USSSP: A Scout's Duty to God and Country




The principles of the World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM) and of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) have been agreed to by all member countries who belong to each association.  In light of the recent discussion of religion in Scouting, I thought it would be useful to examine the religious principles of each.  First, the Scouts:


World Organization of the Scout Movement

Principles of the Scout Movement


The principles are the fundamental laws and beliefs which must be observed when achieving the purpose.  They represent a code of conduct which characterizes all members of the Movement.  Scouting is based upon three broad principles which represent its fundamental laws and beliefs.  They are referred to as "Duty to God", "Duty to others" and "Duty to self".  As their names indicate, the first refers to a person's relationship with the spiritual values in life; the second, to a person's relationship with society in the broadest sense of the term; and the third, to a person's obligations towards himself.


Duty to God


Under the title "Duty to God", the first of the above-mentioned principles of the Scout Movement is defined as "adherence to spiritual principles, loyalty to the religion that expresses them and acceptance of the duties resulting therefrom."   It should be noted that, by contrast to the title, the body of the text does not use the word "God", in order the make it clear that the clause also covers religions which are non-monotheistic, such as Hinduism, or those which do not recognize a personal God, such as Buddhism.


When asked where religion came into Scouting and Guiding, Baden-Powell replied,  "It does not come in at all.  It is already there.  It is a fundamental factor underlying Scouting and Guiding." A careful analysis of the Founder's writings shows that the concept of a force above man is basic to Scouting.  The whole educational approach of the Movement consists in helping young people to transcend the material world and go in search of the spiritual values in life.


World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts

From "Basics" published by WAGGGS, revised 1983:




The World Association is an educational organization based on spiritual values, and is "open to all girls without distinction of creed, race, nationality or any other circumstance."


An Ideal and a Spirit


. . .  The Promise and Law is the pivot of the Movement. . . . [The original Promise and Law] remain as valid today as when the first members repeated them.  . . . it was at the 21st World Conference in 1972 that a "degree of latitude" in the wording of the Promise and Law was approved, and it was agreed that in those exceptional cases where the wording appears to show that the Promise and Law of an Association differs in important ways from the original Promise and Law as laid down by the Founder, they shall be deemed acceptable if together they contain the essence of the fundamental principles defined as follows:


A. The essence of DUTY TO GOD is the acknowledgment of the necessity for a search for a faith in God, in a Supreme Being, and the acknowledgment of a Force higher than man, of the highest Spiritual Principles.


[Three more essential principles]


The essence may appear in either the Promise or Law provided that there is a definite commitment, that is, a promise to do one's best to adhere to the principles. . . .


Thus the ideals expressed in the original Promise and Law have been retained and re-defined in response to recent and contemporary issues and developments.  For example, the essence of DUTY TO GOD encompasses all world faiths represented in the World Association; . . .


Principles of Membership


Membership is voluntary and the free decision to join implies voluntary acceptance of its principles.



Extracts from speeches of Dr. Jacques Moreillon, Secretary General, World Organization of the Scout Movement


Report to the 2nd World Scout Conference (Paris, July 1990):


. . . in the course of my recent Scout missions, I believe, I sometimes found less importance given to the "Duty to God."  I hope that I am mistaken since it seems to me that the spiritual dimension is essential in Scouting; I would say that it is a fundamental of Scouting to such an extent that, were it to weaken, the very soul of Scouting would be threatened. At the dawn of the age of Aquarius, at the gates of the 3rd millennium, Scouting can, through its "spiritual dimension," bring a decisive contribution to the building of a century which Andre Malraux said would be religious or not at all.


Of course, to each his own spirituality; but let this open mindedness towards all forms of divine expression not be a trap! Let us not be frightened to clearly affirm, in our words and acts, that there is no Scouting without a spiritual dimension, even if the phrase "Duty to God" may be interpreted in various ways. 


It is also for this reason that one of my first actions was to get closer to the International Catholic Conference of Scouting. Together with its Secretary General, we were able to discuss, in unity and harmony, delicate formal questions and rapidly put things in order. Thus with the good will of everybody concerned, we were able to resolve old problems dating back several decades and were granted the satisfaction of having our brother Scouts from Argentina as well as from Uruguay united in their respective countries for the first time.  We heartily congratulate them on this here.


