Sixth place: A Scout’s revelations by Quinn Friedl

FFRF awarded Quinn $400.

By Quinn Friedl

The room was a repurposed play area, whitewashed and generally abandoned. A table separated me from the five adults who formed my Eagle board. Seven years of camping, studying and leadership as a member of the Boy Scouts of America had brought me to this point. I had completed all other requirements, and this final obstacle to the greatest success of my life was quickly falling away, despite my fears. I was just beginning to breathe easy when the dreaded final question was asked.

“Do you believe you deserve to be an Eagle?”

Taken aback, I paused. Every question before this I had answered with complete honesty, as an Eagle candidate was expected to do. I remembered the hours of community service, the stresses of leading a troop, the endless frustrations of an ineffectual bureaucracy. Through it all, I had prevailed. So why did I know hesitate to answer this simple inquiry?
As each member stared at me thoughtfully, it suddenly dawned upon me why I had such difficulty answering — I did not share their faith.

Every Boy Scout — be he a Catholic, Jew or Muslim — must demonstrate some sort of faith in a god. I realized suddenly that the years of previously inexplicable mistrust I experienced toward my fellows, and dislike of the program as a whole, stemmed from this simple truth. Now I understood why I felt the need to keep my head held high during grace. Now I understood why I never wished to engage in discussions of faith with my fellow scouts.

Now I understood what it was to be alone.

I raised my head. I took a breath, and prepared to say the word that would render my work meaningless.

It never came out. Before I could speak, my mind flashed back and forth, to memories of success and failure, joy and sorrow, camaraderie and competition. I remembered racing down a sodden, ruined trail in the middle of a snowstorm. I felt the compass in my hand, as I guided my troop through a dense thicket. I recalled the happiness of sitting round the fire with friends, sharing jokes and watching the stars in the dark sky. I had another revelation, perhaps more powerful than the first — what it was to be an Eagle.

Grinning subtly at this truth, I looked up, and with complete confidence, said “yes.”

To be a freethinker is a privilege and a burden, especially in this terrifying day and age. Those that choose to not believe must constantly fight against those that would remove freedom of thought from this country. The faith does not make the man— it is the man that makes the faith, in more ways than one. To place the future of humankind in the hands of “God” is to absolve oneself of all responsibility toward one’s fellows. If there was one thing I was taught to do in the Boy Scouts, it is to take responsibility.

Quinn, 18, graduated from Lane Technical High School in Chicago. He enjoys writing and co-creates works of fiction daily. He has earned his Eagle Scout badge and will be attending Wright Community College.

Freedom From Religion Foundation