Belief in God…

Scouting Magazine publishes many interesting articles throughout the year, and the accompanying blog “Bryan on Scouting” is equally interesting.  Sometimes they cover issues that arise from controversial decisions or program elements.

At the blog site they’ve published an article titled “About the ‘belief in God’ requirement in Scouting” and the source article can be viewed by clicking HERE.

This provocative article begins:

the-good-samaritanThe BSA asks its members to affirm a belief in God.

That doesn’t mean the Boy Scouts of America tells its members which religion to practice.

It doesn’t mean Scouts and Scouters must attend their faith’s worship services every week; a Scout could practice his faith privately at home, for example.

Here’s what it does mean. I’m quoting the relevant line from the 2014 Guide to Advancement:

“All that is required is the acknowledgment of belief in God as stated in the Declaration of Religious Principle and the Scout Oath, and the ability to be reverent as stated in the Scout Law.”

In the seven short hours since it was first posted, 108 comments were filed about the details of this simple description.

It’s my personal belief that by being “religiously pluralistic” (open to all faiths and treating all faiths as equally valid paths to God) could make people uncomfortable for many different reasons:

  • Faith and religious practice are highly personal issues and it’s natural for people to defend their own belief and faith practice since they were raised in that structure or have recently determined to follow those practices.
  • Not everyone can agree on what constitutes a “belief in God” since some faith practices don’t declare a theistic viewpoint (i.e. Buddhism is often characterized as not having a belief in a central or singular God, but BSA recognizes this philosophy as a religion and Buddhist practice as belief in God)
  • Many families simply don’t participate in organized, formal “church services” and feel awkward being confronted about their belief in God.  Sometimes, it’s easier to say “I’m not sure what I believe” or “I don’t believe” when there’s no regular practice in the home to visit a place of worship regularly.

R. Chip Turner, Chairman of the BSA’s Religious Relationships Task Force also offered some advice within the source article:

…we should help Scouts and their families come to realize that a belief in God is integral to Scouting and is a key element in character building. This does not reflect a change in BSA policy nor does it place Scouters in the role of religious leaders…belief in God is a cornerstone of Scouting. As Scouters, we have a tremendous opportunity to reflect this core principle while helping teach respect for the beliefs of others in pursuit of doing our “duty to God.”

Unfortunately, the BSA’s own president has been quoted as saying “In Scouting, there’s a secular emphasis on values and virtue that is not found anyplace else” which at face value seems to contradict the notion that moral and ethical values are derived or delivered from a Higher Being called “God”.

  • Chapel View 2If our values (as scouts) comes from mankind, how can we agree on the common definition of each point of the scout law?  The foundation shifts from personal view to personal view or from time to time as society redefines the rules of acceptable behavior. How can such an organization lay claim to “timeless values” under such circumstances?
  • Worse, how can BSA continue to exclude secular atheists from participating in BSA’s “secular values” program?  If morals and ethics are not integrally linked to God, then BSA ought to welcome anyone who wishes to join the organization, right?

As another blogger indicated

The god of Scouting is much like the god of Alcoholics Anonymous, a “higher power” that is whatever one wants it to be. Sure, you have to believe in god to be a Scout, you just don’t have to be too specific about it.This brings us to the basis for morals. How can an organization that will not take a stand on the identity of God be expected to take a stand on specific moral issues? There is a direct connection between the law and the Law Giver. If you’re not really sure who the Law Giver is, how can you be sure whether [any] specific behavior is “morally straight” or not? 

From what I’ve seen from internet postings by other scouters, it seems as though many Scout units fail to proactively promote this issue (belief in God) in material ways so that Scouts would be more comfortable during Boards of Review or Scoutmaster Conferences when they are going to be asked about their belief in God.

Personal conversations with other Scout leaders (during my time with BSA) indicated two (simplistic) sets of opinions:

  1. Scout Reverent medalsthat many leaders are very uncomfortable with discussing faith issues with boys for fear of upsetting parents, and BSA would be “simpler” if they dropped the whole “God-thing” and just focused on camping, etc. (like “little league” or “martial arts”, etc.)
  2. BSA is an opportunity to promote specific faith practices within the unit confines.  This means that Baptist units work to promote Baptistic, Christian faith among it’s troop families, and units chartered to Roman Catholic churches would promote RC practices to boys in it’s care (not forcing any boy to participate in specific worship practices if they were individually uncomfortable in doing so — per the declaration of religious principles)  This concept was promoted by PRAY and BSA through webinars in 2013 (titled “Baptist Scouting Ministry: Growing & Retaining Membership in Baptist Churches“)

Personally, I think it’s great that BSA wants to strengthen its promotion of core scouting ideals such as “Duty to God” and “A scout is Reverent”.  A belief in God, the development of personal faith and the fellowship afforded from regular community worship can be a strong foundation for facing the issues of growing up in this world.

However, I’m still concerned (as a parent) that misaligned family and organizational objectives will likely lead to unintended results — more specifically, a family who values their particular faith practice and wants to instill a distinctive worldview within their children may find themselves at odds with BSA’s pluralism (https://troop113.wordpress.com/2014/01/30/misaligned-objectives-may-lead-to-unintended-results/)

Other organizations, which use all of the distinctive scouting methods, but have a particular and unashamed connection to a specific faith practice may be a better fit for those families who want to raise their children to fully understand and practice their faith assertively.

  • What do you think about BSA’s requirement to assert a belief in God?
  • How does your unit cope with this requirement?
  • Do your scouts and their families support this requirement which has been in place for over a century?
  • Would Scouting be better off without faith elements incorporated?  If so, should BSA encourage atheists to join since it would be a 100% secular program at that point?
  • Considering the numerous alternative Scouting programs which are tied to a specific faith practice, why would devout families continue to align themselves with a pluralistic organization who characterizes their values as secular in origin?
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About Troop113

Our Troop # comes from Psalm 1:1-3 - describing the men we want our scouts to become
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3 Responses to Belief in God…

  1. Steve G says:

    I read the mentioned article and much of the response (up to around 241 when I looked). Some people were polarized between a Christian God and Atheism (if you define “religion” as the set of beliefs a group of people have to explain the world and why it is the way it is, Atheism is certainly a religion).
    The prevailing focus of the definition of God (as something other than the “narrow” definition of the Christian God) would make it difficult for me to be involved in the organization when there ARE other great faith-based options.
    As an outsider looking in, and a Canadian at that, I don’t see how the fiath-based units in the US can reverse the pluralistic trend and secularization of the organization. This does not mean that the ethics of the organization are no good – they still teach many wonderful things. AA stills works for many people to get off the “hooch”, and so BSA can produce many young men with a base ethic. What I didn’t hear in the comments was, as was stated in this blog, the basis for that ethic. For pluralism to work (or Communism, or anything that has no guiding ethic) the only common point of gathering has to be the rights of the individual – and if eveything devolves to the rights of the individual you end up with so many rules (to protect the rights of the individual) and no real ethic. In layman’s term it is “going to hell in a handbasket”. Those of Christian faith and ethic have to stand firm in their stance, and there comes a point where you have to pull out. That process is all over history. History is just repeating itself.

  2. Pingback: Devotional: Simple Truths Shine Through | Troop 113's Blog

  3. Pingback: | Voice of Scouting

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