Having said this, I must note that in certain countries, particularly in Europe, religious affiliations are a source of discord, and even of dissidence among those of the same confession. Faced with these trends, we must do our best to have an open mind so as to be able to work imaginatively and creatively for the unity and universality of the Movement, while respecting the fundamental principles of our Organization ...


Address at the World Meeting of the International Catholic Conference of Scouting

(Wegimont, Belgium, August 1990):


1. My Personal Scouting Experience


I have chosen to start with my personal experience, not only because we are dealing with the spiritual dimension, which is always of a very personal nature, but also, because Scouting is first of all an affective experience.


When I'm asked to explain the difference between the Red Cross and Scouting, I cite a whole series of factors, one of the most important of which is that Scouting is something experienced as a child or adolescent, in other words, at an age when one can still be influenced and marked by one's experiences.


I firmly believe that the pride one feels as a young Scout in one's adolescence is a determining factor in the formation of one's character! Indeed, as an adult, one will perhaps never know the sort of healthy pride that one can experience as a young Scout, to pitch one's tent in the snow, to excel oneself in a Scout activity or in being of service to others. Whence this personal experience with which I shall begin.


I asked myself this question: "Why do you think the spiritual dimension is indissociable from Scouting?"


I asked this question because, when I think about it, I don't actually recall special and concrete attention being given to spirituality in what was and still is known as the "Vieux Mazel Brigade". So in what way do I recall the spiritual dimension of this period of my life between the ages of 7 and 20, as a Cub Scout, Scout, Patrol Leader, Troop Leader and Rover?


Beyond the anecdote, the answer to this question is a general one. It was really through my day-to-day or, at any rate, weekly Scout activities, particularly those which brought me into contact with nature, that I experienced this spiritual dimension.


In his address this morning, our friend stressed the importance of programs, of doing something exciting in order to get a young person to take part in Scout activities.


I believe that if one really wants Scouting to have a full spiritual dimension, this dimension must be fully incorporated into Scout activities at the outset, and not be only the subject of a separate formal activity.


Thus, for me, the spiritual dimension was mountain hikes, watching the sun rise - very early, in a very cold wind; it was a team effort in the fog and snow, it was arriving tired at the hut... Yet no one ever spoke of spirituality at these times.


But it was also - and here there are formal elements - the importance devoted to the promise - the symbol of which I still wear around my neck - preceded, on May 2nd, 1953, by a ceremony which took place in a very precise setting and solemnity.


A few weeks ago, I relived something of the importance of the solemnity of the promise with the Soviet Ambassador to UNESCO, Mr. Vladimir Lomeiko, with whom I visited a camp organized by the Scouts de France to welcome children from Chernobyl.


At the camp, there were a group of Sea Scouts, whose leader - who was about 18 years old - explained to the Ambassador that the next day they would go out to sea, where two members of the patrol would make their commitment. I asked him if "commitment" meant the same as "promise", to which he replied that, yes, it was. I asked him to read the text of the promise to the Ambassador, so he ran to his tent to fetch it, and in quite total silence, amidst the great ferns of Brittany and under the shelter of the pine trees, and with the undivided attention of everyone present, he simply read out the law and the promise.


However, the moment was more than just a recital of words. In this natural setting, with the attention of those young people, and, in particular, the seriousness of this 18 year-old leader, I truly felt a divine presence.


I do not know what the Ambassador felt at that moment, but there was a solemnity which formed an essential condition of the commitment. Certainly, Mr. Lomeiko - of whom I don't know if he is a believer or not - was very impressed. And the moment certainly also marked the young people around him. For me, it symbolized the importance of the formal element of the promise, which I will come back to later.


Therefore, to return to my Scouting childhood, I can say that the spiritual dimension came to be from two sides: on the one hand, through contact with nature, and, on the other hand, through the solemnity of the act of making the promise and reciting the law.


Furthermore, I should add that our brigade has a particularity which, in my opinion, answers the question that you were asking this morning regarding how to remain faithful. Each year, those who have made their promise, are invited to gather at St. Martin's Temple in Vevey for a religious service. It's a Protestant temple, but the brigade is multi-denominational, with about 70% Protestants, 30% Catholics and a few Jews. Each year, the brigade, which is composed of 3 troops (about 80 Scouts), and about 100 adults meet to celebrate their promise. I believe that this is a very concrete way of remaining faithful and of showing that one has not made one's promise once and for all but that one is expected to renew it and strengthen it.


So much for my personal experience. Together, nature and the solemnity of the promise gave me this spiritual experience in Scouting, with very little preaching, very few religious services and very few Church activities.


