The Camp Quest Canon, by Edwin & Helen Kagin







Being the actual words set down by Edwin and Helen Kagin, founders of Camp Quest, by and in their own electrons, before the time of the schismaticalists, the thieves, the revisionists, the narcissuses, the cabalists, the internecinests, the accommodationists, the ecumenicalists, and other less known groups and movements who have already attempted, or who will, or may hereafter attempt, to claim, to corrupt, or to alter the history, the vision, the nature, or the ends of Camp Quest as hereinafter memorialized by its creators.

Prefatory Statement

Camp Quest was founded in 1996 by the Free Inquiry Group, Inc. (FIG) of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, based on a concept created by Edwin Kagin. Edwin was Director of Camp Quest from 1996 through 2005. Helen Kagin served as Registrar from 1997, and later as co-director, through 2005. In 2005, Edwin and Helen retired from active participation, and turned the venture over to members of Camp Quest, Inc, a national non-profit corporation they had helped create in 2002, with the permission of FIG, to run Camp Quest. Several additional Camp Quests have been developed, or are planned, following the model created. After retiring, Edwin and Helen came to realize that while certain aspects, methodologies, traditions, and philosophies they had developed, and built into the basic structure of Camp Quest over the past decade, while by now almost instinctive to them, were not fully recognized or understood by others now involved with Camp Quest. Edwin and Helen saw a need for them to set down certain of their key concepts for Camp Quest in writing, and this undertaking was something that the new, and most cooperative, directors eagerly agreed that they do. Additionally, such a writing was thought to be needed by those who desired to start new Camp Quests based on the model created by the Kagins, assuming such prospective new Camp Quests had attained permission from the board of directors of Camp Quest, Inc. to use the name “Camp Quest.” The writing that follows is by Edwin, who gets all of the blame for any errors. The good stuff it may contain must of course be attributed to Helen, aka “She Who Must be Obeyed.” And so it goes. Happy camping.


Anyone who is big enough and smart enough is certainly free to start their own summer camp for kids. But if they want to call it “Camp Quest” certain features consistent with the concept should be employed. If these elements are not present, call your project “Camp Sunshine,” “Camp Inquiry,” or whatever—anything but “Camp Quest.” If you feel this is too dogmatic and authoritarian, and you don’t like people who know what they are talking about giving you any suggestions, please feel free to open “Camp Narcissist” and run it any way you like. It is perfectly possible to create something without any intelligent design whatsoever being involved. Anyone is free to open a restaurant that sells hamburgers. But they cannot call it “McDonalds” unless certain features are present. The analogy seems appropriate. If you want to start a Camp Quest for reasons of power and personal authority—don’t. Seek therapy instead.


The first thing to do is to locate a suitable campsite and secure dates certain. This is important so campers and staff will know where to go for their camping experience, and when to go there. Trying to start a summer camp and advertising something like “Place and dates to be announced” will assure the failure of the project.


Your effort at running a Camp Quest will be successful in inverse proportion to the number of people involved in decision making.


Make certain that public school sessions, and holidays like July 4th , will not conflict with the dates selected for your camp.


In selecting a location for your camp, your primary considerations should be directed toward the safety and health of your campers and staff, together with the physical facilities and programs that are available for use by your camp. Attempting to “save money” by skimping on vital things like food and proper shelter would be a fool’s errand.


If possible, secure a facility for your camp that has been approved by the American Camping Association. But understand that such approval is not to be understood as an absolute endorsement, and that in some cases such approval has proved to be inadequate or just plain wrong. Persons setting up the camp must physically go to the proposed facility in person so they can exercise informed judgement. If possible, take someone experienced in such matters with you, so you can have the benefit of another opinion.


Cabins should have space defining, fully enclosing, walls (or a continuous wall, as in a circular enclosed space), a roof, windows that open, and a door or doors. While this seems obvious, there is word of some people actually planning to house campers in three (3) sided structures, with an opening where a fourth wall should be. Why this is not a good idea will become clear on the occasion of the first rainstorm or strong wind. Anyone convinced such will not occur is literally betting the health, safety, and even the lives of their campers on that belief. Tent camping would be preferable. At least all creatures great and small might not be able to wander into the sleeping area at will. But tent camping is beyond the scope of the present analysis, as is family camping.


