave the OP all the ammo he needed to prove that his son honestly satisfies the scout is reverent "requirement." Unless, of course, his son does not believe that theaters have upper balconies....


OK... So you want to argue that the "requirement" uses a capital G and definition 8 qualifies itself with 'usually lower case.' Fine, I'll concede that point. Definition 5 clearly uses a capital G and qualifies its definition of Supreme Being as "Life, Truth, Love, Mind, Soul, Spirit, Principle."


This is a essentially what I said was a very useful working definition for applying the principle of reverence. I would bet the OP would be ok with his son professing to believe in life, truth, love, mind, soul, spirit, and principle as long as we can agree that soul and spirit are equally difficult to define.


Finally, if you want to ignore definitions 5-8 of God in your 'proof', then we need to start sending out memos to all of the Buddhists that they can no longer be scouts either.(This message has been edited by mikemayer67)

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I'm curious MikeMayer, which form of God/god do you think applies to Scouting. Every BSA reference I can find refers to God, not god.


Let's rework this a bit....from the BSA Website...




Scout Oath (or Promise)


On my honor I will do my best

To do my duty to God and my country

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I'm curious MikeMayer, which form of God/god do you think applies to Scouting.


Has nothing to do with what mikemayer thinks, eh? Or with any of Engineer61's ruminations on da presence or absence of capital letters. Neither of 'em get to speak for the organization.


The BSA defines what it means by its Declaration of Religious Principle and by its own choices and actions.


We choose to welcome Buddhists and Wiccans and Native American spiritualists as BSA members, eh? Therefore what we're lookin' for isn't da capital-G personal singular God of Christendom, but rather a professed moral duty to something outside of self and country. Somethin' "bigger". Da AA "Higher Power" thing might be a good approximation, though that's not how a Buddhist would think.


The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no person can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God and, therefore, acknowledges the religious element in the development of youth members. However, the BSA is absolutely nonsectarian in its attitude toward that religious development. Its policy is that the organization or institution with which youth members are connected shall give definite attention to their religious life.


Best way to think about this is that BSA membership is about duty, eh? Yeh have to be able to profess duty to country, and yeh have to be able to profess duty to whatever it is in your religious tradition that roughly corresponds to "God". It just has to be somethin' outside yourself which imposes a moral duty on your choices and behavior. Somethin' beyond family/tribe/nation (i.e. beyond self-interest for you and yours). Something that generally comports with religion/religious practice.


That's it, eh?


And it's worth rememberin' that da DRP applies directly to adult leaders only. Youth members are given even broader latitude to doubt and question and explore.


To do anything else wouldn't be Christian. ;)



(This message has been edited by Beavah)

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Your logic trail forgets the fact that PEOPLE, who do not always follow logic trails, are the volunteers who charter units for their institutions, and who staff units.


Your logic trail also forgets the fact that the BSA recognizes the Hindu religion. The last time I checked, Hindu was essentially polytheistic.


In the meantime, we have a 7 year old, who might benefit from learning about faith. He's got two years before the first encounter in the advancement system with a matter of faith.


AFAICS, it's the parent's call, for all the reasons Beavah and Lisa say.

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