During the summer, many churches run Bible camps and daytime activities for children and families, alike. But, where do devout atheists, agnostics and other "freethinkers" send their children during the hot, summer months? The answer may surprise you.
Camp Quest, according to its web site, is a residential summer camp designed for the children of "Atheists, Freethinkers, Humanists, Brights, or whatever other terms might be applied to those who hold to a naturalistic, not supernatural world view." Below, watch a rough copy of a camp PSA:
Like other sleep-away camps, kids participate in arts and crafts, archery, sports and the like, but Camp Quest is built upon one shared characteristic: Children who attend do not embrace or rely upon a higher power. Much like the kids who attend Bible camps, children who attend Camp Quest do so at the discretion of their parents or guardians.
While at the camp, these young people engage in a variety of programs. There are informational lectures on world religions and sessions about famous atheists and "freethinkers." Other activities include atheist swimming, atheist nature hikes and, of course, atheist stargazing.
According to an official explanation on the camp's web site, its purpose is to improve "the human condition through rational inquiry, critical and creative thinking, scientific method, self-respect, ethics, competency, democracy, free speech, and the separation of religion and government." Thus, it is a breeding ground for some of the elements that drive non-believing minds. One of its goals is to " demonstrate atheism and humanism as positive, family-friendly worldviews."
The Washington Post provides a comprehensive summary of Camp Quest's 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.
The Post continues, providing some words from the campers themselves:
“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.”...
“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.”
Below, watch a training video that is used to prepare staff for their role at the camp:
Camp Quest and its founder tend to use the word "freethinking" to define the nonreligious -- a term that believers will likely find offensive. Some would argue that anyone, regardless of religious affiliation or the lack thereof, can be described as thinking freely for him or herself. Below, watch a 2009 BBC report that focuses upon one of England's Camp Quest locations:
Some may view these camps as further evidence that Atheism is, in its own regard, a "religion." The premise of these institutions is to educate children about the tenants of non-belief. The transfer of these elements, pending they can be exported in a particular format, mirrors the way in which a Bible camp would educate children on Christian principles.
Expect to see more Camp Quests pop up around the nation (and the world), as the company has grown substantially over the past 15 years.