British Boy Scouts distance themselves from God

Religion | Whitney Williams

British Boy Scouts distance themselves from God

Queen Elizabeth II with adventurer and Britain's Chief Scout Bear Grylls
Associated Press/Photo by Ben Stansall (pool)

Prospective Boy Scouts in Britain could soon be allowed to join the organization without pledging to uphold their “duty to God.”

A group of atheists, joined by TV adventurer and self-proclaimed Christian Bear Grylls, has asked the Scouts of Britain to consider providing an alternative Scout Promise for children who don’t believe in God.

No one involved with the organization seems to question how much value a pledge can have if it can be modified to fit any circumstance. In fact, many British Scout leaders see removing God as a step forward for the organization.

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“We are a values-based movement and exploring faith and religion will remain a key element of the Scouting programme,” Wayne Bulpitt, the association’s chief commissioner, told The Hillingdon Times, a British newspaper. “However, throughout our 105-year history, we have continued to evolve so that we remain relevant to communities across the UK.” 

For those who’ve followed the organization in the past few years, this attempt to remain “relevant” should come as no surprise. Alternative versions of the oath for other faith groups, including Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists, have existed for more than 40 years, according to The Times. And in 1991, UK Scout executives decided it was discriminatory for the Boy Scouts to deny membership to girls, and vice-versa, allowing equal access for girls and boys into any of its programs. 

Could this accommodation for atheists be a harbinger of things to come for American Scouts?

It wouldn’t be far-fetched for the Girl Scouts, whose stance has become more and more liberal in the past few years (see “Good-bye Girl Scouts,” WORLD 2011). But the Boy Scouts, who this year caught flack for their policy excluding gays from leadership and membership, don’t have any intention of abandoning allegiance to a “higher power,” even if they don’t specifically declare commitment to Christ.

“The Boy Scouts of America continues to believe that no one can reach their full potential without belief in a higher power,” said Deron Smith, BSA public relations director. “The ideals and principles of ‘Duty to God’ and ‘reverence’ set forth in the Scout Oath and Scout Law are central to the mission of teaching young people to make good choices over their lifetimes.”

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