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Aug 01 2013

Summer camps for fun and learning humanist values

I recently heard about Camp Quest, a nationwide network of summer camps for children where, in addition to the usual summer outdoor fun activities, they also learn science and humanist values and critical thinking. It is a wonderful opportunity for parents and children with scientific, secular, and atheist outlooks to have a good time with like-minded people, as a counter to the large number of religion-based camps. There are already 17 such weeklong camps nationwide and the growth has been fairly rapid.

Here’s a report on the camps.

Beneath the shade of a pavilion, a group of children discuss the difference between atheism and agnosticism.

Most campers participating in this woodsy Socrates Cafe identify as atheists — one was raised Mormon, another said she would feel comfortable changing her views if she found reason to believe in God.

And then, the voice of a teenage boy: “I feel as if I’m too young to decide,” he said, adding that he’s still exploring his options, evaluating the evidence.

That is the answer counselors at Camp Quest Chesapeake love to hear.

Paul Chiariello, the 26-year-old counselor leading the discussion, said this secular summer camp wants to indoctrinate kids with one thing: critical thinking.

The camps are largely autonomous but they share one common feature.

All Camp Quests have magical, invisible creatures. The point of the creatures is not to mock religion, but to prepare campers for conversations where they might argue the minority position.

Of course, not everyone approves of such camps because critical thinking is dangerous. It results in children like Alexis Gilmore, an 8-year old from Virginia, saying “I don’t believe that a person could rise up and be dead and go back to the sky. I don’t think that could happen. Like, nobody’s done that before.” A restaurant in Oklahoma that had agreed to host a fundraiser for the camps cancelled on them because the owner said that “the camp wasn’t compatible with his Christian identity”.

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