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The New York Times
Letters to the Editor
229 West 43rd Street
New York, NY 10036
The Boy Scouts of America (BSA), one of our finest civic organizations, has recently entangled itself in theological controversy. Paul Trout, an outstanding 15-year-old Scout from West Virginia, has been denied Life rank and expelled from the Scouts because he cannot affirm God as a "Supreme Being." Raul Chavez, Communications Director of the BSA, claimed on the July 30 Phil Donahue Show that belief in God as a "supreme Being" is common to all religions and therefore to require that belief as a prerequisite to Scout membership does not violate the non-sectarian nature of the organization. Unfortunately for Mr. Chavez, theological knots are far more intricate than the knots with which the Scouts are used to dealing.
The Scout Oath requires that a Scout do his duty "to God and country," never mind that those two duties may often be in conflict with one another. Should the BSA wish to require of its members a belief in some kind of God it surely may do so but, if it does, it ought to (1) make that requirement explicitly clear to prospective Scouts and (2) recognize that it is thereby establishing a "religious test" for membership and excluding a whole host of young people, including some Unitarian Universalists, who consider themselves religious people but who do not speak of their faith and spirituality in terms of God. Such a religious test also raises questions as to whether the Scouts ought to receive government funds or utilize government properties.
More to the point with regard to Paul Trout, however, is that, though he is willing to speak of "God," he does not conceive of God as a "Supreme Being." In this respect he is, contrary to Mr. Chavez's reading of religious history, in exceptionally good company. Not only do most Eastern religions have far less hierarchical notions of deity than the Scouts do but even the Christian tradition, particularly in its more mystical manifestations, offers considerable support for Mr. Trout's wariness of God's "supremacy." It is ironic that Paul Tillich, arguably the greatest Christian theologian of this century, could not be a Boy Scout for he understood God as the "ground of al1 Being," exactly opposite to a "supreme Being." And even Jesus might have difficulty qualifyinq if he held to his opinion that "the Kingdom of God is within you!" Indeed, much of contemporary theology, influenced in large measure by feminist spirituality, has long since abandoned the notion of God as "above" or "beyond" Creation, greater than all that is.
But then why should Mr. Chavez be expected to know that? His business is not theology but the development of leadership in young people. That is of course the very point. Let the Scouts stick to what they do best and let them heed the words of a great believer: "God is not what you imagine," said Augustine of Hippo, "or what you think you understand. For if you understand, you have failed."
The Rev. William F. Schulz, D.Min.
President Unitarian Universalist Association
Schulz letter © 1985, Unitarian Universalist Association.
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Last updated on Wednesday, October 26, 2011.
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