Atheist scouts? ‘It’s enough to make me eat my woggle’ says Anglican priest


George Pratt, who was banned from the Scouts for being an atheist Photo: SWNS

REACTING to the news this week that the Scouts are considering opening their ranks to non-believers, Rev Dr Peter Mullen says the idea was enough:

To make me eat my woggle and to swear off forever playing British Bulldogs and crying ‘dib, dib, dib! in the parish hall.

Rev Peter Mullen

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Mullen said the Scouts were founded as a Christian organisation – not a body with:

Paid-up membership of the Amalgamated Coven of Tree-Huggers.

He added:

So Muslims have for some time been allowed to substitute the name Allah for God. And suitable allowance for Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists has been made. That is all very right and proper.

But what sort of vow does an atheist take? A vow means a solemn promise, and solemnity is something which belongs to the realm of religious faith and practice. We have seen what happens when attempts are made to solemnise secular events and invent non-religious rituals: you end up with something brash, sentimental and ersatz, resembling a combination of a cheerleader’s speech at the high school prom and the canting expressions which advertise Red Nose Day.

According to this report, the Scouting movement is consulting its members about a new Scout Promise – the oath taken by all new full-time members –  that does not require them to “do their duty to God”.

The Scouts yesterday launched an online survey on the issue that will remain open until 31 January 2013 to give people sufficient time to reflect.

The BBC says the move follows accusations of “discrimination and intolerance” when 11-year-old George Pratt was barred from joining a Scout Group in Somerset earlier this year. Pratt said he could not take the Scout Promise because he does not believe in God.

In an opinion piece in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph the chief executive of the Scout Association, Derek Twine, says the organisation’s current rules force people to be “hypocritical or dishonest” when they take the Promise, regardless of their beliefs.

He calls the move to modify the oath as an “historic change” and says all organisations like the Scouts need to “stay fresh and current” while remaining true to founding principles.

The BBC points out that the Scouts introduced alternative versions of the Promise more than 40 years ago allowing Hindus and Buddhists to substitute “my Dharma”, and Muslims “Allah”, instead of God. Scouts who don’t live in the UK can replace the phrase “duty to the Queen with “duty to the country in which I am now living”.

In March, the National Secular Society, which aims to restrict the role of religion in public life, wrote to the Chief Scout Bear Grylls, complaining that atheist children were being excluded or having to lie to join the movement.

The society’s president Terry Sanderson told The Independent that the push for a new oath was a “move in the right direction” that would put an end to “unpleasant confrontations”.

Founder of the Scouts Lord Baden-Powell

And in the Telegraph he is quoted as saying:

By adjusting their promise to include people without a religious belief, the Scouts will bring themselves in line with the reality of 21st century Britain, where more than two thirds of young people say they have no religious belief.

The Scouting movement insists the existing Scout Promise would continue to be used alongside a new secular version.

The shift in policy comes in marked contrast to the stance adopted by Baden-Powell. In his book of advice for boys, Rogering Rovering for Success, Baden-Powell ranked atheism alongside gambling, excessive drinking, smoking and even syphilis as a danger to be avoided.

Likening organisations for atheists as “sects”, he spoke of adherents as “enemies of the worst sort” and warned against “very offensive” attacks on religious belief.

The dotty old fascist added:

If you are really to make your way to success – ie happiness – you must not only avoid being sucked in by irreligious humbugs, but you must have a religious basis to your life.

Yesterday George Pratt’s father Nick said:

It’s good news, we will wait and see what transpires but if they let George back in that will be mission accomplished.

Hit tip: Graham, Agent Cormac and BarrieJohn