Campers are not told that there is no God; only that they should weigh the evidence. They learn about the scientific method… The kids are encouraged to explore ethical questions, too. The more argumentative ones sit in a clearing and debate the nature of justice.
The kind of people who send their kids to Bible camp are appalled. Answers in Genesis, a Christian fundamentalist group, berates Camp Quest for drumming a “hopeless” world view into young minds. But a humanist camp is less about indoctrination than reassurance that it is all right not to be religious; that it is possible to be moral without believing in the supernatural. Nearly all the kids at Camp Quest say they find it comforting to be surrounded by others who share their lack of belief. Many attend schools where Christianity is taken for granted. Many keep quiet about their atheism. Those who don’t are sometimes taunted or told they will burn in hell.
That last line is very scary and very true. And it’s why we need places like Camp Quest as a reprieve for children of atheist parents over the summer.
What surprised me most about the piece was a revelation made about my friend Don Sutterfield, a fellow board member of the Secular Student Alliance, and a counselor at a Camp Quest.
As part of a travelling Christian drama group, Don Sutterfield used to perform short plays. In one, a young man gives his girlfriend a rose and tries to persuade her to have premarital sex. The couple walk off, leaving the rose behind. Jesus picks it up and starts plucking the petals. “They love me, they love me not…”
Pious audiences loved it, says Mr Sutterfield. He and his chums would stand at the altar of a Pentecostal church, speaking in tongues, laying on hands and praying for members of the congregation to be delivered from sin, sickness and sexual perversion. Occasionally, they would attempt to drive out evil spirits. It was incredibly dramatic, says Mr Sutterfield: like the movie “The Exorcist”, only with lots of exorcists. At the time, Mr Sutterfield was “immeasurably proud” of his work. But with hindsight, he thinks it was a load of mumbo-jumbo. He is now a militant atheist…
Hilarious. I’m going to make him act that play out at the SSA conference next month.
It’s also funny because Don is about as far from a “militant” atheist as one could get. He’s a very calm, laid back kind of guy. They couldn’t find a more accurate word?