09 September 2008

Saying No To Scouting

The Cub Scouts made a pitch for their organization at my son's elementary school. The prospect naturally excites him. He likes craft projects, camping, and a lot of other things that Cub Scouts do. I was a Cub Scout and eventually became an Eagle Scout myself, and I got a lot out of the experience. I understand why he would want to do it.

But, it is very hard for me to say "yes" in good conscience.

The Cub Scouts are a subdivision of the Boy Scouts of America. Just as I was finishing scouting, and around the time I was starting to have very serious doubts about my religious upbringing (but before I was ready to publicly identify myself as an atheist), scouting took a turn for the worse. (I'm not alone in thinking so. Cub Scout membership is down 20% since 1997 despite growth in the population of approriate aged boys, and Boy Scout membership is down 8%, despite the fact that those who do participate are staying in longer.)

Today, I am ineligible to be a scout leader, because I am atheist. Two member's of Denver's delegation in Colorado's General Assembly are ineligible for those leadership positions because they are homosexual. The same applies to some of my fellow school parents, to many of my clients, to many of my political colleagues in the Democratic party.

I also don't want to teach my son to be dishonest to fit in, either personally or by my own example.

The turn for the worse in the Boy Scouting organization hurts. It is like learning that your childhood mentor is a child molestor. The organization, which once supported families, now tears them apart. The organization, which once support tolerance and positive values, now has become an instrument of a national hate machine.

The Boy Scouts places a premium on upholding high ethical standards. But, its conduct is deplorable. Its policies exclude more people than the entire membership of the Southern Baptist Convention, and its reasons for doing so make no sense. Why should an organization that claims that Buddhists, Muslims, Christians and Jews can co-exist and meet its values, exclude secular humanists? Why should an organization exclude people who are born with the sexual orientation that they have?

Honestly, I don't appreciate the fact that my local school contributed to putting me in this bind. We don't let churches evangelize in our schools, and this state has non-discrimination policies. It isn't appropriate. I won't sue. Maybe someone else will. What's done is done. I've tried to explain things in terms as kid friendly as I can, so he understands that I'm not simply being mean.

If the Boy Scouts of America were to abandon its path of discrimination, intolerance and hate, I'd happily return to the fold. But, for now, BSA is not morally straight and in good conscience, I have to say no to scouting.


Anonymous said...

I was not aware of any homosexual scouts or leaders, but there were plenty of agnostic / lapsed scouts for whom the religion thing never came up. Still, I would do the same in your shoes.

Past recipients make a point of emphasizing, especially at Eagle Scout award ceremonies, that they are Eagle Scouts (present tense). For the reasons you outline, I was an Eagle Scout.

Anonymous said...

As a fellow Eagle Scout who's soon-to-be-married and likely soon after that to have kids, I similarly don't look forward to the point where (if I have a son) I'll have to agonize over this same decision.

I can only hope that in the intervening years, the Boy Scouts of America changes. Sadly, I don't see that as being very likely.

Michael Malak said...

There are several problems with scouting. First, the founder was fond of looking at the boys, though there is no evidence he acting upon his desires. Overnight stays with strange men are a fundamental problem. Second, the founder was either Masonic or sympathetic to Freemasonry, and modeled the Scouts after them. Third and most importantly, the Scouts is a paramilitary organization, designed to prepare children for a life in the military. The military has served no good purpose since the Revolutionary War.

Dex said...

what a great post, proph. thanks for sharing.

there's gotta be a similarly inclined group or org around town that you and yr son can partake in, right?

Anonymous said...

Wow! Lots of parallels here. My son wants to go as well -- he's in the same school as your son, Andrew.

I consider myself atheist, although my wife is not, so many decisions at home are difficult and we have to tread carefully.

I was also a scout, although I didn't stick with it long enough to get to eagle.

I'm acquainted with the scoutmaster/troop leader whatever they call it now. He strikes me as a pretty reasonable, tolerant type...more interested in the aspects of scouting I think are positive than pushing an agenda of intolerance.

While I have many issues with BSA, most of which echo yours, I am inclined to let him go and check it out. He may come away with little more than some new friends and good memories of hiking and camping.

I think my son is smart enough to take what he wants from the experience without buying into the intolerant parts of the whole program...we'll see.