The camp grounds you rent for a Camp Quest should have a kitchen, and food preparation staff, on the site, and the price of food should be included in the price for rental of the facility. Anyone who thinks the Camp Quest staff can cook for the camp by themselves needs to have their head examined. Edwin suggested this possible method of procedure for the second year of Camp Quest, and Helen led the threatened mutiny. And she and the prospective mutineers were correct—for the Health Department problems alone. Attempting to use an outside-of-the-camp catering service of any kind for meals at camp is at best unreliable. Your whole day, not to mention feeding hungry kids, can hang on a flat tire, personnel problems, or traffic uncertainties. With a caterer, or with anyone else who must get a meal to the camp, you are betting that no semi will jackknife between the food truck and your camp, blocking traffic for eight hours. You are also betting that no natural or terrorist created problems will interrupt your anticipated supply routes.


Along the depressing line of thought regarding things that could go wrong, please assume that your host camp will not have various things you might need in a bad situation. Of course this is a lot to think (not worry) about. If it were easy, anyone could do it.


Although the camp you rent your Camp Quest facilities from should have a doctor or nurse readily available, do not rely on this fact or on what you assume to be this fact. The time you need such services will be that person’s day off, or will occur after that person has gone home. Thus, you should have first aid supplies with you, and you should have people on staff, including the Camp Director, who know how to use them. The best time to read the first aid manual is not after the artery has been cut, or a wasp has stung a camper in the eye, or a kid has quit breathing, or gone into anaphylactic shock from tree nut allergy, or broken a bone, or turned dry and hot from sun stroke. The possibilities go on and on. Your first aid supplies should include Band-Aids, bandages, antiseptics, splints, epinephrine syringes, insect bite and sun burn and poison ivy lotions, eye drops, burn ointment, isopropyl alcohol, scissors, and other items suitable to your particular location. You should have medical releases for all campers and staff giving you permission to seek medical aid for them. And it is essential that you know where the nearest hospital and ambulance is located and have their phone numbers handy. Do not attempt to treat a snake bite by yourself. You will do more harm than good. Get the person to a hospital STAT. Collect all medications brought by campers the first day of camp and have a staff member give them out as directed.


Other most useful items to have on hand include a good knife, an axe, a saw, a shovel, duct tape, WD40, matches, candles, rope, and a toilet plunger. These have all proved useful at Camp Quest. You may think you don’t need these things. You may not. And you really don’t need them at all, until you do. And when you do need any of these things, nothing other than the thing needed will really do.


You should have available for campers, and even for staff, certain items that are necessary, but will have been forgotten by some of them. Such things include insect repellant, sunscreen, hats, towels, water bottles, flashlights, and lots of extra batteries. Also, certain feminine hygiene items. We have never known of a camp session in which someone did not forget one or more of these items—and lots of others not named. Some of the non fungible items mentioned can be supplied from the “lost and found” accumulation you will have generated from previous years.


The logo of Camp Quest was developed by Edwin Kagin and his Daughter Kathryn (Kagin) Cohan. It consists of an open infinity symbol stylized to suggest a connected C and a Q (for Camp Quest of course). The left loop of the symbol is open at the start of the C and the trailing end of the C continues into a nearly closed loop on the right side of the symbol, with a short line penetrating the lower loop of the bottom right side of the symbol, suggesting a Q. All camps that call themselves “Camp Quest” should employ this symbol as a universal and unique symbol for Camp Quest. It identifies Camp Quest, just as other logos identify many different unique businesses and undertakings. The size and colors used in the logo can vary. It would be acceptable for an individual Camp Quest to use a secondary logo to identify it as a unique entity, so long as its primary dominant logo was the universal Camp Quest logo adopted by Camp Quest.


The name “Camp Quest” is to be set out in formal use in a font known as “Chili Pepper.” This is a highly distinctive font which has come, in the past decade, to be associated with Camp Quest. It is also, together with the logo, the “mark” of Camp Quest which has been established as unique and entitled to protection. The colors used in the presentation of the name in this font can vary.


