The Ethical Dilemma: Boy Scout BS

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Boy Scout BS: My son is in Cub Scouts. He enjoys it, but we are now faced with completing a requirement in religion in order for him to move on to Boy Scouts. I also understand that there are now multiple religion requirements all along the advancement path in Boy Scouts. In general, I know he is uncomfortable about pretending to believe in god. I have basically told him that he should not bring up religion or argue with his friends and just remain quiet.

It seems hard to believe that it’s 2016 and atheists are still in the closet, so to speak. I want my son to be able to continue in Boy Scouts without having to lie or cover up his beliefs. I believe I have found a way around the current requirement with reading about a few religious persons and some daily meditation, but I would love some suggestions about how to deal with this as he progresses in Scouts.

—Meritless Badge

Dear Meritless,

Unfortunately, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is still mandating a profession of belief in a god—any god, but not no god. I’m linking a similar recent query that you may find helpful.

I applaud you allowing your son to continue with the Scouts because he’s enjoying it, and I love your creative workaround approach to fulfilling the odious requirement. You might take one step further and focus on secular studies of religions. Your son might enjoy starting with The Belief Book by David G. McAfee, which is a survey of many major religions, with an evolutionary approach that leads to the scientific method. He might also enjoy illustrated books about Greek, Roman, Norse, Asian, and other gods.

As your son gets older, he can move on to works by people like Richard Dawkins, Susan Jacoby, Christopher Hitchens, and Hemant Mehta. He can read biographies of such freethinkers as Robert Ingersoll, George Carlin, and Mark Twain. His “studies” can include novels, films, and plays such as The Crucible, Inherit the Wind, Doubt, Spotlight, Becket, A Man for All Seasons, Life of Brian, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Invention of Lying, and The Book of Mormon (the musical, that is). I particularly recommend Baba Brinkman’s Rap Guide to Religion. (Readers, please chime in with your favorites.) Chances are his Scout leaders won’t have a clue what you’re up to or may not care as long as your son is contemplating some god in some manner.

I would also advocate—maybe as soon as your son is done with scouting, or if he decides he’s no longer content to just go along—actively protesting the religious requirement of the BSA. I would love to see nonbelievers join in challenging this regrettable aspect of an otherwise largely laudable organization. Recently the BSA has been making progress on LGBT issues. Why not this too? In fact, one such movement is already afoot. Check out the “freethought badge” co-sponsored by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science and the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Too bad your son can’t switch to the Girl Scouts. Although they also have a deity fixation, they allow members to substitute another word for god, and they have for decades been way more progressive than the Boy Scouts. An example of how they are about much more than cookies is exhibited in this piece on their battle with an Archbishop, courtesy of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.