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

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

  1. ivan says:

    In my day of being a boy-sprout, the religious discrimination was more overt, in that catholics had to wear a special badge. All these things they are slowly taking away, the racism, the sexism, the homophobia, the religion, are all old prejudices that were never really relevant.

  2. AgentCormac says:

    “A vow means a solemn promise, and solemnity is something which belongs to the realm of religious faith and practice.”

    What a conceited fool Mullen is.

  3. Angela_K says:

    Mullen overlooks the fact that in a Law Court, one can affirm rather than swear on the babble or whatever. I once had to swear an oath at a Solicitor and was allow to affirm.

    Asking potential Scout recruits to swear allegiance to a deity in which they don’t believe is to encourage dishonesty – Oh wait, dishonesty is an essential requirement of the religious.

  4. barriejohn says:

    Bullshit! It’s only a promise, not an oath. Proper Christians don’t swear oaths anyway, as Jesus forbad it!

  5. barriejohn says:

    Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: but I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

    Matthew 5:33-37.

  6. Broga says:

    Mullen is a smug, self righteous git. What planet is he living on? Does he think these muttered promises are said with any sense of belief. I was a scout and I suppose I must have made that promise. I can’t recall it ever making any
    impact on me. I can still tie a few knots we were taught – reef, sheepshank, bowline – and they have come in useful from time to time.

    Does Mullen think his crass comments are funny? Who cares, apart from Daily Telegraph types, care what he thinks. The religious tide is going out and Mullen an co are left beached on the shore.

  7. barriejohn says:

    Worth a look if you missed it last night:

    Jeanette’s experiences were actually more bizarre than those portrayed in Oranges. However, I do prefer that book myself, even though it’s only semi-biographical, as Mrs Winterson was quite clearly mentally ill, and Mr Winterson “strange” to say the least, whereas I knew people who were EXACTLY like the characters in Oranges!

  8. David Anderson says:

    Angela_K beat me to it. I did jury service twice when I was in the UK. I wasn’t the only one to affirm at the oath taking part. No objections were raise by any defendant nor their councils. I think that if I were on trial, I would raise objections if my jurors were religious.

    Oath taking has been demonstrated many times to be a pointless act and certainly shouldn’t be asked of children.

  9. barriejohn says:

    I affirmed when I was a Christian and I affirm now that I am an atheist!

  10. barriejohn says:

    As I said above, it is a promise and not an oath:

    The Scout 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,132

  11. barriejohn says:

    It is the words “Duty to God” which are the sticking point. No Scout is asked to “Swear by Almighty God”.

  12. Mike says:

    bearing in mind that Mullen is somone who said gay people “should be tattooed with health warnings similar to those seen on cigarette packets” and that homosexuality is “clearly unnatural, a perversion and corruption of natural instincts and affections, and because it is a cause of fatal disease”, i’m not really inclined to take his views seriously. this isn’t the first time he’s said crazy things. the man is obviously a wingnut.

  13. JohnMWhite says:

    The ignorance is strong with this one. Christians in general are not meant to swear oaths, Quakers and other faiths do not do it under any circumstances (hence the aforementioned ‘affirming’ being allowed), and Buddhists are not worshipers of the Buddha and do not have an obligation to him to do any duty in particular. And as barriejohn pointed out, it’s a promise and not a solemn oath. Some people just feel the mere invocation of a god makes something solemn, and one can’t help but wonder what the duty to this god actually is. Your duty to Allah is to kill infidels, your duty to Jesus is to make gay people and women feel inferior, your duty to the FSM is to eat copious amounts of foetus, what happens if these gods have conflicting duties?

    In short, the promise is stupid and every attempt to cling to its religious trappings and shun atheists just makes it look even dumber.

  14. Broga says:

    “Duty to God” is one of the usual mantras and intended to produce a knee jerk reaction without thinking. How do you discover what this duty is? Certainly not from the bible with its weird requirements, cruelties and contradictions. As for the Queen? I don’t think so. One of the richest women in the world who screws down the wages of her serfs to as near to the minimum wage as possible. What duty does anyone owe to her?

  15. AgentCormac says:


    “The religious tide is going out and Mullen an co are left beached on the shore.”

    Beautifully put!

  16. Broga says:

    ‘AgentCormac: Many thanks. Reading this week’s Freethinker rather confirms me in that view. And the news from the USA is particularly encouraging.

  17. Stonyground says:

    If God actually existed this wouldn’t even be an issue. We don’t go around obsessing over whether people believe in trees, or Ford Fiestas, or bus shelters.

    Another thing that baffles me is that if any one religion is true, that means that all the rest are false. That means that if the Christian majority in this debate really believe that their religion is true, they are actually saying that a false religion is better than nothing. I just cannot comprehend that kind of apathy about whether what you, or other people, believe is true or not. Although I suppose that it does explain quite a lot.

  18. stargraves says:

    The more they spout this kind of abject, jaw-dropping foolishness regarding these trivialities, the more redundant they sound. (If that’s even possible!)

    I can tie many knots.

    None of which I learned in the scouts – but then again – there isn’t a Japanese rope-bondage badge.

  19. AgentCormac says:


    Agreed about this month’s Freethinker. As ever I thought it was extremely enlightening, but personally I found the article about Nick Shadowen’s frustrated attempts to establish a secular society on a catholic university’s campus to be especially interesting.

