By Dave Glenn
It’s always fascinating to read about Boy Scout history and how freethinking Scouts are moral despite the archaic rules of the organization.
I started Scouting in 1967. Our only local troop was affiliated with the Methodist church, so that is where we went, all three boys. Unfortunately for the troop, we were not Methodist, but Jewish, and generally quite secular. But our dad wanted to give us the Scouting experience, and we agreed to join. Dad also became an adult leader and that helped insulate us a bit. The troop did welcome us because they (wrongfully) assumed we were God-fearing Judeo-Christians. Close enough.
While the troop held meetings in the church basement, I did not witness any religious goings-on there. On the other hand, I recall several times on camping trips (when my dad was not in attendance) when one of the supervisory dads would announce a mandatory Sunday morning ad hoc Christian service. It was unclear if he was concerned about parents being upset their boys might miss Sunday services, or if his god would object.
Our family had long given up going to temple, and I had never attended a Christian service. My 11-year-old brain was in catch-22 mode. I was concerned the Scout leaders would reprimand me if I didn’t attend. And I was concerned my parents would reprimand me if I did. The leaders were definitely not in the mood for my excuses. Thus, my novel solution was to hide in my tent until the service was over. Fortunately, the leaders did not come looking for me and my fellow Scouts did not “rat me out.”
Sometime later, it was time for us to make our Scout vests. For those of you who don’t know, Scouts cut and sew a vest to hold all their hiking and camping awards and badges. We followed a basic template and then each Scout was to customize the vest to their own personality and tastes. Most of the boys made plain-looking vests (with help from their parents). I opted to make a soft blue velour garment with matching blue fringe balls, mini wood button epaulets, and trimmed in fur. Yup, fur. My cousin’s father was a furrier in town and he gladly gave me some extras.
Years later, I laugh at the irony of a totally outrageous vest made by a gay adolescent (who didn’t yet know he was gay). Fortunately for me, I completed my Scouting experience (Life and Order of the Arrow) before my hormones kicked in and I realized who I am. It is highly likely I would have been given the boot had I stayed past age 13 and announced my orientation.
Jump ahead 54 years, and I am now a philanthropist, activist, volunteer and family advocate in southeastern Wisconsin. I have financially supported dozens of organizations and offered hands-on volunteer support to almost 50. Currently, I am a volunteer for a couple dozen organizations, including local nonprofits, museums, theaters and a local farm. With the pandemic still upon us, much of this work is on hold. Yet, as an emergency preparedness volunteer for the health department, I am now busy helping at our community Covid-19 vaccination clinic.
Perhaps not being bogged down by religion freed me to be able to help my community. Or maybe that extra time I got was just a bonus. Despite the fact that my story is just a single data point, it is clear that many nonreligious people do indeed make a difference. I like to think my self-determined purpose in life is to help people. No magic. No superstition.
Others who have earned an FFRF Freethought badge
You can be a good citizen without God. I don’t know why that is so hard for BSA to comprehend. You do not need some imaginary god in the sky to tell you what is right or wrong. Humans have a brain that can process what is right or wrong. There are a lot of atheists who donate and help the Earth and people. It is not right that they can kick someone out of Boy Scouts for being an atheist. That certainly doesn’t sound like being a good citizen.
Genevieve Parkinson, 11, Wisconsin
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As a nonbeliever, I am a good citizen. I vote and I stay informed on the issues that directly affect society. Religious belief does not have anything to do with being civic minded. I am a critical thinker. I am also a humanist. My concern is for the good of society and myself. My actions reflect these beliefs. I get directly involved with issues that concern both.
Eileen M. Miller, 48