Children are this week attending the UK’s first atheist summer camp, set up to rival traditional camps led by the Scouts and Christian organisations.
Are atheist camps a good idea?
The Christian Institute’s Simon Calvert debates the issue on BBC Bristol.
The organisers of Camp Quest UK claim that children attending are encouraged to “think for themselves and to evaluate the world critically”, but critics have accused the camp of bashing religion.
The five day camp, attended by 24 children aged eight to 17, is being held in Somerset. Besides outdoor activities, children are taught about evolution, philosophy, and ‘pseudoscience’.
Campers are also offered a prize if they can disprove the existence of ‘unicorns’ they have been told inhabit the camp.
Because these unicorns cannot be seen or touched, and their presence is only recorded in an ancient book, Camp Quest’s critics say they are an unsubtle metaphor for God.
Camp Quest is intended to cater “specifically for irreligious children or the children of nontheistic parents” and “all those who embrace a naturalistic rather than supernatural world view”.
The Camp Quest motto is “It’s Beyond belief” and its website says it offers “a godless alternative to traditional religious summer camps, such as vacation Bible schools”.
Camp director Samantha Stein said: “There is very little that attacks religion, we are not a rival to religious camps. We exist as a secular alternative open to children from parents of all faiths and none.”
She added: “We are not trying to bash religion, but it encourages people to believe in a lot of things for which there is no evidence.”
Camp Quest was founded in America in 1996 by atheist lawyer Edwin Kagin. Miss Stein was inspired to launch the UK version when she read about it in Professor Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion.
Prof Dawkins’ Foundation for Reason and Science is listed on the Camp Quest website as an organisation supporter, together with the British Humanist Association.
Simon Calvert of The Christian Institute said: “One of the problems that parents will have with these camps is that the organisations behind them have a quite particular agenda about undermining religion, not just in the minds of children, but also in the public square.”
A spokesman for the Church of England said: “We would defend the right for anyone to set up an event like this, as long as the young people are happy to attend”.
“But in his imitation of the type of youth events that religious groups have been running for years, Dawkins makes atheism look even more like the thing he is rallying against.”