The Essentials

The current crisis, in my mind, dates to Thursday, March 12.  That particular day, at least in my socially distant location, the pandemic became a panic.  Decisions were made to have employees work remotely.  Zoom or Skype meetings were substituted for the face-to-face variety.  Church services were cancelled.  There was a run on toilet paper.  This final aspect has me really vexed.  Why toilet paper?  Experts say if we kept to our usual buying habits there would be plenty for everyone, but the survivalist mentality kicked in and people began hoarding.  If the apocalypse was coming, they wanted to go down fighting with clean underwear on.  We were in Ithaca the next day to see my daughter.  We ordered out from a local restaurant.  When we got home we found a role of new toilet paper in the top of the bag.

According to my amateur dating technique, we’ve been in this state for 13 days now.  Toilet paper, tissues, and paper towels are nowhere to be found.  I looked on Amazon.  They can get you toilet paper, but you’ll need to wait until May.  Why?  Ironically, because it’s being shipped from China.  Yes, the nation where the pandemic erupted has toilet paper aplenty.  Here in the greatest [sic] nation in the world, there’s none to be found.  What does this tell us about a country that self-identifies as “Christian”?  Whatever happened to “if someone demands your coat, give them your shirt also”?  Or perhaps more to the point, “turn the other cheek”?  How has a nation of Bible believers responded to a crisis?  By becoming selfish.  By stockpiling toilet paper.

I’ve spent a lot of time camping.  I’m fairly comfortable with the ways of nature.  Like most other people I prefer a nice, private restroom with all the accoutrements, but if bears can do it in the woods, why can’t we?  I have my Boy Scout guide right here.  But it suggests using toilet paper.  If books could be ordered, I suspect How To Poop [this is the family friendly version] in the Woods would be a current bestseller.  Trump says he wants everyone back to work by Easter, but the toilet paper ordered from Asia won’t even be here by then.  And will offices have access to some secret stash that only those who buy in bulk can find?  Hoarding makes any crisis worse, but this particular one seems especially mean spirited.  It makes me realize just how great America has been made.

Latter-Day Scouts

Physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight. And prepared. That’s what Boy Scouts are supposed to be. My attempts to become an Eagle Scout were about like my attempts to become a priest—fraught with peril from the beginning. As a child I wasn’t physically strong, for one thing. The runt of the litter, I was scrawny and often sick. Mentally awake remains a reasonable goal, as does morally straight. Such are the realities of life. Then why are the Mormons parting ways with the Scouts? In a recent Washington Post story by Samantha Schmidt, the Latter-Day Saints are formally separating from the organization now known as Scouts. Whether it’s because they now allow girls to join, or if it’s because they’ve openly permitted gays, the Scouts are no doubt becoming accommodationistic in the eyes of some. In a pluralistic world it’s the only way to survive.

Girl Scouts, on the other hand, have historically not raised the question of sexual orientation. When the social dynamics of a society disadvantage girls, it’s natural that an organization to help build confidence and positive self-attitudes should exclude boys. They have no official affiliation with any religious group. I didn’t realize until reading this article that Mormon boys were automatically part of the group formerly known as Boy Scouts. It fits the image, though. If you’ve ever been on a Boy Scout retreat, however, you know that image and reality aren’t the same thing. I dropped out of Troop 3 after frequent leadership changes frustrated me from getting beyond Tenderfoot. Besides, church was taking over more and more of my life at the time. I guess I was headed for morally straight. Our troop, after all, met in a church basement.

This is about symbolism, of course. To be a Boy Scout meant you were making an effort to be good. In fact, it was kind of hard to grow up thinking you could be good without that guidance. Boy Scouts, they used to say, helped the elderly across the street. Apparently what they do behind closed bedroom doors raises the specter of morality. When I was a kid the issue seemed to be more the mentally awake aspect. The Scouts I knew were like everybody else. There was no special purity there. I never knew anyone who made it all the way to Eagle. The Boy Scout law was like a twelve-step program: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. I wasn’t a Mormon, but the church had proved itself a rival. Especially for the reverent part.

