Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Boy Scout Oath and Law

First of all, yes, I am an Eagle Scout. I was in scouting for 16 years, and just recently let my registration lapse. I have also been an atheist almost as long. How did I reconcile being an atheist and a scout? Well, it was much easier considering there were all kinds of homosexuals and atheists in my council and troop (and our scout master in general was a super reformed Jew).

Anyway, I was reading an article recently about the Scouts of England (haven't been Boy Scouts since 1992 when it became completely co-ed) and the fact that they've adopted a new Oath for Muslim scouts who are not allowed to swear an oath to a King or Queen; apparently some fundies over in England hate this idea. I'm sure there are plenty of crazies in this country who also hate the idea. But....

Doing some more digging around, apparently Baden-Powell (he's the guy who started scouting in England and spread it all over the world) didn't really care one wit about religion (he may have even been... whisper it real quiet now... GAY). The original Scout Law, from 1908, didn't mention "reverent" like it does today. And, while the original Scout Promise (Oath) did say god in it...

On my honor I promise that I will do my best:
To do my duty to God and my country;
To help other people at all times;
To obey the Scout Law

...There is also, according to tradition, an alternative oath written by Baden-Powell himself called the "Outlander's Promise" for "Scouts who could not, for reasons of conscience, recognize a duty to a King (the norm in the USA), for individuals or members of religions (such as Buddhism, Taoism, and others) that do not worship a deity, and for members of orthodox religions that do not use the name of God in secular settings." 1

The Outlander's Promise is as follows...

On my honor I promise to do my best:
To render service to my country;
To help other people at all times;
To obey the Scout Law.

Hmmmmm, I could follow that, especially since the Law it's refering to doesn't mention "Reverent."

This is what Baden-Powell originally wanted; he didn't care if you were Christian, Jewish, Buddhist or Atheist. He just wanted to help kids love and respect nature and learn to be self-sufficient and decent people.

On a side note, there was a program created in 1925 as an alternative to Scouts called "Woodcraft Folk" who don't care who or what you are, what gender you are, or where you're from. Scouts of England is pretty much like this now though, so that's probably why Woodcraft hasn't expanded outside of England, Wales and Scotland. Like I said, this whole post started because the Scouts of England are allowing Muslim Scouts to say a different Oath, even though their own Scouts (including Muslims) have been allowed to say the Outlander's Oath all along.

Maybe I should just move to England and help the Scouts there...

1 comment:

Pete Sauber said...

As a fellow Atheist Eagle Scout, I deeply appreciate this blog post. I was religious while a Scout (I served as Chaplain's Aide for a time), but even then, I seem to remember the Scout Handbook (mid-1980s editions) describing "Reverence" as being respectful of not only your own beliefs, but of others' as well, even if their beliefs were non-beliefs. I also seem to remember them reading something about Scoutmasters not being qualified nor able to speak on sexual orientation.

My father was also my Scoutmaster for a time, and though he is a life-long Methodist, he always taught me the values of reason, tolerance, and acceptance.

I became an atheist while serving in the US Army, but my philosophy of life & actions towards my fellow citizens of Earth never changed. I still try to live by the Scout Oath & Law, though I have gravitated towards the 1908 versions (including the Outlanders' Oath).

Thanks for posting, and I leave you with this:

"The religion of a man is not the creed he professes but his life - what he acts upon, and knows of life, and his duty in it."