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Atheist dad struggling with cub scouts

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


I still like going back to the source:

"Reverence to God and reverence for one's neighbour and reverence for oneself as a servant of God, is the basis of every form of religion. The method of expression of reverence to God varies with every sect and denomination. What sect or denomination a boy belongs to depends, as a rule, on his parents' wishes. It is they who decide. It is our business to respect their wishes and to second their efforts to inculcate reverence, whatever form of religion the boy professes."

= Baden-Powell =

If the parents profess atheism, we respect that. If the boy can no longer truthfully fulfill what he promises, even if we let him define what constitutes his fulfillment, then chances are good,of his own accord, he will not be a Scout much longer.

I like Kudu's method. I do the same thing when the Jehovah's Witnesses come to call. I do not deny their profession, but find their challenge informs and strengthens my faith, such as it is.

"Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief". We can help the young Scout's unbelief, but not by denying it outright.

Make sure they understand their own language, then enlarge upon it, if you can.

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This will be my last post on this thread unless it takes a new turn. Clearly nuance, subtlety, and gradation (the opposite of absolutism) is lost on some people and I do not wish to waste any more of my time.


My original purpose in joining this thread was a response to E61's statement,


"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."


It does not matter what God (or god) I believe applies to scouting. Nor does it matter what God (or god) he believes applies to scouting. It is up to the scout (and his family) to recognize that one of BSA's core tenets is that a scout is reverent. If said scout can accept that fact and does not feel a moral contradiction with his involvement in the scout program, then it is not up to me or E61 or anyone else to determine if the scout can or cannot stay in scouting.


My second post (directed at the OP) was there to help him help his son decide if he could or could not accept the premise that a scout is reverent and if he could or could not say the scout oath and law without feeling hypocritical.


When individuals take it on themselves to judge the hearts and minds of others, they are following in the grand tradition of jihad, crusade, the McCarthy Trials, and the Spanish Inquisition.


Scouting should (dare I say must) continue it's tradition of holding up the importance of reverence to something higher than ourselves! But let's not throw out "a scout is kind" in the process.....


KnoxDad (if you're still following this thread), I wish you and your son the best of luck in his scouting career. Do not lose heart.





For the record, I am a cradle-to-grave Lutheran. I have followed a long, twisted, but "scenic" route in my path of religious discovery. I have had the foundations of my beliefs and faith shaken and restored. And in the process, I learned that beliefs (with a small 'b') cause way too much trouble, hatred, and alienation from that which we seek. Faith (with a capital 'F') is so much more powerful and binds us all (no matter what we might believe) onto our common journey. Belief divides. Faith heals and binds.

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I also like Kudu's approach.




As an adult convert to grave Lutheran (LCMS, NLAS member), I agree. MY FAITH is not at issue, my willingness (in a Scouting context) to proclaim the Gospel when asked is not at issue. The issue is if a parent, who says there is no god (sic), is willing to enroll his boy in a program where the boy will encounter faith in a godhead(s)?

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John-in-KC writes:

The issue is if a parent, who says there is no god (sic), is willing to enroll his boy in a program where the boy will encounter faith in a godhead(s)?


This isn't the issue at all. Every atheist in the US "encounters" people who believe in gods every day in schools, in public, and in many cases, at home. That's like saying the issue is encountering oxygen. It's everpresent.


The issue is that the BSA requires members to also hold such a belief. And I find it somewhere between utterly hilarious and incredibly stupid that BSA members, many of whom defend the BSA's ridiculous policies in these forums, immediately try to softpedal, backpedal, or otherwise peddle some mealy-mouthed excuses to get around the very same policies.


Look, if you belong to an organization that says "NO JEWS ALLOWED" and you support such an idiotic policy, you THROW OUT JEWS and you DON'T PERMIT THEM TO JOIN. You don't try to make excuses so some Jewish kid can join by pretending he's not Jewish and telling him to try and fit in by eating bacon.


Many of you are just intellectual cowards. You belong to a group that excludes atheists, but you don't want to actually enforce it.