Credo

One of my seminary professors, who shall remain nameless, averred in class that Christianity in the first centuries was popular because it was exclusive. Like a country club. If just anybody can get in, why would you want to join? I’ve come to disagree with said professor’s analysis, but I have to admit there are cases where the idea does apply. Country clubs, for example. Organizations that intend to improve society, however, have it in their best interest to have doors as wide open as possible. Otherwise it’s a kind of hypocrisy. If Christianity wanted to make a better world, it soon realized, all takers should be welcome. That paradigm broke down fairly quickly, but at the beginning, I have the sense that all were welcome. So I was pleased to hear that the Boy Scouts have dropped their ban on gay troop leaders. Making a group that sets out to do a good deed a day exclusive heterosexual seems awfully backward. After all, gay leaders are nothing new. Why try to be exclusive?

Of course, the Scouts continue to disallow atheists. This is a fairly common, if medieval, marker of personal integrity. The Elks, last I heard, had few entrance requirements. One of the few stipulations, however, is that you have to believe in God. I don’t know how that plays out for Hindu Elks. Perhaps the more the merrier. Somehow, I doubt it. Exclusive belief entry requirements are a way of weeding out questions before they’re raised. Sheltering those inside from baleful influence among hoi polloi. We are better because we are different. Granted, these organizations go back to a time when theism, of sorts, was virtually a given in American society. Times have changed. Boy Scouts, it seems, are dragged into the future kicking and screaming.

I’ve always been impressed, by contrast, with the Girl Scouts’ openness. No creedal requirements are in place. Atheist girls, Buddhist girls, girls who climb on rocks, any girls are allowed to join. The last three presidents (including Obama) have been Boy Scouts. Two prior presidents have been as well. You might think the organization could meet its pedigree requirements with ease. In my view, they might look to the girls to take a cue on how to make the world a better place. When I was growing up, I knew no atheists. I remember attending a funeral of a family friend who hadn’t been a church goer, and that was pretty traumatic. As an adult I know many atheists and I trust them as much, if not more than, some of the religious I know. Would they be able to lead Boy Scout troops well? I have a suggestion—why not ask the Girl Scouts and find out?

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Accept Cookies

You have probably noticed it. As expected as the warmer days of spring are also the Girl Scout cookies. A symbol of wholesome fundraising, Girl Scout cookies have some dedicated buyers, and many imitators. Like any human organization, the Girl Scouts have their troubles, but I can’t help but compare them with the Boy Scouts in which I grew up. Well, at least for a few years. We’ve watched as the media have declared on the excluding of various demographics from the Boy Scouts. To rise to the top you must not deviate from the mythic model of the perfect man. Meanwhile, as an article in Tablet notes, Girl Scouts have been tolerant of difference from the beginning. In a day when being Jewish was still suspect in the wider community, Girl Scouts were founded with early troop leaders who were Jewish, and this was in the days before the First World War and the ensuing tragedy of the Holocaust during the Second. From those early days, Girl Scouts have continued to have a policy of acceptance of those who differ in religious outlook. It erects no barrier.

The success of social progress depends on how we train our young. Prejudice has to be learned. Children are accepting of those with differences until they learn not to be. Radical groups have to recruit constantly. Fear of strangers is natural, but when it becomes a paradigm it is a pathology. One of my professors once claimed that early Christianity thrived because it was exclusive. Only true members could join, like a country club, making it desirable among hoi polloi. Further research has demonstrated the falsity of this view. There were many varieties of Christianities in antiquity. Only by declaring itself uniquely correct, and convincing Constantine of the same, did one sect become dominant. And dominance was what it was about.

Society is all about getting along. We have come together around money to build the tallest structures on the planet. The tallest buildings used to be in the United States. Then China, Malaysia, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates. A tower serves no purpose without a collective to take pride in it. Religions, unfortunately, often measure themselves by those who stand outside. Taking the view that it only feels good to be right if others are wrong, it is easy for such thinking to slip into a prejudice that promotes and rewards exclusivity. One percent, anyone? Many aspire to such menial goals as getting more money. For me, a life that has a box of Girl Scout cookies available is enough. And I’ll take a tall glass of tolerance with that, and hope that others will feel free to share.

