During his lifetime Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the worldwide Scouting movement, wrote many books and articles directed to Scouters.
Each Sunday I’ll publish a selection from his writings in the hope that you’ll draw inspiration and understanding from his timeless ideas.
THE man who has been knocking about the world, the man who has tasted danger and faced death, the man, in fact, who has seen life in the better sense of the phrase, is generally deeply religious. But his religion would not be recognised by some; it is unorthodox — it has not been formulated by man, but is the natural outcome of his constant communing with Nature. He probably could not define it himself, because it has no doctrine, no ritual. He has come to appreciate the vastness approaching to infinity in Nature with nevertheless a regular law underlying it all, and he has come to realise that even the small things, down to the microscopic germs, have each their part and responsibility in the working of the whole.
He has thus learnt his own comparative insignificance, and at the same time his own duty in life. He is conscious of progressive stages to higher things, to fuller happiness? from the seed to the flower, from the flower to the fruit; and that with man these stages are helped by his active effort towards progress as much as by his passive receptance of the inevitable. He realises that happiness is gained by surmounting difficulties, but that life is barren and unsatisfactory where the effort is solely for self; that service for others brings the greatest reward.
When St. George overcame the dragon it was not merely for the triumph of defeating the beast that he strove, but for the greater satisfaction of helping the lady in distress. Some may object that the religion of the Backwoods is also a religion of the backward; and to some extent it is so. It is going back to the primitive, to the elemental, but at the same time it is to the common ground on which most forms of religion are based — namely, the appreciation of God and service to one’s neighbour.
But in many cases form has so overclothed the original simple faith of Nature that it is hardly recognisable. We have come to judge a religion very much as we do a person — if we are snobbish — by its dress.
Anyone who does not wear the orthodox dress, and who reverts to the natural, is apt to be looked upon as indecent, or at the least eccentric, although he is, after all, merely displaying the form in which all are moulded by Nature — by God.
Yet the natural form in religion is so simple that a child can understand it; a boy can understand it, a Boy Scout can understand it. It comes from within, from conscience, from observation, from love, for use in all that he does. It is not a formality or a dogmatic dressing donned from outside, put on for Sunday wear. It is, therefore, a true part of his character, a development of soul, and not a veneer that may peel off.
Once the true body is there it can be dressed in the clothing best suited to it, but clothing without the body is a mere scarecrow — camouflage.
I do not mean by this that we want to divert a boy from the faith of his fathers; far from it.
The aim is to give him the better foundation for that faith by encouraging in him perceptions which are understandable by him.
Too often we forget when presenting religion to the boy that he sees it all from a very different point of view from that of the grown-up. Nor can true religion be taught as a lesson to a class in school.
It is appalling to think what a vast proportion of our boys have turned out either prigs or unbelievers through misconception of these points on the part of their teachers.