I grew up with a mother who was a churchgoer and a father who was not. The family joke was that my father earned a place in Heaven by waiting patiently in parking lots across the world reading the paper while my mother and I went to mass.
My father taught me many things I value. He taught me ideas about freedom that became the foundation about my devotion to the civic value of freedom of expression. He fought my affected youthful cynicism, demanding that I not use banal distaste for politics as a general excuse not to inform myself about civic life. He taught me basic ideas about equality, and explained as far back as I can recall that people who seemed different deserved decent treatment. He taught me the difference between respecting someone and treating someone respectfully. He tried to teach me patience with and compassion for others — though both of us are but imperfect aspirants to those values. He explained his views about a citizen's obligation to contribute to society through service. He advocated for the position that liveable society collapses when citizens abandon civil discourse and basic courtesy. He taught me about working hard, working honestly, taking pride in what you do, and being someone whose word can be trusted. He told me to examine what I do rather than do things reflexively — to read, to think, to inquire. In the context of being a lawyer, he taught me about the obligation to work doggedly for a client whilst speaking truth to them, whether they want to hear it or not. Decades before same sex marriage was available anywhere in America, without fanfare he helped same-sex couples achieve such protection through estate planning as the law allowed. He did that not because he was "progressive" or an advocate of gay rights, but because they were his clients, and his job was to do the best for him that he could, and he took pride in doing a skillful job for them.
I believe in God. I go to church. I try to be a Christian. My mother influenced all of that. But to the extent I am a good citizen, I can thank my father for values he taught me, explicitly and by example.
Today, in the course of reading about Eagle Scout reactions to the recent Boy Scouts of America affirmation of their policy against gay members and scoutmasters, I was reminded of another position the Boy Scouts takes:
The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God . . .
I confess that I don't know what the "best kind of citizen" is. But if my father can't be one because he's an agnostic, then I don't particularly care to be one myself, churchgoer or not. There are others I love and care for and respect who affirmatively do not believe in God, or don't know whether He exists or not. If they can't be the "best kind of citizen" either, then once again I don't care to be one myself. I'll be content to strive to be the sort of citizen my father is.
Postscript: I'm going to be writing more about the BSA's policies. I'm soliciting some friends and family who are Eagle Scouts to get their input. If there is anyone else out there reading who is an Eagle Scout and would like to contribute thoughts — whatever those thoughts are — drop me a line.
Edited to add: Thanks to the many scouts who have emailed me. Keep 'em coming; hoping for a follow-up post next week. On a related topic: I'm puzzled by the implication in a few of the emails that I'm suggesting the BSA ought to be coerced by the government into changing its policies. I don't think I've said anything that can reasonably be interpreted to suggest that.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
- Free Speech Triumphant Or Free Speech In Retreat? - June 21st, 2017
- The Power To Generate Crimes Rather Than Merely Investigate Them - June 19th, 2017
- Free Speech, The Goose, And The Gander - June 17th, 2017
- Free Speech Tropes In The LA Times - June 8th, 2017
- I write letters - June 1st, 2017