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Religion Is Fundamental

One of the books on my shelf growing up was a cheap paperback entitled How to Be a Christian without Being Religious. The idea appealed since having to do all that “religious” stuff seemed kind of like Catholicism or some other formal system of behavior rather than a kind of organic relationship with God. Ironically now, fast forward an indeterminate number of years, and the “spiritual but not religious” demographic is quickly rising. From the secular side. As a sign of this new direction society seems to be turning is the Hart and Crescent Award, designed for Girl and Boy Scouts who are members of a nature religion. Perhaps the most widely recognized religion of this category is Wicca, the modern incarnation of witchcraft, according to some, simple nature religion according to others. The award, according to the website, is open to any young person who completes the requirements to learn about the earth and earth religion.

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Also worthy of note is a story in last week’s Time magazine about atheist churches. Ministers from a number of traditions, disenchanted with belief systems that just don’t match what we know of reality are starting to form congregations of unbelievers. This may distress some materialists who find no reason to be spiritual, but the fact is, people naturally are. The article cites, for example, Bill Maher who stands against the idea. There is security in numbers, and in a society where people find themselves increasingly isolated from others, joining together on a Sunday morning for time with likeminded non-believers may not be such a bad thing.

One aspect of Josh Sanburn’s article has me a little puzzled, however. He notes that Richard Dawkins has torn religion apart in his books, and yet, here it is. Dawkins and Maher and other vocal atheists seem to believe that religion has brought us nothing but evil. How quick we are to forget that civilization itself is typically defined as having a formal concept religion, as well as several other components of what it means not to be “savage” or “barbarian.” That religion may not be Christianity. It may be Wicca. It may be the Houston Oasis and its atheistic system. People need common cause. Reason is great, indeed marvelous as far as it goes. People, however, are not entirely rational. They can be spiritual without being religious. And they can be religious without being believers. If you persist in it, your Scout can even earn an award for caring for the earth. And that should be no cause for complaint.


Down the Garden Trail

According to NBC, a new “Christian” alternative to Boy Scouts USA is being launched in (over)reaction to the vote to allow gay teens to “join” the organization. Calling themselves “Trail Life USA,” this redeemed-only organization is supposed to be “safer” than other scouting options. This issue, of course, is all about perception. There have been gay Boy Scouts from the beginning and there will be gay Trail Life members. People are people, and just by saying that a sexual orientation is excluded does not mean that it will be, or ever can be (nor should be). “This is not another church program,” John Stemberger, one of the founders, is quoted as saying. “This is going to be a masculine outdoor program to raise young men.” The subtext is sluggish with irony. I am reminded of the scene in Disney’s Mulan where Yao, Ling, and Chien-Po are about to climb the pillars to the emperor’s palace in drag and the song “Be a man,” starts its reprise. Masculine outdoor program indeed.

Photo by Bruce Anderson, Wikipedia Commons

Photo by Bruce Anderson, Wikipedia Commons

The idea of separating youth from the realities of the world to keep them safe is like taking them into the woods without telling them there may be bears. Those of us who’ve spent nights in the woods know that hating bears is a ridiculous posture to take. Bears, even when gnawing on your arm, don’t hate you. They simply exist. It is the balance of nature. Studies of nature have time and again revealed that homosexuality is far from unnatural. Several species practice various homosexual behaviors and I am certain that the more we observe nature the more we will find ourselves mirrored in it. Nature can be quite encompassing in that way.

Christianity also has a long history of being at a kind of equilibrium with homosexuality. The all-male priesthood of the Middle Ages could hardly be classified as all self-denying heterosexuals. Even some televangelists of the most Protestant stripe have confessed to gay encounters and episodes. New uniforms and solemn promises will not change the way a person is born. Of course, if the child is Jewish or Hindu or Muslim, he will need to abide by a statement of Christian belief. What of Mormons or Seventh Day Adventists? Thankfully lines drawn in the sand are easily washed away. Exclusion may have been the trope of the Christian past, but as Boy Scouts boldly go where every man should’ve gone before, Trail Life, it seems, may have been appropriately named. It’s life John, but not as we know it.

Treasure Hunting

It is raining in Midtown. On my lunch hour I’m in a deserted public square down on my knees with an umbrella over my head. My free hand is reaching under a piece of outdoor furniture feeling for something. At least this one is not located in the private regions of a metallic stag. What in the world am I doing here?

