With all of the obscure ceremonies and chanted declarations that take place in your typical scout troop, it’s understandable that some people may begin to believe Scouting to be a religious cult. In this article, I’ll take a look at the official evidence, then provide you with an insider’s perspective into whether or not the boy scouts are actually a cult.
Are The Boy Scouts A Religious Cult? Every troop is different, but in my experience, many of our memorized oaths and slogans, as well the ceremonies we organized, served mainly for show. However, Scouting, in general, tends to have strong religious undertones. Atheists and agnostics are technically not allowed to join, despite my own troops never enforcing this policy.
You’re probably thinking, “No person in a cult will tell you they’re in a cult,” right? I’m with you. If you’ve witnessed one of our Scouting ceremonies involving candles and Native American headdresses, I concede that we definitely do look a little cult-like.
I can’t speak for all scout troops, but in my own experience, there were several important reasons why we made an effort to put on these suspect events. This article will be giving you that insider’s scoop!
Is Scouting A Cult?
Don’t worry, soon I’ll be giving you my actual first-hand experience of seeing the culty side of Scouting. First though, here is a list of 10 reasons why Scouting could be considered a cult.
Reasons Why Scouting Probably Is a Cult
- Scouts required to memorize and recite various sayings and oaths
- Strict, standardized dress code
- Crazy ceremonies that no one nowadays would come up with
- Wacky cultural appropriation buffalo outfits
- Weekend getaways to nature
- Hierarchy based on rank
- Limited access to phones and other electronics
- Sells overpriced popcorn to raise money (full article here)
- Liberal use of ceremonial candles
- Little, if any, parental interference
The isolated and archaic nature of Scouting does seem a little cult-like when you think about it. Are the scout oath and law really all that they seem? The above evidence really makes you wonder, if Scouting isn’t a cult, why are some of its rituals so strange and secretive?
I’m glad you asked because here are 10 reasons why Scouting probably isn’t a cult.
Reasons Why Scouting Probably Isn’t a Cult
- Run by adolescent boys (and now a few girls)
- Usually meets two times a week at most
- No real repercussions for speaking out or stepping out of line
- Outfits are generally purchased on Amazon
- Inspired by the British military in the 1900s
- Typically pretty disorganized with frequent new members
- Many events get posted on social media
- Some little kids call their parents to get picked up in the middle of camps
- Not much variety of secret rituals
- Lots of public press coverage
This seems like a pretty disorganized cult — really, more like an unusual religious group at best. While it seems pretty undeniable that young teenagers probably wouldn’t be able to organize a great cult, it does seem as though Scouting has some pretty strange practices…
For instance, we sure do talk about God a lot in our ceremonies. So Scouting may not be a cult, but if you’re anything like me, you might be wondering…
Is Scouting Religious?
I’ll admit, I had no idea what the BSA’s official policy on religion was when diving into this question. However, after 15 minutes of Googling, I’m now ready to report to you the official answers of whether or not Scouting is a religious organization.
What I found was that Scouting is indeed very religious. In fact, it is actually an official requirement that a newly joined scout much have some belief in a higher power. This technically disqualifies atheists and agnostics from becoming members. However, there are some workarounds as of 2016 that allow nonreligious individuals an opportunity to join Scouting.
One of these workarounds is the Unitarian Universalist Congregation. Unitarian universalists believe in “free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” This belief is not necessarily tied to a belief in God or a higher power, giving atheists and agnostics an opportunity to join. In March of 2016, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation and the BSA signed an agreement, allowing this practice to satisfy a scout’s religious requirements.
Now that I think about it, I missed some pretty clear evidence that Scouting had religious undertones. “A scout is reverent,“ “To God and my country.“ I think the reason why I probably didn’t notice was that there were a decent amount of atheists or agnostics in my troop. Not all troops are the same, and many put a greater emphasis on acceptance and inclusion than on abiding by official regulations.
Having been in two troops, I think I’m doubly qualified to fill you in on the realities of Scouting. Are you ready to get an inside look at some of the most cult-like Scouting practices I’ve seen?
My Firsthand Account Of Scouting’s Rituals and Practices
When I started Scouting, one of my first memories was seeing a makeshift bridge, held together by lashings and 8-foot long branches, placed in the center of a stage. During this ceremony, the younger Weblos scouts would climb across this bridge and officially ‘cross over’ to become boy scouts.
My first Scouting ‘cult ceremony’ did not disappoint. Candles were lit and oaths recited. As I watched in wide-eyed wonder, one of the scouts in a buffalo costume ambled up on stage to read a lengthy scout bylaw from a script.
At one point in the ceremony, I was shocked as the audience began to join in! All of the scouts in attendance rose, scout signs at the ready. Almost in unison, they slowly began to recite each point of the Scout Law. Candles were lit following the completion of each uttered word.
After they spoke the last line, “A scout is reverent,” the eagle-candleholder that they brought out was finally fully lit, 12 flames slowly burning. A large Scouting menorah-type thing, all I could do was look on in awe as the eagle printed on the front gazed into my soul.
Sounds a little cult-y, right?
4 years later though, I was the one who could be found staffing yet another ceremony; reading from a script and adorned in a cheap tribal costume. Looking out from the stage, I could see parents trying, unsuccessfully, to quietly talk amongst themselves near the back of the room. Somewhere, a baby could be heard crying.
When we all rose to light candles and recite the scout law, we suddenly found that our lighter was out of fluid (I wasn’t in charge of that part). 3 minutes of technical difficulties later, we were up and running again. At that moment though, noticing the bored expressions of the other scouts and synthetic fur scratching at my neck, it sure felt a whole lot less cult-like than before.
But then I realized something. Scouting’s odd ceremonies and secretive rituals arent for the parents, scoutmasters, or even most of the troop. Who they’re really for are the younger scouts. By allowing these young new members to feel as though they’re a part of something important, you give them the feeling of being included in something exciting and exclusive.
Scouting really isn’t a cult, at least in my experience. It may be religious, but really, it’s so much more than that. Scouting provides young people with an opportunity to have a sense of importance. It creates intricate ceremonies to allow it’s members to participate in secretive and exclusive ceremonies. It lets its members, typically uncertain young people, feel as though they’re part of something beyond themselves. Something important.
I hope you’ve found my article to be unbiased and informative. Sorry to disappoint if you were dead-set on Scouting being a cult. The reality of the situation is that the culty-ness of Scouting is about the same as the culty-ness of being a worker at Disneyland (so the loosest definition of a cult).
As I mentioned earlier, the reason behind Scouting’s odd practices is to give younger scouts a feeling of inclusion and importance. By allowing them to participate in secretive ceremonies, they can gain confidence and a sense of self-worth. I think that’s a pretty worthy reason to act a bit like a cult!
While Scouting, based on it’s official regulations, should be overly religious and exclusionary, I never saw this to be the case. In my own experience, religion never played a significant role in either of my troops. These days, Scouting has progressed to the point where even atheists and agnostics are able to circumvent Scouting’s religious requirements and join, creating a more inclusive space for all.