Camp Quest Attendees Are Not “Inmates at Camp Godless” August 3, 2009

Camp Quest Attendees Are Not “Inmates at Camp Godless”

One way to know whether to take a reporter seriously is to see whether he/she paid attention to details and got them correct.

It’s also important to see what mistakes were made… and how they play into the story. Was it just a harmless mistake or something else?

Ian Bell in the Sunday Herald (Scotland) is trying to persuade the reader that Camp Quest is really a breeding group for atheists, despite what organizers say.

He makes a “mistake” that plays right into his thesis:

… It turns out that Quest is supported by a grant from the Richard Dawkins Foundation. So: “freethinking”, pure and untrammelled? Does Dawkins allow such a thing? Not that I’ve noticed. In fact, I can almost hear the voice in my head: “No well brought-up disbelieving child of mine is mixing with that bunch of puerile so-called atheists. A waste of money and thinking time.”

Richard Dawkins‘ foundation gave enough money to allow for two campers to attend Camp Quest in the UK. That’s it. He doesn’t run the camp. I don’t even think he shows up to any of them.

If Camp Quest had to rely solely on Dawkins’ support, they’d have shut down a long time ago. Dawkins is hardly “supporting” the camp.

Here’s another excerpt that was bothersome:

As to free-thinking, I’d be fascinated to know just how many of the youngsters at Quest freely agreed with the vacation choice made for them by their parents. Again, that’s not a joke. Clearly, some attempts to mould young minds are preferable to others. The problem rests, I think, with the urge to mould. And I suspect that many nice, thoughtful, middle-class children would be happier at arts camp or sports camp than at Stalag Luft Humanist.

I think that’s actually a fair question. Are the kids going voluntarily? Are they happy to be there?

However, the question reads like an accusation.

It would not be hard to find children who were forced to go to a Christian Bible camp and who had awful experiences there.

Camp Quest has been around since 1996. Many attendees are well into their teens (and beyond). I have never come across any account of a camper having a bad time at CQ. Indeed, if any children did not want to go, I can’t imagine any freethinking parents forcing them to attend.

Which means the insinuation that camp attendees are “inmates” at “Camp Godless” in the headline is ludicrous.

So far, I’d say Camp Quest has an excellent track record.

If Bell thinks the kids are getting indoctrinated, I urge him to visit a camp for a full week. I’m sure he’d be welcome. He can see for himself if what he’s writing is true. (Hint: It’s not.)

All he’s going off of is hearsay and headlines, neither of which have been very accurate lately.

(Thanks to Deanna for the link. Incidentally, she just picked up her kids from Camp Quest Smoky Mountains yesterday. She says the kids had a wonderful time.)

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  • So, this guy is an atheist? There goes the case that atheists are all rational. Seems like he is an atheist just to be contrarian and never bothers to fire two neurons at once in order to examine any issues before writing about it.

    But it seems that there have been more recent columns denigrating Camp Quest this year than I remember in past years. None of the writers have bothered to visit, of course, or actually talk to the kids nor their parents about it.

    Camp Quest is a very good thing for kids, and I am grateful to the volunteers, the organization and to the parents and kids who make it so cool.

    I’m glad that it is getting attention, but it would be nice if these people who get pieces published on the issue would actually find out in more detail what it is all about rather than do some knee-jerk column about it.

  • Sackbut

    What an absolutely inane review! Does Bell have any idea what “freethinking” means, or is he just going by what it sounds like? Does he have kids, has he sent them to a summer camp, does he have any idea what the decision process is like, or is he just making it up, based on the assumption that no child could possibly actually [i]want[/i] to go to Camp Quest?

    Mike wrote:

    But it seems that there have been more recent columns denigrating Camp Quest this year than I remember in past years.

    I think that’s because of the opening of Camp Quest UK and the small donation from the Dawkins Foundation. Note that the writer is from Scotland. Honestly, I saw an article about Camp Quest in the news, and the RSS feed had a thumbnail picture of Dawkins, but there was neither picture nor mention of Dawkins in the actual article (which was appropriate, unlike the thumbnail). The news media are screwing this up pretty badly.

  • Epistaxis

    In fact, I can almost hear the voice in my head

    Sounds like this guy can almost hear anything he wants to in his head.