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Nah, Merlyn, what you are seeing here is what da real policy is in the real BSA. As mikemeyer describes, it's subtle and nuanced.


What you are mistaking for intellectual cowardice is in fact intellectual sophistication and care and concern for children and families, without compromisin' da values or aims of the program.


The BSA offers a program that is grounded in a sense of duty to things outside ourselves. Service to the community. Duty to country. Obligation to God. Those are things we really believe in. Those are things we really teach. Those things comprise our right to expressive association.


If you are sure and certain that yeh disagree with any of those things, and that yeh don't want your son exposed to any of those things, then that's a choice not to participate in a BSA program, eh? Your choice. If you're obnoxious about it and try to force your way in just so you can loudly oppose the things we believe and try to undermine 'em from inside, then yah, we're goin' to insist that you leave. Just as an atheist group would kick out a bunch of evangelical Christians who tried to join so as to "convert" the group.


As long as KnoxDad is OK with letting his son participate and be exposed to different beliefs, and until his son makes a firm choice of his own as a young adult, almost all scout units would welcome the lad as a full and equal member, and welcome KnoxDad as a friend and a parent and a volunteer. Perhaps not as a leader, but then KnoxDad I'm sure would be an honest fellow and say he isn't comfortable with that DRP thing. No different than if his son joined the community orchestra and KnoxDad was honest that he didn't have the qualifications to be a conductor, but was happy to drive on trips or help with fundraising.


Yah, we have a few zealots, eh? They offer perspective and keep us thinkin', but they don't speak for the organization as a whole. Just as atheist communities have a few zealots like you, Merlyn. But I reckon KnoxDad doesn't share your zeal, and that you don't speak for him or for all atheists any more than our more zealous folks speak for all of us.


KnoxDad, as I said in my first post, I can't think of any packs or troops or crews that I know that wouldn't welcome your son and treat him as an equal and a friend, and that wouldn't welcome your family... so long as you were understanding and respectful of da organization. Yeh should be aware that scout units are controlled by their sponsor, not by da BSA per se, so you will find some units that are tightly associated with individual churches and have more of a churchy-character than others, so yeh have to keep an eye out for whether you and your son feel comfortable with an individual unit. But unless yeh live in a very small town, odds are there are several scouting groups in your area to choose from.


Otherwise hang around, go campin', have fun. Scoutin' is a great program, with lots of good folks. Your son will grow from it, and your family will benefit.



(This message has been edited by Beavah)

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Just like I said, Beavah. If the BSA doesn't allow atheists (and they don't), you can'tmake excuses that allow atheists to join, nor can you "blame the victim" and pretend the BSA isn't excluding them and pretend they are somehow excluding themselves.









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The OP's question is interesting to me (I was a scout in a troop that was registered to a Methodist Church, but we were a bunch of everything, and none of us seemed to be interested at all in religion, and as a boy, I had a very long agnostic phase).


At any rate, what do you expect?


Do you want your son to make up his own mind? In that case, he should perhaps get more information on religion, and the scouts are a pretty nonconfrontational way to get more knowledgeable about it.


Do you want to make his mind up for him? Then pull him from scouting and anything else that may have even a tenuous religious connection. Keep him in a lab or a bubble or something.


MUCH of the intense religiosity you fear (and that I dislike seeing in scouts) is on a troop-by-troop basis. You just may have a Godless bunch in a troop near you, like I did.


I'm generally not too keen on the BSA getting more and more religious or more militaryesque. I prefer the "savages in the woods" approach.

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I should add that for us, the big "religion" issue was a non-starter. Once in a while there might be an event with an interdenominational morning service or something, and we usually blew that off; it was an individual choice.

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"Yeah, I have a lot of problems with the selective religious affiliations that the Scouts have as well. It's a tough nut for me to crack as well. I am a Christian, but I disagree with the Scouts having such a close affiliation with the Catholic Church and the LDS. "



Honestly, I don't think the above response is very scoutlike. Please defines what you mean by "close affiliation."