One of my sometime passions is Geocaching. Many years ago we started this as a family activity but with schedules changing and families being forced apart by work and school, I’ve taken to caching alone. For those not familiar with Geocaching, you many not be aware that in millions of places around the world tiny containers are hidden from view. There is likely one not too far from you. They are listed on different websites, but Geocaching.com is the main source. You set up a free account, get ahold of a GPS device and go looking. Some of the containers have goodies for the kids, while others are very, very small and your only reward is signing your name and logging the find online. As a family we found nearly 400 caches over the years. Since I spend my days in Manhattan I’ve been urban caching. Urban caches are very small and stealth must be used because those who don’t know about Geocaching who find the containers often take them, not realizing that they have a purpose. So that’s why I’m on my knees in the rain in the middle of New York City.

I raise Geocaching as a topic because of a recent article on NBC about Scouting. Girl and Boy Scouts often know about Geocaching. This is similar to what used to be called (probably still is) orienteering—learning how to find your way around. The NBC story, however, focuses on a different kind of finding your way around. Over the past several years, non-faith-based alternatives to the Scouts have been enjoying some measure of success. Not that Girl or Boy Scouts are explicitly Christian, but they did emerge from that social context. The article specifically cites the Spiral Scouts, a Wiccan-based group, as well as several secular, and even some overtly faith-based alternatives. Yes, it looks like many groups, regardless of religion, want to get kids used to the great outdoors.

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Some might fear that alternative movements signal a rend in the social fabric. I think the social fabric ought to be more like a quilt. If sewn properly, a quilt is just as functional as whole cloth, but much more interesting to look at. Girls, boys, gays, straights, Christians, Pagans, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus—what is wrong with that? I think that after being out in the rain, I might just curl up under a quilt when I get home, and I’ll be thankful for all the diversity I see comforting me under the gray skies.

Going In, Coming Out

Being primates, perhaps it is no surprise that we are fascinated by who is doing whom. We, literally, by nature, find sexual alliances fascinating. Despite the fact that close observation of nature has indicated that homosexuality is indeed natural—it has been observed in many species, and isn’t even limited to mammals—we can’t help but make it a deciding factor in what an individual is. Two unrelated news stories over the past week have focused on homosexuality as the overwhelmingly defining trait of a person. In the first story, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) has elected its first openly gay bishop. (Gay bishops, even in the pre-Reformation church, have not been exactly an endangered species.) The Rev. Dr. Guy Erwin, however, is so much more than a partnered gay man. He is a highly educated person who had held that most rare of positions—a bona fide academic position in higher education. He is also a member of the Osage Nation. His election as a Native American or as an academic would not be newsworthy. His orientation, well, that’s a whole different story.

Meanwhile, across the planet, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is cutting its ties with the Boys Scouts of America because the BSA has decided to make honest men of its boys. BSA has recently voted to allow gay boys to remain in the Scouts, something that the Mormons had no problem accepting. Quite apart from the misguided SBC move, I was saddened to see CNN’s inaccurate headline, “Baptists plan exodus from Boy Scouts.” The story does not indicate that the Baptist brand of Christianity has withdrawn, so to speak, from BSA, but the Southern Baptist Convention. Baptists are much more broad-minded than the SBC brotherhood (I use the phallocentric collective intentionally) would indicate. All Baptists, it seems, are guilty by association.

SBC in the White House

SBC in the White House

People are complex. Putting them into neat categories is unfair to who a person really is. The category “gay” is notorious for subverting all other qualifiers for decent human beings. As the National Socialist Party recognized, the easiest way to build a case against a people is to put them together in a class that “deserves” our fear, mistrust, and hatred. Don’t look at the individual beneath the label. You might be forced to change your mind. Did that individual overcome the difficulties of being a “minority” in his or her own native land? Did that individual work hard to climb through the educational system to attain an advanced degree? Did that individual commit his or her life to another person, no matter what the social stigma? None of that matters, as long as we can talk about his or her “orientation.” It is society itself that requires reorientation.

