The BSA and Nontheists: A Reply to Steve Hays

After reading my post about the BSA’s policy of discriminating against atheists, Steve Hays is not convinced. While at one point he recognizes that I am criticizing “the opposing position internally, on its own terms,” at several other points he seems to forget that, e.g., his tu quoque claim that atheists don’t generally defend the civil liberties of theists, his question about how atheists can justify moral realism, etc. As interesting as those issues are, however, they are irrelevant to whether the “internal” critique succeeds, so we can set them aside.
Some of his other points, however, are relevant. Here is one:
iv) Finally, one way atheists secularize the culture is to infiltrate institutions which were traditionally religious or religiously-conditioned, then secularize those institutions from within.
That way there’s nothing to push back against the atheist agenda. Indeed, they’ve dragooned the opposing institutions to further the secular agenda. Infiltrate, sterilize, then co-opt for your own purposes.
What Hays forgets is the BSA’s stated reason for excluding nontheists, which I quoted in my last post. The BSA doesn’t justify their policy based on a fear of ‘atheistic infiltration.’ Rather, the BSA justifies their policy based on the claim that belief in God is required in order to be the best kind of citizen. So even if Hays were correct about ‘atheist infiltration,’ which I do not grant, this is irrelevant. (Also, note that the risk of ‘atheist infiltration’ can be mitigated by allowing atheist youth, but not atheist adult leaders; it’s not an all-or-nothing decision.)
Hays also mentions the distinction between attendance and membership:
That fails to distinguish between attendance and membership. To join an evangelical church, you’re generally required to make profession of faith. And the standards are higher for church officers.
Good point. My analogy between Scouting and a church isn’t perfect. Scouting is not a church; the focus of Scouting really is on the outdoors, first aid, community service, and the like. Churches have a much greater focus on beliefs than the BSA does (and rightfully so). In fact, other than belief in God, I can’t think of any other beliefs required for membership in the BSA. I have no idea if Hays has ever been involved with Scouting, but, speaking as an Eagle Scout, in my experience, belief in God often does not play an integral role in Scouting. For example, I was a member of a scout troop sponsored by a church and we met in a church, but our meetings never opened or closed with prayer, I never once saw the church’s pastor at a scout meeting, and there was no boy who held the youth leadership position of “Chaplain’s Aide.” The only time God was mentioned was during a recital of the Scout Oath or Scout Law. To say that makes God an integral part of Scouting would be analogous to the claim that God is an integral part of public schools because children recite the Pledge of Allegiance on a daily basis; both arguments would be bad and for the same reasons.

On the other hand, I don’t deny that God can play a major role in Scouting for some scouts. For example, it is practically a sacrament of the Mormon church that all Mormon boys join the BSA, so there were many LDS boy scout troops and I am sure that the LDS faith played a big role in LDS troops.

Finally, Hays doesn’t seem to recognize how self-refuting his defense of the BSA’s policy is.
Atheists are more likely to be moral in a culture that reinforces conventional Christian morality. To the extent that atheists are self-consciously atheistic, to the extent that atheists successfully secularize the culture, then to that extent they are less likely to be moral. They lack the same external or internal restraints. On the one hand, the traditional social sanctions are gone. On the other hand, they are taking their secular outlook to its logical conclusion.
This is the essence of my internal critique of the BSA’s policy. If it is a fact that “atheists are more likely to be moral in a culture that reinforces conventional Christian morality,” which again I do not grant, then that is a reason for allowing atheists to join. Give them all the moral support you can! The BSA’s position seems to be both “atheists are more likely to be moral in a culture that reinforces conventional Christian morality” and “atheists should be excluded from an organization that would help reinforce conventional Christian morality.” What possible moral reason could the BSA have for withholding the moral support they believe nontheists so desperately need? In fact, this suggests an ‘internal’ argument for the immorality of the BSA: by deliberately withholding moral support from people who both need it and want it, the BSA is directly contributing to the immorality of nontheistic youth.