  • Moreover, even if kids are sent here by their parents against their will, how is that different from a Vacation Bible School, or Boy Scout Camp, or a “Health” camp?

    The fact that parents may ship their children off to activities that children might not want to do is hardly a novel thing. Pretty much any summer camp-type activity is going to have at least a small percentage of people that would rather be at home playing video games. You can’t indite a camp based on that.

    In any case, there are many religious-themed camps, and the Boy Scouts are the go-to organization for camping and discrimination. Is it unreasonable for parents to want to send their child to a camp that reflects their values?

    What’s infuriating is that calling a Sunday School or a Vacation Bible School and “indoctrination center” offends people, despite its accuracy.

  • Pustulio

    When it comes to things like summer camp, you can’t judge based on whether or not kids want to go in the first place, but rather if they want to stay when it’s time to go home.

  • Is it just me, or does the writer sound barely coherent at times? I don’t mean just that he doesn’t bother to check facts – that’s pretty much expected in the mainstream media. I mean that often it’s hard to know what he was actually saying – his thoughts seem to jump around with no discernible focus at times. Like the threw down a bunch of statements he thought sounded clever, then cobbled together something around them that resembled an article.

  • Claudia

    The problem rests, I think, with the urge to mould. And I suspect that many nice, thoughtful, middle-class children would be happier at arts camp or sports camp than at Stalag Luft Humanist.

    Well fuck you too. For those that don’t know, Stalag Luft was a Nazi Germany POW camp, and the comparison of a childrens camp to anything having to do with Nazi Germany qualifies Ian Bell for inmediate dismissal under Godwyns Law.

    This is just a long version of the typical, childish “criticism” of atheists or freethinkers. Since we claim to want to teach our children to think and choose for themselves, that automatically means that any enforcement of any kind by a parent, even if it simply to send them to a camp that encourages critical thinking, is a sign of hypocrisy. In their simplistic minds, the only way a freethinker parent can be true to his or her beliefs is by letting the child decide on anything and everything on their own. It’s a patently absurd argument but one that arises invariably when the subject of parenthood and atheism comes up.

  • beckster

    As long as they are not chanting to a cardboard cutout of Richard Dawkins, I would say it is not indoctrinating. Check out the movie Jesus Camp and you will get a real example of indoctrination camp, complete with idol worship of George W. Bush.

  • Even if Richard Dawkins were the sole supporter of Camp Quest, one of his main points in The God Delusion was how cruel and absurd it is to label children (ie Christian children, atheist children, republican children). This guy obviously knows nothing about Dawkins, and nothing about Camp Quest.

  • gribblethemunchkin

    Wow, what on earth is this Ian Bell guy actually trying to say. He seems to be on the verge of making a point before veering off in a different direction. First its Stalag Luft Humanist, then its probably less damaging than most other camps? Then he is all about people choosing their own world view and not being dictated too, then he is against the camp teaching the ideas of rationality and freethinking.

    Frankly it seems to me like he read another article about camp quest at 3 in the morning, got annoyed for no reason then wrote his own article in 5 minutes, almost as a stream of conciousness and send it off to the editor who, with it being 3.15am justa pproved it and went back to bed without reading it.

    I’ve written more concise and to the point articles myself and i’m not by any means a journalist. Neither apparently is Mr Bell.

  • Claudia

    I was sorely tempted, given his comparison of the camp to a Nazi POW camp, to merely dismiss the rest of the article without reading it. Eventually my curiosity got the better of me and I’ve realized that this man isn’t obviously bigoted, he’s….well…he’s all over the place really. An atheist who apparently thinks parents are hypocrites if they try to educate their children.

    His general argument appears to be that any attempt to educate a child is inevitably affected by subjectivity and that therefore teaching a child is indoctrination no matter what it is that you teach. Oh and yes, he brought up the Hitler Youth, of course.

    Another argument appears to be that since even the most draconian efforts to indoctrinate children will always end up with some adults not buying into it, then the whole venture is obviously a failure. This is laughable; essentially you’re saying that indoctrination (or it’s good cousin, education) doesn’t work. I’d love to see him explain how it is that fundamentalist teenagers tend to come from fundamentalist parents. No, since education doesn’t work mathematically, it doesn’t work at all, it is doomed to failure. Also, teaching a child “how to think” is just a pretty name for teaching them what to think and all of this is done in a militaristic prison camp for children.

    ohhhhkaaaay then….

