When my son was born, one of the things I vowed NOT to do with him was Boy Scouts. At the time, the scouts were even more anti-gay than they are now (small steps have been made to allow gay scouts, however don’t plan on being a leader in your adult years). And I still feel as though they haven’t done enough to be inclusive.
Then my son said he wanted to join. He didn’t just say so, he was full of enthusiasm and smiles, and, in short, I have a hard time denying him anything that isn’t harmful. Plus, I’m kind of figuring he won’t last into Eagle Scouts, like so many other things he’s been over the moon about.
So, okay. He can join the scouts. This was made easier by the fact that the friends who invited us I know are atheists–the wife has said as much to me to my face. So, I didn’t really expect, being unversed in the Boy Scouts in general, the issue that religion creates for a non-believing family.
Yes, there is the Pledge, with Under God, but that’s easy enough to get around–my son says it out of rote from school, and I just mash my lips together, redistributing my lip gloss, for just those two words. Then, there’s the whole God insertion in the scout pledges. I expected that, as well.
But what really threw me was the religion badge. Not just the badge, but the fact that it is the second badge in the book. Basically, to get to the next level in scouting, you must go through this badge. And basically every religion is represented–Catholicism, Islam, Hinduism, and Protestantism. Then I saw it, my saving grace–the Buddhist medal.
For over 20 years, I have studied Buddhism, as a Secular Buddhist. Once I became an atheist, I still wanted something that would make me a better person. I have depression, and trust me, that wasn’t made better by the realization that we’re worm food. So my quest became to be the most effective, most compassionate person I could with the life I was given. And studying Buddhism has helped me in that regard. I’m not promised any candy-lined streets for eternity, but I can begin to look at my fellow man or woman in a different way–less judgmental and adversarial.
My Buddhist studies have been a known entity in my children’s lives, albeit not an overbearing one. There are Buddhist symbols and statues here and there, but not overwhelmingly so, and there’s a photo of HH The Dalai Lama in the house as well. And, we’ve had intermittent conversations about Buddhism, whether it be during a car ride, or in response to some conundrum. And always, it has been made clear that this was a philosophy to help become a better person, not a religion.
Which is why the BSA classification for Buddhism as a religion is both confounding and a relief. For my son, who hasn’t been a practicing Buddhist, it’s simply a way he can stay in the scouts. But as a non-theistic philosophy, it’s essentially no different than atheism, so what in the heck is the point? Then, I came to realize the huge percentage of LDS within scouting. In fact, scouting is included in church activities for LDS boys, and huge swaths of the program are funneled through the LDS church. This does have an influence on the culture of the scouts as a whole, as do the numerous other churches that charter packs. It’s easy to see, when demographics are considered, why it has been so difficult for religion to become less of a spectre within Boy Scouts.
Which is frustrating, because since nobody else would lead my son’s age group–guess who had to become a leader? Which, frankly, makes me feel like a liar–a feeling I don’t like, because I endeavor to be as honest as I can, or I endeavor to be silent where honesty is not possible. Now, I am in a position where I might not be able to tread that line so easily.
The good news is that not only are the badge activities something that has to be done at a meeting, but they can be done by the families of the scouts. In this way, I will be able to send the scouts home with that second badge as “homework.” But I have a feeling that this won’t be the last time I’m tasked with finding a solution between the religiosity of the scouting program, and my personal standard to be honest.
These things happen when former game plans change with a beloved son’s entreaties. Can I give him a scouting experience without causing him to pretend he’s someone he’s not? Yes, I can. But it’s going to be mentally exhausting.
For the record, he is worth it.