To Obey the Scout Law

Society’s prurient interests have been on display again with the intense media blitz concerning Boy Scouts of America and the fraught issue of sexual orientation. As is to be expected, certain religious bodies have sounded the final trump once again as they frenetically posture against equality. The story is so old it is difficult to see how it counts as news. When I saw that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the oldest sponsor of Boy Scouts and the denomination with the highest numbers) had made a statement about the issue, I almost didn’t even click on the link. We already know the official stance of such conservative groups, right? So I was genuinely surprised when I saw the note. This Mormon Church has no problem with the admission of homosexual boys since, and rightly so for a youth organization, the members are expected to behave according to the code of conduct. That code forbids sexual relationships, no matter a boy’s orientation, no matter with whom.

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We all know that ideals are seldom observed. We should lead by example. I spent my high school years deeply involved in the feeder program for future clergy in a major Christian denomination (the one with the second highest number of Scouts). The youth programs frequently involved having hundreds of youths together for multi-day events. Chaperoned, of course. But kids with active hormones are about the most clever creatures on the planet. I frequently heard that opportunities to find some time alone with your favorite “spiritual advisor” were not difficult to arrange. And when I enrolled in a program to study for the ministry officially, I learned that the name seminary was somehow overly appropriate. Codes of conduct exist for a reason, and those who hold to them reward the trust of adults who institute them. Society can’t operate without such rules. What happens in reality, however, is a different matter. Anyone who reads the headlines can see that.

I applaud the Mormon Church’s stance on this issue. The Boy Scouts is a social organization with nary a merit badge for sexual knowledge or experience (at least not in the Handbooks I’ve seen). Those matters, as with adults, are private. Religious groups often act as if admitting admitted homosexuals somehow changes the Jamboree into a Woodstock. The problem is with the imagination of puritan adults. The solution to the anxiety is rather simple. For those concerned, volunteer to lead a troop. Attend a meeting. See what actually goes on. The fact is, kids will be kids, and making rules to satisfy uptight adults will not change that. Many groups could learn from the Mormons here: Scouting is not about sex. It takes the imagination of adults to make it so. Boys, as the saying goes, will be boys.

Scouting for Boys

I guess losing a bid for a presidential nomination sanctions a guy to speak for God. Of course, that goes for just about any Republican these days. I’m frankly amazed that Moses managed to write the Ten Commandments without them. So Rick aptly-named Santorum has gone after the Boy Scouts. To remove the duplicitous ban on gay scouts, according to Santorum, is to remove God. Obviously Mr. Santorum was paid no attention in Boy Scouts himself. I spent many hours at Scout camp and I can attest that God was already the last thing on most boys’ minds. Maybe our former presidential hopeful ought to look back a little further, for Webelos and Cub Scouts may imply the love that dare not mewl its name. I predict this: if the ban is lifted, as it should be, no one will notice the difference. Santorum will continue beating his dead horse and the rest of America may achieve just a hint of maturity.

“Scouting may not survive this transformation of American society, but for the sake of the average boy in America, I hope the board of the Scouts doesn’t have its fingerprints on the murder weapon,” Santorum declared, according to CNN. I have to wonder what he knows about the average boy in America. Or the average girl. Santorum would have a difficult time finding the word “gay” in his Bible, for it is not there. But apparently God is not God without someone to hate, without the “Right” to show him the way. And God favors straight, white men, as the last presidential election clearly shows.

Any religion that makes someone feel better by repressing others is not worthy of propagation or emulation. Look at any oppressed group. What’s the backing always cited by the oppressor? Is it not narrow religious belief? Anyone can say “God says.” There—I just wrote it. And I could distort the Bible to make God dance to my prejudices as well. The problem is that I recognize how cheap and tawdry such eisegesis is. Of course, hot air expands. The Texas governor that God told to run for president, but then changed his divine, omniscient mind, and who never thought closely about the implications of that—aka Rick Perry—also had to weigh in on the issue. CNN quotes him as stating, “Scouting is about teaching a substantial amount of life lessons… Sexuality is not one of them. It never has been; it doesn’t need to be.” Mr. Perry needs to spend a weekend at camp with his eyes and ears open and his mouth shut. In the best of all possible political worlds, his bosom buddy Rick Santorum will be right there beside him. Maybe it will take a little child to lead them after all. And that actually is biblical.

