Saturday, July 18, 2009

Atheist Summer Camp

The Economist has an interesting piece called Glad to Be godless, about a summer camp for the children of atheists. Here is a selection:

In most ways, it is like other summer camps. Kids aged 8 to 17 share cabins in the woods. During the day, they paddle canoes, shoot arrows, go swimming and explore nature. At night, they chat beneath the stars. Like other summer camps, Camp Quest satisfies a demand that springs from America’s combination of very long holidays for children and very short ones for their parents. Unlike other camps, it is staffed entirely by humanists.

They are not pushy or preachy, but scepticism flavours nearly everything they do. Lunch comes with a five-minute talk about a famous freethinker. Campers are told that invisible unicorns inhabit the forest, and offered a prize if they can prove that the unicorns do not exist. The older kids learn something about the difficulty of proving a negative. The younger ones grow giggly at the prospect of stepping in invisible unicorn poop. There’s a prize for the tidiest cabin, too, because “cleanliness is next to godlessness”, jokes Amanda Metskas, the director. (Read the whole thing here)

One of the things that bothered me about this article was the way in which "humanism", "atheism" and "secularism" seemed to be used interchangeably as if they all meant the same thing. It is possible to be humanist or secular while believing in God and/or being religious. Even atheism in itself does not necessarily mean being non-religious or anti-religious (atheistic forms of Buddhism are one example). Another concern was the implication that one cannot practice scepticism or be a "freethinker" and also be religious. Whether the language used in the article only reflects the biases of the author or also the philosophy of the camp is at times unclear. The concept of the camp is interesting in any case and I'm glad the author sought to draw attention to it and the challenges associated with being an atheist in our society. My hope though is that the effort to create a place of acceptance and support for atheist kids does not involve perpetuating inaccurate and perhaps stereotypical views of religion and religious people. The last thing our society needs is more people, especially young people with misconceptions about those who see the world differently than they do.

You can read previous posts related to atheism, here, here, and here.