3rd April 05:06
ATHEISM's GOING GLOBAL! Chain Of KIDS' CAMPS Caters ToNON-BELIEVERS ! (ethics evil counselor history faith)
“I’m an atheist, personally, but I don’t get angry at other people for
believing in God. I respect them."
-- Jacob, 12, Atheist Camper
"Camp Quest is atheists’ answer to Bible school"
By Monica Hesse
July 26, 2011
A dispatch from atheist summer camp, near Manassas, Va.
At Camp Quest Chesapeake, 34 campers have been asked to create, in the
name of self-governance, a list of five rules that they think everyone
should follow for the week.
“Be friendly to everyone.” Camp director Sarah Menon reads an item
from one picnic table’s list before moving on. “Have your water bottle
filled with water.” “Don’t attempt to fight telepathic bears without a
The goal of the exercise is to get campers to think about the
democratic process: What is the purpose of creating and following
rules? What if a rule passes that they don’t agree with? Are they
obligated to follow it anyway?
“We have a rule over here,” Menon calls out cheerfully, “about
The camper whose paper she has been reading looks affronted. “That,”
he says, in an exasperated verbal eye roll, “was a joke.”
Perhaps one should begin with what these campers believe in. They
believe in critical and creative thinking. They believe in mutual
respect and living ethically. They believe in arts and crafts. But
here in a wooded national park south of Manassas, under shade trees
and American flags and the mosquito haze of a swimming hole, they do
not believe in God.
Camp Quest Chesapeake is a summer camp for atheists. Or the children
of atheists. Plus: agnostics, secular humanists, freethinkers and
other self-identified members of the non-religious community. This
summer is the camp’s first appearance in the Mid-Atlantic — the second-
largest launch in Camp Quest history.
The first Camp Quest opened in the Cincinnati area in 1996, founded by
Edwin Kagin, a former Eagle Scout who was annoyed with the religious
overtones in modern Boy Scouting. Camp Quest had about 20 campers. In
2002, it incorporated, launching a branch in Tennessee. A few years
ago the organization hired its first paid employee. There are now 10
Camp Quests in North America and a few more in Europe.
At the picnic tables, the campers are asked to come up with a cabin
cheer. Someone from one cabin — which the campers have named Chocolate
Rain — elatedly suggests, “We Don’t Believe in Cheers!”
“I don’t have any freethinker friends at home,” says Jake Monsky,
thoughtfully. He’s 11, with blond hair damp from spending his free
time at the lake. At some of his friends’ houses, the families pray
before dinner. Jake says he bows his head because he doesn’t want to
be rude. He likes these friends a lot, but sometimes, he thinks that
if he told his friends that he isn’t religious, “then they might not
be my friends anymore.”
Which gets at one of the camp’s main purposes: It’s the first chance
that many attendees have ever had to be around people who will listen
to their beliefs — or lack of — without fear or ridicule. In the most
recent American Religious Identification Survey, 15 percent of
Americans claimed no religious affiliation, with nearly 2 percent
specifically identifying as atheist or agnostic.
“I was a believer,” says Amy Monsky, Jake’s mom, who is a volunteer
counselor at Chesapeake. She grew up Catholic. When she left that
faith, “I feel like I lost that village that a lot of religious people
have.” Next year, Monsky wants to launch a Camp Quest branch in South
Carolina, closer to her home.
“Think of how many hundreds of religious camps there are in this
country,” Kagin says. (The Christian Camp and Conference Association
alone has 865 members, and there are many more who don’t belong to the
organization.) “Camp Quest is a night light in a dark and scary room
for children of freethinking parents.”
The site for Camp Chesapeake was the group’s second choice. They
originally tried to rent from a Methodist camp, but the Methodists
edged away when they learned whom they were renting to. One religious
blog has dubbed Camp Quest a “Re-Education camp.”
“We want kids to know what critical thinking is, and how to use it,”
says Menon, whose day job is with the federal government. “And there’s
an ethics component. We want kids to know that they should do the
right thing” even if they don’t believe in heaven.
Which some might. Camp Quest offers daily lectures on world religions
from an informational perspective. Also, lectures about famous
freethinkers such as iconic physicist Richard Feynman and “Harry
Potter” star Daniel Radcliffe.
Other atheist camp activities include atheist swimming, atheist nature
hikes and atheist stargazing.
One of the more popular elective sessions on a recent afternoon is
called Socrates Cafe, in which a counselor leads a group of campers in
a series of philosophical questions. The question today is, “What is
“Knowledge is common sense,” suggests one of the counselors in
“What if your cultural values were cannibalism?” a camper named
Valerie responds. “Wouldn’t that be your common sense then?”
Soon the discussion goes broad, as philosophical discussions tend to
do. Does knowledge relate to intelligence? To instinct? Is there any
relationship between knowledge, and good and evil?
“No man considers himself evil,” says Jacob Maxfield, who is 12. Even
Hitler probably didn’t think he was evil, Jacob continues, though he
definitely made very, very bad choices.
“I’m an atheist, personally,” Jacob says later. “But I don’t get angry
at other people for believing in God. I respect them. But sometimes I
rub them the wrong way.”
So, what has been his favorite part of camp so far? The Socrates Cafe?
The deep discussions of ethics?
“Well,” he considers carefully. Meeting other people like him has been
really great. “But when I got here, someone asked me if I fence. Then
I got a foam sword” and he and the other camper ran around the woods,
between the cabins and through the fresh air, happily bopping each
other. “That,” he says, “was fun.”