The National Secular Society (NSS) has been on the warpath again and this time they’ve decided to try to pick a fight with Chief Scout, Bear Grylls, something that most mortals would deem to be foolishness, given the type of exploits he’s renowned for.
Here is an extract from their recent letter to Bear Grylls at the Scout Association:
‘In recent media reports about the launch of the new uniform designed especially for Muslim girls, you expressed pride that the Scouts offer “an environment for people of all backgrounds to come together and enjoy themselves.” Chris Foster, the spokesman for the Scout Association stated, “It doesn’t matter who you are, what you are or what colour your skin is or what faith you are.”
As you will be aware, the religious oath in the Scout Promise acts as a barrier to the non-religious. They either have to make a hypocritical and dishonest statement or risk being refused full membership of the Scouts.
Furthermore, the Scout Association’s Equal Opportunities Policy makes clear that “the avowed absence of religious belief is a bar to appointment to a leadership position”.
Previous calls from the National Secular Society to make the religious oath optional have been resisted by the Scout Association. Instead, the organisation lobbied for a specific exemption from equality legislation which enabled it to retain the ability to only accept members who have religious beliefs or are prepared to make a promise to a god.
Such outdated, unfair and discriminatory policies completely contradict claims that the Scout Movement is an open and inclusive organisation.’
To be fair, the NSS do say some positive things later on in the letter about the scouting movement and do have a point that quite a few children are not going to be able to take the Scout’s promise to “do my duty to God” and mean it. I have a suspicion that a very, very small number of children would see this as a barrier to becoming a scout. It’s more likely that if anyone is going to have a problem, it will be the child’s parents. But as we were reminded earlier in the year in an article on the Richard Dawkins Foundation’s website, “It’s horrible to brainwash children into
atheism religious faith.” Should parents stop their children from becoming scouts because of their own beliefs?
The response from the UK Scouts chief commissioner clearly demonstrates that he wasn’t terribly impressed with the NSS’s point of view. He explains that the World Scout Movement is a membership organisation that shares a basis of association by common belief and that there are plenty of other organisations that young people and children can join if they do not wish to make the scout promise.
The NSS have nothing to lose by firing off this sort of letter, although expecting an organisation with over 500,000 global members to bow to their wishes is optimistic. But if they had done their homework, then they would have been able to predict what response to expect and saved themselves the effort.
When Robert Baden-Powell set up the scouting movement, it was for him partly a manifesto for Christian living. In his 1908 book, Scouting for Boys, he writes:
“We aim for the practice of Christianity in their everyday life and dealings, and not merely the profession of theology on Sundays…. The co-operation of tiny sea insects has brought about the formation of coral islands. No enterprise is too big where there is goodwill and co-operation carrying it out. Every day we are turning away boys anxious to join the Movement, because we have no men or women to take them in hand. There is a vast reserve of loyal patriotism and Christian spirit lying dormant in our nation today, mainly because it sees no direct opportunity for expressing itself. Here in this joyous brotherhood there is a vast opportunity open to all in a happy work that shows the results under your hands and a work that is worth while because it gives every man his chance of service for his fellow-men and for God.”
“No man is much good unless he believes in God and obeys His laws. So every Scout should have a religion….Religion seems a very simple thing: First: Love and Serve God. Second: Love and serve your neighbour.”
It is refreshing to see an organisation that has stayed loyal to its roots over all this time and has not allowed the pressures from a changing world to erode its identity.
Perhaps some of those leading our churches should take note.
Thanks to David Keen at Opinionated Vicar for drawing this to my attention.