Also, while the LDS connection is because the LDS have chosen Scouts as part of their youth training, the Catholic connection is simply because the Catholic Church is the single largest Christian denomination in the U.S.


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  • 2 years later...

This is an old thread, I know but the topic I'm sure comes up every year.


I actually became an atheist while I was in scouts (no relation) and before a priest tried to touch me inappropriately (no relation to it either).


My son is 7 and I've raised him so far "religion neutral". I've never mentioned gods or god one way or another. Not to long ago someone at school did and he came home and asked about it. I asked what do you think? And his response was he didn't think it was real.


Then of course being 7 he gets the scouting presentation at his public school (as a libertarian myself I have no problem with scouts discriminating on this issue, I do have an issue with it at a public school). It of course has nothing to do with god but all about what every boy would like. So hes all excited about the presentation tonight (again at his school).


Apparently to scouting its ok if you believe every other religion is going to hell of some sort, that gods have multiple heads and may wear a necklace of severed heads (points if you know the religion), but secular humanism is right out.


I've decided to let him join if he wants for a couple of reasons. If it turns out to be a more lax troop, odds are he won't have an issue, and if it turns out to be one that is not he will learn a valuable lesson about people.


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To tell the truth in my own Pack we do not discuss religious matters much, practically because the BSA recognizes so many. There is no religious patch or program in scouting that is mandatory and though you are "secular humanist" your discussion of that with your son would technically satisfy the religious requirements up through Bear. However you would probably run into problems at Webelos like you said.


Now I think it's great that people reached out to your son's school in regards to scouting. But you have to recognize that at every meeting your son would be reciting the Cub Scout Promise and you would have two issues. Would your son be making a false promise or would he be actually making a promise that he intends to keep, against your wishes.


I am angered at the pain you experienced and I hope that who ever committed such a crime against you was arrested.


And I can say to you that I too at one time was an atheist. But my experience in scouting, in regards to the positives of religions, did change my outlook. Later becoming agnostic and then a Christian.


I will pray for your family and I hope only the best for you. But participation for your family in scouting will carry consequences, hopefully positive. But if your intention is to deny your son a spiritual life then scouting at any level likely will not be an avenue that will bring you an endorsement of atheism.

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I know of one local atheist family that had their older son in our pack. Only reason I know that they were an atheist family is that the younger son (who never became a cub scout) was a classmate of my younger son, and he said that his classmate was atheist.


So are you strong atheists, meaning that you have no doubt that there is no possibility of God or gods, or are you weak atheists, and just see no signs that there is a God or gods.



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Fish, actually, "religion neutral" isn't a bad thing when scouters can take a long view.


As has been said, "duty to God" does not mean "must believe in God". In short, it is summed up as "respect the beliefs of others". I grant you, atheists should be barred because atheists hold that NO religion is valid. You don't have to believe in a religion yourself, you simply have to acknowledge that others' religions are valid for them.


If your son says "I respect everyone's religious choice", that's not atheism, and he shouldn't ever have a problem.

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I think you're taking some liberties with the definitions of well-established words, jrush.


Atheism is the belief that their is no God or other supreme being or beings (according to my dictionary). That doesn't preclude an atheist from "respecting" your belief in anything you want - just like a Christian isn't automatically unable to "respect" the beliefs of Jews or Muslims or atheists.


In fact, many organized religions (definitely not atheists) don't necessarily "respect" the beliefs of others. (I'm putting "respect" in quotes as I'm not entirely sure what it's supposed to mean in this context.) For example, certain Christian denominations feel that their brand of Christianity is the only valid one, and that other's beliefs aren't "valid."


This kind of ties in to one of my "issues" with the BSA's current policy on the matter: we work hard to come up with work-arounds to the problem: "Well, Duty To God doesn't actually mean Duty To God, it just means 'respecting' others." Or, "well, I know you're an atheist, but maybe if you just say that you think the Earth is a 'higher power', then that'll be good enough for our purposes."


I'd rather just welcome our atheist friends into the program, rather than asking them to re-define their philosophy to fit into some loop hole or work-around that we've tried to devise.

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