Currently, Scouts make the promise:
On my honour, I promise that I will do my best
To do my duty to God and to the Queen,
To help other people
And to keep the Scout Law
However, for nearly fifty years there have been some variations available.
Hindus and Buddhists can replace “God” with “my Dharma”. Muslims can use “Allah”, and can replace “On my honour” with “In the name of Allah, the Most Benificent, the Most Merciful”. People who are living in the UK but aren’t citizens can promise duty to the “country in which I am now living”.
Now there is another variation being added to the mix.
On my honour I promise that I will do my best
To uphold our scout values,
To do my duty to the Queen,
To help other people
And to keep the Scout Law
There are two debates that can be had here. Firstly, around the existence of multiple versions of the promise – diversity vs a common standard. Secondly, is the wording appropriate?
Diversity vs a Common Standard
The Girlguiding promise consultation showed that the majority of members thought that having one Promise for All, the same for every member, was important. It shows our commitment to a common set of values –
Our new Promise is the core expression of our values: to be honest, helpful and considerate; to respect other people, develop your beliefs and have the courage of your convictions; to face challenges; to be a good friend and to take action for a better world.
In contrast, the Scouts are reflecting the diversity of their membership by having one “core” Promise, with a number of allowable variations.
Which way is the better? I’m not sure, but a few thoughts spring to mind.
Some young people don’t know what they believe. Asking them to choose which variation they want to use might result in a large number of them choosing the default option just to avoid thinking about it. It might result in people wanting to change their minds later, but being embarrassed to say.
Some young people will inevitably go with what their friends are doing, to avoid being seen as odd or uncool. Or whatever the young people are using as an insult these days.
What if your parents are strongly religious and you aren’t? If there’s one Promise you can make it easily. Only you will know what is going on in your head when you do. If there are multiple variations you might feel pressured into making one that you don’t fully believe.
On the other hand, while the Girlguiding decision provoked outrage from what at times seemed like almost everyone, the Scouts so far have been praised by both religious and non-religious organisations. They say you can’t please all of the people all of the time, but the Scouts seem to be making a good go of it.
“To uphold our scout values”
On the face of it, this is a completely atheist promise. Unlike the Guide version – to be true to myself and develop my beliefs – there is no spiritual component to this promise at all. It is now possible to be a member of scouting and not even think about higher powers.
Or is it?
Just like the Guide promise, the Scout promise does not exist in isolation. What are these “scout values” that atheists will be promising to uphold? Fortunately, they are explicitly stated on the Scouts website.
As Scouts we are guided by these values:
· Integrity: We act with integrity; we are honest, trustworthy and loyal.
· Respect: We have self-respect and respect for others.
· Care: We support others and take care of the world in which we live.
· Belief: We explore our faiths, beliefs and attitudes.
· Cooperation: We make a positive difference; we cooperate with others and make friends.
I draw your attention to number four: we explore our faiths, beliefs and attitudes.
So, atheist scouts will be promising to explore their beliefs. This promise variation is starting to sound very similar to the new Guide promise.
Still, there are some differences. This may seem overly picky, but the word “explore” bothers me. A person can explore their beliefs without changing them – a Christian would explore what it means to be Christian, an atheist might explore reasons they don’t believe in god and the effect it has on their life. At the end of the day, the Christian will still be Christian, and the atheist will still be atheist.
In contrast, Guides promise to “develop” their beliefs. This recognises the fact that I am not a finished product. The beliefs I hold now are not those I held when I was seven, and they are not those I will hold when I am seventy. And I can get from one to the other through both exploring the way I feel and evidence for my viewpoint and changing things based on what I find.
A (slightly silly) analogy: a Scout and a Guide explore a new area of countryside. They find that it’s full of litter. The Scout looks around, makes a map, and then moves on. Maybe he’ll come back later and explore some more. The Guide looks around, cleans up the litter, does some landscaping, makes a map of the new look area, and comes back often to check up on her work.
Perhaps it is impossible to explore your beliefs without being changed by the process, in which case the last three paragraphs are pointless.
Perhaps I’m over thinking this.
Perhaps it doesn’t matter what it means to me, only what it means to those saying the words.
And perhaps you have an opinion of your own which you would like to share. The comment box awaits you below.