By Georg Hay Kain III
I challenge the Boy Scouts of America’s policy statement “that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing his obligation to God.” Have I been a good citizen? I submit the following:
• I have done well academically, graduating from the Dartmouth College, the University of Maryland School of Law and York College of Pennsylvania.
• I served my country for seven years as an officer in the United States Navy.
• My 24 years of legal practice included representing York County Children and Youth Services, the local agency caring for dependent, neglected and abused youth.
• I was a member of the Museum Committee and on the board of the Historical Society of York County. I was a trustee of the York County Academy.
• I am a life member of the National Eagle Scout Association, the Dartmouth Outing Club and the York County Conservation Society.
• I have paid my taxes, voted in elections, and have not been charged with any misdemeanors or felonies.
• I have been an active member of the Boy Scouts of America since age 8 (now for 62 years).
I mention these things very reluctantly, as there are others who have done way more than I have in the “best kind of citizen” department. I don’t think, however, looking back, that anyone could rightly say I was a “bad” citizen.
In recent years, I have joined the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York, Pa. UUCY, as it is known locally, is the charter partner for Boy Scout Troop 37, of which I am the committee chairman. As a member of that congregation, I have given thought to issues such as “what is God” and similar topics.
I am probably more of an agnostic than an atheist. I know of no way to prove “God” exists or doesn’t exist. I just don’t see the question of God’s existence as particularly relevant to my own life. What I have accomplished, or failed to accomplish, in life has not been motivated by a desire for a rewarding afterlife in heaven or a fear of going to hell. I think there is a 99.99 percent likelihood that when I die, that’s it. Just like turning out the lights. Like a sleep where you don’t dream and don’t ever wake up.
The relevant question seems to me to be, “Do you need God to be a good person?” I don’t think so. My anthropology professor in college made a point that made sense to me.
Humankind and societies flourish and advance when people are kind and helpful to each other, and humankind and societies diminish and die when people are mean, cruel, selfish, etc. I just don’t see that “God” has anything to do with that truthful and realistic point.
So, what am I doing about all this in my scouting activities? I have a good scouting friend I have known for years and highly respect. He is a devout Christian. I am certain he holds his beliefs sincerely. He is leading a good life and accomplishing many great things. I see us as two ships sailing on parallel courses guided by respective compasses manufactured by different makers. Both compasses point in the right direction. Since they do, I don’t see it as useful or productive to argue which compass is the better one.
I would prefer to see the BSA discard its policy statement “that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing his obligation to God.”
I think the real emphasis in scouting should be on the stated mission of the BSA: To prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.
Until such time as the BSA does away with its policy statement on “obligation to God,” any youth who comes before me at a Board of Review for rank advancement will have a sympathetic ear. I might ask if he has given personal thought to these matters, and if he has, no matter what conclusions he has come to, I’ll accept that he has fulfilled any “religious requirement.”