My daughter is attending Girl Scout day camp this week, and the Girl Scouts require a lot of paperwork. A more organized organization you’d be hard-pressed to find. There are rules, and they take them seriously. If you don’t have the right credentials and forms, forget it. So Sunday night found me printing and signing a lot of shit. I still don’t know why they need my dentist’s phone number, but whatever. And then I got to the Code of Conduct, which included the Girl Scout Law and the Girl Scout Promise and some other behavioral suggestions.
The Girl Scout Promise
On my honor, I will try:
To serve God and my country,
To help people at all times,
And to live by the Girl Scout Law.
Girls and parents are asked to read and discuss the Girl Scout Promise, the Girl Scout Law, and the Code of Conduct and to sign this document that they understand their responsibilities.
And then you have to sign your name.
Now, that’s what it said on the Code of Conduct form. But in many other publications, they add an asterisk. That asterisk is the reason I’m okay with my daughter being a Girl Scout. The asterisk takes you here…
(*Girl Scouts makes no attempt to define or interpret the word “God” in the Girl Scout Promise. We look to individual members to establish for themselves the nature of their spiritual beliefs. When making the Girl Scout Promise, individuals may substitute wording appropriate to their own spiritual beliefs for the word “God.”)
But, perhaps in the interest of saving ink, there wasn’t an asterisk with this particular promise. Which is fine. Religion can be a part of the Girl Scout organization. You can earn a faith badge. It’s absolutely there if you want it to be a part of your experience. But we don’t, of course, so we’re big fans of the asterisk. When asked to say the Promise, my daughter substitutes the word “Earth,” which is so progressive it kind of makes me wince, but it gets the job done.
Now the rest of the Code of Conduct is good and reasonable. Kind of along the lines of… Don’t be an asshole, try to help your friends, be a good citizen, etc. No problem there. But, you know, that God thing, so I simply crossed off God with a subtle pen stroke, and signed it. Easy peasy. But when I handed the form to my daughter, she was not happy.
“MOM OH MY GOD WHY DID YOU THAT CAN’T YOU JUST LET IT GO WHO CARES ANYWAY OH MY GOD YOU’RE EMBARRASSING ME WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL ANYWAY YOU’RE RUINING MY LIFE…!”
If you have a daughter of similar age, you know what that sounds like. And I looked at her, and I saw the look on her face, and for a moment I questioned myself. I felt sorry for her for having a mom who can’t just let things go. I remembered when my own mother wrote a many-page letter to my teacher explaining how Columbus hadn’t discovered America. I thought maybe I was pushing too hard for something that didn’t really matter. I wondered if I should stay out of it, because it wasn’t my camp form, it was hers, and she isn’t as committed to anti-theism as I am, nor should she be at this age. I thought about printing a new form and leaving it as is.
But then, no. Because it said to read and discuss it. And they asked for my signature, too. And it’s a promise. And my daughter is an agnostic. She can’t promise to serve God any more than she can promise to serve Ronald McDonald. She can promise to try to be good and kind and helpful, but she can’t promise to serve God. She wouldn’t even know what that entails.
And I realized that no, it doesn’t really matter what the Girl Scouts think. She was right. It’s none of their business how we feel about God. On the other hand, it’s a promise. It’s her signature. It’s her word. And your word is something we take seriously in this house. Promises matter in this house. We may not believe the way Believers believe, but we believe in lots of things, chief among them the idea that if you aren’t living honestly, you’re not living right. So if you’re going to put pen to paper and promise something in this house, you better make damn sure you understand what you’re promising and actually intend to follow through with it. That’s a house rule. You can curse. You can stay up late. You can bicker. You don’t have to eat all your vegetables. But you’re going to stand by your word and that’s that.
So we submitted our forms, and I hope they ignored them. If they think the pen slipped, so be it. But I can’t make any promises to a deity that I don’t think exists. That’s why God wasn’t mentioned during my wedding ceremony and I’m very glad I didn’t get chosen for jury duty. Not because I want to make a big deal out of it, but because I would have to make a big deal out of it. Because I don’t take promises lightly. So there.