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serve my Queen and my country" has been replaced by "to serve the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
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