Given that I live in the West country, and that I have a (totally irrational, intuitive, experiential but it works for me, critically engaged, don’t buy into everything I’ve been told, non-fundamental, earthed) belief in the existence of a god, I’ve enjoyed listening to and reading about all the commotion caused by Camp Quest – the UK’s first residential summer camp for the children of atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers and all those who embrace a naturalistic rather than supernatural world view – (spot the value judgement in that sentence).
In many ways, I’ve got a lot of time and sympathy for what they are doing. Speaking from a Christian theistic point of view, we could do with a lot more critical thinking within the Christian community – even free thinking. And I guess that’s where the aspirations and agendas of Camp Quest begin to break down for me. For even though they claim that ‘The camp . . . seeks to promote tolerance through the understanding that there are many ideas in the world . . . [and that] There is no ‘atheist dogma’ or agenda, but an atmosphere of inquiry is created and the campers are encouraged to discuss ideas of interest to them,’ one can’t help sense that in reality they simply cannot tolerate the idea of a religious worldview, and that belief is incompatible with notions of critical and free-thinking.
While they claim openness to all ideas and worldviews, the website is full of explicit and implied statements that suggest belief in any god is to be pitied as a substandard epistemological worldview. Indeed, they even appear happy to let one of their camp counsellors, burdened with the name Christian, to have a testimony that reads: ‘He grew up as a Catholic but has been sceptical of the whole “sky-daddy” thing for as long as he could think (literally) and shed all remaining superstitions and belief in the supernatural after reading “The God Delusion”.’ Is that supposed to make me feel anymore comfortable sending my child to Camp Quest, which lets remember, has ‘no atheist dogma‘, than sending her to Christian camp where Johnny believes ‘the world is 4000 years old and that Dawkins is the anti-Christ’?
Such statements do not suggest critical thinking, they are just critical, playing with tired and well-worn characterisation that simply seek to demean people of faith with a sense of intolerant superiority based on misunderstanding and misrepresentation of how belief systems work for the vast majority.
Which is kind of ironic given that on the homepage there is concern that. ‘A recent series of articles in the Sunday Times (printed 28/6/2009) has caused significant media interest and unfortunately the dissemination of incorrect information.’
Responding to one headline:“Dawkins sets up kids’ camp to groom atheists” Those organising the camp would like to make it known that, ‘Richard Dawkins is not setting up Camp Quest UK. The word “groom” is misleading, offensive and inaccurate.‘
Of course, Dawkins would never suggest that those of a religious bent would be found ‘grooming’ children, or stoop so low as to cause offence, mislead people about religion, or say anything inaccurate about Christianity – but he might write this: ‘we should work to free the children of the world from the religions which, with parental approval, damage minds too young to understand what is happening to them . . . Priestly groping of child bodies is disgusting. But it may be less harmful in the long run than priestly subversion of child minds.’
The organisers of Camp Quest are right to be frustrated and annoyed about being misrepresented – Welcome to the world of your own making!