About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09528006919947428243 Rover Serton

    Religion spoils everything.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09528006919947428243 Rover Serton

    Sorry to repost so soon. Funny story: I was a girl scout for 4 years while in the USAF. I had to be a girl scout because my manager ran a girl scout camp. I knew how to use a chainsaw, paddle canoe, and could shovel snow off roofs of buildings in the UP of MI. To be on girl scout property, I had to be a girl scout (as a 18-22 year old man) so I could get the Girl scout insurance (their requirement).

    I would go out when NO girls were around and take care of the camp. So much fun!

    I allow our church to allow Boy Scouts in our church. I am torn by the "God" part of the boys pledge. I am much more comfortable with the Girl Scouts being there.

    Rover.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16547070544928321788 steve

    “While at one point he recognizes that I am criticizing ‘the opposing position internally, on its own terms,’ at several other points he seems to forget that, e.g., his tu quoque claim that atheists don't generally defend the civil liberties of theists, his question about how atheists can justify moral realism, etc. As interesting as those issues are, however, they are irrelevant to whether the ‘internal’ critique succeeds, so we can set them aside.”

    i) How is the question of reciprocity irrelevant? Jeff suggested that the BSA is a bigoted organization, and Christians who fail to support the equal right of atheists to join BSA are hypocritical.

    My point is that Christians who support the exclusionary policy of the BSA could have a morally consistent reason for doing so. It would be foolhardy to defend your civil liberties if you refuse to defend ours, and–in fact, use your expanded rights to contract our rights.

    ii) How is moral realism is irrelevant? When Jeff suggests that the BSA is bigoted, that’s a moralistic value-judgment. That’s not a purely internal critique. Rather, Jeff is expressing his own opinion. Expressing his disapproval for the discriminatory policy of the BSA.

    “What Hays forgets is the BSA's stated reason for excluding nontheists, which I quoted in my last post. The BSA doesn't justify their policy based on a fear of 'atheistic infiltration.' Rather, the BSA justifies their policy based on the claim that belief in God is required in order to be the best kind of citizen. So even if Hays were correct about 'atheist infiltration,' which I do not grant, this is irrelevant.?”

    And Jeff is forgetting that his original indictment was broader than that. He didn’t simply indict the BSA for hypocrisy and bigotry. Rather, he entitled his original post “Where is the Outcry from Theists Against the BSA's Policy of Discrimination against Nontheists?”

    So he’s insinuated that theists generally, and not simply the policymakers at the BSA, are culpable unless they protest the BSA policy.

    Likewise, he said in a separate comment: “I find it fascinating (and disturbing) that not one theist has responded to this post with a comment expressing disapproval of the BSA's policy.”

    So his objection isn’t confined to the rationale given by the BSA policymakers. If I refrain from condemning the BSA’s policy, that doesn’t mean I have to defend their justification. I could disagree with their justification, but have an independent reason for supporting their policy (or at least, for not opposing their policy). I don’t have to think their policy is warranted for the same reasons they think their policy is warranted.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16547070544928321788 steve

    Cont. “(Also, note that the risk of 'atheist infiltration' can be mitigated by allowing atheist youth, but not atheist adult leaders; it's not an all-or-nothing decision.)”

    That’s an ersatz compromise. Atheists who oppose the BSA policy will hardly settle for half-measures. They’d sue the BSA for (allegedly) violating the equal protection clause. They say that if it’s wrong to bar atheist boy scouts, then it’s just as wrong to bar atheist scoutmasters or atheist administrators. Indeed, upper-level management sets the policy in the first place. If you wish to reform the organization, it’s logical to start at the top, not the bottom.

    “I have no idea if Hays has ever been involved with Scouting.”

    No, I wasn’t. However, when Jeff faulted theists in general for failing to speak out against the BSA policy, he didn’t limit his appeal to former boy scouts.

    “…but, speaking as an Eagle Scout, in my experience, belief in God often does not play an integral role in Scouting.”

    That could be. I’m not vouching for the BSA. Jeff’s original argument wasn’t casting in terms requiring me to vouch for the BSA. I’m just discussing the issue hypothetically, as a matter of principle.

    “Finally, Hays doesn't seem to recognize how self-refuting his defense of the BSA's policy is.”

