Scouting and atheism – Part 1 of 2

As I wrote yesterday, after five years, I have resigned as a registered adult leader with Boy Scouts of America. The local BSA council is currently taking proactive steps to sever the ties between local public school PTOs and Scouting units so that it can freely implement its discriminatory policies targeting homosexual adults. This will effect my local Pack, and I decided I just couldn’t stand by anymore.

That said, I also wrote about how I support the values of Scouting. I still stand by that – mostly.

I say mostly because I am a secular humanist, and yes, that also means I’m an atheist. And atheists are also unwelcome in Scouting. In fact, they are more unwelcome than homosexuals.

The evidence for that comes from the reactions by national church groups when BSA released its revised policy back in May. While some national churches condemned the change to allow openly homosexual youth to become Scouts, others were quite fine with it. Of special importance was the reaction by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons). Writing in the The Washington Post, Michael Otterson of the LDS Church explained that it could accept the change because the BSA’s resolution explicitly re-affirms “duty to God” as a central tenet of Scouting. He goes on to quote a speech by the Presiding Bishop of the LDS Church, Gary E. Stevenson:

It is this common belief in duty to God that has forged the iron-strong connection with Boy Scouts of America we (i.e. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) have shared over the last 100 years. One hundred years of evidence has shown that this impact-proof, non-rusting core principle works better than whatever has been, historically, the next-best idea. Duty to God is where the power lies. Duty to God is what changes lives…

Some may not see the sacred gatekeeping role scouting plays. They may see only fundraising and not a foundation. Others may brand scouting activities as merely outdoor recreation, but it can and must be shown that BSA is not a camping club; it is a character university centered on duty to God. I quote again from Robert Baden-Powell: ‘The whole of [scouting] is based on religion, that is, on the realization and service of God.’

Had God been written out of Scouts – had secularism and atheism been let in – the LDS church would have bolted.

To understand why that’s important to the BSA, you have to understand that local units are chartered – kind of “owned” – by local groups. Mostly these are churches. It’s a bit like a franchise agreement between BSA and the local groups. But it’s even more like a customer relationship. The churches are BSA’s largest customers, and if national churches stop buying what BSA is offering, it would crumble overnight.

So, according to its biggest sponsors, Scouts is first and foremost a quasi-church, with duty to God being its supreme purpose. Yes, it will accept just about any kind of theism. But it’s theism or nothing.

But I said I was an atheist. And that I still support Scouting’s values. And I was a registered leader for five years. How did that work? I’ll expand upon that in part 2 tomorrow.

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