Ruth Gledhill on Camp Quest: atheist camp?

Ruth Gledhill has written about Camp Quest UK, which describes itself as “the first residential summer camp for the children of atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers and all those who embrace a naturalistic rather than supernatural world view”. She doesn’t seem to approve, and spends much of the article telling us how good Christian summer camps are, before giving way to Celestine Heaton-Armstrong, a theology student who writes excitedly but a bit incoherently about the evils of Dawkins and his involvement in the camp. Dawkins! Can anything good come from there?

When I was a Christian (although, of course, not a real one), I used to help out on a LiveWires, a Scripture Union holiday for teenage Christian geeks, and good fun it was too. If you’ve seen Jesus Camp, you might come away with a terrible impression of such places. I, like many Christians, would object to a camp which used psychological manipulation or put the fear of Hell into children, but thankfully that was not my experience. It was a lot of hard work for the leaders, but very rewarding too. But for the deficiency in my current beliefs, I’d probably still be helping out. It’s nice that someone has started a camp for the rest of us, though.

So I’m not quite sure what Gledhill and Heaton-Armstrong’s objection to Camp Quest is. It seems to be that the organisers pretend to be neutral but are in fact anti-religion. The evidence for this is that the UK organiser, Samantha Stein, is “in stark contrast” to the camp’s stated policy of accepting people of any faith (I’m not sure what it means for a person to be in stark contrast to a policy, but never mind); that Stein read about the American version of Camp Quest in a footnote in The God Delusion; that the camp will teach children that religion and science are incompatible; and, worst of all, that Dawkins, a neo-strident fundamentalist atheist neo-sceptical rationalist, is involved (although not that involved, as it turns out).

I suppose that Camp Quest might be anti-religion, in the same sense that a Christian camp is anti-atheism. Looking at their web site, I’m not sure Camp Quest do pretend neutrality. That does not seem to contradict a policy of welcoming people of faith, in the sense of, say, allowing them to attend, being courteous to the when they get there, being willing to discuss things with them, and so on. I hope that Camp Quest would extend the same courtesy to theists as LiveWires did to the non-Christian teenagers who attended.

What if Camp Quest does teach that, say (so as not to use a vague term like “religion”), Christianity and science are incompatible? In one sense, they’d be wrong, but in another, where “science” is extended (perhaps over-extended) to cover good cartography, they’d be correct. Let’s have no more of this non-overlapping magisteria nonsense: Christians shouldn’t believe it, and neither should the rest of us.

What’s Dawkins’s motivation for giving a donation, if it isn’t to ensure that the kids on the camp will be forced to participate in The God Delusion study groups nightly before bed? Camp Quest’s organisers say they want to teach children how to think rather than what to think. Perhaps Dawkins, arch-enemy of religion, is confident that if people were to think critically, they’d be less likely to be religious. That was true in my case.