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Posted by on Nov 30, 2012 in Boy Scouts | 17 comments

I Was A Boy Scout; I’m Better Now

Today I want to set the record straight and talk about my experience with Scouting, why I left, and why I oppose the organization. When I was in first grade, I joined scouts as a Tiger Cub with one of my closest friends. I seem to recall hearing that Tiger Cubs was a new thing for Scouting at the time and that we were among the first to graduate from that program. I don’t know if that is actually true.

In any case, my friend came from a family of scouting. His father was a scout. His older brother was a scout, and his mother was a den leader. So I joined up. All the people in our den were friends already. It was fun, I guess.

Cub Scouts was a little more structured, but not much. We still had the same den mother (my friend’s mom). Basically we still had the same group of friends with one or two new kids. The weekly meetings were held in our homes and the monthly meetings were held in a church. As a Jew it was a little odd, but not too much. Religion wasn’t really an issue.

When Pinewood Derby time came around I had to work on my car at my friend’s house because we had no tools at my house. I always focused on creativity and tried to win the prize of “Most Creative Car,” a prize I actually did win one year.

When I graduated Cub Scouts, I had to walk over a bridge in the middle of the floor to receive the “Arrow of Light” award that all graduating cub Scouts receive. The bridge was in the middle of the floor! I remember thinking that it was kind of stupid to stick a bridge in the middle of the floor. The ceremony was supposed to represent crossing over from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts, but I just couldn’t get into the ritual of it.

So there I was a Boy Scout at last. I figured that nothing would really change from Cub Scouts, but I was wrong. My friend’s mom was no longer our den mother and the new Scout Leader was an asshole. The older kids in our new den were bullies who picked on all the new scouts (i.e. me and my friends). They particularly liked to pick on the Jewish kids and there were a few of us. The Scout leader never intervened even when it was obvious he knew what was going on. In fact, he emphasized “Jesus” quite a bit and it was actually a little uncomfortable… even for my Christian friends.

One by one, my friends started leaving the Boy Scouts. I probably wasn’t the last to leave, but I did stay far longer than I should have. It just wasn’t fun anymore. The Boy Scouts were far too serious and acted like a bunch of thugs.

I wish I could say that I left because of their discrimination of atheist and gays, but I didn’t know about that until later. I didn’t start questioning religion until a year or two after I left Scouts and I didn’t know any open gay people so I wasn’t even aware gay people existed. I was a little sheltered I guess.

Now of course, those are huge issues and rightfully so but they are only the tip of a very hateful iceberg. As I have come to know many Boy Scouts over the years, I found that most of them are not very nice people at all. The higher up in Scouting you go, the more likely you are to be a hateful asshole.

It could be the uniform or the perceived authority Scouts think they have while wearing the uniform. It could also be the sense of self-righteousness many Scouts feel which is very similar to religious fundamentalists. I’m not really sure, but today I see Scouts as a propaganda organization which indoctrinates kids into being assholes. In my mind, they are just a watered down version of the Hitler Youth. Yeah, I know that is pretty harsh, but there it is. Every time I see Boy Scouts that is all I can think of.

Cub Scouts are different. It seems that Cub Scouts differ widely from group to group, but it still acts as a conditioning for Boy Scouts. So my advice for Cub Scouts is to get out now. My advice for Boy Scouts is this, why are you still in Scouting?

Adults in Scouting are just creepy. In college, I knew an Eagle Scout and he was a horrible person who broke into his roommate’s computer (by physically taking out his hard drive (voiding the warranty) and hooking it up to his own computer to get around the password), in order to prove that his roommate was gay… which he was, but that wasn’t any of his business. The Eagle Scout was seriously creepy and also bullies his next roommate (who wasn’t gay).

Oh, and just for kicks, here is an embarrassing photo of me with my younger brother from my Scouting days:

Other Bloggers Writing About Scouting Today:

A Voice of Reason: Al Stefanelli

Arizona Atheist

Atheist, Intermarried

Atheist Pig

Atheist Revolution

Avante-Garde

Barrels of Oranges

Bitchspot

Camels with Hammers

Dangerous Talk

Daylight Atheism

De-Avanzada

Debunking Christianity

Deep Thoughts

Deity Shmeity

Dispatches from the Culture Wars

Emily Has Books

Friendly Atheist

Hausdorff’s Bible Blog

Incongruent Elements

Incredulous

Kriss the Sexy Atheist

Laughing in Purgatory

Left Hemispheres

Martin Pribble

My Humorous Agenda

Ramblings of Sheldon (posting on Dec 2)

Reason Being

Rippere, Always Evolving

Skeptically Left

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  • BethAnnErickson

    Beautiful pic. My son was a scout and I agree that the adults look a mite creepy. I think it’s the tassel on the socks. Peder (my son) made it to Eagle Scout, but it was a long, hard pull. While the adults were supportive, the other scouts were as you described. That’s too bad.

