Thursday, October 11, 2012

"Be Prepared" To Evolve

So I’m standing outside a local burger joint last weekend, waiting for it to open up. It’s like 5 to 11 and I’m just leaning against the wall to the right of the doorway. A few minutes later a group of Boy Scouts and their Assistant Scoutmaster get out of a nearby car and hustle up to the door. They crowd around, and as soon as the doors are unlocked, they run into the restaurant and get in line ahead of me.

That pissed me off. I was there first, right? I would have been able to be a little more forgiving if an adult—a Boy Scout leader—hadn’t been with them. But I thought the man should have reined them in and told them to wait. Isn’t part of the Scout Law “courteous”? Hmm, maybe they needed a refresher on that one.

So I sat in line, and before I knew it 30 more Scouts walked in behind me. It made me think of my own Scouting experience many years ago. I was involved for maybe two years—I think Tenderfoot was as far as I progressed—and I did learn a lot and do fun stuff: Camping, canoeing, tying knots, and other cool outdoorsy stuff.  The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) also gave me my first leadership role; I was a Den Chief to a Cub Scout pack during my tenure, which was challenging in its own right.

Eventually, my interest waned. I realized my thirst for the great outdoors was easily quenched at the beach, especially after spending a night in a self-constructed shelter to earn my Wilderness Survival merit badge. What a bitch that was…I got a cough that I couldn’t shake for 3 weeks. I also had a Scoutmaster who was more interested in making sure he had enough cigarettes and beer than our overall experience, so while I did try to change troops, it wasn’t enough to keep me involved.

The Scouts have recently been in the news again for barring an Eagle Scout candidate from receiving the award because he revealed his homosexuality. If you’re out of the closet, they won’t let you in as a member or as a leader, or even as a volunteer. The BSA is a private organization, and while I personally disagree with the stance, they have every right to allow who they want as members and leaders. At least they don't ask what your sexual orientation is. 

With that position in mind, I wondered what my experience would have been like if I had been a practicing Wiccan while I was in the Scouts. The official BSA position is that they accept members of all faiths. “Reverent” is part of the Scout Law, too. So I was hopeful that at least some spiritual tolerance would be part of what Scouting was about.

I was disappointed to read a story about two boys who were asked in a Scout meeting what religion they were, and answered honestly that they were Wiccan. They were asked not to return to the troop. I’m not sure why this happened; the BSA explains that part of being “reverent” is to respect the spiritual beliefs of all people. I guess they meant “Respect the beliefs of all people who have similar beliefs to  yours”?  Asking the boys to leave didn’t seem too respectful to me, especially after they were being honest—“trustworthy”—in their responses.

Keep in mind—this is one troop in one small town in America. Other people might have other experiences, but it seems that Baden-Powell’s spiritual beliefs—“No man is much good unless he believes in God and obeys His laws”—have carried on to the present day. Many troops—over 60% if Wikipedia is to be believed—are sponsored by religious organizations. Most of these are Christian religions of various sects. I suspect, however, that Wiccans or Witches may make what seems to be a primarily Christian organization rather nervous.

Speaking of Wicca, a Wiccan man started an organization for young men of all faiths called the Spiral Scouts. It hasn’t really taken off, but that’s an interesting sideline.

Unfortunately, BSA’s intolerance goes even further. Atheists and agnostics also need not apply for membership. Granted, I haven’t met many ten-year-old agnostics, but to me it’s as valid a spiritual choice as any other. And I’m sure more than a few volunteers have been turned away as well. I guess people who don’t believe in a higher power are not “morally straight”, either. Incidentally, it’s ironic that the BSA believes that homosexuals are not “morally straight”. Take a moment to chuckle at that phrase.

The BSA has done a lot of good for a lot of young men, and I had friends growing up who lived Scouting. One of them made Eagle and I was very proud of him. I guess finding out all this stuff really disappoints me. In theory, it all sounds good—“We welcome anyone”—and while I’ll admit that the incidents I have cited will not happen to every boy, I look at the spiritual message that would be sent if someone was thrown out for being different—gay or Wiccan or whatever. In practice, humans have to make the decisions and impressionable young minds are there to witness it. That doesn't sound like a plan for success for me. 

To me it is such a shame that a fantastic organization like the BSA would cease to be because they didn’t evolve. Once again, if Wikipedia is to be believed—this article is actually sourced—the BSA has experienced a 20% drop in membership since 1999. It will be interesting over the next few years to see if they soften their stances on any of these hot-button issues, but I doubt they will. If I had children today, I think I’d have to keep them out of Scouting because of all the nonsense.

Many in Scouting would likely say that it has been going on the same way for 100 years, so why change anything? Because the world moved on, as Steven King would say. Perhaps the BSA can help young men “be prepared” for the world outside of troop meetings and jamborees just a little bit more by opening their minds a little. 

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