Saturday, July 04, 2009

A Different Kind of Summer Camp

Hello Muddah. Hello Faddah.

It’s summer and all across America and around the world kids are attending summer camp. They are playing ball, swimming, hiking, canoeing, and sitting around campfires singing silly songs. It’s all great fun for the younger set.

And most of them are also engaging in other mandatory activities that may or may not be so fun. They are praying and listening to their camp counselors spew forth religious propaganda. Yes, most summer camps in the U.S. are sponsored by churches or other religious organizations, like the Boy Scouts.

Most Boy Scout camps are not as aggressive about promoting religion as church camps are, but the Boy Scouts of America still forces its members to sign a Declaration of Religious Belief.

I was a Boy Scout when I was about 12. While in my early and mid 20s, I was also a scout leader. It was fun. We hiked and camped and had other social activities. But at no time did we pray as a troop or otherwise engage in religious worship. We all recited the oath, pledging to give service to God and our country. But nobody really thought much about it. I went to church back then, too. And I really didn’t consider what the meaning of the pledge to serve God was about; it was just a phrase. It was just something we recited as scouts.

The summer following my college graduation I worked as an assistant program director for a summer camp sponsored by the Indianapolis Boys Club. The Boys Club has a secular mission statement. Yet every Sunday during camp the camp staff took turns being preachers. We held a church service in our shelter house. And all the boys had to attend.

I was always uneasy about hosting mandatory church services. When it was my turn to be the preacher of the week I spoke on ways of controlling anger. I didn’t mention God at all. Even though I was raised a Christian, I felt it was inappropriate to force the campers to sit through a Christian church service when some of them might not have been Christian.

I wanted to attend summer camp when I was a kid, but I never got to. A close friend of mine and I begged our parents to send us to a summer camp sponsored by our church. But my friend’s dad said it cost too much. So we settled for taking turns spending the night at each other’s houses or pitching a tent in the back yard.

Church camps and bible camps are just another way for Christian evangelicals to assimilate young people. Although there are fun activities going on, the main purpose of the camps is to solidify a child’s relationship with the church.

But there is at least one organization that is starting to intrude into the dominance of bible-oriented summer camps in America and in the UK. Camp Quest was begun in 1996 in Ohio. It now operates six summer camps in the U.S. and Canada. And this year it is sponsoring a humanist summer camp in Great Britain.

According to its Web site, Camp Quest’s purpose is “to provide children of freethinking parents a residential summer camp dedicated to improving the human condition through rational inquiry, critical and creative thinking, scientific method, self-respect, ethics, competency, democracy, free speech, and the separation of religion and government guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.”

It does not indoctrinate people into atheism. It welcomes all young people regardless of their religious persuasion. But it does cater to those who hold to a naturalistic, not a supernatural world view. It stresses scientific inquiry over supernatural explanations of the world.

The Center for Inquiry also offers a summer camp. It is taking place currently in Holland, New York. Called Camp Inquiry, its purpose is to foster scientific inquiry in children and to allow them to discover for themselves that myths of all kinds do not hold up to rational scrutiny.

These alternatives to church-sponsored summer camps also teach kids about ethics and morality. They teach them to be upstanding citizens who respect the rights and beliefs of others. Yet they are still far outnumbered by the summer camps that indoctrinate kids into the religious world, which is too often dominated by bigotry, judgment, shortsightedness, and the hampering of scientific thought.

What we need in this country are more institutions like those sponsored by the Center for Inquiry or Camp Quest. Those who donate to good causes might want to consider adding a secular summer camp to their list of charities.


Unknown said...

Thanks for your great post about Camp Quest! You really captured what our programs are all about.

Amanda Metskas
Executive Director
Camp Quest, Inc.

Jerry Wilson said...

I'm glad to help spread the word, Amanda. Keep up the good work