An Argument Against Camp Quest: It Makes Kids Religious July 31, 2009

An Argument Against Camp Quest: It Makes Kids Religious

By Ellie Levenson‘s logic, many atheists spring from fundamentalist religious families.

Therefore, if you’re taught fundamentalist atheism (i.e. at Camp Quest UK), you will become religious!

So Richard Dawkins’ five-day atheist summer camp in Somerset this week, in which all the children will be taught about rational scepticism, moral philosophy and evolutionary biology, is bound ultimately to disappoint them when they realise that most people they will come across in life are rationality-challenged.

What’s more, it may well teach children the opposite of its intention, and set them up for a lifetime of God. After all, the only people I know who have fundamentalist religious beliefs are those who were brought up in resolutely atheist households, leading me to conclude that the best way to ensure children are not religious is to give them just enough religion to put them off.

So many mistakes in so few paragraphs…

It’s not Richard Dawkins’ camp. He donated enough money to send two people to camp, but that’s the extent of his participation. (I should mention there is a £10 note with Dawkins’ autograph on it that is used as a prize in an unwinnable contest.)

Also, there’s a difference between fundamentalist religion and “fundamentalist” atheism. Fundamentalist religions teach you to believe what the Holy Books say at all costs — it’s all supposed to be true and you are not to question what the leaders of the faith say.

At Camp Quest, you are most certainly NOT taught that there is no god. There is no homage to atheism or bowing down to a cardboard cutout of Dawkins. Kids are taught to raise good questions and be skeptical about what people tell you.

How is that anything like fundamentalist religion? I don’t know. Neither does Levenson, since she never explains herself.

What’s especially sad is that Levenson is a fan of Dawkins — she says he’s “probably right about God” — and yet she still believes he is “dogmatic.”

From what I hear, you’re supposed to expect this type of shoddy journalism from The Daily Mail in the UK. But I guess The Independent is no better.

(Thanks to Joe for the link!)

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  • joel

    “After all, the only people I know who have fundamentalist religious beliefs are those who were brought up in resolutely atheist households,”

    Seriously! What an utterly ridiculous statement. The only way these religions survive is by the parents indoctrinating their children, from an early age. Idiot!

  • bsander

    If she says that “many atheists spring from fundamentalist religious families”, do you think she has even considered how many religious people spring from those same families? I’m betting it’s a lot more than the number of atheists.

  • “After all, the only people I know who have fundamentalist religious beliefs are those who were brought up in resolutely atheist households,”
    Perhaps that needs to be read in a satirical context, if you look at most religious debaters they will either claim they once were an atheist or had atheist parents/teachers etc. like it adds weight to their position.
    If I (a 2nd generation atheist) wasn’t a hard militant anti-theist myself I might be tempted to say that the militant atheists all came from religious families (thus completing the circle).

  • Bob

    Has Levenson actually been to Camp Quest or talked to anyone who’s worked or attended there? That is, what evidence does she have to back up her claim?

    I mean, isn’t that one of those fundamental(ist?) doctrines promoted by Camp Quest – requiring evidence to support claims?

    Or, as usual for the media, is she making up some strawman argument for a lazy and wrong bit of commentary/journalism?

    Seriously, presuming she’s right about strongly atheist households producing religious kids, wouldn’s the kids turn out that way regardless of Camp Quest UK? It says more about the parents than it does the camp.

    Regardless, she seems to have done no research for the arcticle, instead just pulling a bunch of stuff out of her butt, and conflating projection with balance (skeptical camp must just be like blind faith camp but with different gods and dogma.) It’s sad and disquieting that people get a paycheck and a venue for this offal.

  • Carlie

    “After all, the only people I know who have fundamentalist religious beliefs are those who were brought up in resolutely atheist households,”

    She doesn’t know very many fundamentalist religious people.

  • Aj

    Ellie Levenson is clearly a moron who doesn’t know: a) anecdotal evidence isn’t good evidence, b) an atheist doesn’t believe in gods, and c) what the word “dogmatism” commonly means.

    You’d find similar articles in all the UK newspapers but in The Daily Mail you’ll find hatred. The opinion sections of all the newspapers don’t seem to be edited for quality, fact, or logic, they just want controversy and conflict.

  • Sackbut

    Did Dawkins personally donate to the camp? I was under the impression that his foundation donated to the camp, not him personally.

    After all, the only people I know who have fundamentalist religious beliefs are those who were brought up in resolutely atheist households

    That may be the case. Who knows what her personal experiences are? There are some well-known instances of children rebelling against highly outspoken atheist parents by turning toward religion. However, it’s a mistake to make sweeping generalizations from a few examples, as she does.

