So the Girl Guides have decided that God no longer deserves a mention. Yesterday it was announced that their promise will be changed from:
“I promise that I will do my best: To love my God, To serve the Queen and my country, To help other people and To keep the Guide law.”
“I promise that I will do my best: To be true to myself and develop my beliefs, To serve the Queen and my community, To help other people and To keep the (Brownie) Guide law.”
So is this a positive move? Well, as you might expect, the secularists think that this is fantastic. Stephen Evans, campaigns manager at the National Secular Society said: “The introduction of one secular Promise for all is a hugely positive and welcome development.” Whilst Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association said: “We wholeheartedly welcome the progressive step that Girlguiding have taken today.”
I’m not so sure.
Quite why they have decided to keep serving the Queen but not their country is curious and looking around the articles on this so far no one appears to have found a good answer yet. Perhaps by serving the Queen, the implication is that serving your country comes as part of the deal. Can you serve the Queen but not your country? In the Parliamentary oath, there is no specific mention of serving the country:
“I… swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.”
If we accept that the country element is not crucial, then what is the need to replace ‘country’ with ‘community’? Community maybe easier to relate to in terms of scale, but it is a loose term that could be applied to the Guides community, a local community or something bigger. It’s just a little bit more vague.
I’m being deliberately pedantic here, but the there has been a definite shift on two levels in the Guides’ promise. One is moving from absolutes to relativism and the other is a focus more on the self. Plus of course we have the removal of God’s name altogether. The disappearance of God from the promise isn’t likely to make any practical difference except that those who don’t have a faith in God no longer have to lie or pretend. I doubt that many have changed their beliefs following a recital of the Guide’s promise, but it’s still a sad day because God is no longer seen to be relevant and there is in effect a rejection of the roots of their movement. Instead of dumping God altogether they could have followed Parliament’s example and offered an alternative promise for those who feel unable to speak the original:
“I… do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law.”
It appears that this wasn’t acceptable following the consultation of its members and it has been decided that being a bit more non-nondescript is a bit better. Girl Guides now have the challenge of working out what it means to be true to yourself and develop your beliefs. That’s fine if you have a grounded set of beliefs in the first place, but otherwise it’s pretty meaningless talking about beliefs in this manner unless they are attached to something of value. This is the problem with secularism; when it forces out the opportunity to affirm a belief in God it offers very little in return that will fill the void. And we see that in the promise to be true to myself. This pretty much sums up the spirit of our age where the cult of the individual is supreme. To genuinely be true to ourselves is a hefty challenge at the best of times and even more so when there is no moral compass to guide us. From a Christian point of view it’s impossible to be true to yourself if you are not also true to God and His guidance on how to live. How can I be true to myself if I don’t know who I really am and what is best for me? Secularism certainly isn’t going to provide the answer.
It is of no great surprise that the Girl Guides have changed their promise. It was perfectly acceptable to try to accommodate those who were uncomfortable with saying that they love God. After all, we shouldn’t make promises we don’t mean or cannot keep, but instead of adding an alternative they have taken away something good and replaced it with words that might sound nice but offer minimal substance. Is that really what the spirit of the Girl Guides movement is now all about?
For an additional read and another point of view, you can read the perspective of a Christian Girl Guide here.
Categories: Faith in society, The Queen
Well put. It occurs to me the “be true to yourself” part is perfect for our age as it sounds profound but really means very little. Or rather (like Humpty Dumpty) you can make it mean whatever you like.
To be fair, it doesn’t just replace ‘to love my God’ with ‘to be true to myself’ but adds ‘and to develop my beliefs. It acknowledges that Brownies and Guides are still children, with beliefs that are still developing, and which may change. It acknowledges that nowadays young people don’t just accept whatever faith their parents bring them up in. I disagree that this replaces something good with something of minimal substance.
This is a good article, I may expand on it myself! It is interesting when the secular world tries to imitate the religious world, instead of doing something new, and simply ends up with nothing much. Being ‘true to myself’ sounds to me very selfish, and assumes that I am ok to be true to, and that I am right about things; and ‘develop my beliefs’ is presumably ok as long as they are socially acceptable. I wonder what sort of beliefs the Girl Guides will help them to develop. Religious beliefs? Secularist beliefs? Racist beliefs? Gender-religio-politico neutral beliefs?! Or just being kind.
