The Boy Scouts of America got front-page ink, as we say in the newspaper trade, for their currently postponed meditations on the topic of admitting avowed gays to membership.
Word had leaked out that the Scouts were considering a local option solution to the vexed question of their supposed right to determine who can become a member and who can't. At a top-drawer meeting in Irving, Tex., the topic proved too vast and complex for immediate resolution. Consultation and deliberation will take place prior to May meeting of Scouts' national council.
I spoke of the Scouts' "supposed" right to oversee their membership rolls. A decade ago, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld that right in the Scouts' case, in response to court challenges seeking the overthrow of policies that "discriminate" against gays. That might have settled matters, but for restlessness and motion in the larger society whose present values sometimes cause the Scouts, with their old-fashioned devotion to God and country, to look more and more like outliers.
What courts can't accomplish, social pressures sometimes bring about. The up-tilted eyebrow, the sneer, the lordly putdown in elite journalistic commentary -- such events and occasions collectively have the power to overwhelm.
The oddness of the Scouts' situation has to do with the oddness -- the bizarreness, really -- of efforts to overwhelm an organization whose core principles, you might think, were beyond impeachment.
"On my honor, I will do my best, to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight." So goes the Scout oath -- the pledge that millions of boys have conned and recited. What is wrong with it? A Scout promises to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. There is something the matter here? We'd prefer disloyal, boorish, mean, disobedient, and cowardly and so forth?
It could be so. The war against the Scouts has about it a littleness of spirit, an un-generosity that should be unthinkable. That it no longer seems unthinkable is among our modern blights. That the Boy Scouts of America are bidden by the intellectual-political community to roll over, bark cheerily, and change their practices and thought patterns along lines improvised by the enlightened is further, scarier testimony to the cultural mess we're in.
If an ex-Scout of mediocre attainments may speak -- on his honor, naturally -- I wish to observe that society's increasing spite against scouting is likely bigger than the gay members thing. With non-heterosexual marriage winning acclaim in some states, the topic of gay rights and privileges indeed comes up constantly. Nonetheless, the flap over scouting's membership requirements reflects modern America's weariness with norms of any kind. That is the larger point.
Norms -- e.g., do my duty, keep myself thus and so, to this or that end -- look down from a towering height onto the squiggling mass of personal tastes, outlooks, biases, caprices, humors and moods that make up modern life. A norm counsels or reproaches: this is right; this isn't. A mere mood sticks out its tongue: shut up, lemme alone, none of your business. Guess which mode we lean toward in 2013.
The Scouts, its American branch dating from 1910, is a wondrously old-fashioned bunch, generally ignoring the Mood of the Moment, upholding truths deposited with them by generations of the wise and the able. If such a disposition makes the Scouts seem out-of-date, by the standards (if any) of 2013, more power to the Scouts and infinitely less to the shriveled standards of 2013. The America of the present could stand to learn from past Americas that understood the durability of truth.
We all know, we ex-Scouts and ex-Scouting dads, that ideals and behaviors don't routinely fuse; that becoming a Scout isn't the same as putting on sanctification. All the same, give me the Scout Law over any passel of uncooked, unexamined, morally incoherent 2013 notions.
Leave those guys alone -- you hear?