A Boy Scout can worship a rock, but can’t be an atheist

In doing some research about the Boy Scouts of America’s ban on atheists — they don’t allow nonbelievers as members or leaders — I recently came across an interesting piece of reading. It’s a document (link here) that appears to be a BSA internal memo from 1991 describing and explaining the organization’s policies against atheists, girls, and gays. The document is intriguing on a number of levels, especially in light of changes that have occurred in recent years in the BSA’s stance toward gays, but for now I just want to focus on the anti-atheist angle.

If there was any doubt that the BSA’s prejudice against atheists rises to the level of an irrational obsession, take a look at the language in the memo about belief in God. Using a question-and-answer format, the BSA tries to explain its requirement of God-belief:

Can an atheist be a volunteer or member? The answer is an unambiguous, “No.”

Why not? Because the BSA has “an ongoing commitment to encouraging moral, ethical and spiritual growth” and apparently the organization feels that nonbelievers are simply incapable of such aspirations. Without belief in God, wouldn’t we have chaos and lawlessness?  (Actually, no.)

This is insulting enough, but then it gets really interesting.

A subsequent question asks how the BSA defines religion, and the answer states that the BSA does not attempt to define religion or God. Thus, we have the BSA stating that its members and leaders must believe in God — but that the term “God” has no definition!

Though presumably the questioner is a hired communications person who isn’t supposed to be making the BSA look silly, he or she nevertheless asks the uncomfortable next question: “Some people maintain that God is a tree, a rock, or a stream. Would a person believing such be eligible to be a member?”

The answer: “The BSA does not seek to interpret God or religion.” Scouts must simply take the oath, which expressly references God, but “interpretation is the responsibility of the Scout, his parents and religious leaders.”

So there you have it. If your God happens to be your Pet Rock, you’re BSA material. But if you are committed to rational thinking, if you are non-theistic and not prone to such silliness, you’re out.

Scout’s honor, indeed.