    And Jeff doesn’t seem to recognize that I anticipated his objection when I pointed out that if atheists infiltrate the BSA, then it will cease to present a counterthrust to atheism.

    Again, I’m not claiming that it currently serves that purpose. I’m merely responding to Jeff as he himself framed the issue.

    BTW, does The Secular Outpost and/or The Secular Web have any Christian moderators? If not, why is it okay for The Secular Outpost/Secular Web to discriminate against theists, but it’s not okay for the BSA to discriminate against atheists? Why is one bigotry, but the other is not?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Steve Hays wrote:

    And Jeff is forgetting that his original indictment was broader than that. He didn’t simply indict the BSA for hypocrisy and bigotry. Rather, he entitled his original post “Where is the Outcry from Theists Against the BSA's Policy of Discrimination against Nontheists?”

    So he’s insinuated that theists generally, and not simply the policymakers at the BSA, are culpable unless they protest the BSA policy.

    Likewise, he said in a separate comment: “I find it fascinating (and disturbing) that not one theist has responded to this post with a comment expressing disapproval of the BSA's policy.”

    So his objection isn’t confined to the rationale given by the BSA policymakers. If I refrain from condemning the BSA’s policy, that doesn’t mean I have to defend their justification. I could disagree with their justification, but have an independent reason for supporting their policy (or at least, for not opposing their policy). I don’t have to think their policy is warranted for the same reasons they think their policy is warranted.

    I agree with this last sentence. So I will rephrase the question asked in the title of my original post: where is the outcry from theists against the BSA's reasons for its policy of discrimination against nontheists?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Steve wrote:

    “Finally, Hays doesn't seem to recognize how self-refuting his defense of the BSA's policy is.”

    And Jeff doesn’t seem to recognize that I anticipated his objection when I pointed out that if atheists infiltrate the BSA, then it will cease to present a counterthrust to atheism.

    This reply would make sense if Scouting were providing a "counterthrust to atheism" now, but it doesn't. There is no 'apologetics merit badge' for Boy Scouts to earn. On this very point, Steve writes this:

    Again, I’m not claiming that it currently serves that purpose. I’m merely responding to Jeff as he himself framed the issue.

    I framed the issue as an internal critique of the BSA's stated justification for its policy. Based on my rephrasing of the question in my original post's title, I don't think this response is relevant. Again, where is the outcry from theists against the BSA's reasons for its policy of discrimination against nontheists?

    BTW, does The Secular Outpost and/or The Secular Web have any Christian moderators? If not, why is it okay for The Secular Outpost/Secular Web to discriminate against theists, but it’s not okay for the BSA to discriminate against atheists? Why is one bigotry, but the other is not?

    This is yet another appeal to the tu quoque fallacy. When the Secular Web had its "IIDB" discussion forums, I remember we did allow theistic moderators. The Secular Web itself publishes essays by nontheists and theists; the Secular Web has asked theistic scholars to peer review submissions. The Secular Outpost does not have any moderators, but I would be open to a theistic contributor.

    Also, notice that the Secular Web and Secular Outpost don't adopt policies based on claims about the alleged immorality of theists.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16547070544928321788 steve

    Jeffery Jay Lowder said…

    "This is yet another appeal to the tu quoque fallacy."

    Popular misconceptions notwithstanding, the tu quoque argument is not a fallacy. It's just a type of argument from analogy.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16547070544928321788 steve

    Jeffery Jay Lowder said…

    "This reply would make sense if Scouting were providing a 'counterthrust to atheism' now, but it doesn't. There is no 'apologetics merit badge' for Boy Scouts to earn…I framed the issue as an internal critique of the BSA's stated justification for its policy. Based on my rephrasing of the question in my original post's title, I don't think this response is relevant. Again, where is the outcry from theists against the BSA's reasons for its policy of discrimination against nontheists?"

    i) The problem with your "rephrased" argument is that you've rephrased your original argument out of existence. Your rephrased argument is practically the polar opposite of your original argument. You initially argued thusly:

    "But what if someone says, "I don't care what some Christian apologists have written. I don't think nontheists are moral. I don't trust them." From that perspective, there is even more reason to allow nontheists to join the BSA. If nontheists are so 'morally defective,' then what better course of action than to allow them to join an organization which, other than its policy of discrimination against homosexuals and nontheists, promotes good moral values? If nontheists are morally handicapped, why not give them as much 'moral support' as possible to ensure they turn into adults with the best kind of moral character?"

