Monday, July 9, 2012

(Bloody) Oath

Last week, it was announced that Australian Girl Guides would no longer swear allegiance to God or the Queen. Although there has been some media comment, and a minor kafuffle on talkback radio, the new version has been well accepted, except by Bert, and Bert isn’t happy.

The existing verse that Girl Guides recite included reference to both the Queen and God.

I promise that I will do my best;
To do my duty to God,
To serve the Queen and my country
To help other people
and keep the Guide law

The new, inclusive version is here:

I promise that I will do my best
To be true to myself and develop my beliefs
To serve my community and Australia
And live by the Guide Law.

We heard Bert’s sincere disapproval on 612ABC Brisbane’s Cereal Box segment this morning. He was so incensed that he wanted to round up all the Girl Guides and send them to Afghanistan for not recognising the Queen. Now Bert’s an ex-Nasho, and ex-Public Servant and he’s always sworn allegiance to the Queen. In mu opinion, he's also a silly old goat, but I don’t think that requires a sworn oath of any kind.

Surprise, surprise, neither does being a Girl Guide. After all, it’s girls, some as young as seven, making a promise, not declaring an Oath. In fact, the Girl Guides call it that: it’s the Promise, and I think it’s entirely appropriate for young people to make a promise that is relevant to them.

When Julia Gillard, an atheist, became Prime Minister, she had the option of taking an oath or an affirmation. The difference is that the Oath is religious in nature, and the Affirmation is not. She was roundly criticised by conservatives and Christian groups for choosing the Affirmation, which does not mention God. I consider Ms Gillard’s choice was the only truthful alternative. How could she swear an oath which includes a God she doesn’t believe in? Wouldn’t that have been the height of hypocrisy? It’s a no-win situation: she is criticised for not observing prayers, yet every time she sets foot inside a church, particularly for state funerals, she is criticised for that too.

Bert was passionate in his determination that Girl Guides who did not recognise the Queen were unworthy somehow. It’s important for Bert to understand that an Oath, or Affirmation, or Promise is a deeply personal experience. It needs to mean something to the person who is swearing their Oath. It’s pointless swearing allegiance to a religion, a god, or a monarch that has no significance to you.

At this stage, both options still acknowledge our monarch, as do the Oath and Affirmation for servicemen and women joining the Australian Defence Force. There’s a good reason for that: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth is still our head of state.

I asked Rob about his Oath: it was before there was a choice of an Affirmation available, so he spoke the words about the Queen and God with one hand on the Australian flag, but the words did not hold literal meaning for him. He was swearing his allegiance to Australia, promising to do all in his power as a soldier to protect Australia. The words that were written down (see below) weren’t entirely relevant or irrelevant, but he made them personal. It’s the personal vow that Rob held onto, because that’s the one that held meaning for him.

And the Girl Guides have done the same thing. After a project lasting for about a year, the Australian Girl Guides found the right words that allowed people making the Guides Promise to find their own meaning, regardless of religion, skin colour, origin, or political preferences. The Promise includes the words, “to Serve my Community and Australia”, and Bert can assume that clause includes Australia’s head of state, The Queen.

The World Association for Girl Guides has ratified the new wording, noting that it ensures that today’s Guides and those of the future will be included, rather than excluded, from the Promise. The Queen might be an important figure in Bert’s life, but irrelevant in the life of a seven year old girl who was born in Thailand or Kenya or Argentina, in the same way that swearing allegiance to a Christian god would make no sense for a Buddhust, Hindu, Jedi or atheist.

I hope Bert continues to hold dear the words he spoke all those years ago, because they mean so much to him. Australia needs her history (and people like Bert to keep it alive), but she also needs a future that is inclusive of everyone who may be willing and able to serve, whether it’s as a politician, a public servant, a member of the Defence Force or a Girl Guide. No-one wants to take away Bert’s Oath or challenge his beliefs.

Bert’s Oath is Bert’s Oath. The Girl Guides are simply helping the next generation to find words that mean as much to them as Bert’s Oath means to him.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, he was quite forthright this morning, I thought the 'send 'em to Afghanistan' was OTT, even for the Cereal Box. When I became a JP, we had the choice of oath or affirmation, I was the only affirmation-taker in the group. To do otherwise would be hypocrisy.