tom shields Scouting for God

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THE Scout movement is a-changing. When I was a lad, the troop in our street wasn't keen on letting in Catholics. Now the Scout Association plans to admit atheists.

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The promise "to do my duty to God" may be varied. Like the Girl Guides' new oath "to be true to myself and to develop my beliefs" which opened the door to agnostic guiders.

What kind of badges will atheist Scouts be awarded? Start with free thought and scepticism. Then go on to epistemological and metaphysical argument. The ultimate is the Kazimierz Lyzczynski badge named, as you may have guessed, after the 17th-century Polish ex-Jesuit atheist philosopher.

Non-believers will be expected to add to their Scouting CVs the usual badges such as global conservation, martial arts, and camp cook. They will, however, be able to lie abed of a Sunday morning when the troop is on church parade.

Atheist Scouts, being adherents to normative ethical systems that do not require principles and rules to be given by a deity, may feel free to ignore orders from the leader,

Existentialist Scouts won't be into orienteering or snow sports. They will hang about the scout hut drinking black coffee, smoking Gauloises and reading Le Monde in pursuit of the Jean-Paul Sartre intellectual badge. Or drawing a pipe that's not a pipe for the René Magritte modern art award.

Pagan scouts will have interesting magic rituals. The badge to aim for is Wicca witchcraft. Fertility rites may to be studied with the help of brown owl next door who is always adventurous, helpful and up for a challenge. Highlight of the camp at the Wickerman Festival will be when two sticks are rubbed together as the scout leader sits atop a big bonfire.

Goth scouts will have cool black uniforms and wear pale make-up with purple eye shadow and lipstick. Badges? No, just body piercing and maybe a bondage chain or two.

Conscientious objectors can join the movement even though they are totally opposed to scouting. They don't have to wear a uniform or say dib dib dib. They will get a stretcher-bearer badge for helping with anyone wounded during training for the circus skills award or other dangerous stuff.

Is there a geriatric scout troupe anywhere? Does it award a continence badge? As in you're not quick enough to get to the toilet but you've learnt to tie a barrel hitch knot.