We as people change, all the time, so asking a 9 year old to be true to herself looks very different to asking a 15 year old, and then to a leader – in the shifting sands of childhood and adolescence, something with more of a foundation would surely be more reassuring. If only there was a solid, underlying backstory or meta-narrative containing sound moral and ethical teaching and a perspective that the world is bigger than me…
Thank you for the expansion Kevin. Much appreciated!
Thanks for a thoughtful post. Whilst I am disappointed that the Girl Guides have dropped God, I fully appreciate that not everyone shares the same beliefs as I do. Like others, I find the new promise pretty vague and of equally little value as someone without a belief in God having to promise to love Him. Surely an alternative promise for those who didn’t want to promise to love God would have been a better option and taught girls acceptance and tolerance of the beliefs of others. Instead, it seems to promote a general set of self-centred, non-specifcs.
The thin end of the wedge. God is dropped from the Guide’s promise just like He has been dropped by this society. Is anyone surprised? Soon the Guides will be required to swear allegiance to Tesco.
Sad that the word love is no longer in the promise but i suppose a pledge to love yourself would not be good. The old pledge had a singy songy quality, the new one doesn’t scan at all well. I can understand why the Guides want to be an inclusive organisation and we don’t want young people making a promise they cannot hold true in their hearts. If the new pledge were to drop the word ”myself” i think the change would be more reflective of the six point guide law and the idea that we are here to serve others..
Since taking vows is directly contrary to the teachings of Jesus, I’m with the secularists on this one: promises should not invoke God; and Christians have no business making promises anyway — we should simply let our yes be yes and our no be no.
I’m constantly bemused by the Church of England’s stance on this: the first thing it requires of its ministers is to take an oath of allegiance on the very book that forbids oath taking; not exactly an auspicious start, is it?
Phil That’s interesting Could you point me to the appropriate scripture(s) about oaths and promises.
Jesus, Sermon on the Mount, Mt 5.33-37:
‘Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.” But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be “Yes, Yes” or “No, No”; anything more than this comes from the evil one.
James, Letter of, 5.12:
Above all, my beloved, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your ‘Yes’ be yes and your ‘No’ be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.
There are plenty of others out there but I like bible.oremus.org for easy online Bible searches (uses the NRSV).
Getting children to make promises could be considered unethical, but I can understand why the scouts and guides do such a thing – it shows the level of importance of what they are doing the scouts and guides aren’t just clubs, its about improving yourself.
You’ve made a good point about oaths here Phil, but I’m not entirely sure the context of these passages restrict us from making an oath in a court of law for example. I think its mainly about being honest and not making meaningless oaths to make bargains or manipulate situations. Integrity is the focal point.
Integrity and the meaningless invocation of God — all the more to be deplored in a secular legal system, I’d say. I myself was excused/denied (depends how you look at it) jury service precisely because I raised an objection to the practice.
Thanks for that Phil. Must admit to not looking at these verses in any real depth before. My Nelsons commentary states that ”Do not swear at all” does not forbid solemn official oaths as there are examples of these in Genesis 22:16 Psalm 110:4 and 2 Corinthians 1:23 It applies only to oaths made in common speech. It adds that it was customary in those days to swear on objects which implied that those objects had spirits so was thus seen as a form of idolatry. There are also verses where we are required not to lie on oath Leviticus 19:12 Numbers 30:2. It adds that an oath using Gods name was legally binding whereas an oath without it was not. Gods name was often used to deceive and give credence to something dishonest and most of us have probably witnessed that. If these interpretations are correct it would seem to be a binding of Gods name to truth and honesty and for us to be like him.
Be true to yourself. That’s basically “whatever I want goes” then right? Expect the girl guides to soon loose the respect it has. How would the guides deal with an issue when a girl believes she is being true to herself by wanting pole dancing lessons as part of an activity. They can’t say no, she’s being true to herself, she genuinely believes it’ll improve herself and her life. Soon it’ll be an issue that they don’t support that, but they have no ‘right’ morals to hold too now.