Dib Dib Dib, Hooray!

ScoutsThe Guide Association and the UK Scout Association have done the decent thing and decided to treat all children equally. Yes, even those evil little nippers who don’t profess to believe in God.

Up until a month or so ago if you wanted to be a Girl Guide you had to swear a Promise “to love my God”. Why? You just did. Maybe some bright spark thought society hadn’t created enough entrenched religious division amongst children already and wanted some more.

However, following pressure the Guides embarked on a public consultation involving nearly 44,000 people inside and outside of the organisation and eventually they ditched the God requirement. The updated Promise simply asks members to “be true to myself and develop my beliefs”.

Bravo, I say. This was excellent news for two reasons. Firstly, because the Guides stopped discriminating against godless children. And secondly because they took a purely secular approach and didn’t expect the girls to give themselves any kind of religious or non-religious label at all, be it Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Zoroastrian, atheist, humanist or whatever. An enlightened decision. Our survey says….Ding!

The UK Scout Association went through a similarly tortuous consultation and decided in principle to open their doors to mini infidels too. As I discussed here the Scouts had previously allowed incoming members to profess allegiance to all the major big-brand deities but they couldn’t find it in themselves to do a good turn for those pesky atheists.

The Scouts are yet to finalise the precise wording. They will keep their religious wording but they will now create a new non-religious variation specifically for non-religious entrants. This approach is no surprise given their previous practice of using specific wording for separate faith groups. It was probably too much to expect them to go from an explicitly multi-faith approach to a purely secular one, whereas that wasn’t a problem for the Guides who previously just had a one-deity-fits-all approach. If the Scouts want to retain their menu item approach and just create some new wording for atheists then that isn’t ideal but it’s certainly a massive improvement. It will do the job and that will be the end of it.

I’m guessing the Scouts aren’t a perfect pyramid-like structure with each local unit towing the company line on every diktat from Scout HQ. I’ve read previously that the ban on atheists wasn’t always enforced at the local level anyway, which is very encouraging. Without even knowing it some scout groups have been educating younglings about the vital civic duty of non-violent civil disobedience.

Think of local scouting groups as al-Qaeda cells: semi-autonomous franchises functioning with a large degree of independence, more or less free from a heavy hierarchical command chain but still retaining a loose affiliation to the head organisation’s fundamental ideological tenets. In the same way an al-Qaeda cell probably wouldn’t turn away a would-be jihadi simply because of minor ideological differences provided he or she (ok, probably he) was willing to murder, maim and blow stuff up, I don’t imagine many scout groups would have said no to someone who didn’t believe in God but who was passionate about the 50-metre butterfly or baking flapjacks.

I have fond memories of my own time as a boy scout. I didn’t exactly rise through the ranks or run out of space for badges on my sleeves but I did have a good laugh. And who can’t love the word “woggle”? It was the ideal environment in which to misbehave and rebel because unlike school there weren’t really sanctions of any note. What were they going to do, kick you out? Ooh, big deal. If you were really that bothered you could always infiltrate another cell. And not only could you misbehave but you also had access to fire and primitive weaponry. Lord Baden-Powell, we salute you.

Like a good scout let’s be honest: the Scouts have had a serious image problem for some time now. That image is one of stumpy, pot-bellied, blotchy-faced men in ill-fitting shorts and thigh-length socks who love “working with kids” and who haven’t moved out of the maternal home “yet”.

The Scouts pulled off a major public relations coup when they convinced the ex-SAS man and survival expert Bear Grylls to be their Chief Scout. Grylls successfully moves them away at breakneck speed from their nightmare image but he also has the added advantage of being a proud godsquad member himself. Whoever came up with that particular idea has every right to stitch their gold PR badge on to their sleeve with the utmost pride.

Well done to the Scouts for fixing their image. And well done to them for also making a significant change of substance, by calling time on discrimination against children who don’t believe in God and whose admirable commitment to free conscience and honest discourse won’t let them just fib fib fib about it.