From WikiCommons, AgnosticPreachersKid--worth a thousand words

From WikiCommons, AgnosticPreachersKid–worth a thousand words

On My Honor

Some old fashioned institutions fear new learning. Although I was a Boy Scout for only a couple of years, I grew up in Cub Scouts and Webelos and had a pretty good idea what boys talked about when they were together. It would’ve shocked me at the time to learn that some Scouts were gay, but then, I was young and most new things shocked me. I later came to learn that not only some Scouts, but also many of the guys I knew from conference-wide church groups were gay. It wasn’t so much that they were in the closet as the rest of the world was. Society wasn’t ready to admit anything that challenged male patriarchy (this was the 60s and that was beginning to shift), and homosexuality did challenge that hierarchy. The Bible could be used to back a husband’s superiority over his wife, but if two men formed a couple—as B-movie computers used to say—”that does not compute.” A society that declared sex had one purpose only—procreation—was already deep in denial about the symbolic power that sexual relations inherently possess, something even the ancient Greeks knew about. How could a culture that out of sync with nature come to embrace true equality?

In the socially conservative icebox of the fin de siècle nouveau (pardon my French), evangelical forces began to declare the Bible as the basis for defining marriage. The problem is that the Bible doesn’t do such a good job of it. Marriage is far from a sacrament, and its main purpose seems to have been to make sure men were kept accountable for the children they sired. After all, they could have as many wives as they could afford, eh, Solomon? The Boy Scouts, so loyal to God and country, preferred not to admit what was already part of their culture. You isolate a bunch of boys together in a cabin in the woods, and what happens? The old myth of Platonic hero-and-sidekick pairs with nary a thought of the pounding chorus of hormones surging through the atmosphere held up remarkably well, considering.

We like to think we live in a more enlightened age. Sexologists tell us that mating is hardly just for reproduction—the natural world belies that. The Bible says little about its purpose, not being of a scientific bent. And yet the Boy Scouts hold up three fingers and go beyond don’t ask, don’t tell. I’m glad to see that they are again considering a look at the obvious. In the Bible that cotton-poly blend you’re wearing is mentioned as evil just a few verses away from one of the few passages that says the same thing about homosexuality (and even that is an overstatement). The Bible was a product of its time, just as the Boy Scouts were a product of theirs. If they want to honor their pledge about keeping morally straight, the Boy Scouts need to consider morality in the light of what we know and open the closet doors to what society has been keeping hidden all along.

Read the green words.

Read the green words.

Parsing God

Being married to a Girl Scout leads to many benefits beyond just the cookies. Not that cookies are unimportant, of course. Having been a Boy Scout briefly back in the 1970’s, I recall three-finger salutes, rambunctious meetings, and the occasional camping trip complete with the rabbit coming out of the hole, going around the tree and then something else. I’m sure there was a Boy Scout pledge, but I can’t remember it. Like most group activities, Boy Scout meetings served mainly to remind me of my own inferiority, and so my mind does not often enjoy visiting those places. Having attended a few Girl Scout meetings over the years as my daughter was growing up, I heard the Girl Scout promise a few times, and was a little surprised that the phrase, “To serve my God” has remained unaltered, even with the changing face of the population. When I attended an event hosted by the Elks, the civic organization, the presenter began by explaining the rules for who might join. It too, is limited to theists. The reason for such admission requirements has me pondering if there was a time God was an endangered entity in the United States. If not, why insist on this proviso?

I’ve been reading about religion’s role in society. Something that those who seek primarily the deep, personal and experiential aspect of religion may not realize is that religion is a form of social order. Scientific knowledge about God, if God be incorporeal, non-material, and beyond space and time, is impossible. Religions don’t prove God’s existence, but they serve to reinforce the sanction of the sacred for human society. They have an essential role in that drama. By limiting membership to believers organizations such as the Elks are merely asserting their belief in the working of the system. Of course, from the beginning those who do not believe risk little by claiming they do believe.

But what of the doubter, who may be the truest believer of all? Some Girl Scout literature has a footnote, parsing God: “The word ‘God’ can be interpreted in a number of ways, depending on one’s spiritual beliefs.” Belief is a form of commitment more than a mental certainty. In the Hebrew Bible belief was not as strong a suit as obedience; and thus it had been for the history of organized religion. Starting perhaps as early as Jeremiah, a shift began to take religion more toward a matter of internal commitment. In the face of utter loss, Jeremiah (or one of his fans) suggested that belief was more important that unthinking obedience. Belief is very subtle but vitally powerful. Lives are staked, and sometimes lost, on it. So while you’re enjoying another cookie, try parsing your belief. Me? I’m still trying to figure out when that rabbit goes back in the hole.