2. An Observation In Respect Of The Movement


My observation after 18 months? I would say that it can be resumed by my impressions of the gathered assembly when Pastor Henry Babel addressed the World Scout Conference in Paris.


Perhaps for some, he spoke a little too bombastically, as an orator in front of a Scout audience used to a more sober style. But, style aside, I believe that all those who listened carefully will have recognized that the address contained a deep personal reflection, not only on spirituality in Scouting, but also on spirituality short and simple.


It was interesting to see the different degrees of attention in the hall. Some people were concentrating very hard, others sitting further back were reading the paper, while others were talking among themselves. I believe that these attitudes are very symbolic of the extraordinarily variable degree of importance (or lack of importance) of the spiritual dimension in Scouting.


I have been struck by the fact that, in many Asian countries, particularly those descending from philosophies such as Confucianism, which are not really theologies but rather lifestyles - Taiwan or Singapore for example - the non-Christian parts of these countries do not seem to accord a very great importance to the spiritual dimension of Scouting.

I also believe that the importance accorded to the spiritual dimension in Catholic Scouting is stronger than in Protestant Scouting. This does not, however, mean that this dimension is absent in Protestant Scouting, but there is a greater and more systematic emphasis on it in Catholic Scouting. But I also believe that all kinds of varieties exist within Catholic Scouting.


In other words, within Scouting, there is a whole range of attitudes towards the spiritual dimension. And for this reason, we should seek a common denominator, to try to identify, assemble, stimulate and emphasize the spiritual dimension of Scouting.


My observation is therefore simply that the spiritual dimension is much more natural and much more important in some associations than in others, and is present in a very unequal way within the Movement.


3. The Spiritual Dimension At World Level


This brief observation naturally leads me to make some general observations on what the spiritual dimension of Scouting should be at World level. I have already expressed my views on this at the World Conference: 'I believe that the spiritual dimension is consubstantial with Scouting.'   I am inventing nothing new in making such a statement; I am only following the straight and highly orthodox line of Baden-Powell on this subject.


Be that as it may, we need to dig deeper. First, I think that a distinction needs to be made between what could be called the formal and the reality, notably concerning the question of the promise.


Charles Celier is here with us, I am pleased to say. As you know, he has played a key role at two recent World Conferences, during which this subject was dealt with. At both Conferences, it was reaffirmed that the so-called "alternative" promises (in other words, those where one can choose to promise with or without the help of God), remain an established right for those associations which had been granted the right before 1934, but that in the case of any new association or constitutional amendment, the spiritual dimension should be included in the promise.


As you know, this subject caused long debates and, in particular, long discussions between the World Scout Committee and our Dutch friends, when their association merged with the Girl Guide Movement. A similar problem has now arisen with the merger of our Swiss Scout friends. The Girl Guides had the "alternative" promise and the Scouts didn't; and I think that it was in totally good faith and after careful consideration that they chose the smallest common denominator: instead of "going up" to the level of a promise "with the help of God", the whole of the association has the choice with the alternative promise of referring to God or His awareness.


And the same problem arises particularly with the Eastern European associations. It is an extremely concrete problem in the case of the two Hungarian associations, and the problem is also being faced by the Czech federation.


We have solved the problem by adopting a very firm line, in accordance with the decisions of the World Conference and World Committee, insisting that the promise includes a reference to God's help.


We must, however, be aware that in certain Eastern European countries, we are going to find ourselves opposed to people who will argue that, by insisting on the spiritual dimension of the promise, we are forcing into hypocrisy young people who live in countries which have experienced 40 years of atheism and who have never had religious education, and that, therefore, we are preventing the Scout ideals from spreading by wanting to maintain this consistency at any



In reality, it is indeed a question of choosing between consistency and expansion. This choice has already been made by the World Conference and cannot be changed without another decision by the World Conference. Furthermore, we are not proposing to make such a change, and therefore, at this stage, there is no other policy to consider.


However, we should be aware that by adhering to this policy, we are perhaps closing the doors of Scouting to a whole section of Eastern European youth, not by deliberate exclusion but by the requirements we set, by the level at which we place the bar. Be that as it may, let us not forget the figures. Although in Europe we have a penetration rate of 3.5% in contrast to a world average of  2.6%, I think that by the time we reach this order of proportion in the Eastern European countries, we will have gathered up those who are willing to make a commitment with a spiritual dimension.


