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Rebel over bland Guide promise

28 June 2013

THERE has been much comment about the Guides' new updated promise, in which God is left out altogether, and the pledge "to serve my Queen and my country" has been replaced by "to serve the Queen and my community" (News, 21 June). The National Secular Society is delighted, claiming that the change makes Girlguiding truly inclusive and relevant. Others have picked out the possible divisive implications of "community".

Nobody seems too bothered about the loss of God. I am bothered by that, but I am more bothered by two really weird parts of the promise: to be "true to myself", and "to develop my beliefs". These phrases belong to a dizzy, girlie world that oozes fake sincerity and narcissism in equal measure. Being "true to myself" is the kind of mindless aspiration that we expect to hear on Britain's Got Talent, a fluttery bid for approval from those whose highest ambition is to achieve their five minutes of fame on TV.

Worse, however, because entirely vacuous, is the second promise: "to develop my beliefs". What is this supposed to mean? The assumption is that every individual is endowed with a set of beliefs that are innocent and worthy in themselves, no matter how crazy, untested, contradictory, or dangerous they might actually be. But "nice" girls, those likely to join the Guides, would only have nice "beliefs", wouldn't they?

They would never be touched by the beliefs, for example, of the fashion industry about what makes for a desirable human body, or the beliefs with which teenagers are brainwashed from the internet about the desirability of violent sex. "Beliefs", in the new Guide promise, imply something bland and undemanding, such as the belief that I am really a good person and that I really do care. There seems to be no testing here, no challenge, no confrontation with moral ambiguity.

This brings me back to God. The advantage of stern words such as "God" and "duty" is that they confront us with a demand that goes beyond our own convenience, and requires effort. Girls do not need encouragement to be passive and nice, and if this is what secularity is giving them, bring back religion.

The Scouts are also considering a secular promise, but do not intend to drop the existing one. It will still be possible for boys to promise to do their duty to God, Queen, and country. Not though, for the weaker sex. I hope spirited girls rebel against this nonsense, and insist on their right to join the Scouts.

The Revd Angela Tilby is Diocesan Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, and Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser for Oxford diocese.

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