B-P’s Outlook: Fundamental Ethics

IN the Scout and Guide Movements we merely lay before the boys and girls the simplest fundamental ethics of religion, and then get them to put these into practice. So simple and fundamental are these that to the superficial critic Scouting appears to be “without religion.” Yet the student and the user of Scouting know otherwise.

I have said we adhere to simple and fundamental ethics; this is partly because these can be the more readily digested by the children (and digestion is essential if food is to do any good), and partly because being at the base of all denominational forms these ethics offend none of the various beliefs with whose members we have to deal.

We put them as Christ taught them in their two simple forms:

Love thy God with all thy heart;
And the second is like unto it?
Love thy neighbour as thyself.
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

But it is not enough for children to learn texts merely in the abstract and to repeat them parrot-like on occasion; that would soon pall and would have little effect on their character or their life.

So we put the two commandments into active form.

Love for God. — For inducing a better realisation and love for God we do it to a great extent through investigation of His works. This, it must be remembered, is a step and not a substitute; and the story of David Livingstone tells how valuable a step it can be in laying the right foundation in a young mind.

Nature craft, or the study of Nature in her numerous forms, and the appreciation of all her wonders and beauties, appeals to almost every child. The camp or the outdoor hike brings girls and boys into dose touch with the plants, the animals, the birds, the rocks, and their other comrades as God’s great family.

The mystery of the sea and the heavens, and the fascination of the colouring of the scene, and the modelling of the scenery can all be brought within their ken where formerly they were blind. The door of the young soul is thus opened for the understanding teacher.

Even where the out-of-doors observation is difficult, there are new wonders to be investigated in every inch of our own anatomy, the knowledge of which (again at the hands of an understanding teacher) can be of infinite value to both in showing the Creator’s marvellous work, in developing a deeper reverence for this body that has been lent to us, and in showing how it should be cared for and developed and reproduced as a part of the performance of one’s duty to God.

Love for Neighbour. — In promoting the second commandment, love for one’s neighbour, we urge our Scouts and Guides to express this in active form by doing, even in an elementary way, good service for others.

The daily good turn, without desire for reward, which grows by progressive stages till it becomes a habit of conduct, goes on till it involves sacrifices in time or money or pleasures, even to the extent of involving danger to the life of the performer.

We teach the boy that a gift is not his till he has expressed his gratitude for it. His attitude to God is, therefore, thankfulness for benefits received; and his method for expressing this is through service, in behalf of God, to his fellow-men.

This repression of self and development of that love, which means God within, brings a total change of heart to the individual and with it the glow of true Heaven. It makes a different being of him. The question becomes for him not what can I get, but what can I give in life.

No matter what may be the ultimate form of religion that he takes up, the lad will have grasped for himself its fundamentals, and knowing these through practising them he becomes a true Christian with a widened outlook of kindliness and sympathy for his brother men.

Otherwise, we know too well that there are dangers in ignoring the psychological side and overstressing the theological and spiritual with children.

We may gain the few but we may lose the many. We may bore them while under our hand so that the moment they are free they abjure religion altogether. We may be manufacturing prigs and humbugs; we may be promoting superstition rather than faith.

But on the foundation prepared as I have described, the subsequent building of religion in its approved form is comparatively easy; indeed, it follows almost automatically where well directed.

When we have a leaven of citizens of that mark in our nation, bringing the Christian practice into their daily occupation, there will be less of the narrow class and sectional differences and more of the wide-hearted kindly brotherhood, so that even national patriotism will not be the highest point of a man’s aim, but active goodwill for, and cooperation with, his fellow-men about the world as being all children of the one Father.

From this should ensue the reign of peace upon earth.

July, 1924.

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