My second comment refers back to the personal experience I spoke of earlier: a distinction should be made between the formal and the integrated elements.


Earlier on, I particularly stressed the formal aspect and the solemnity of the promise, which are indissociable and important, but insufficient. I would now like to consider in more depth the spiritual dimension as an integral part of the activities themselves. This morning, we were reminded of the importance of the program.


As I think you all know, the program is not only what Scouts do; it is also why and how they do it.


The promise and law are not external elements of the Scout method; they form an integral part of it. And on this point, I feel we need to take a concrete and perhaps more extensive look at all the programme activities which allow a spiritual dimension to be introduced - which has surely already been done, but which needs to be done in a more systematic way.


At 15 years of age, adolescents want to play, they don't want to listen to sermons, they want to have adventures. Therefore, it is important not to be untimely and not to introduce the spiritual dimension at the wrong moment. The leader must be on the watch to perceive the moment when the adolescent's soul opens enough to allow a grain of spirituality to be placed there.


One of the reasons for which I always plead in favour of real camp fires (that is to say, camp fires with a fire!), has nothing to do with nostalgia, because there were camp fires when I was a Scout, but because fire is one of the elements which brings us closer to God. The fascination of the flame, this intangible yet present thing, is what we can imagine as being closest to the soul. It was not without reason that at Whitsun there were flames on the heads of those who received the Holy Spirit. The flame symbolizes something which rises towards God, which is the hottest at its highest point. Nature thus becomes a channel between man and God. I firmly believe that if you bring together a group of young Venture Scouts around a real camp fire - as opposed to having a sing-song without a real fire in the middle - there will always be a moment of silence, a moment of fascination, during which a good leader will say a word or two, which will remain in the young people's minds.


This is just one example; there are others. Water, for example, a symbol of baptism for Christians, but a symbol of something else in other religions, is an element which forms part of Scouting life and which can also be integrated not only into Scout symbolism but also into the raising of awareness of the spiritual dimension of Scouting.


Therefore, it seems to me that we should and could take this reflection one step further:  program, natural elements, symbolism. And it is perhaps here that we are more likely to find the universality of the spiritual dimension in Scouting.


Careful though, I am not promoting animism or ecumenism in any way.  To each his or her faith, to each his or her religion - but let us try to find common denominators in the Scout symbolism which can be found in each religion, and perhaps we will find an answer to a certain indifference shown by part of our Movement towards its spiritual dimension.


In my opinion, it is therefore at the concrete level of camps, programs of activities, Scout symbolism and contact with nature that we are more likely to succeed in giving a truly universal dimension to the spiritual dimension in Scouting. But without making a muddle."


Address at the 4th Islamic Scout Conference (Islamabad, Pakistan, August 1992):


This is indeed an important and auspicious day. Your presence in Pakistan and on Asian soil symbolizes the breadth and universality of your Conference, or, I should say, of "our" Islamic Scout Union, since all its members are also members of the World Organization of the Scout Movement. As its Secretary General, it is my privilege and pleasure to bring to you here the greetings not only of my colleagues on the World Scout Committee, but also of more than 16 million Scouts around the world, many of whom follow Islam.


Indeed, although we speak of an official figure of 16 million members in our World Scout Movement, we all know that, in reality, there are more than 20 million Scouts in the world, possibly close to 25 million, many of whom are of Islamic faith. For let us not forget that, out of every eight Scouts in the world, four are in Asia - yes, one out of every two Scouts is in this Region of the world. Two out of eight are in North America, one is in Europe, and one Scout out of every eight is in the other Regions: Arab, Africa or South America.


Indeed Islamic Scouts are to be found throughout the world, and not only in the Asia-Pacific, Arab and Africa Regions. There are also Islamic Scouts in Europe and in the USA, and, in the future, there will be many more in other countries, such as Albania or Bosnia-Herzegovina, and in particular in the vast territories and Republics of the former Soviet Union.


This is one of the reasons why we should celebrate the fact that this Conference is taking place on Asian soil. For the biggest challenges of your Union lie perhaps in this Region, north of us, in those Republics of the Commonwealth of Independent States where Islam is very much present.


