I used to be a Brownie (not the edible kind…the mini version of a full-fledged Girl Guide…..small, cute, and determined to “do right” by the “Girl Guide code”). I pledged allegiance to God, to others and to myself and I liked being a Brownie. So when I saw a picture of the Boy Scouts in the Huffington Post (http://huff.to/13Ot6Rz) my mind was flooded with pleasant memories. But the reason the Boy Scouts were in the news today would not have crossed my naïve little mind as a Brownie as the article centered on an upcoming Boy Scouts America (BSA) vote whether gay Scouts will be accepted into the organization.
Scouts Canada (SC) is long past this issue (stating “all” are welcome at all levels of the organization) however, they are not out of the woods of controversy. For although they state “all” are welcome they do require that their members have a basic spiritual belief. The vision of the international scouting movement (http://bit.ly/16dyrJA) is to educate youth: “through a value system based on the Scout Promise and Scout Law” equipping scouts to make a “meaningful contribution to creating a better world” (http://bit.ly/NDMUBS). To do so, they believe, requires Scouts to revere a spiritual being greater than oneself. At the core is the belief that morality and spirituality are interdependent. With this, I agree.
But the SC’s commitment to the interdependence differs significantly from the BSA. Under the guise of pledging allegiance or “duty to God”, SC professes that members are required to adhere to some (any) form of “spiritual practice…that expresses oneself”. By contrast the BSA strictly prohibits individuals who do not claim a faith in a higher power from becoming a member. Is SC to be applauded for their inclusive policy? Or does it throw into question their stated foundation on the interdependence of morality and spirituality?
To explore this further I started with the question: “what does morality really mean”? I discovered that at its core, it refers simply to one’s “adherence to group norms”( http://huff.to/jJKlEN). I find this an interesting starting point because we can follow “group norms” without ever believing in the underlying tenets of where the norms came from. This, of course, is futile (and likely why the Scouts purport the need for some form of spiritual practice). Nevertheless, considering “any spiritual practice” as suitable to underpin the SC moral code does seem suspect. Does this not assume that any spiritual practice can be boiled down to some universal moral code? Does it not dilute the meaning and power of beliefs themselves? And does it not also place morality as pre-eminent over spiritual beliefs?
Central to the SC message is the notion that encouraging individuals to aspire to group norm/principles will lead to members becoming more equipped to “build a better world”, become more “self-fulfilled as individuals”, and “play a constructive role in society” (www.bit.ly/16dyrJA). I am challenged by this as it seems to suggest morality is responsible for the outcome more so than one’s beliefs (in which the morality is surely rooted). Admittedly I’m influenced by my Christian perspective, but it seems to me that what guides someone in “living well” involves more than one’s ability to follow a set of principles. But perhaps it isn’t the inclusiveness of SC that needs to be challenged, rather, a recommitment to the discovering and navigating of the link between belief and morality. For what seems central to one’s obedience to a moral code is his or her understanding and acceptance of its rational. And this, inevitably, involves facing the tough questions of the nature of being, the purpose of life, and the very origin of “right” and “wrong. Admittedly I haven’t “steeped into” the lived reality of SC enough to know the active practices to make any informed judgment, however from their stated policies and programming template seems to infer SC is more committed to the ascribing to principles than to the understanding of their rationale.
So returning to my original question I do think SC is to be applauded for their inclusiveness however without a dedicated exploration of the interdependence of morality and spirituality their foundation does seem somewhat suspect. But perhaps there is some brilliance yet to be discovered here. Could it be that with renewed diversity in beliefs among group members that the norm themselves will be more naturally subject to scrutiny? Perhaps even becoming a fertile ground for spiritual discovery?….Curious….
Tweet: “Who’s in and who’s out? Pledging allegiance the Boy Scouts way. http://huff.to/13Ot6Rz #worldrels