Friday, May 24, 2013
The Queer Scouts of America?
Yesterday the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) voted to allow openly homosexual youth to join the organization. The BSA will continue to ban homosexual adults from being scout leaders, and it is understood that the boys and teens themselves will be discouraged from engaging in sexual activity of any kind. Nevertheless, it is a monumental cultural change from an iconic American institution.
The question is, is the Boy Scouts of America being true to its purpose? What is its purpose in the first place?
The organization's website describes the Boy Scouts as a "values-based youth development" organization. It says that "the BSA provides a program for young people that builds character, trains them in responsibilities of participating in citizenship, and develops personal fitness." It says that "the mission of Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make moral and ethical choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and the Scout Law."
The Scout Oath says: "On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law, to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight." The Scout Law, in turn, says: "A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent."
The stated purpose of the organization, then, is to build character. But what is "character"? The dictionary defines it, in this context, as "moral excellence and firmness." It suggests a firm adherence to principle. It implies a set of ethical norms to which we must conform. Hence the emphases on duty, trustworthiness, loyalty, and reverence. In short, the Boy Scouts of America is built on an altruistic moral philosophy that encourages self-discipline and devotion to duty.
But how can we build character is we cannot define the norms and values? And if homosexuality is normal and morally permissible, then what are the moral norms regarding sex and marriage? Is anything between consenting adults permissible? What is impermissible? In that context how can we inculcate the responsibilities of marriage and parenthood?
By being "inclusive" and "tolerant," aren't we really making a statement about morality itself? That nearly all things are permissible, that there is no universally binding "norm," that each person is left to make his / her own personal lifestyle choices? And if that is the case, what is there to teach young people? You're OK and God bless you in whatever choices you make? What, then, happens to "character"? This is the dilemma problem facing all educational and youth organizations in a modern, pluralistic society. What exactly are they expected to teach the youth?
In the case of the Boy Scouts in particular we have a philosophy based on ideals and standards that stand in direct contrast to the self-indulgent, narcissistic philosophy of contemporary society. The early 20th Century world of scouting has collided with the post-modern world of today. From a modern, secular standpoint it could be argued that the Boy Scouts of America is an anachronism, a relic from the Victorian past. From a religious standpoint it could be argued that the Scouts are in a moral freefall, in the process of collapsing into the rubble of what used to be Western Civilization. Their position is similar to that of the mainstream liberal Protestant denominations. They abandoned their core beliefs and left themselves with little to say beyond a few vague platitudes. Once an organization reaches that point it is irrelevant – it no longer has anything worthwhile to offer.
The Boy Scouts of America served a useful purpose in its time, but its time has passed. It is time to abandon the sinking ship.