My son is all about his friends. He plays on a baseball team to be with them, and he likely wouldn’t play at all if they didn’t. He takes sailing lessons every summer and he probably would not if his friends weren’t there. It’s summer vacation and the kid, who is nearing eleven years old, asks to be woken up in the morning to maximize his time with friends. He will do just about anything if his friends are there by his side.
So, when a friend of mine asked if my son wanted to join her kids at a Christian camp this summer, I thought for sure he’d want to go. Her son is my son’s best friend. These two are an inseparable pair, a permanent fixture, together wherever they go: the skatepark, the bike shop, the water park. Having sent her kids to this camp the year before, my fellow atheist friend told me that it was not super religious but that they would pray at mealtimes, and read stories from the Bible once or twice.
Knowing this didn’t bother me. I don’t have an issue with my son encountering religious ideas, especially in the company of other non-believers. I’ve instilled the importance of critical thought in my kiddos well enough to know that these ideas could never take root in his mind. Besides, on the off chance they did, it wouldn’t be because of one week at camp, and I’d love him all the same.
So, I asked him if he wanted to go. I thought for sure he’d say yes. His bestie was going, the camp boasted plenty of fun activities, and his grandparents were willing to pay for it. When he said, “Nah”, instead, I was surprised and asked why.
“The religious stuff.” He told me.
I think it’s important to point out that when I first told him about this camp, I explained that it was religious and that there might be some praying and Bible study. I also said, though, that it was no big deal. I told him the Bible is just another book full of stories, and some of them are even pretty entertaining. I told him that when people pray around him, it doesn’t mean he has to. He can just stay quiet for a minute while the others pray. I knew this wasn’t a problem at this particular camp because, again, my friend’s kids had gone the year before and they didn’t pray, and all was fine. I assured my ten-year-old that I was okay with him going to this camp.
I never expected the kiddo to say no because of the religious element.
“What about the religious stuff bothers you, hun?” I prodded.
“I dunno. All of it.”
“Are you afraid they might make you feel bad for not believing?”
“Are you afraid they might try to push it on you?”
I was stumped. I couldn’t sort out why my little boy didn’t want to go beyond, “the religious stuff”. Whenever we talk about religion around here, I explain that these are things I don’t believe but that whether or not he believes them is his choice. I try to explain why some people have faith in these ideas. I don’t speak with hostility about religion with him.
It wasn’t until later that night, as I lay in bed thinking about it that I think I finally understood. In my mind, I went back to when I was ten and asked myself how I would have felt about a camp like that if my parents offered to send me. There was no question. I knew my answer would be no, and the reason would doubtlessly be “the religious stuff.”
For me, as a godless child, all religion was strange. I didn’t get it. It was bizarre. Being around people who were devoutly religious and who would pass off as true these outlandish stories of miracles and genocidal floods and magic tricks and talking snakes was nothing short of wildly uncomfortable. I felt insecure around them like I would around someone who was in a dangerous mental state.
If you can imagine, for a minute, what it might feel like to have someone tell you that all life was created by their sock and that said sock would deliver athlete’s foot unto every sole of a sinner. Imagine that person said to you that use of electricity was a sin to the sock god and that if you have used electricity ever, you must sit down and talk to this person’s sock and apologize. Imagine the person telling you this is deadly serious; that they are unravelling with frustration at the fact that you can’t accept the truth of the sock god. Now picture this happening when you’re ten, and the sock-worshipper is a grown adult.
How uncomfortable would you feel? Be honest.
This is the level of discomfort I, as a child, experienced when confronted with someone’s faith in the stories of the Bible.
It wouldn’t matter how many canoes I got to row, or how many waterslides I could enjoy. It didn’t matter that I would get to have a week-long sleepover with my best friend. The S’mores wouldn’t entice me. The endless swimming wouldn’t draw me to Bible camp. I would not feel comfortable going no matter what, so long as there was “religious stuff”.
The next day, I told my son that I understood his decision but if he changed his mind, to let me know and I’d make sure he got to go.
Would you let your kid go to a mildly religious summer camp? Let me know in the comments!
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Image: Copyright Courtney Heard.