  • ChuckV

    I was a scout too (I stayed in scouting until I left for college). My experience was different, I think there is a lot of variation as you saw in Cub Scouts. My scout leader never pushed religion. In fact he knew I was an atheist and simply suggested I don’t put atheist on some form I had to fill out.

    Of course, today I see the religious bigotry of Scouting as a whole, but at the time I was not really out as an atheist so keeping it quiet didn’t bother me.

  • Desago

    I have been a cub scout, a boy scout, a cub master, and an assistant scout master, plus an adult leader trainer, and a member of the OA. I had the most horrible experiences when I was a boy scout (being beat up at meetings and on camping trips) but there was a lot of good experiences I wanted to share with my sons, the reason behind signing them up and being in a leadership role, unlike my father, prevented the bulling and gave me a chance to share in those experiences with my sons. Yes there are assholes in scouting just like any other organizations. A title like Eagle Scout does not instantly make a man a better person, neither does the title Christian, hell being a scout doesn’t instantly grant a man better or higher morals, nor does it instantly grant a man or boy with the ability survive in the wilderness.
    I’m an Atheist and so are both my boys, we didn’t make a big deal about it. We weren’t there to change the world of scouting, we were there to have fun, learn, and grow and make memories as a family. When my sons decided it was time to leave, we left, both achieved the rank of life scout (the rank before eagle). It has been a couple of years since we have done any scouting, most of the people in scouts now know I’m an atheist and have very little to say to me. That is ok, I was there for my sons not the closed minded people.
    I will agree that there are issues with Boy Scouts, yes things need to change, the program that helps instill the values of good conduct, respect for
    others, and honesty, should not teach discrimination against those that have a different sexual orientation or a lack of religious belief. However there are a lot of good things about scouting such as basic outdoor skills, first aid, citizenship skills, leadership
    skills, and how to get along with others (all these especially the last one also includes parental involvement).

    • Matthew Z

      The rank before Eagle is Life. Other than that, as an atheist Eagle Scout (who may or may not be an asshole depending on who you ask) I enjoyed your post.

      • Matthew Z

        oops, read that wrong please disregard the rank comment

  • Vic

    Interesting article. I can relate to your mention of the sense of self-rightousness when wearing a uniform. I know how I felt five inches taller when wearing my soddy green during compulsory service. It’s like the clothes make you feel a bunch of the other uniformed blokes always stand behind your back wherever you go, despite me hating most of my roomates.

    Must be something from human nature, identifying with your tribe or something.

    Never was a scout, but I heard a lot of stories from my grandparents about the Hitler Youth and the German Girl League, and then from my dad about the soviet equivalent of the scouts. Nothing but political brainwashing.
    Don’t even have to say anything about the NS youth organisations, but my dad was especially colourful about his lessons of how to be a good little socialist. Of course the group leaders were either party members or sons of party members.
    Besides, the shooting, camping and survival training leave a bad taste in my mouth anyway as I see them as nothing but youth-friendly
    “militaristic culture”, presenting war as a big adventure for adolescents.

    Dogmatic systems seem to show a geat understanding of the importance to influence the next generation. Hopefully the boy scouts in the US will be able to avoid becoming a mouthpiece for “traditional american values”. But even if they can, there’s always Jesus Camp.

  • ScentedNectar

    I briefly tried “Brownies” which was the group girls joined before becoming Girl Scouts. I didn’t make it through more than a couple of meetings. I didn’t fit in at all and was horrified to see what the activities were, nothing fun at all. It was like some sort of competing for approval game, and they were all competing in things I didn’t want to do with a ten foot pole. Badges for sewing, helping your mom with housework, etc. Yuck. It was all an “I am such a good girl” club. And they included bits of religious and patriotic stuff too.

  • http://deityshmeity.blogspot.com/ Grundy

    The only uniform that says “unauthoritative authority” more than the boy scout’s is perhaps the Canadian Mountie’s…but they are kinda awesome in their own way.

  • Warren

    I was a scout back in the seventies. The leaders were pretty worthless and most of what our den and pack did or accomplished was a result of my brother and I. I eventually quit because I was not getting anything out of it. Thirty years later, I let my son join, assuming things may be more organized now (and in an entirely different part of the country). But, same story – lack of organization, poor leadership, etc. I would be willing to help, but I can’t because I can’t sign their screening forms stating that god plays a role in my life.

  • Pingback: Boy Scouts of America Keep on Discriminating! | Avant Garde

  • Cephus

    Great article, thanks for sharing your experience. FYI though, all of the links above to other blogs on the SkepticInk network are coming up “page not found”.

  • http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/ Andrew Hall

    Another great post in a series of great posts done by bloggers (for the record, I’m not including mine under the banner of ‘great post’) on this topic.

  • Bob Geier

    Wow, this discussion is remarkable. “I never was a scout” followed by comparisons to the Hitler Youth? Is that level of prejudice common in this community?