Someone else asked if there are other organizations which do similar activities but don't have an agenda to push. Anyone know if they exist?

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

There have been multiple attempts at parallel organizations, none of which have been very successful.

boyandgirlscoutsdotcom said...

On the one hand I'm appreciative that you are honest about your feelings regarding Boy Scouts. Since they are your feelings (and your blog) you can use whatever words you wish to describe the Boy Scouts, but I think you've chosen the wrong ones. Scouting has always had a religious background which was uncontroversial at the time because almost everyone was religious. So, it is not intolerant or hateful. It's simply representative of its value of religion as a needed aspect of the best potential of a person. I wish those who don't want to participate in the Scouting program could view us as either misguided or wrong instead of hate-filled bigots. It seems rather extreme just because we prefer those who share our point of view.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Until the end of the period when I was involved in scouting, 1977-1989, more or less, scouting was on a tolerant swing. We would have never dreamed that there was a prohibition against homosexual individuals in the organization, and the organization was beginning to embrace non-Judeo-Christian religious beliefs. The next step, to embrace secular humanism and other non-theistic life stances was seen as a foregone conclusion (and most non-U.S. branches of Scouting followed that path and do not ban gays).

The Scouts were well on the path to pluralism when that was intercepted by the power of evangelical Christian churches in the organization who couldn't stop what had already been done but were determined to go no further down that road.

Condemning homosexuals as not morally straight is empiricall incorrect and is bigoted and intolerant whatever religious mask one wants to put upon it. (Certainly, being anti-gay is not shared by all or even most religious bodies whom scouts accept.) If this is not hate, what is? The fact that one holds a belief for religious reasons does not prevent that belief from being intolerant, hateful or bigoted. Most of the churches taking this stance also previously cited biblical authority for the rightfulness of slavery, for the appropriateness of domestic violence and for the inferiority of women and members of certain races.

Similarly, the notion that some god, any god is acceptable, but a well crafted moral position with a non-theistic metaphysics is not, is logically vacuuous, particularly given that Buddhists have such a religion and are embraced by the BSA.

The intolerance of the national organization extends to the point that it will not even allow local branches to take a more tolerant stance, one taken by other organizations in the world scouting movement and one that BSA was well on its way to adopting prior to the late 1980s.

The "we" who share the current official position of the BSA was never the mainstream view in the organization when I was a member, and has cost it dearly. BSA certainly does have the right to take any position it wants as a private organization. I don't dispute that it has the right to do so. I simply make the point that by doing so, it has crossed the line from being an organization with values I respect and want my children to share, into being an organization that is deeply immoral at a very personal level.

One can be misguided, wrong and a hate filled bigot all at one time, indeed, one usually is. The BSA has become an organization that adheres to unAmerican values. How can I have anything to do with an organization like that?

Anonymous said...

As a single parent female with two sons, I was possibly hoping for more from the Scouts than I could ever have received, but in the 5 years when I was closely involved (assistant leader, leader of nature walks at day camp), I became increasingly less happy with the organization. For one thing, we were poor, and it was oriented towards middle class/rich kids. For another, my sons had few outstanding instructors, and monthly pack meetings were disorganized disasters. Then there were the father/son cake bakes (their dad is a chef who could have helped, but didn't) and the pinewood derby when every kid with a dad who knew about woodworking had an advantage over mine. I still lead the nature walk every year at day camp, but I may quit that. It doesn't have to do with my atheism and my pro-gayness--it's mostly because there are so many problems with the organization that it just isn't worth it to be part of it.

Anonymous said...

I am a PUBLIC SCHOOL teacher whose job was threatened because I didn't want to allow the Explorers (a part of the Scouts) to be speakers in my classroom. I was told that my district is based upon diversity and by not allowing someone in my class, because "their beliefs were different" than mine, I was not a good fit for the school or district - either accept the speakers or lose my job. Remember - this is PUBLIC school. I am so distraught, I don't know what to do. Does anyone know the legality of this? I KNOW that I have both atheist and homosexual students in my classes. I'd really appreciate any input from those who know more than me... I can be reached at nj2ca2nc@yahoo.com Thanks to anyone with suggestions, ideas, etc.