    The point of the camp, though, is NOT to indoctrinate children with atheist ideas, but rather to encourage them to think for themselves, think critically, and use reason properly. They may end up as atheists, based on reason and a lack of special reverence for belief in gods, but they may not.

    If they came away from the experience without reasoning skills, but dogmatically declaring there is no God, I would say the camp failed. If they came away with good reasoning skills, healthy skepticism, and believing in God, but recognizing that there is no evidence for that view, I would say the camp was very successful.

    I remember a video and an article about science teachers who taught detailed units on fossils and the scientific method. Some religious students thought it was an assault on their beliefs and resisted. The teachers kept turning away any discussion of religion and had them just look at the fossils, look at the evidence, see what conclusions they could reach based on the evidence. Eventually even several hard-core fundamentalist students were making strides in learning how to reason from evidence, and were far less dogmatic in their comments. Perhaps their beliefs were shaken; certainly their dogmaticism was.

  • Learning critical thinking is the prime reason I’m a religious fundamentalist. When I learned to question what was told me and not accept anything on blind faith, I obviously came to the conclusion that the Bible is the infallible word of God. Isn’t it obvious?

    (of course, sarcasm.)

  • Neon Genesis

    This article proves once again that fundamentalist Christians are not the only people that are ignorant and lack critical thinking skills. Maybe they should try going to Camp Quest once? And since when are the only religious fundamentalists raised in “fundamentalist” atheist homes? I used to be a fundamentalist Christian and deconverted to atheism but I was not raised in an atheist home. I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian home. Do they even present any evidence to back this claim up? I just love that they’re accusing this camp of indoctrinating kids yet they’re living proof that being an atheist does not automatically = critical thinker.

  • valdemar

    Good post, and good comments. Unfortunately this piece of sloppy, lazily-written twaddle is now standard for British newspapers. The death of MSM proceeds apace.

  • gribblethemunchkin

    Veritas, nice. Like it.

    Its quite telling that Ellie Levenson gets kicked about quite a bit in the comments of the article.

    I keep hearing these same phrases everywhere, dogmatic atheists, militant atheists, fundamentalist atheists. It brings to mind a line from the princess bride by Inigo Montoya.

    “You keep using that word, i do not think it means, what you think it means”.

  • Speaking of Ellie Levenson getting “kicked about quite a bit in the comments of the article”, all of the comments are now gone and you can no longer comment on her piece.


    I’m kinda bummed because I left a pretty long comment. I actually saw it on the website there for about 5 minutes, and then, poof, all of them went bye-bye.

    I guess she didn’t appreciate the bashing she was getting for failing to do any kind of research.

    Thanks for writing a blog about her article, Hemant.

  • Richard Wade

    Cowardly. She provides a space for comments, and when those comments show how absurd her arguments are, she deletes them and removes the space for any more comments.

    Ellie, if you lack the courage to face criticism and disagreement, then don’t provide a comments section to begin with. Better yet, don’t even publish your opinions because somewhere else, like here, people will be dismantling your absurdities.

  • More on Ellie: I just read a great blog from a guy who just spent a day at Camp Quest Minnesota.

    It’s worth reading and called, “Camp Quest in One Day” at “Tangled Up in Blue Guy”:

    tuibguy dot com

    It was so great to read how he realized that Camp Quest is a way for kids to connect, to finally spend a week with their peers. His personal story is compelling.

  • I’m running out of newspapers to read in England. Sheesh, it’s embarrassing.

  • Dan W

    Wow, so many things Ms. Levenson says display her ignorance about what she is talking about. I’m sure Dawkins isn’t in charge of the camp, and I’m pretty sure most fundies don’t come from atheist families. Most fundies seem to come from fundie families, where they were indoctrinated with their parents’ ridiculous beliefs. And the camp, I’m sure, does not teach kids to be atheists. More likely it helps them to be skeptical about religious ideas, among other things. And I have no idea how she can praise Dawkins then call him dogmatic in the next sentence, particularly when he is anything but dogmatic as far as I’ve seen.

  • Heidi

    I notice that everyone here had pretty much the same reaction I did. She only knows fundies from atheist families?? She needs to go watch the documentary Jesus Camp. You know, the one where the crazy lady chants at the computers to keep the demons out, and all the parents there sway mindlessly like their robot fundie children. *shudder*

  • Hmmm, just plain stupid, or REALLY stupid sarcasm? I can’t decide,… except for the “stupid” part. 🙂

  • pinkelastik

    I realise that this is a seriously old post, but I just wanted to say thank you. It’s so rare for an American to know that the Daily Mail is a lying, racist, hate-mongering piece of crap. It drives me up the wall when I see otherwise intelligent people relying on the reporting from that rag (seriously, half the stuff – at least – that they print is made up. They’re the British equivalent of Fox). Gonna keep reading through the archives now. Only another 18 months left to go 🙂

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