  • Chas

    I’ve noticed the Dawkins angled attack as well. I guess his name stirs up similar strong feelings much like Ray Comfort or Ham does for us.

    I have never come across any account of a camper having a bad time at CQ. Indeed, if any children did not want to go, I can’t imagine any freethinking parents forcing them to attend.

    Be careful of using incredulity to make a point. In any group of kids and parents, there will be a number of kids who end up not liking an activity and a couple parents who will sign their kids up without a thought. If this author were to come to the camp, he would likely seek these people out which would confirm his point.

    We’re a population like any other, with variances and outliers.

  • “You vill learn to detest religion! And you vill like it, child! Zis is Camp Qvest Godless! Put on your jackboots, for the atheists are here to rule ze vorld!”

    *cue evil laugh*

  • valdemar

    This Ian Bell person is typical – British newspapers are in a downward spiral of poor writing, sloppy ‘research’, and a general decline in standards. The advertising money isn’t there to support a large, well-qualified staff any more, and it shows. Not that they were ever perfect, but once a reporter would go and find out for himself, rather than regurgitate someone else’s dodgy copy and add a garnish of personal prejudice. Goodbye, mainstream media. You will not be greatly missed.

  • He does bring up a good point: the issue that any type of childhood indoctrination is wrong. Children generally lack the mental faculties to distinguish between nonsense and reason. It’s best to refrain from religious and atheistic lessons until they’re able to formulate their own beliefs (probably around 13).

  • Pustulio wrote:

    When it comes to things like summer camp, you can’t judge based on whether or not kids want to go in the first place, but rather if they want to stay when it’s time to go home.

    Well, when we showed up at Camp Quest to pick up our kids, my daughter started tearing up. I asked if she was happy to see us, and her reply was, “No, I don’t want to go home. I’m gonna miss these people.” My son was equally sad at departing.

    The first hour in the car was non-stop conversation from both kids about their week (Sunday through Sunday) at Camp.

    Then again, this was the third year my kids had attended Camp Quest, at two different CQ locations. And, they plan to be back next year (their idea, not ours).

    When I first learned about Camp Quest almost four years ago, I still recall my kids’ excited faces as I showed them the website. Going to CQ originally was their idea, not ours. I just showed them the information, and let them decide.

    I really wish more parents would consider Camp Quest next summer (or even this December: CQ Florida is offering a 12/25-1/1 event in sunny south Florida!).

    At CQ Smoky Mountains, there were kids from as far away as Texas, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

    For my kids, CQ is about bug bites and swimming, hikes and singing, and talking to others about living a non-religious life.

  • Ron in Houston

    Here’s another excerpt that was bothersome:

    “…Stalag Luft Humanist.”

    Maybe they’re right Hemant, maybe you are carrying the “friendliness” too far.

    I’d say “bothersome” is a gross understatement.

  • nani

    even if camp quest were some horrible den of indoctrination i think this guy’s ramblings would still be an incoherent mess.

  • By this guy’s logic all school or teaching of any kind is an evil thing to do to children. When the argument could include teaching your child to read as a bad thing you know the guy has no grasp of rationality.

  • Boy, they do despise the notion that children can be raised without religious dogma and be happy. I can almost feel the venom coming through the Intertubes from that one.

  • Dan W

    Wow, for an atheist, that reporter is pretty stupid. I wonder what his thought processes where when he wrote that? Maybe something along the lines of ‘Hmmm, instead of visiting Camp Quest to see what it’s really like, I think I’ll make ignorant and baseless assumptions and accusations about it. Yep, that’s a smart way to do it!’
    What. An. Idiot.

  • Robin

    Deanna, I must concur!
    Our tween was at CG in June. I have never seen my daughter smile so much (think teenager in Disney Cruise commercial). Every picture put up on the online account showed her smiling and having a blast. She literally talked the entire four hours home about what she did. She even kept a journal so she wouldn’t forget the details.

    It was such a positive experience for her. She was even interviewed at TAM by one of the Teen Skepchicks. We told everyone there with kids to check it out.

    Our son who decided not to go, was quite envious and has already made plans to go next year. I guess the week without his sister while fun, wasn’t as much fun as hers!

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