"In scouting, there's a secular emphasis on values and virtue that is not found anyplace else. We don't teach civic values in schools anymore, so where else are kids going to learn it?"

So said former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, now head of the Boy Scouts of America, in an interview last month. Gates, who spearheaded the military's renunciation of its historic policy banning homosexuality, said earlier this year that he "would have supported having gay Scoutmasters, but at the same time, I fully accept the decision that was democratically arrived at by 1,500 volunteers from across the entire country."

I've written extensively on the Scouts' decision to allow what the BSA itself has called "open and avowed" homosexuals into the ranks of Scouting (for example, my op-ed in U.S. News and World Report), and will not revisit the many issues involving this issue. Instead, I'm intrigued by Mr. Gates' comment wedding secularism and "values and virtue."

According to the Cambridge University Press Dictionary, secularism is "the belief that religion should not be involved with the ordinary social and political activities of a country." Fair enough. But how does this square with the mission of Scouting?

Here is an excerpt from Scouting's membership resolution, passed last year at the BSA's annual convention in Dallas, Texas:

The Scout Oath begins with duty to God and the Scout Law ends with a Scout's obligation to be reverent, and that will always remain a core value of the Boy Scouts of America, and the values set forth in the Scout Oath and Law are fundamental to the BSA and central to teaching young people to make better choices over their lifetimes ...

Let's see, Mr. Gates: An organization that promotes secular (i.e., non-theistic) values speaks of "duty to God" as "fundamental" and a "core value." These are contradictory assertions, and cannot be integrated with any intellectual honesty.

Here is a brief summary of the world of Scouting, according to Robert Gates:

  • A Scout is to be "reverent," but reverence for God is a secular value. I think ...
  • Virtues and values are not grounded in revealed truth or natural law but in preferences and social adaptations.
  • We need an organization like Scouts to teach values and virtues, but we can’t talk about where these values and virtues come from, since to do so would mean taking a position on final and unchanging truth, which would be decidedly un-secular.
  • Kids aren't taught values in their families, but we can't define family since to do so would require a position on same-sex unions, which Scouting cannot take since to do so would be divisive and upsetting and, hey, what's a Scout if not "cheerful," right?
  • Boy's Life magazine will continue to have Bible stories in every issue, even though the Bible teaches non-secular values like truth and honor and sexual abstinence outside of traditional, one man-one woman, monogamous marriage, which is something Scouting neither condemns nor condones.

Robert Gates is a patriot who's done a lot of good for our country. He is also caught between the internal knowledge of what's right ("the works of the Law written on his heart," Romans 2:15) and acquiescence to post-modern thinking and secularism's arrogant condescension toward religion.

Sad way to end your career, Mr. Secretary. Sad.