Here’s the bottom line: If the Scout participates in any type of religious organization, whether it speaks of God or not, there’s no problem.
If the Scout perceives some power, essence, being, or motive force in the universe that could deserve to be called ‘God,’ there should be no problem.
On the other hand, if the Scout or Scout’s family’s personal beliefs forbid referring to any entity as ‘God’ then the Scout could have trouble participating in BSA’s Scouting programs.
Here’s how it works.
To participate in Scouting, one regularly recites the Scout Oath, which requires duty to God. To advance in Scouting, a Scout or Venturer must pass a requirement to tell how he or she does her duty to God.
Scouts and Venturers are never required to explain or justify any religious belief as part of Scouting. They will be asked about “duty to God” as part of advancement requirements, but the answer doesn’t need to be explained or justified.
Scouts can fulfill their “duty to God” without believing in God. Some religious organizations, including some associated with the BSA, don’t actually require their members to believe in God.
When one signs up with BSA “traditional” programs, including Scouts and Venturers, the application form instructions contain a generic declaration of a belief in God. It’s very easy to overlook. Scout parents and adult leaders are supposed to be OK with that declaration. I doubt many people pay attention to it.
Belonging to a Religious Organization
If the Scout participates in any religious organization, then “duty to God” includes any service opportunities the religious organization offers. Such organizations thrive on volunteer assistance, and aid to one’s religious group fulfills “duty to God.” Scouts often bring up examples like helping at church school, painting the sanctuary, serving as an usher, or singing in the choir. Similar activities in other religious groups will serve just as well.
The Scout doesn’t have to be an official member of the religious group. It is the service work that matters.
Belief in God Without a Religious Group
Many in Scouting believe in the God of Abraham as portrayed in the religious writings of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Others believe in a generic Divine Providence embodied in the forces of nature and the universe. Some believe that a single God embodies all of this. Others believe in a “greater good” people should strive for, and that is their embodiment of God. There are countless forms of belief. Many people are serious and honest in such beliefs and participate in no religious group whatsoever.
This is an honest alternative for Scouts and Venturers who definitely believe in some sort of higher power and find traditional religious groups off-putting or uncomfortable.
A Scout or Venturer may always fulfull the “duty to God” through service to others, beyond anything already required for advancement.
Explicit Rejection of “God”
A strongly secular or atheistic family may teach their children to reject anything using the words “God” or “religion.” Some of these families pursue Scouting anyway. A Scout doesn’t want to recite the Oath and feel a family obligation to omit the words “duty to God.” It’s dishonest and unfair to the youth.
Scouts in such families need a family discussion of just what “duty to God” might mean in the context of their family’s views. This permits the Scout or Venturer to develop a personal concept of “God” to apply in Scouting while respecting the parent’s views.
Other Thoughs and Comments
Nonconformist Scouting intends to help everyone participate in Scouting despite their religious upbringing or lack thereof.
While there is no intention here to promote a particular way of thinking about religion, this writing will be biased by the author’s own background and experience.
Please feel free to post comments that help improve Nonconformist Scouting.