The religion of Scouting is non-denominational. It is an old-fashioned ecumenism that affirms duties toward God and neighbor, but refrains from any more specific doctrines. Yet this quasi-religious character puts Boy Scouts in a tight spot in a society where distinctions between sacred and secular are drawn ever more sharply. Scouts seem too religious for the secular, too secular for the religious.
Scouting is tied to language and attitudes — honor, duty, reverence, deference to authority and the group, long-term thinking, ideals of manhood — that are increasingly marginal in a society that values individual sovereignty above all else. It is aligned with social patterns — fathers bringing up their sons, families committed to a religious community — that are not as common today.
So will these Boy Scout rites of passage retain their special power? The very factors that made them so impressive to me forty-five years ago are the same factors that limit their appeal today. The prospect of an Eagle court of honor still motivates my son, but how many others? Boy Scout membership has declined by 30 percent over the last fifteen years.