    I am passionate about my opposition to religion, not only because to me the whole thing is a blindingly obvious, cruel, absurd and insidious lie, but also because I contend that those who orchestrate the religion scam are utterly aware of what they are doing. That their selling of false hope to vulnerable people is an unforgivable crime which is, like any autocracy, based entirely on control, self-aggrandisement and the amassing of wealth.

    So I therefore have a lot of sympathy with Nick’s final assertion that, “…New Atheism is about tearing down the Church walls, brick by brick. And when the foundations have been shattered, and the walls have crumbled, then finally, from the rubble and debris, mankind will have taken the first step towards a new age of Enlightenment.”

    On that point I stand with him shoulder to shoulder. Because anything less would be to allow the fuckers to continue spreading their infernal lies, their false witness, their false testament and their false, utterly unsubstantiated assertion that there is something beyond this life. Beyond this amazing here and now.

  20. Matt Westwood says:

    What’s *really* hypocritical about this cunt is that he’s never even been near the fucking scouts in his pissy life. If he had, he would never have used this shit-headed language:

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

    Exercise for the advanced fuckwit-spotter: indicate three instances in the above quote which indicate that he knows sweet fuck all about the Scouts. When we catch him we’ll stake him out in a field full of upduck and bootblack him.

  21. Graham Martin-Royle says:

    @stonyground: I believe in trees, ford fiestas and bus shelters. They all exist and I can prove that. Now god on the other hand…..

  22. Lonborghini Funghini says:

    Not that there’s anything wrong with brash, sentimental and ersatz.

  23. Robster says:

    The chief executive of the Scout Association is a bloke named Derek Twine. At least we now know who’s pulling the strings.

  24. barriejohn says:

    The Woodcraft Folk are ignored by the British media, as I keep saying, as they have cooperative connections, and are thus seen as “communist”:

  25. Stephen Mynett says:

    One interesting line in that article: “It’s perfectly obvious that the atheist children are in this case transmitting the prejudices of their parents.”
    Obviously Andrew Brown has never encountered someone like me, an atheist from six or seven, despite having church-going parents and being dragged along to listen to the drivel every Sunday.
    There is absolutely no reason to assume the children are transmitting their parents views. Children, even if some people do not like to admit it, start to question things and understand them from a very early age.

  26. barriejohn says:

    Stephen Mynett: How about the prejudices of the religious being transmitted to their children then? How very strange it is that there are so few Muslim children in America, whereas nearly all Saudi Arabian parents give birth to children who children to choose to follow that particular faith!

  27. Stephen Mynett says:

    Indeed, the religoes always seem to ignore this. I cant remember which book but Dawkins made a good point when he said there is not such thing as a christian child or muslim child etc, they are a child of christian parents, muslime parents.

    Of course, the incentive to follow your parents religion can be quite extreme and dangerous if you dont get it right, as this awful case shows:

  28. ivan says:

    I have little problem with the Sprout Promise itself because my duty to god and to the queen are nothing, so there isn’t much difficulty in promising to give it. The problem lies more at some other time if the sprouts were indoctrinated that these duties are more than nothing.

  29. Broga says:

    The comment about transmitting atheist values to children intrigues me. I can’t recall even the mildest attempt to transmit atheist values to my kids although they obviously heard comments from my wife and myself. They never went to Sunday School or church but neither did we withdraw them from religious lessons at school. I can’t even recall them questioning me about religion. Yet they grew up atheist and still are.

    We had “churchy” neighbours who sent their kids to Sunday School and church and said grace at meals. I know that at least one of their kids, still a good friend of my son, is as atheist as we are. I think one difference is that as atheists we felt far more relaxed about the issue of belief. Our “churchy” neighbours felt a compulsion to indoctrinate their beliefs into their children.

  30. Stonyground says:

    Eric McDonald at the Choice in Dying blog is covering this story too. I left this comment over there:

    “It’s perfectly obvious that the atheist children are in this case transmitting the prejudices of their parents. There’s nothing wrong with that. What’s silly is to pretend that the process is somehow different when religious parents do it.”

    I have a real problem with this statement. My parents were fairly liberal Methodists, but they still sent me to Sunday School and later forced me to attend Chapel services against my will. they told me that Christianity was true and never once informed me that there was any alternate view.

    My approach with my own daughter was to explain that I did not believe in God but some people do and no-one can ever know for certain either way. I allowed her to attend a CofE primary school and told her that she was free to make up her own mind. At age fifteen she is an atheist.

    I am not being silly and pretending that the process is somehow different. The process is entirely different. To my knowledge, there are no atheist primary schools, but if there were, can you imagine Christians sending their kids there and telling them that they were free to make up their own minds about God?

  31. Broga says:

    @Stonyground: I too was sent to Sunday School and straight into a long church service afterwards. We had bible stories repeated to us as straight facts. However, there was no religion mentioned at home. When I got to what I regard as the age of discretion, or questioning, I could find no satisfactory answers.

    What I still find interesting is that the people who were most outraged at my questions and particularly my saying that I didn’t believe in God never set foot in church themselves. Apart that is, from marriages and funerals. One uncle, never known to me to enter a church, resorted to ridicule i.e. only a fool wouldn’t believe in God.

  32. Bubblecar says:

    Opening the Scouts to atheists makes about as much sense as opening the Catholic Church to atheists. Why would atheist parents want their kids to join such a disgusting organisation? The NSS’s championing of this “cause” is very disappointing.