Lost Purpose

In a move that demonstrates its love of Inquisitions, the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is officially investigating the Girl Scouts. Seemingly forgetful of the fact that a bunch of unmarried men with a record of protecting pedophiles is not above scrutiny itself, the Catholic Church now seems to think it has the right to police other organizations. The concern these men show for what goes on in other people’s underwear is beyond perverse—WWJD indeed? Both my daughter and my wife are Girl Scouts, and so I know it is not a perfect organization. I also know that it lives up to its goal of offering girls the chance to gain self-confidence and become empowered women. Women who are not trodden under the heavy feet of doctrine are tied to stakes and burnt, in good old-fashioned Christian charity. And why the fuss among our Roman companions? They’re afraid because of demonstrably false allegations that Girl Scouts “associates with” organizations to which the church also objects.

I was a Boy Scout for a few years. Already in those days jokes of homosexual leaders—and a few actual cases—were de rigueur. Where was the Catholic Church? Yet this year alone they have made strident moves against their own nuns and now, again, against the Girl Scouts. Where two or three women are gathered together, the Catholic bishops will begin to pick up stones. Better not read what Jesus is scribbling in the dirt. Some of my readers have problems with my biblical interpretation. I will now ask if anyone can produce a biblical prooftext for the church’s mandate to oversee the organizational structure of secular, non-profit, non-religious associations. What does the Bible say about that? Clearly what the Bible does allow sexually favors men. Where your testosterone lies, there will be your heart also.

All of this belies a lost of purpose for the church. Like the empire whose epithet it shares, the Roman Catholic Church is perceiving paranoid threats from every quarter. The purpose of Christianity, at least according to a guy called Jesus, was to help the poor and underprivileged and to love all people. Even those who crucify you. Now the message the headlines declare is that any organization offering women sexual autonomy will be investigated by the bishops. It matters not whether any allegations have a basis in fact. Christianity’s purpose? To assert male authority. To prevent any organization of women from achieving confidence or equality. To subjugate an entire half of the human race to the will of a single man. Does that sound like the true purpose of religion to you?

Golden Eagles

I used to be a Boy Scout. Not a very good one, but I did try. Eventually, before even reaching the rank of “Tenderfoot” I dropped out. I often wonder what life would be like if I’d gone on to be an Eagle Scout, like Gerald Ford. Would I have made president? Or at least Assistant Professor? Last night I attended a workshop for Girl Scouts. My daughter is about to embark on the program that leads to the Gold Award, the highest honor a girl can attain in the organization. I want her to succeed where Dad failed. Maybe earn herself a better life.

Girl Scouts are as organized as Methodists and as legalistic as Jesuits. As we sat listening to the requirements, I was stunned by the degree of technicality. You can do this, but not that, that, or that. I remember now that I didn’t make Eagle Scout. What struck me as most intriguing, however, is the fact that certain projects are disallowed for theological reasons. In order to earn a Gold Award, the Scout must conceive, lead, and implement a social service project. It is a noble goal. In society many people are hurting and in need, and governors, representatives, and senators do not seem to notice. Yet, the leader of the meeting noted – if the project involves “controversial” issues, it will be declined. Controversial issues are things like abortion (i.e., women’s rights), or gay rights.

While I agree, it is not safe to put girls in the line of fire, I thought about these issues. The reasons that they are controversial is that Evangelical Christianity has made them so. Evangelicalism is a strain of Christianity that has a trajectory that went on the offensive in the 1960s. Charging the emotions of regular Americans with the terrors of gay love and dead fetuses, it raised these issues to national consciousness and made them a part of every political campaign in the latter part of the last millennium and into this one. These are points of great human suffering. The answers are not easy, but the fact remains – neither is a biblical issue. Yet girls are prevented from taking on issues that may have the most solid and tangible impact on their future. I was saddened.

I have no complaints with the Girl Scouts. It is a shining example of an organization that gives girls the confidence and tools they need in a hostile environment. I am disappointed, however, that a small but vocal cross-section of Christianity has made certain topics – topics that need to be addressed – off-limits for concerned young women.