According to the 1911 BSA handbook, the scout law concludes with the following statement; “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.”
The 1828 Webster dictionary says reverent is “expressing reverence, veneration or submission” and in turn, veneration is defined as “The highest degree of respect and reverence; respect mingled with some degree of awe; a feeling or sentiment excited by the dignity and superiority of a person, or by the sacredness of his character, and with regard to place, by its consecration to sacred services.”
I’ve read that reverence, as used in the Old Testament, comes from two root words in Hebrew: Yare (yaw-ray) and shachah (shaw-khaw) which mean “fear of God” and “falling down prostrate”. Combined, they specifically mean that we demonstrate our fear/respect of God by acknowledging His vast, immeasurable superiority over us as creator.
Looking at bible verses that use the term reverence suggest relationship is often connected:
- Leviticus 19:3 — Every one of you shall reverence his mother and his father, and you shall keep My sabbaths; I am the Lord your God.
- Leviticus 19:32 — ‘You shall rise up before the grayheaded and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God; I am the Lord.
- Hebrews 11:7 — By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.
- Hebrews 12:28-29 — Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.
[Note: you don’t need to be a Christian to be a scout, but in our troop, our families do share a common faith practice and we often look at the Bible as part of our investigation into scouting ideals.]
Now, contrast these definitions and uses of the word “reverence” with Google’s 2013 definition of reverence as nothing more than a “deep respect for” or “to treat with deep respect”.
Do you see a difference in these definitions?
So I’ve got a couple more questions for you:
- How would you explain being reverent? What is it like to revere God?
- Can we revere something or someone without implying a relationship? Could I revere a calculus equation?
- Could we revere nature based on the 1828 definition or possibly the 2013 version? If so, would this imply worship of nature? Does worship imply relationship?
- Can we revere a thing (1828 vs 2013)? If so, would this imply worship of that thing (an idol)?
- Can a scout (or any person) be reverent while also clinging to the notion that there is no Deity?
A trend over the past couple years has been to redraft the definition of reverence to “tone it down” to merely respecting something greatly or having an emotional response about something’s excellence. This allows for the elimination of relationship and enables a person to so deeply admire the excellence of a thing that there’s no connotation of worship or submissiveness between the admirer and the admired. Now, I love the great outdoors, a great pizza and a great book, but I don’t think I revere those things. How about you?
If we did water down the definition enough, wouldn’t that enable atheists to claim reverence as a ‘state of mind’ absent any relationship with idols, nature or God? This would enable atheists to lay claim to “reverence” as a deflated, devalued concept that is compatible with a mindset that merely acknowledges the intrinsic beauty of the world without denoting any real commitment to Deity or spiritual relationship.
The boy scout organization in the United Kingdom is considering changing their Scout Oath to accommodate youth and adult members who are atheistic. According to a BBC article, UK Scout Chief Commissioner Wayne Bulpitt commented: “We are a values-based movement and exploring faith and religion will remain a key element of the Scouting programme. That will not change.” How can Mr. Bulpitt reconcile the notion that an atheist holds allegiance to what can be scientifically studied, quantified and explained while renouncing faith concepts as ridiculous? The notion that we as scouts are motivated by “something greater than ourselves” (see below from 1911 BSA Handbook) appears to be contradictory to atheism.
On the other hand, we could do as society and simply re-engineer “reverence” to mean something new such as “I revere really amazing calculus equations; therefore, I am upholding the scout law in being reverent”
I believe that reverence is more than merely a deep respect of a thing or person. Reverence implies relationship with someone or something which denotes a connection, submission, obedience, worship or other related verbs which usually suggest a spiritual connection. If a person were to attempt to hold reverence apart from a belief in Deity, they are either redefining the meaning of the word or practicing self-deception that they can revere without spiritual relationship – and such a relationship defies scientific proof; therefore it can’t exist.
From the 1911 BSA Handbook; “A Boy Scout’s Religion”
The Boy Scouts of America maintain that no boy can grow into the best kind of citizenship without recognizing his obligation to God. The first part of the boy scout’s oath or pledge is therefore: “I promise on my honor to do my best to honor my God and my country.” The recognition of God as the ruling and leading power in the universe, and the grateful acknowledgement of His favors and blessings is necessary to the best type of citizenship and is a wholesome thing in the education of the growing boy. [emphasis added] No matter what the boy may be–Catholic, or Protestant, or Jew–this fundamental need of good citizenship should be kept before him. The Boy Scouts of America therefore recognize the religious element in the training of a boy, but it is absolutely non-sectarian in its attitude toward that religious training. Its policy is that the organization or institution with which the boy scout is connected shall give definite attention to his religious life. If he be a Catholic boy scout, the Catholic Church of which he is a member is the best channel for his training. If he be a Hebrew boy, then the Synagogue will train him in the faith of his fathers. If he be a Protestant, no matter to what denomination of Protestantism he may belong, the church of which he is an adherent or a member should be the proper organization to give him an education in the things that pertain to his allegiance to God. The Boy Scouts of America, then, while recognizing the fact that the boy should be taught the things that pertain to religion, insists upon the boy’s religious life being stimulated and fostered by the institution with which he is connected. Of course, it is a fundamental principle of the Boy Scouts of America to insist on clean, capable leadership in its scout masters, and the influence of the leader on the boy scout should be of a distinctly helpful character.