The T-Shirt for Camp Quest is to have the following elements. It is to be different every year, with different colors. The front is to remain constant, save for variations in color and shading which may and should also vary from year to year. The words “Camp Quest” should appear prominently in Chili Pepper font. Underneath this should appear the Morse Code _ . _ . _ _ . _ which is International Morse Code for the letters C and Q. C and Q of course stand for Camp Quest. They are also the international wireless radio signal for the inquiry of whether there is anyone out there who would like to talk—a challenge for our age. The code on the T-Shirt provides a unique conversational item for discussion with campers, families, and the simply curious. Individual camps can decide whether to tell campers the meaning of the signs or to see it they can figure it out for themselves. Underneath the code the words “It’s Beyond Belief” should appear. All lettering should be in the Chili Pepper font. It could be rendered all in lower case if desired. The back of the T-Shirt should have the universal Camp Quest logo. The size and colors of the shirt, logo, and other elements discussed can vary from year to year. The back should also have the year of the camp rendered in Roman Numerals, thereby providing another useful and unique teaching tool, and providing a date for the year of the camp represented by the shirt. Collecting shirts from past years of Camp Quest has already become a minor avocation for some. Finally, the back of the shirt should have some saying or slogan, perhaps the camp “theme” of the year for which the shirt was created.


At Camp Quest, there are two invisible unicorns. This is a matter accepted as absolute, and the denial of this truth is viewed as heresy or blasphemy and can be the grounds for medieval style mock trials. The instructional elements available have only begun to be explored. The implications for theology, religious belief, and critical inquiry are great. A “godless” one hundred dollar ($100) bill, without “in god we trust on it” (another teaching tool) is offered for any camper who can “prove” that the two invisible unicorns are not there. The unicorns cannot be seen, touched, tasted, smelled, or heard. They cannot fly, and they cannot leave the camp grounds. They leave no tracks or droppings. One can walk right through them. They cannot hurt anyone. We know they are there because we have faith that they are there. And what is proof worth when confronted with faith? All of our ancestors have believed they are there. There is a great book which speaks of them, but the book is far too holy to be seen or read by anyone. Of course there is a reason, or reasons, there are two of them. This reason is not known, but is a proper topic for speculation. One cannot speak of their color or shape or of any other information which might be obtained by the senses, for such is the nature of invisible creatures. They cannot take physical form or reveal themselves in any physical manner at all. No camper has ever, and no camper ever can or will, claim the prize, because no camper can prove that the unicorns are not there. But campers are never to be told this, and they are to be encouraged to submit what proof they may have to offer. Arguments such as “you have to prove they are there” are rejected as uninformed, foolish, and inappropriate. Reasonable speculations about the nature of the two invisible unicorns can be offered and debated, but blasphemies cannot be tolerated. What is appropriate speculation, and what is blasphemy, can lead to some interesting debates. This is not merely a clever little camp game. This is an exercise in theological and philosophical inquiry that lies at the very heart of what Camp Quest is all about. Staff members are to take this seriously. No proof of the non existence of the two invisible unicorns, no matter how well presented or reasoned, is ever to be accepted. Discussion can indeed be had on the proposition that the invisible and the non existent look much the same. The material contained in this section is never to be revealed to anyone not privileged to view it.


On the first night of camp, the Camp Director is to provide to the campers a set of “Challenges” that are to be worked on all week. The answers, or responses, are to be presented to the entire camp on the last night of camp. This is a major exercise and one of the foundational elements of Camp Quest. The challenges can, and have, taken a variety of different directions. They can be related to the “theme” for the year, if any. Frequently, the challenges have been in response to inquires received through a space warp from the inhabitants of the planet Questerion who are trying to determine if their society should develop along lines of reason, science, and critical inquiry, or along lines of faith, belief, and hope for things wished for but unseen. If such is the case, the responses are to be rendered not in a narrative, but in some manner of creative expression and dramatic presentation. Different camps may use different sets of challenges and different themes.


