THEOLOGY FOR BOY SCOUTS
[To the Editor of THE SPECTATOR]
Sut,—On November 22nd Lord Somers, the Deputy Chief Scout, circulated newspapers asking them to give "the widest possible publicity" to a notice by the Boy Scouts Association which "wished to emphasise that no member of the Scout Movement can belong to any organisation, social or political, which denies the existence of God." He called attention to the words of the Scout promise, "I promise on my honour to do my best to do my duty to God."
No similar circular went to Scoutmasters (who are the en- rolling officers) and, as I am one, I sought information from the General Secretary of the Boy Scouts Association. His reply on January 9th said I had been "misinformed as no circular had been issued in connexion with the Scout Promise." I found that this was hardly the case and wrote again, receiving this time an admission that the circular had been sent to the Press by Lord Somers.
The reference to "organisations denying the existence of God" seemed clearly to have a political rather than a theo- logical implication. A further letter to the Secretary brought at first an attempt to avoid any detailed answer, but at length I obtained a reply on March 29th. It told of a remarkable policy, the existence of which must be unknown within or outside the Movement. The Secretary wrote as follows : (t) An agnostic may not be a Scout. A boy cannot, he said, be an agnostic, but a man "who is a victim of honest doubt and is making a definite attempt to seek Faith would be accepted, but not if he was content with his agnosticism." (Your readers are of course aware that the Movement contains Scoutmasters of all ages, as well as thousands of young men, "Rovers," whose theology and thought differ widely.) (2) A Scout, if he lives in the "Western World," must believe in a personal God. If, however, he lives in the East and is, for example, a Buddhist, he need not do so. Apparently, therefore, the kind of God a Scout must believe in depends on his meridian of longitude.
(3) " Marxists " (i.e., Communists) are an organisation falling under the definition in Lord Somers' circular.
(4) Pantheism is not encouraged by the Scout Movement though the Scout authorities "would not concern themselves with it where it exists within an established religion " ; pro- viding the Scout is a member of that religion, it becomes "a matter for the ecclesiastical authorities."
I was informed that the "accepted definition of 'God' is a supreme Being who is the controlling power of the Universe and is entitled to worship and obedience." To most people that is probably an adequate definition and one which supports them in life. But it is not adequate to metaphysically-minded men. Among the thousands of conscientious Scoutmasters there must be many to whom this definition is not acceptable. Are such men forbidden to become Scouts?
This new attempt by the present officials of the Association to define the theology and politics permitted to a Scout is scarcely calculated to enlarge the movement. Were our Chief Scout, Lord Baden-Powell, in good health, it is difficult to believe that the circular to the Press would have been sent. Why stir up needlessly such controveries? Have the Executive learned nothing from History? Do they not know that Englishmen refuse to be dictated to about these things?
But the attempt by Headquarters appears also insincere.
The quarry which they are hunting is not so much the unorthodox religious thinker. It is, I suggest, the Communist, who in this country receives treatment at times resembling that meted out to Jews in Germany. It may not be generally known that the British Communist Party does not forbid its members to believe in a Transcendental God.
On April 28th the General Secretary wrote that "Lord Somers has asked me to say that any person who can conscientiously make the Scout Promise is eligible for membership of the Movement." So it may be presumed that the General Secretary's theological requirements are no longer operative. But an answer is still withheld to the question whether a Communist may be a Scout, a silence which is not
helpful to the Movement's enrolling officers. I am not a Communist, but do not see why they should be denied fair play.
General Baden-Powell's Boy Scout Movement is perhaps the best achievement of this country since the beginning of
the century. To insist upon burdening its members with controversial tests is folly and a grave disservice to the Nation.
Lynwood, Ripon. Lieutenant-Colonel, late R.E.