Atheist Boy Scouts

The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.

A Christian and an atheist on the telephone

Eliana: Hi, Fatima — it’s Eliana.

Fatima: What’s up?

Eliana: I wasn’t sure if you knew, but starting this summer I’m going to be den mother for Gordon’s scout troop, and I thought that since we live so close Herbie might want to join.

Fatima: I know that Gordon has talked to Herbie about scouting a bit. He certainly seems to enjoy it.

Eliana: Definitely! I’ve got some neat ideas for activities, too.

Fatima: That sounds great, and all things being equal I’m sure Herbie would love to join, but I was under the impression that he isn’t eligible to join.

Eliana: He’s old enough, he’s interested in scouting, and he’s a boy. That’s all there is to it.

Fatima: I thought that there was a religious requirement.

Eliana: The scouts don’t discriminate about religions. Where did you get that idea?

Fatima: I don’t mean that they discriminate, I meant that I’d heard that you have to believe in God to be a scout.

Eliana: Oh please — that’s a complete non-issue. Irvin is in the group, and he’s an atheist, too. There’s no problem at all.

Fatima: Doesn’t the motto mention believing in God?

Eliana: No, but the Boy Scout Oath does and the Boy Scout Law mentions being reverent. Irvin just doesn’t say those parts.

Fatima: And that’s okay?

Eliana: Of course it’s okay!

Fatima: I don’t mean is it okay with you. I mean is it okay with the Boy Scouts?

Eliana: It really isn’t a problem at all. Not even a little bit.

Fatima: I’m so glad to hear that! Herbie would definitely like to join, and I’d been worried that he couldn’t do so without being dishonest.

Eliana: That would be kind of ironic, wouldn’t it? If you had to be dishonest to be a Scout?

Fatima: Absolutely! I tell you what, I’m so happy that you helped me understand this that I’m going to write to the Scouts and tell them what a great job you’re doing and how happy I am that they no longer discriminate against atheists.

Eliana: Now wait a minute, I don’t think that’s such a good idea.

Fatima: You’re not being modest, are you?

Eliana: No, but I think that we might want to treat this a little more discreetly.

Fatima: Why is that? Didn’t you say that everyone knows that Irvin skips parts of the ceremonies that mention God?

Eliana: Everyone in our group knows, but it’s not really something we want to publicize.

Fatima: Why not? It’s nothing to be ashamed about.

Eliana: It’s the kind of thing that Scout troops do locally, not something that the national Scouting group came up with.

Fatima: It isn’t breaking Scouting rules, is it?

Eliana: Technically yes, but if we don’t make a big deal out of it, nobody’s going to mind.

Fatima: I’d mind.

Eliana: Why?

Fatima: Because I don’t want to teach my son that it’s okay to be deceitful about your beliefs in order to get something that you want.

Eliana: It’s not being deceitful.

Fatima: If you had a daughter, would you let her join the troop?

Eliana: No, but that’s different.

Fatima: Because the lie would be harder to hide?

Eliana: Because it’s not a group for girls.

Fatima: If you ask the parent organization, it’s not a group for atheists, either. Either way, if you’re letting in girls or atheists, you’re knowingly breaking the rules. If I told a Scouting official that Irvin is a Scout and asked if he thought Irvin took an oath to believe in God, would the official say "yes" or would he say "that depends — some scouts don’t say that part."

Eliana: That’s why we don’t want to just handle this within the group.

Fatima: Then you’re saying it’s okay for people to assume that Herbie is religious just so long as he technically doesn’t say the words promising to be religious. I’d say that’s deceitful. It would be like someone taking the oath to become an American citizen but not say the part about rejecting loyalty to a foreign government and thinking they’d done nothing wrong.

Eliana: I don’t see why you’re making a federal case out of this. If you don’t want Herbie to be able to do activities with the other boys and you want him to miss out on these opportunities, just say so.

Fatima: The problem is that I don’t want him to miss out on those things. It breaks my heart that he has to. But if I have to choose between fun activities and teaching my son to be moral, I’m going to choose morality every time.

Eliana: Irvin’s parents don’t seem to have a problem with it.

Fatima: I’m not Irvin’s parents.

Eliana: Apparently.

Fatima: Look — I’m sorry if I’m sounding angry about this. I’m not mad at you, I’m mad at the Scouting organization for making me have to take this ridiculous stand. I know that you’re doing your best and that you just want Herbie to be able to have fun with his friends, but I’m hoping you can see where I’m coming from.

Eliana: I don’t know — it’s not something I ever thought about. To me, the rule against atheists is so silly that breaking it is just the obvious thing to do.

Fatima: I can see that. But I also feel like I can’t support an organization that’s willing to have that rule in the first place. Everyone has to make their own mind up on this, and that’s the way I have to call it.

Eliana: All right. Are we still on for the barbecue on the Fourth?

Fatima: Wouldn’t miss it for the world!


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Posted on December 11, 2013 at 8:31 pm by ideclare · Permalink
In: Conversations

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