    Not to let fact get in the way of deeply held bias, but the Hitler Youth were formed as the Nazi answer to the Scouting movement. They needed to form a competitor to Scouting, which at the time was a very successful international peace movement. When they didn’t do all that well as a competitor, membership became mandatory and real Scouting was abolished in Germany and its occupied territories.

    The modern reality of scouting in America is that it’s a volunteer organization run mostly by parents and a few former scouts. Not all parents are the best parents, and not all good parents have the skills and abilities to be good youth group leaders. So there is a wide variety of scout troops, ranging from the weak to the mediocre to the incredible, just depending on the skills of the volunteers. In addition, Boy Scout troops in the U.S. are all owned and operated by community organizations (churches, VFW posts, school PTAs, etc.). Each community group has its own mission, so some scout troops will be quite religious in nature (ex. Mormon troops, which are required religious ed for Mormon boys). Others will be quite secular. The diversity is very large, and represents a fair cross-section of American community organizations and parents.

    I’m sorry that the original poster and a few others here had poor experiences. That does happen, with any organization that depends on volunteers (as well as some that depend on professionals, as any boy who has been bullied at school or had a poor teacher can attest). I would like to think that rational people can, with time, avoid making unjust generalizations from their personal experiences. The personal experience of a scout coming across the posts here might be that atheists are “not nice people at all”, as the blog writer concluded from meeting a few scouts. Any scout leader in the country would pull such a boy aside and correct him for making such a generalization.

    Just as their are poor schools, there are also good ones. Good troops exist as well. Many boys and families, including atheist and gay youth and those who are questioning their beliefs or character find scouting to be a wonderful, safe place to pursue interests and grow as young men. In the troop I have been affiliated with, over a third of the alumni report that they found their career through experiences they had in Scouting. We have had boys who said they were atheist, boys along the way who questioned their sexuality or decided they were gay. Sometimes they were, and we were kind and supportive; sometimes they were looking for attention and later decided they were something else, and we were kind and supportive.

    Now, I will grant that the uniform, especially on “well-rounded” adults, looks pretty goofy. I would hope, though, that most enlightened individuals would quickly get past judging a person by their clothing or appearance. The average scout volunteer gives many hundreds of hours and many hundreds or thousands of dollars each year just to try to do something nice for other people’s kids. If that’s creepy, then the nation needs far more creeps, and far fewer self-righteous, judgmental types.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

      I was a scout and I thought I did a good job recounting my experience. As I said, I had a lot of fun as a cub scout, but the problem was with Boy Scouts the leadership was more scout and less parent. As an organization, the BSA has certain views and push a certain type of discipline that makes scouting more “uniform with authority” and less, let’s have fun teaching kids about stuff. Is that a generalization? yes, but I think it is a systemic issue brought about by the BSA religious and anti-gay policies.

      No, it isn’t mandatory, but it does indoctrinate patriotism in much the same way as the Hitler Youth. That was my point.

      • http://www.facebook.com/thewiltingstar Corey Firepony

        Staks- I understand where you are coming from with the discrimination towards gays and atheists. I myself am a black, gay, atheist, Eagle Scout and Vigil Honor member of Scouting’s honor society the Order of the Arrow. If anyone can tell you about the discrimination, I can. But, there is something else I can attest to as well; and that is the fact that many units and even councils are going against the national policy because they feel it is a disservice to the community and the youth of America to hold such bigoted ideology. My boyfriend of ten years and I are both Eagle Scouts, our unit leaders knew before either of us applied for Eagle Scout status, and we weren’t refused. The BSA asked it’s members to participate in the Day of Silence for the LGBTQ community, something that many of us inside the organization were proud to see.

        As for atheism, many units are understanding now that atheists can be reverent. Not to god, but to the idea of secular humanism, the idea of working together as a community to achieve the greatest potential of humans…and accept that as reverence, a key component for membership within the BSA.

        As a pastor, and fellow scouting brother of mine put it: “The only way to change the organization is to set the example for the up and coming youth. Old white bigots are in charge now..but hopefully, with the example of people who stay with the program and hold view contrary to those…we can make the BSA what it should be, instead of a right wing tool for brainwashing

        • http://www.skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

          I respect that. Good luck and if there is anything I can do to help in that fight, let me know. I was just recounting my experiences briefly and my thoughts. But if someday the scouts became more like you envision, then I am right there with you in promoting that.

          • http://www.facebook.com/thewiltingstar Corey Firepony

            The best thing to do, is to make it known. It brought joy to my heart last year when I was out helping my boyfriend’s younger brother sell popcorn, and a lot of people in the community refused to buy the popcorn because of how the BSA treats atheists, agnostics (or any religion other than Christianity) as well as the LGBTQ community. Articles like to are great, and it creates an open forum for us to talk about the BSA and the changes it’s making. Great Article.

    • http://www.facebook.com/thewiltingstar Corey Firepony

      My boyfriend and I couldn’t agree with you more. Scouting helped us come together and facilitated a way for us to help the community out.