    If the reason the BSA ought to admit atheists into its ranks is because that would furnish atheist scouts with a moral framework lacking in atheism, and if, according to your rephrased argument, there is no fundamental contrast between the two groups, then, by converse logic, the BSA should not admit atheists into its ranks.

    If the original reason for including atheists is that, left to their own devices, atheists are morally defective, and the BSA conditioning compensates for that moral deficiency, that implies a contrast between the theistic ethics of the BSA and the defective ethics of atheism.

    If, however, you rephrase the argument to essentially erase the contrast, by saying there is nothing distinctively theistic about the boy scout honor code, and your original argument for including them was predicated on that very contrast, then your rephrased argument is now an argument for excluding them.

    ii) As for me, I can have my own reasons for supporting its restrictive policy which have nothing to do with the stated reasons of the BSA.

    For instance, I support the restrictive policy because I don't think we should be empowering atheists. I don't believe they should be mainstreamed. I don't believe they should enjoy social acceptance.

    You may resent that, but you asked.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Steve wrote:

    i) The problem with your "rephrased" argument is that you've rephrased your original argument out of existence. Your rephrased argument is practically the polar opposite of your original argument.

    This response confuses the distinction between "an organization that promotes a belief in God *and* promotes a set of secular moral values" and "an organization that promotes a belief in God and promotes exclusively religious moral values."

    The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) promotes 12 moral values, known as the 12 points of the Scout Law: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. 11 of those 12 moral values are secular. Even if a boy remained a nontheist throughout his entire youth (and thus rejecting the 12th point of the Scout Law in the traditional sense), surely the nontheist boy, like all boys, would benefit from having points 1-11 reinforced. In fact, the BSA appears to hold the position that nontheist boys need to have points 1-11 reinforced more than theistic boys. And yet the BSA's policy withholds this sort of moral support from a group it thinks needs it the most.

    ii) As for me, I can have my own reasons for supporting its restrictive policy which have nothing to do with the stated reasons of the BSA.

    For instance, I support the restrictive policy because I don't think we should be empowering atheists. I don't believe they should be mainstreamed. I don't believe they should enjoy social acceptance.

    Yes, we understand that you support the BSA's policy because you are prejudiced against atheists. You weren't the sort of theist I had in mind when I asked about the outcry from theists.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16547070544928321788 steve

    Jeffery Jay Lowder said…

    "This response confuses the distinction between 'an organization that promotes a belief in God *and* promotes a set of secular moral values' and 'an organization that promotes a belief in God and promotes exclusively religious moral values.'"

    Since you didn't draw these finespun distinctions in your original argument, I can't very well confuse them. You're at liberty to keep amending your original argument with ex post facto caveats. But I can't respond to an argument before you make it. The problem is not that I failed to hit the initial target, but that, having hit the target, you keep moving the target. I've been debating Jeff 1.0, then Jeff 2.0, then Jeff 3.0

    "Yes, we understand that you support the BSA's policy because you are prejudiced against atheists."

    Now you're having to take refuge in demagoguery. That's unfortunate, but not surprising.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    "Yes, we understand that you support the BSA's policy because you are prejudiced against atheists."

    Now you're having to take refuge in demagoguery. That's unfortunate, but not surprising.

    Short reply: It's not all about you.

    Long reply: The original post was addressed to theists who admit that nontheists can be just as moral as theists. (I'm reminded of William Lane Craig's statement that nontheists often live lives that put Christians to shame.) You've made it clear that you think nontheists are less moral than theists. You've also stated you don't want atheists to gain social acceptance. We get it; we understand that is your position. You weren't the target audience for my original post. There are other theists who, despite their disagreements with agnosticism and atheism, are not opposed to social acceptance of atheism. They are my target audience.


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