One of the main dramas of seventy years of communism is that it has often left behind it a youth that believes in nothing, neither in God nor in politics, and not even in itself. Scouting has some important answers to the questions put by these young people. It offers them a system of values founded on a self-imposed code of conduct, our promise and law, with its triple duty: to God, to others and to oneself; and it proposes them the Scout method, through which they can acquire a sense of self-responsibility, a confidence in themselves that no political theory can ever bring to them. With the patrol system, with such notions as "learning by doing" or through close contact with nature, also with its genuine and permanent spiritual dimension, Scouting can structure the personality of many a young person who is desperately seeking a meaning to life.


And even if we only train two or three out of a hundred, we will be training twenty to thirty percent of tomorrow's leaders. For experience has shown that, in "all" societies, the percentage of former Scouts is about ten times larger amongst decision-makers than in society itself. You only have to look at your own nations: how many of the key leaders of your countries, at "all" levels - national, provincial and local - are former Scouts? I am sure that it is never less than twenty percent and often more than 30 percent. And yet, the percentage of Scouts in your societies is mostly around two or three percent. This clearly demonstrates that "producing" a good Scout today increases tenfold the chances of having a good leader tomorrow.


This is the kind of mathematics that your Conference must bear in mind when it considers the birth and growth of Scouting among the Islamic populations around the world, especially in the former USSR.


Of course, we are not talking of simply "importing" your Scouting into the Commonwealth of Independent States. This is not a neo-colonialist enterprise, and we must be highly sensitive to the local specificities of these newly independent countries of the CIS.  Nor does anyone claim that we are "models" to be just copied or blindly followed.


But Scouting from your regions can serve as examples, examples from which these new Republics will be able to create their "own" Scouting; moral examples first, of fine boys, faithful to God, ready to serve others, duly proud of themselves;  examples in behavior and citizenship; but also examples in the type of Scout activities which you practice, especially when it comes to "community development", such as fighting illiteracy or leprosy, promoting better health or habitat, or finding answers to unemployment and ecological problems.


Of course, such examples do not come only from Islamic Scouts, and many of our brothers of other faiths can and should propose good examples to newly independent countries. This is indeed one of the beauties of Scouting, without being a religious Movement as such, we are a Movement with a "built-in" spiritual dimension. Some have it stronger than others; some link themselves closer to religion than others, so much so that even in a Conference like yours or like the International Catholic Conference of Scouting, it is not always easy to find just the right common denominator. After all, even if Islam itself remains as one, its presence in the tissue of society is not the same throughout the world. So it is with Scouting, which is always a local expression of each society. For instance, the programs which French Islamic Scouts are proposing to the youth of French "inner cities" are bound to be different from those proposed by Scouting in Pakistan to its youth. Scouting takes into consideration the concrete needs of young people and the aspirations of "their" societies.




Therefore, your challenge is not only external: it is not only a matter of bringing Scouting to Islamic populations that do not yet know Scouting. It is also an "internal" challenge: you must find the best ways, within the Islamic Scout Union and in accordance with the WOSM Constitution, to establish specific links with each other and to build on what you have in common, while respecting your differences. Here, as within WOSM, the motto should be: "Think globally, act locally".


Constitutionally, you must make room in your Conference for various types of Islamic Scouts, of which there are basically four:


     *         First, there are the Scout Organizations in countries that have a majority of Moslems and consider and/or call themselves "Moslem Scouts".


     *         Secondly, there are the Scout Organizations in countries that have a majority of Moslems but who are pluralistic, even if they often have a majority of Moslem Scouts among their members.


     *         Thirdly, there are Moslem Scouts in countries that do "not" have a majority of Moslems, but that have constituted themselves into Moslem Scout groups of whatever shape and size.


     *         And fourthly, there are Moslem Scouts who are fully integrated into the existing national Scout organization.


All of these should find a fair footing in your Union, in a similar way to that which has been established by the Catholic Scouts under the Constitution of the International Catholic Conference of Scouting, a constitution which has been duly approved by the World Scout Committee, so that it could grant consultative status to the ICCS, a status which, I believe, your Union should also be accorded in due course, if not by the Bangkok World Conference in 1993, then at least by the Oslo one in 1996.


Bangkok! Oslo! Towards the year 2002! There are great challenges and great opportunities facing Scouting worldwide. These challenges we face together, in remarkable unity, despite the normal differences within a Movement over which the sun never sets. Indeed, we can and must gain even "more" strength from those differences that give Scouting its extraordinary diversity in its unique harmony.


Our common promise and our common law, our common method and our common spirit, all these are fantastic tools of the World Scout family at the service of youth. With the help of God, together, we shall continue to serve and promote "Better Scouting" for more young people.



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