The founders of Camp Quest strongly believe that the following five (5) unique elements should be preserved and employed by all camps that are permitted to use the name “Camp Quest.” These elements are: (1) the logo described, with camps free to adopt secondary logos; (2) the font described; (3) the T-Shirt, including its various described components, which should be both the same and different each year as described; (4) some variety of the two invisible unicorns theme described; (5) the Challenges in some form similar to that described. These five items should be considered mandatory to any entity claiming to be a “Camp Quest.” They are at the heart of what Camp Quest is all about. Samples of the T-Shirts from past years, and the text of the challenges of the past decade, should be available on the Camp Quest (Camp Quest Classic, if you will) website. Failing that, they are available from Edwin & Helen, so long as they are around to provide them, and they should also be available from their successors in title.


It is possible, certainly arguable, and therefore permitted, for a given Camp Quest to be able to utilize something other than the two invisible unicorns in the exercise described, so long as all of the elements of the original exercise remain intact. Indeed, such a system might lend variety to the several different Camp Quests, with each identified by just what type of invisible entity it claims to contain that could permit the winning, by a camper—and only by a camper, never by staff or other non-campers—of the godless $100 bill. Thus, one camp could say “We are the camp of the invisible unicorns,” and another “We are the camp of the invisible dragon,” and so on. This could actually provide an element of uniqueness and individuality, and indeed of healthy completion, among the various camps. But whatever is found to be resident in the invisible world of a given camp should not be something that is ever encountered in the physical world of reality. Such being or beings must be from the realm of fantasy to be effective, otherwise the physical reality of the thing could be offered as proof that the invisible had entered the world of the visible—a patent blasphemy.


Beyond the elements of a Camp Quest seen by its founders to be essential, there are other programs and activities that have developed over the first decade of operation that are desirable and recommended. Perhaps most important is swimming. A swimming pool is seen as a necessity, if not a requirement. To be sure, swimming can be conducted in a lake, river, or other such, as we did in the simpler days of our childhood (Edwin & Helen’s childhood that is). But liability issues and other matters force the reluctant conclusion that an actual pool is to be preferred. While a Camp Quest in summer might be conducted without swimming, such an idea is, to us at least, unthinkable. Among the many other programs that could, and we think should, be available at Camp Quest are: famous freethinkers, displayed on laminated cards, discussed at meals to give campers the heritage of freethought; brief talks on religions of the world, perhaps alternating with the freethinker talks; magic show; medieval weapons; canoeing; jewelry making; crafts; basketball; making crop circles; building Noah’s Ark; poetry writing; outdoor skills; drama; overnight campouts; critical thinking; evolution; biology; kite making; field day; model rocket building; photography; scientific method; talent show; dancing and a dance; tie dyeing; horseback riding; wall climbing; high ropes; low ropes; code breaking; chess; field trips; archery; paper making; tug of war; singing; firearms safety instruction; story telling, badminton, soccer. This list is suggestive, but certainly not exhaustive. All of these activities have been done to a greater or lesser degree at Camp Quest during the past ten years. Each of these activities requires their own protocols and procedures. This is particularly true of overnight campouts, and any field trips away from camp.


Camp Quest was conceived, and has been operated for the past ten years, as a summer camp for the children of the irreligious, for those who have accepted Atheism, or lack of a belief in a supernatural world, by whatever name such may be called, as a conclusion, not as a belief. As such, Camp Quest, while admitting children of any backgrounds who might want to come, has been quite clear that it exists for the children of the irreligious. While there is no doubt a great need for ecumenicalism and accommodation of all belief systems, this is not the reason for the existence of Camp Quest. While we do strive to acquaint our campers with the basic views of various religions, we created Camp Quest to provide our children with a safe haven for non-belief, as a refuge for the irreligious. We attempt to provide our children with a night light in a dark and scary room, and to attempt to strengthen them to live in a world largely controlled by doctrines of faith, not by doctrines of reason. Camp Quest staff should share this understanding of the world, even if all campers or their families do not. We do not teach any camper not to believe in god. However, as one camper put it, we do teach them that “It is okay not to believe in god.” All Camp Quests should make a good faith effort to help and cooperate with each other, keeping forever in mind that the purpose of our endeavor is to attempt to make the future better for our children who are our only future.

With the hope that you will exercise common sense at all times, and that random chance will operate in your favor, we are

Edwin Kagin

Helen Kagin

Founders of Camp Quest

December 22, 2005 C.E.