Scouting beyond belief


download (23)Not too long ago I was blogging about how 11-year-old George Pratt was tossed from the scouts because he refused to mutter a meaningless oath to a supernatural deity that he did not actually believe existed – from my viewpoint he was in essence being banned for being honest.

Well, the good news is that all the attention and fuss generated by that story (not mine, but from others in the mainstream media) has motivated both the Scouts and also the Guides in the UK to rethink their pledge and not just drop the religious bit, but completely refresh their principles. There is an interesting editorial in the UK’s Guardian about it yesterday

The Scouts recently launched a debate about their own “fundamentals” with a view to accepting atheists without requiring a hypocritical oath to the almighty. Then – in a concurrent, but apparently coincidental move – Girlguiding UK signalled a consultationon a Godless Guide promise. Characteristically, the Guides are showing a bit more nerve by also reviewing their salute to the Queen, something the Scouts want to keep.

Change will be a victory for the British Humanist Association, which hascampaigned for equal scouting rights, and says that complaints from atheist parents and would-be volunteers jostles with school worship as the single biggest issue in its postbag. In the end, however, change will also be of benefit to the scouting family itself. More than a century on from the foundation of both organisations, during the Edwardian twilight of empire, the popularity of guiding and scouting remains surprisingly buoyant – the undimmed appeal of shared adventurous activity outweighs the uniformed anachronisms. But the waiting lists that attach to many local troops would suggest enthusiasm among adult volunteers has not kept pace with the youngsters. With the census last monthshowing a near-doubling of nonbelievers in the decade to 2011, no sane organisation seeking volunteers should want to cut itself off from this fast-growing band.

They are perhaps being a bit Darwinian. It has been a popular myth that Darwin advocated “Survival of the fittest”, but as most of you know, that is not consistent with the actual theory of evolution. No, instead they are adapting to a changing culture, one in which a belief in past superstitions is fading away, and so when in competition with other groups that compete for membership they will thrive because they will reflect an inclusiveness and an ethos that most can still sign-up for. In other words they are living up to their motto of “Be Prepared” and are getting to grips with the reality of the people who live in the 21st century.

… and so out with the Edwardian principles of …

The Principles of Scouting
Duty to Self
Duty to Others
Duty to God

… and in with the new scouting values of …

The Values of Scouting As Scouts we are guided by these values:

Integrity
We act with integrity; we are honest, trustworthy and loyal.
Respect
We have self-respect and respect for others.
Care
We support others and take care of the world in which we live.
Belief
We explore our faiths, beliefs and attitudes.
Cooperation
We make a positive difference; we cooperate with others and make friends.

I can only salute them for doing it, I personally think that it is brilliant to teach children that they do not have to be religious to be decent caring respectful human beings.

They have been here before, about 40 years ago they morphed a purely Christian pledge to one that embraced other beliefs as a reflection of the changing times, and so now once again they are adapting to reflect the rise of the nons (Non-religious).

I should however note that this is just the UK Scouts, the US Scouts still have policies which prohibit atheists, and even agnostics from joining. Yes you read that correctly, even being an agnostic who simply doubts is not acceptable. In fact, they have gone as far as tossing members and leaders out for violation of these foundational principles. Why? Well because they are deeply in bed with religion in the US where religious organizations host/sponsor over 60% of the approximately 123,000 Scouting units in the United States and use the Scouting program as part of their youth ministration. In the end it is a private club, and if that is what they wish to do, well fair enough, it is their choice, but in the face of a rising tide of nons, they will be faced with an inevitable decline and eventual demise if they also do not adapt.

It does always strike me as rather odd to observe that the UK is officially run by the head of the Church of England, and has a House of Lords populated by un-elected Bishops, yet has a very secular population. In stark contrast, the US, a secular republic, is peopled with a high proportion of religious nutters, so perhaps the antics of the US scouting movement is simply a reflection or extension of this odd observation, and yet even in the US there is also a rising tide of nons, so they also will need to either adapt or decline.

I note that the UK Guides have gone a step further and have also taken the bold step of reviewing their pledge to Mrs Windsor, that perhaps does (with tongue in cheek) conjure up images of the guide leader being relegated to the tower :-)

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