In Scouting Move
I thank Nancy Powell for her fight against the Boy Scout's recruitment during school hours. I admire people who put themselves in harm's way for their convictions. It must be one hell of a hard decision to sign your whole family up to become national poster children for an unpopular, yet just cause.
Even though it is off topic, I wish to defend why I involve my kid in scouts.
My kid came home from school all hyped because he had been recruited during school hours. He wanted to join scouts so he could shoot bb guns, bow and arrows, canoe, and camp.
I am an eagle scout and now a father of a Cub Scout. I understand from my scouting experience that the level of religious activity within the program is minimal. I became a den leader so I could enforce that. I wanted my son to be involved in the parts of scouting that I enjoyed as a kid.
I signed the application, that among other things, professed my belief in a higher authority. My higher authority is my wife. I can justify worse if it benefits my kids.
I justify it as being a lesson in the reality of life as an American atheist. You can't escape religion within daily life. If you want to make an issue about every annoying religious intrusion or assumption of your belief in God then you will enjoy a lot of negative encounters for little or no payback.
I told my kid that it's a jerk thing to bring up religion. It's a private matter and to cause a religious debate within normal social circumstances is to be considered a jerk. You will lose friends and you won't change any minds. Just shrug your shoulders, say 'uh-huh' and change the subject.
I went thru the adult scout training and they explicitly prohibit anything but the most generic god references. If someone is trying to promote a 'closer relationship with your personal lord and saviour' then I can tell them to stop or leave under written scouting rules.
I won't volunteer to be discriminated against. They don't want to hear about my atheism, fine. I can just roll my eyes during a short, bland prayer and then get on with a camp out. It is not like some church youth group that is where the fun part is just there to suck you into the religion. Scouts is 98% secular. The religion part is perfunctory. Most of these kids and adults don't give a toss about the god stuff and just want to have organized play.
My boy is a staunch atheist. He knows that if he tips his hand we might be asked to leave. He also knows that if scouts were to get too churchy on us then we wouldn't want to be in there anyways. God is irrelevant to our view of scouting.
I agonize over this. I am confessing my transgressions against the atheist cause. I ask for your forgiveness for being a closet atheist. But don't criticize me unless you have kids. How can I justify volunteering my little kid for ostracism? It breaks my heart to see my kid excluded.
Nancy, thank you. We all benefit when idealists are willing to take one for the team.
PS: I'll add that Jenner is not my real last name. I am Bruce but I don't want National to track me down and strip me of my eagle. I wouldn't want any real Bruce Jenner (remember the gold medal swimmer) to suffer because of my joke e-mail alias.
From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: "Bruce 'The Swimmer' Jenner"
Subject: Re: From a cynical atheist scout
Date: January 03, 2002 8:47 PM
That's basically what my Mom did: she became involved to make sure we weren't exploited for any number of reasons, and to make sure we all had the best she could offer. With or without religion, Mom knew she had a lot to give and made sure we had nothing but the best she had on whatever terms she and I could both live with. If it wasn't Scouting, it would have been something else -- and if I had known what I do today about the religious angle, it might not have been scouting! I might not have wanted it back then, 'cause I was averse to religion even back then, having already experienced bigotry in the second grade. I didn't know at the time, though.
True, you can't avoid religion, but that's not the size of it: I'm suffering tremendously because someone decided that they would give an atheist a hard time for being an atheist. It's already cost me thousands of dollars and has disrupted my life like little else has during the past ten years, and may cost me thousands more still. Nancy, for being involved in her move to end classroom recruitment has been through at least as much if not more (though different kinds of bigotry, to be sure). Thus, when a group like the Boy Scouts endorses religion over the lack of religion, they invite the kinds of behavior that Nancy and I have suffered: Nancy's in a retaliatory move, and mine simply for being an active atheist.
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