Camp Quest: Not a Camp for Atheist Children June 29, 2009

Camp Quest: Not a Camp for Atheist Children

The upside: The Sunday Times (UK) ran a series of pieces about Camp Quest UK.

The downside: They kept referring to it as a camp for atheists. Which it most certainly is not.

This headline doesn’t help:

Dawkins sets up kids’ camp to groom atheists

Neither do excerpts from the articles:

The author of The God Delusion is helping to launch Britain’s first summer retreat for non-believers, where children will have lessons in evolution and sing along to John Lennon’s Imagine.

The Jagos, from Basingstoke, Hampshire, are among 24 children who will be taking part in Britain’s first summer camp for atheists.

Budding atheists will be given lessons to arm themselves in the ways of rational scepticism.

This is just irresponsible journalism on the part of Lois Rogers, who wrote all the pieces.

Camp Quest is not *for* atheists. It’s for children of atheist parents. There’s a major difference.

Camp counselors don’t know if these kids are atheists or not — the kids don’t have to sign some “statement of disbelief.” They have no plans to indoctrinate them; rather, they just want to teach them how to think critically and ask the right types of questions. Hell, many of the kids are too young to know what they believe.

As Trina Hoaks puts it:

Richard isn’t trying to create atheists — his goal, as he makes abundantly clear all the time, is to raise consciousness and give children the tools to be critical thinkers.

In fact, anyone who has read his book knows that Dawkins gets upset when he hears children being referred to as “Christian child” or “Muslim child.” I would expect him to feel just as upset to hear a reference to an “atheist child.”

(via Atheism Examiner)

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  • The phrase “atheist child” isn’t quite the same as, for example, “Christian child”, since atheism is a default position. We are all born as atheists.

  • My son has been to Camp Quest and they are careful to make this distinction. They do examine religion critically, but they don’t put down or denigrate religious people.

    My kids go back and forth on their declarations of whether or not they are atheists. I expect them to, because I didn’t really figure it all out until I was in my 30’s, and I can’t expect them to seriously consider the questions at their age.

    My cousins were brought up in an atheist family, then became very religious in their twenties. One is now a Jehovah’s Witness, and the other seems to have returned to his senses, but he doesn’t talk about religion.

    We aren’t all born atheist, though. We are born untheists.

  • gribblethemunchkin

    I’m not sure whether i’d agree with this necessarily Luke. True a child with no religious belief is an atheist, but there is a difference between someone that simply lacks god belief and someone who has made the decision that they do not believe in god.

    Call it little a atheism and big A Atheism if you like but one seems to be a position based on the default, such a position might not be intellectually sound. Whereas a position from someone who has decided they are an atheist is almost certain to be based on a view of the evidence and the outright rejection of religious claims.

  • R9

    I find it hard to believe this isn’t with the aim of producing atheist\skeptical kids of some sort.

    All this talk of “oh we’re just encouraging critical thinking” tends to come from who think critical thinking should lead to atheism, ya know? It all rings a bit dishonest to me.

    (don’t get me wrong, i’d pick this over camp Jesus, although any kind of ideological summer retreat sounds a bit weird as a summer activity)

    Also “Camp Quest” sounds like a Leisure Suit Larry spin-off.

  • Miko

    Little experiment: write a letter to the editor (on any subject where it makes sense) containing the phrase “child of atheist parents” and see what happens to it. All issues of content aside, it’ll never survive editing simply because it’s an incredibly ugly circumlocution.

    Plus, in this case it makes no sense. You say that the attendees don’t have to sign a “statement of disbelief,” but I’m guessing that their parents aren’t required to sign one either. Aren’t children of non-atheist parents allowed in?

    Let’s say I have a camp that teaches line-dancing. Should I say “We teach various techniques of fitness and athleticism useful in line-dancing to children of line-dancing parents” or just say that it’s “line-dancing camp?”

  • anothermike

    I suppose you get to call your camp anything you want; people can choose where to send their kids, and hopefully, let the kids participate in the decision as well. No question that keeping kids away from religious radicals and other nut-cases makes sense for responsible parents. Is Boy Scout camp better or worse than Jehovah’s Witness camp? but you could call your camp Free-thinker’s camp, Science Camp, or even Don’t Give a Damn Camp, for that matter. Camp Quest sounds pretty good to me, and I am going put the bug in my grandson’s ear. Hope it is available in the Portland, Oregon area.

  • You might want to send your post over to Rational Moms. Their newest post title is sending the message you are hoping to dispel.

  • Having been a counselor at Camp Quest I can back up Hemant – we don’t make kids agree to any kind of statement. It’s pretty much like a regular summer camp except more fun, and with better learning opportunities. The one in California is the best, but maybe I’m a little biased.

  • I’d also reconsider the use of ‘groom’ to describe working with children. This isn’t a Catholic camp, after all.

  • If what Mike and Mike say is true, this sounds like the best camp ever. I always had to go to Catholic camp, and it was super fun until they made us go to church.

  • CybrgnX

    Sorry guys but Camp Quest is an athiest programming campain.
    Describe the camp as a place were they teach the kids about critical thinking and use of logic and thinking properly. to any religious person and you will be told it is a place of the devil were kids are turned into athiests.
    Because EVERY religious person capable of getting 4 from 2+2 KNOWS that critical-skeptical-logical thinking is the BANE of all forms of magic and religion.

  • ckitching

    All this talk of “oh we’re just encouraging critical thinking” tends to come from who think critical thinking should lead to atheism, ya know? It all rings a bit dishonest to me.

    I think that critical thinking and evaluation provides benefits that are far more important than simple atheism. It’s one of the best (and only) defences against con artists and other attempts at deception or manipulation. It can be a defence against self-delusion to help prevent you from making bad decisions.

    That little voice asking “Wait, is that really right?” as you get ready to commit yourself into believing something you want to believe can be the difference between making a decision you regret for a long time, and being happy with your decisions over the long haul. Personally, I know most of the decisions I over-analyzed are not the ones I tend to be ashamed of, despite the fact that over-analysis carries it’s own faults.

  • My two children, ages 12 and 15, are attending their third Camp Quest this summer. They have loved the two previous Camp Quests, at two different locations, and are excited about going again this summer. I wish more parents would send their kids. We live in a very religious Christian environment, and for one week each year, my kids feel completely free to discuss ideas and thoughts with kids their ages and the adult counselors. For 51 weeks each year, my children are careful in what they said around classmates and neighbors, and the one week at Camp Quest gives them the freedom to really explore how they feel about things without their parents, along with same great traditional camp adventures like hiking, swimming, and goofing around.

  • I think that WayBeyondSoccerMom brings up a good point. While these kids come from different families, with the adults identifying as atheists, humanists, Unitarians, etc., the kids may not. However, depending on the school and region, it can be very hard for children who are not Christian. Just the fact that you don’t go to church is enough to be excluded. Camp Quest is a community where you are free to express yourself, have ideas, examine your reasons, but also be around a bunch of people who aren’t trying to get you to go to church or are trying to pray with you.

  • Sounds like Camp Jesus for atheists or something like that.

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