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.