Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Feeling torn

My youngest is nine. And he's one of those who claims to be happiest in front of the tv watching cartoons all day or playing video games. And 'a' does get a lot of pleasure from those activities.

Of course, as a parent, I want him to find other ways to use time as well. 'a' has some vision issues which makes certain sports more challenging. It's not that he couldn't play those sports, it's that he would have a hard time playing them well, and without having any great inherent sport skills, I'd rather not pick sports he'll have a challenge with to make my stand of 'you will do something besides turn into a couch potato'-stand.

Swimming is one of the activities 'a' enjoys and that he does pretty well. I'll definitely keep up the swimming lessons and encourage swimming as an athletic sport when he gets into High School.

But it certainly isn't enough right now.

I grew up Christian, but am currently Atheist. (I dither back and forth between it and Agnostism about every four to five years).

I still have a lot of the same morals and ethics from my Christian upbringing that I'm raising my son with. One of the greatest institutions for boys is the Boy Scouts. It lets boys be boys. It encourages them to learn a lot about the world, about being a good citizen and contributing to society. It teaches SO MANY of the things I want my son to learn and does so in an environment that is tremendously fun. It is predominately a Christian program and advertised as such, but it includes information about all religions and spends time talking about religious freedoms. And, in my personal opinion, not allowing Girls to join is acceptable because there is a Girl Scout program which lets girls be girls and exposes them to a lot of the same educational opportunities.

Since BSA is geared for growing boys, it sadly has also drawn in the past volunteers that wanted to take advantage of those boys. BSA has gone to tremendous lengths to train the adults working with the boys and make it incredibly safe to prevent further abuse. If everyone, including parents, are as involved as they are expected to be, the boys will be safe. This is a reassuring thing to me. As parents we take turns leading the meetings and there are always 2 parents at every moment of every meeting if not all of the parents. If I'm not present for the entire meeting, I make sure that my eldest is able to supervise in my stead to make sure my son is safe.

What is less reassuring is the current experiences around intolerance that make me nervous. In my position, I am the last one to teach the segment on religion. I always stand back and let one of the more devout members take this on. I have no problem with my son learning more about religion. At this point he seems a little bit agnostic in the way he talks about god... but in my mind the more information he has, the more he can chose what he wants to believe in.

But, last night when we were talking about what makes America special - the boys were discussing things like religious freedom, a good government with good laws, etc. And religion got a little to the forefront. At one point my son introduced a couple of things he believed about god (which aren't the standard Christian beliefs). He got told he was WRONG and was told what was CORRECT. I stepped in a little and talked about the fact that to my son's point - whether you believe in God or not, it's not wise to jump off a 100 foot cliff assuming God will save you... that you have to be smart and make good choices first. They conceded that point and I tried to change the subject.

But the next thing that they brought up is that there is a different boy in the school (not in cub scouts) who has declared that he doesn't believe in God. This was debated while I was trying to bring up another picture to try to distract them again.  Before I knew it one of the other little boys declared that the boy who didn't believe in God was Evil. Thankfully his mother admonished him immediately. I changed the subject and steered us away from Religion.

I know part of it is that they are at an age where they've taken in a ton of information and are starting to make their own decisions... and as such, their very nature is argumentative and a little judgemental. Tolerance is something that has to be taught as children's very nature and they way we teach them things in school is that there are right and wrong answers to questions - so learning how to tolerate someone with a different belief structure takes time and discussion. We did talk a little about discrimination. Martin Luther King, Jr was brought up and all of the good he did to America in helping everyone see what was wrong about discrimination based on skin color. So then we brought up that there are some countries where women are not allowed to show their faces in public. This was deemed by the group as unacceptable and unfair discrimination. Because it was based solely on being a girl or a boy. While I want to be tolerant of other religious practices, it does seem inappropriate to have gender discrimination be so rampant. If it was simply the matter of covering the face, that would be one thing. But it's the fact that many of the same religions also practice further discrimination and do not give women equal rights as men that makes it something that I am not comfortable tolerating. If the practice creates harm for other people do we allow tolerance on the basis of religious practice. In the past, that seems to be the right place to draw the line. Even if we don't always succeed at figuring out where that line is.

My son is struggling though with the fact that his opinions on god and religion are being met with such strong, vehement opposition. Not discussion, which I would be open to... but 'No, you're wrong.' And then they go on to explain what is the correct belief.

My problem is that I'm torn about raising this up for discussion with the parents and pride leader. I don't want to call out on the one boy who is most firm in his devout beliefs - as his own mother did step in when he got over the line. But I do think that my ideal is that when we cover the religion section that we help the boys understand that it's more appropriate when it comes to beliefs to have discussions and respect the opinions of others even if you don't believe in them. So, I kind of want to send an email requesting that tolerance be defined for the boys and discussed. That when you believe in religious freedom, that tolerance must also be part of the discussion. Maybe even go so far as to figure out how do you define evil (i.e. someone or something that harms others) vs. different belief structures (which doesn't harm anyone else).

BUT, then I see things in the headlines like the boy who has declared himself openly gay is being denied his Eagle Scout pin based on being gay and for no other reason. That it opposes the religious beliefs of the organization. I'm pretty sure BSA has had a policy against gay scout leaders - in part (I think) because they confuse the term gay with pedofile not fully understanding that they really are separate. I think they've gotten better about being instead focused on finding ways to make boys safe. But I'm pretty sure I haven't seen anything in any guidebooks about the requirement that the boys be heterosexual to participate in the program. Admittedly, most of the boys are too young to know until they get close to Eagle scout level. But, it's a LOT of work to get to that level and the vast majority of boys drop out of the program or chose not to chase that level because of that effort. Anyone who does the work, should be allowed to earn it. My understanding is that the parents of the boy fighting have escalated the issue but that the larger organization hasn't responded yet. I'm sure they are trying to figure out the right thing to do. I'm sure that they are struggling with the very thing the boys are struggling with. How do you balance your own belief system and tolerance when your very structure is Christian. In my opinion (and it's only that) - if you can earn the Jewish or Moslim religious awards for practicing those religious and showing that you've dedicated yourself to understanding that religion that the BSA has lost some of the right to make decisions solely on Christianity belief sets of SOME of the Christian members. Tolerance is something that just hasn't had a strong enough foot hold in our country and the BSA has an opportunity here to show Tolerance and teach the world that it can be a better place without discrimination.

I struggle, because I don't know if I should keep quiet about tolerance because it's not obvious that the organization itself is good about tolerance. I struggle, because I'm making my son participate in a program that isn't showing tolerance for his beliefs. I struggle because the program can do so much good in his life, I'm afraid to push it away and allow him to bow out of it when he has so many things he can learn from it.

We have talked. And I encouraged him to speak up a little bit to defend himself. He's allowed to say that someone is being mean to him if they don't let him voice his opinions. He's allowed to share his opinion and not be made to feel bad about his opinion.  In deference to the fact that he isn't completely sure about his beliefs, I'm going to encourage his dad (a devout if somewhat hypocritical catholic) to spend a little time teaching 'a' about his beliefs.

And I'm going to keep taking my son to scouting, but I'm going to be diligent and probably speak up immediately if anything happens again that comes off as intolerance.

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